Wednesday, April 22, 2009

NDP Fantasy

There's some internet speculation floating around about the NDP extracting a referendum on PR as the price for keeping Harper's government afloat.

Ain't gonna happen.

Not a chance.

No way.

As much as the NDP would love a PR referendum, they couldn't even get that deal out of Paul Martin when he was desperately trying to cling to power in 2005. So given the Liberals are maybe-kinda thinking about voting down Harper sometime in the fall, it's not like he has a gun to his head.

And it makes absolutely no sense for Harper to sign on. Since the rise of the CCF, first past the post has been exceedingly kind to the Conservatives. They won the only two Gore Elections (lose popular vote, but win), in 1957 and 1979. And with governing coalitions the norm in a PR system, it has to concern Conservatives that their popular vote exceeded the Liberal-NDP vote in just two elections over that time period.

Now, that's not to say they'd only be in government for 8 years out of every 60. You could argue that a Conservative-NDP coalition would have been the logical end result in 2006. Or maybe they could try to go at it solo in a minority or form a grand coalition every now and then. But if Conservatives hate the compromises they've had to make now, it seems odd that they'd give away any chance of ever forming a majority government and condemn themselves to perpetual deal-making with the socialists and tree huggers.

NDP supporter Robert McCelland does prescribe a motive for Harper:

Harper’s coalition of reformers and red tories is fracturing once again. Proportional representation would allow these two factions to separate and pursue their own agendas without losing a disproportionate number of seats like they would under the current first past the post system. The right half of the political spectrum would essentially then have the same dynamic as the left with the red tories battling the liberals in the centre while the reformers pulled to the right in the same way the new democrats now pull to the left. Without the reformer baggage the red tories would then have a far greater chance of pulling support over to them from the liberals.

And that is probably what would happen eventually in a PR system. But you need to ask yourself this: If Stephen Harper's legacy is that he was the man who united the Conservative movement in Canada, why, oh why, would he want to also be the man who oversees the destruction of that party? Especially when you consider the PC/Ref/CA vote never matched the Liberal vote in three previous attempts, never mind the Liberal/NDP vote.

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29 Comments:

  • Dan,

    You are clearly playing Yahtzee while Harper employs a classic, non-circular Topalov chess strategy....

    Of course it is unlikely to happen....I just think if Layton does pursue it - even to just float it out publicly as a trial baloon that is almost certain to be shot down - it would be the smartest thing he has ever done as leader (and yes, that is about as big a deal as when I finished first at the tallest midget competition).

    But I also acknowledge that it's Layton so the "smartest" thing is almost certain not to happen.

    By Anonymous Rob Silver, at 8:40 AM  

  • Should the Libs try and bring the gov. down in the near future, though, it wouldn't surprise me if soe kind of NDP/CPoC deal is done.

    By Blogger bigcitylib, at 8:47 AM  

  • Whether it will happen or not I can't say. But, you can be sure of two things if a referendum is held. First, the corporate press will be united in its opposition to the idea and second, the Liberal Party will pretend to be neutral while working against the idea behind the scenes. I have seen this movie before.

    By Blogger Greg, at 8:48 AM  

  • Rob - Agreed. I'm not sure a push on PR would have much play outside of Jack's base, but it would definitely be worth doing.

    And, hey, maybe now that he has come so close to tasting power coalition-style, and it that it doesn't look like the NDP will be replacing the Liberals anytime soon, he'll be pushing for this a bit harder.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:11 AM  

  • Speaking of "fantasy", would anybody care to point out where Layton said anything about "keeping Harper's government afloat"? Last I checked he'd talked about working in Parliament over the next couple of months - when even by Dan's account the Libs were keeping the Cons propped up anyway.

    By Blogger The Jurist, at 9:14 AM  

  • I think Harper and Layton have a deal on something already. Perhaps EI - cause Layton is spewing the EI thing all over the media.

    Layton will sleep with anyone who'll let him keep his job.

    Tommy Douglas must be rolling over.

    What a shame.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:20 AM  

  • Layton will sleep with anyone who'll let him keep his job. At least Iggy is monogamous, he only sleeps with Harper.

    By Blogger Greg, at 9:35 AM  

  • when even by Dan's account the Libs were keeping the Cons propped up anyway....and the NDP were criticizing them for it.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:42 AM  

  • The real reason it will never happen is that it will force the NDP to say what kind of PR system they want to vote on. For years they've been calling PR a panacea to cure all democratic illsm yet have offered absolutely no proposals. I want my local MP chosen locally, not by Jack and his wife, not by Jack and his donors, not by Jack and his friends.
    The NDP will face a serious backlash in rural Canada, and Consitutional challenges from minority communities if they try to ram this down our throats.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:52 AM  

  • And I'd argue that they're right to continue criticizing the Libs for it. But given that the Harper government isn't going to fall anyway due to the Libs' support, there's no way one can say that any effort to work out a deal on EI in the meantime would actually prop up the Cons in any meaningful sense of the phrase.

    By Blogger The Jurist, at 10:53 AM  

  • If Harper needed to, he could probably agree to such a referendum, if only because the provincial results on such referenda in the past, as well as the vested interests of the bulk of his own party, the Liberals, and the Bloc, would vote against it anyway.

    By Blogger IslandLiberal, at 11:36 AM  

  • Greg - your response was rather stupid.

    You see, Ignatieff has made deals with Harper whereas Layton has tried to deal with any stray cat.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:15 PM  

  • Yep, lots of deals. Like... um... er... and...

    Jurist got it right. There's no sense in which the NDP are "propping up" the Conservatives. Liberals need to acknowledge that they haven't gotten anything in return for their support.

    By Blogger ADHR, at 12:49 PM  

  • Whoa - sorry - big typo. I meant to say "Ignatieff HASN'T made deals"

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:50 PM  

  • "Ignatieff HASN'T made deals"

    Well, except that thingy he signed for the governor-general back in the fall sometime. I guess you could argue he didn't make the deal but he certainly endorsed it.

    By Anonymous An Incovenient Truth, at 1:23 PM  

  • Well I don't know about cats, but Layton has tried to make deals with other parties besides the Tories, so if that makes Jack a slut, then Iggy is the virtuous lover.

    By Blogger Greg, at 3:22 PM  

  • Also, you are defining "deal" far too narrowly. I would call letting the budget pass a "deal".

    By Blogger Greg, at 3:23 PM  

  • IslandLib - Good point. Harper could assume the thing would fail (just stick the regional vetoes and a high pass threshold on it). That would be his only reason to play ball on it.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 5:11 PM  

  • Not sure that I agree fully with your analysis that PR wouldn't be a good strategic move for the Conservatives. In the short-term, I think you are right. But since Harper seems to be taking a long-term view of establishing a permanent conservative movement, a few points to consider:

    1) As much as PR would make it tough for the conservatives to win a majority, it would also make it almost impossible for the Liberals to win an outright majority as well.

    2) There are a lot of votes locked up with the BQ right now which if/when they dissolve will be up for grabs and may come (home?) to the Conservatives.

    3) Since Canada has essentially a 2 1/2 party system where in any given region no more than 2 parties are really competitive, then there could be a big electoral advantage to having the conservative "movement" split up into regional parties that maximize their vote, and then form a working coalition in Parliament. I don't think you can compare numbers to pre-CPC because all of those parties were trying to compete as national parties instead of regional ones, which inevitably impacts their electoral success.

    Point being that since even under the best conditions Harper has been unable to pull off a majority, I can see him viewing PR as a way to deny a clear Liberal win and ensure that a coalition of like-minded conservative parties can govern or at least have a significant influence on national politics long into the future.

    By Blogger Prairie Fire, at 5:45 PM  

  • But regional conservative parties wouldn't be likeminded; the Atlantic and Quebec versions, in particular, would be old-style Red Tories. In terms of forming a government, they'd probably be as likely to throw in with the Liberals (or whatever groups the Liberals would become under this system).

    Up to this point, Harper's been playing to destroy his opponents; I can't see him ever concluding that he should win by permanently sundering his own party.

    By Blogger IslandLiberal, at 6:20 PM  

  • You are arguing that Harper wouldn't support PR - something I think is accurate. It is another thing altogether to say that Harper wouldn't support a REFERENDUM on electoral reform, where PR was an option.

    Consider Harper's position next fall. The economy will probably be at the very beginning stages of recovery, but not enough for Harper to beat Ignatieff. This is doubly bad because Ignatieff can take credit for the recovery and easily win majority a year later.

    Harper could rationally make a PR referendum deal IFF he thought the referendum would fail. People may not love first-past-the-post, but any alternative will piss off many people. Ontario's referendum showed that electoral reform is unpopular there. It is hard to imagine Quebec supporting PR either, since it would reduce their ability to voice regional grievances. Atlantic Canada is over-represented in parliament presently, and would stand to lose from PR. Only in the west could I see support, and even there, the solid plurality of Conservatives out west would have little incentive to adopt PR. Moreover, none of the parties save the NDP would support PR.

    Alternately, Harper could agree to a referendum, but get himself defeated before the vote (but after an economic recovery was clear), or just plain renege on the deal.

    Jack Layton might still be willing to make such a deal IFF his election prospects were poor (check) and his chances of forming a coalition were nil (check).

    Moreover, even raising the salience of electoral reform is a good issue for Layton, because he is on one side, while every other party in parliament is on the other side.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 4:44 PM  

  • The discussion has been had thousands of times, and the conclusion is always the same: do you want a coalition to be formed after an election, with the winners breaking every promise they made during the election in the name of compromise to govern, or do you want a coalition to be formed before an election, with the winners held to account for their election promises?

    By Blogger paul.obeda@, at 4:50 PM  

  • I'd love to see the math from those who believe the Liberals can form a majority under THIS (FPTP) system. Short of a complete Conservative AND NDP meltdown out West AND a Bloc meltdown in Quebec, i'ts pretty much impossible for the Libs to win a majority anymore. All their past majorities come 100 seats in Ontario, good luck doing that again!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:52 PM  

  • Current polling numbers are very similar to the 2004 election results, so it is worth asking how close we were to a majority in 2004. Martin had 135 seats, 20 short of a majority.

    A 4-point swing in Ontario would have gained Martin 13 seats. In BC 3. In SK/MB 4. So, yes, if Ignatieff polls about as well as Martin in 2004, but runs 2 points better, and the Tories 2 points worse in those three regions, Ignatieff will have a majority.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 8:03 PM  

  • Hoser:
    That's nonsense. Ontario 13 more seats? (not to mention the Libs won't get Martin's 2 seats in Alberta either, 1 is a best case scenario)

    McGuinty won by a 12% margin in Ontario in 2007 (the Cons WON by 5% margin in 2008) and won three seats LESS than Martin in 2004.
    The 2004 Martin numbers were 44.7% Lib-31.5% Con, you think the Libs can do any better than 45% when they only get 34% in the last election?

    Since 2004 the prov-fed seat boundaries were exactly aligned so using McGuinty as a model for how many seats the Libs would pick up with a given margin is much more appropriate.

    So not sure where you get your math from and I highly doubt the Libs can win by more than 12% in Ontario.

    Do you really think they can pick up 50 seats(!)? (since that what it would mean to do 13 seats better than Martin)

    Good luck with that, they'd need to do A LOT better than Martin's numbers for that. You can't ignore the powers of incumbency either.

    So given what you suggested is pretty much impossible and even then that's only a 1 seat majority (someone cross the floor and it's over), where is the ACTUAL math for a Liberal majority?

    Would LOVE to see it.

    As a sidepoint let's say the math you pointed out did work out, wouldn't that be a recipe for a national unity disaster in which a Liberal majority is made up of 56.7% Ontario MPs and only 13.5% Western MPs? Wasn't that supposed to be why the coalition was toxic?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:41 PM  

  • According to the latest Ekos poll, conducted not very long ago, the Liberals are at 37% nationally, while Harper is at 30%. Harper's "right track" numbers are dismal.

    In Ontario Iggy leads by 10 points (42-32). That is only a half point smaller than the lead McGuinty had in 2007 - a lead which gave him a 71 seat majority in Ontario.

    The Liberals are also only 7 points behind the Bloc in Quebec.

    Moreover, bad polls seriously weaken Harper's hold on his team of misfits. His threats are useless if people think he will be gone in a few months.

    What this confirms to me is something I secretly feared. Harper didn't destroy the Liberals as Canada's natural governing party (Dion was just the worst politician in Canadian history). Pretty soon all will be back to normal and the Liberals will be back in Ottawa.

    Harper probably won't make it past fall, though even if he did, he would be the 5th longest-serving Conservative PM in Canadian history.

    http://www.ekospolitics.com/index.php/2009/04/ekoscbc-survey-april-16-2009/

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 9:56 PM  

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