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Vote, Check, Stalemate

August 16, 2010

Just saw this post about NDP-Liberal Coalitions by Gregory Morrow over on democraticSpace and my comment was getting so long it might as well be a blog post.

Greg makes the point that with all this talk of how the NDP and Liberals should form an alliance or coalition before or after the election one thing has been mostly missing from the discussion.  The best solution would really be for both parties to fervently support electoral reform which would resolve the current deadlock in parliament by actually requiring a majority representation of voters to form a government.  Coalitions would then become a normal process, worked out after elections by parties that have the accurate amount of representation matching their national support.

The Liberal party in particular needs to realize that the days of dominating parliament with majorities are over.  With the West growing and Quebec shrinking in the relative population game its only going to get harder for any one party to appeal to 40-45% of the country and get a ‘majority’.

The House of Commons after the 2008 election, ...

The current stalemate in parliament.

It is, of course, possible for the Liberals and the NDP to form a coalition after the next election if they get the right numbers and I think they should be open about that possibility rather than cowering in fear of what the Conservatives will say about it being undemocratic.  The Conservative party has provided ample demonstration in the past year that they do not care about or perhaps even understand what a vibrant democracy means.   They want a Canada skewed to support their views and give disproportionate voice to their supporters.  This is perhaps an understandable reaction given that other groups have had disproportionate power  in the past. But a much better solution for everyone would be to remove the inequity altogether rather than shift it to supporting a new group.

Pollster Ian Wright says the proposed addition of new seats in parliament will fix this problem. Extra seats are being added to parliament to account for population growth in Ontario, Alberta and BC. Quebec is not getting any news seats since they already have more than their population percentage warrants.  While this is a good step and a necessary one to adjust for population changes over time it isn’t a real solution.

The real representation problem with Quebec is that they get a voting bonus for the Bloc since they are regionally focussed.  The Bloc adds an extra choice to the ballot not present in other provinces and splits the federalist votes taking a majority of Quebec seats.  The problem isn’t that Quebec gets 75 seats in parliament it’s that 50 of those seats go to one party that doesn’t run anywhere else in the country and will never form government.  Bloc seats are thus wasted seats in any calculation of majority rule.  They are also tricky seats to use for any coalition as long as the Bloc still officially supports Quebec separation.

So the stalemate continues.

Realigning seats will help, but not much, the Ontario seats will be split three ways, the Alberta seats will mostly (or all) go CPC and the BC seats will split two or three ways (depending where they are), no seismic shift here.  If might be enough to allow the NDP and Liberals to comfortably form a coalition after an election if the voters fall just right for them, but that’s not the point.  We are still looking for small, almost random sways in public opinion to shift the entire dynamic of who runs government.  Democracy is supposed to be more robust than that.

The real solution is to introduce some kind of electoral reform, partly proportional representation, ranked voting, lists — I don’t care, anything would be better than this.  Then Quebec would get just as much representation as they do now but as part of a wider spread of parties.  Alberta would get some Liberals and NDP; cities would get some Conservatives; the Green party would get some much deserved representation.  The Greens and Bloc would have small but not insignificant voices in parliament; the NDP would have more voice and the Liberals and Conservatives would likely be equal but could both claim a much broader, inclusive representation of the country.  Coalitions would be formed out of that mix, the NDP-Liberal coalition would not be the only possibility by a long shot.  In other words, the result would be good for everyone from politicians, to voters, event to non-voters who would have a reason to rethink their choice not to participate.

I simply don’t understand why it isn’t a major issue of discussion.  We have a problem right now with our democracy, the deadlock in voting makes it evident.  As I see it, the ball is in the Liberal party’s court.  Everyone else’s views on electoral reform are known and predictable
  • the NDP are for it, but won’t say so as long as the possibility of slaying the Liberals entirely and taking their place is so tantalizingly close
  • the Bloc is against it because it threatens their entire existence, fair enough
  • the Conservatives think democratic reform means Senate reform only, they’d rather change the way Canadians think slowly over time and get majorities to make Canada into a more conservative, non-socialized, laissez-fare country
  • the Greens are enthusiastically for it since it benefits them greatly but no one cares since the current system unfairly gives them no voice at all
  • the Liberals need to wait to check what the next polls say to decide what they believe

As I’ve said before, getting strongly behind an electoral reform process would distinguish the Liberals and provide plan for getting out of the stalemate we are in right now.   Otherwise we’ll just go through more elections of minority governments until randomly some day someone wins thanks to a small temporary peak in support or a major gaffes of one of their opponents.

For the good of the country and their party, the Liberals need to provide us with a better option.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 16, 2010 4:28 pm

    Unfortunately until our current lot of MPs realize that more can be accomplished by compromise than confrontation they will avoid coalitions. Then there are all the ill informed Canadians that believed Harpers self serving spin and lies about their legitimacy. Any electoral reform is decades away even if the process was started now, so somehow we must protect what little of the democratic process that is left before it is to late.

    Democracy requires dialog, please join us at

  2. RamaraMan permalink
    August 16, 2010 7:29 pm

    The only way a Coalition of Libs/NDP/Greens will garner 155 seats in the 41st Parliament is to agree to run just a single Coalition candidate against a CPC incumbent, in 45-50 marginally held Conservative ridings. The fight right now must be the removal of the Harper government! All other issues for the CDNLEFT must be subservient to this matter. Once Harper is gone reforms can be implemented that can ensure the Radical-Right never govern like tyrants again!

  3. September 5, 2010 5:02 pm

    Mark, excellent post (well, I would say that, wouldn’t I, since we think alike.)

    See my own blog post:

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