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What’s the Best Route to a Coalition Government?

February 20, 2010

An interesting article today in the Vancouver Sun about the need for a coalition government. The main idea of the two BC professors is that three three centre-left parties, the Liberals, NDP and Greens, need to form a coalition and run candidates strategically if they are to hope to ever defeat the Conservatives.  You’ll remember that another political science professor at UBC, Michael Byers,  made some similar suggestions a few months ago. While I agree with the ends I’m not sure about the means which they suggest.  They seem to argue that the three coalition parties would work out amongst themselves which of them has the best chance in each riding and run just one of them.  This will not help allay fears of voters that ‘their choice is being made for them’ even if they don’t really our voting system actually does that anyways.

Another problem is that each party not running a candidate in some riding would lose all of the per-vote funding they receive for votes in that riding.  This would be difficult for the Liberals, horrible for the NDP and fatal for the Greens since they get around 10% of the vote nationally and most of their funding comes from that money.  Any coalition deal along these lines made before the election would need to include a guarantee that per vote funding would be redistributed to the parties that sacrificed by not running a candidate in some riding.  It is questionable whether this kind of transfer of money between parties for essentially not running against each other would be legal.  It probably shouldn’t be legal even though the intent in this case is legitimate.

I have suggested approaches such as this in the past. But I think it is unlikely and perhaps unwise for the parties to get together and turn each riding in the country into two way race.  I think all the parties should run in all ridings except for a small number where the centre-left vote is clearly being split and in the one or two cases where the Greens have a chance of winning based on local results.  This probably amounts to 20 or 30 ridings.  For all the others all parties should run but the message coming from the national campaigns should be one of respect for each other with the explicit promise that if another minority is the will of the Canadian people then these three parties will look into forming a coalition government by defeating the Conservatives in parliament and asking the Governor General to let them rule.

Telling this to voters up front is important because it lets us decide how to vote, to look at our riding and decide whether to vote with our heart or to vote strategically and rely on the coalition to balance out things.  An important component to this would be a comprehensive, unbiased website that ranks how likely each candidate is to win and giving a suggestion of who to choose in order to maximize the chance of a centre-left coalition forming government.  This will pop up on its own as there are several site out there almost like this.

This allows all the parties to run without being seriously accused of rigging the election, it allows the Liberals to form government if they actually win a majority and it deals with fear of the Bloc by declaring very clearly that they will not be part of any coalition.

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