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The Liberal Nuclear Option

April 8, 2011

I’ve suggested this before but here it is again in brief, can anyone explain to me what the downside of this would be for the Liberals?

Nuclear Option: The Liberal party makes a statement in the last two weeks of the campaign such as

If we form government, our party will put forward legislation to create a commission to look into reform of our democratic institutions to improve inclusivity, representation and fairness. Specifically, this commission will look at the issue of reforming our electoral system to switch to a more fair system which ensures that every vote counts equally.  Voters for every party have difficult choices before them and often do not get their fair influence over the makeup of parliament.

This must change.

We commit to having a referendum within one year of forming government on whether some kind of electoral reform should be investigated. This will provide the mandate for the commission to look at specific options and put forward recommendations to parliament within two years. Thus if we are elected to a majority government these recommendations will come out before the next federal election and we can get on with the work of fixing our democratic deficit as well as our economic deficit.
– Imaginary Michael Ignatieff

This is a specific promise and it would be a call to all voters who feel their votes are being wasted to make a change. If the Liberals renege on this promise they would be decimated in the following election.  But if they make this promise they will get waves of strategic votes from Green, NDP and maybe even old PC style conservative voters (who could see this as a way to get to a state of  choosing between a Blue Liberal and a moderate conservative parties that could work together in parliament).

It won’t lose the Liberals any votes.  The NDP will complain it is a tactic to encourage strategic voting against them but (1) Jack has already hinted he doesn’t mind a bit of that and (2) the NDP can’t legitimately say this is a bad thing since any type of electoral reform would benefit them greatly. The Green’s would have an…well, they’d be excited, let’s say that. Harper would likely attack them of trying to rig the voting system to guarantee they’d win and that they don’t respect our fantastic centuries old voting system that nobody uses and even Britain is considering ditching. But with their record on respect for democracy you don’t need to even worry about that, anyone who is upset at them about the contempt etc. will be onside with you, everyone who isn’t upset has already made up their mind.

I don’t expect this to be an idea Iggy will come up with or go for initially.  But I do expect Bob Rae, Carolyn Bennett and Joyce Murray to bring it up at some strategy meeting and argue that it’s so crazy, it might just work. And you actually haven’t thought of this before then I’m totally ok with you just stealing the idea and pretending you came up with it, just do it!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2011 12:55 pm

    Proportional representation, despite its great merits, hasn’t been very popular in Canada. It failed to get majority support during the Ontario referendum. It’s been NDP policy for years, but it hasn’t done much for them.

    What would be point of having a referendum to think about electoral reform? Set up a commission to come up with two or three options plus the status quo and have a referendum separate from the election where voters choose their system with instant runoff voting.

    • April 8, 2011 1:10 pm

      I would definitely settle for your suggestion, but I think that’s actually too much to hope for all in one shot. It is precisely because electoral reform referenda have failed that we need to have a clear question put to voters about whether they want any change at all. All the previous referenda have been about two choices: keep the system you know or switch to one you don’t know much about that somepeople say is really bad (because there is always someone who will say any particular system is really bad)

      I think a general question on whether to move forward or not would provide the mandate to start the discussion. Untill we do that we’ll never get past the ‘but PR isn’t popular in Canada’ meme.


      • April 8, 2011 1:21 pm

        The problem I found with the referendum in Ontario wasn’t that people didn’t understand the new system. It’s that they didn’t understand existing one.

        People could point out the flaws in the new system, like that the party would appoint the list candidates, but they didn’t realize that under the current system its worse with leaders appointing candidates in safe seats or riding associations being hijacked by special interests. Both of these things would be much less likely when list candidates would be selected by parties.

      • April 8, 2011 1:28 pm

        indeed, and here in BC with a different system up in the referendum, STV, its opponents attacked it for removing too much power from parties and not being as good as MMP which Ontario was considering. Whenever you consider one option like this you are going to always have arguments about that other one which would be better. In New Zealand they used a staged referendum process with the first being a question about reform in general without mentioning any system, then a year later they had the question you proposed with multiple systems to choose from after a period of public discussion and education. They could also choose to keep the current system. They chose to switch.



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