Spectorvision is Skewed on UK Election Lessons for Canada
I’m not sure what Norman Spector of the Globe and Mail is trying to get at with his recent article about the coalition situation in the UK. He points out that the coalition seems quite stable for now given their agreement on a fixed term election:
So Britons have been spared the leaks and jockeying for position that Israelis – with their extreme form of coalition government – live with constantly. But with the Liberal Democrats sinking in the polls and the agreed date for a referendum on electoral reform threatened by a combination of Labour opposition and disgruntled Conservative backbenchers, don’t be surprised if Israeli-style dysfunction appears before too long – and if the fixed term proves not so fixed.
He’s completely correct that ‘Israeli-style’ parliamentary dysfunction flows from that nation’s pure proportional voting system which uses no local ridings at all and assigns parties seats based purely on the proportion of their national vote with no cutoff on how small the party can be. Given the complicated nature of their politics this leads to a lot of fringe parties holding sway over power. While our politics isn’t as extreme such a system would clearly create a lot of small fringe member of parliament who might hold sway in a very close election. No one who proposes electoral reform in Canada is proposing to move to such a system, not that Mr. Spector suggests they do.
Next he follows on talking about NDP and Liberal coalition options but then he gives a warning and explanation of the possible small parties that could get similar destabilizing influence in our current system:
In Canada, the NDP or the Bloc Québécois would have substantial heft if voters give one or the other the balance of power after the next election. In our system, however, it has been generally understood that the party with the most seats forms the government and has 12 to 18 months to enact part of its program, thanks to the widely shared antipathy for another election. At least that was the understanding until the near crisis of 2008 gave rise to a broad interpretation by some of the reserve powers of the governor-general that would require the transfer of power to a coalition without an election.
Again, not really incorrect, but it contains a value judgement that this is how it should be and that the ‘substantial heft’ of the NDP or Bloc is somehow dangerous in a similar way to the alluded to ‘Israeli-style’ dysfunction mentioned above. In fact the NDP have much less influence than they should be given a more proportional electoral system and the Bloc have much more than they should. The ‘generally understood’ idea that Mr. Spector, the media and many politicians seem to enjoy is part of the problem. Why should a party that wins the most seats, even if it is 40% of the seats or less have the right to form government on their own at all? Surely its the majority of members that makes the difference.
Spector implies that using the power of the governor-general to properly form a government consisting of the largest number of MPs possible is somehow an improper ‘broad interpretation’. Yet what could be more fair than allowing MPs to work together to form the largest consensus possible. If they can make a compromise and agree to govern together, good for them, we shouldn’t stamp it because of an obsession with who ‘won’ a five-way election.
When there are five teams who all get to collect ‘points’ the winner who gets 40% of the points isn’t much of a winner if two other teams (or even three if you include the greens) can collect 50% or 60% of the points. Elections aren’t about which party wins, they are about sending people to parliament to represent us. Lets allow our elected officials to do their job the best way they can without second guessing them and accusing them of stealing government without an election.
We had an election, just like they did in the UK, and a majority of seats did not go to any one party. We ignored this and let the one with the most govern. The UK found a way to compromise and get more representation and did it without accusations of treason and stealing government and shutting down parliament. That’s what we should learn from them.