Monday, August 1, 2011

The coalition Canada almost had

A democratic voting system would have let NDP, Liberal and Green voters elect a majority in Parliament. They would have elected 97 New Democrat MPs, 56 Liberals and 11 Greens in the House of Commons. Just as a fair voting system would have given them in the elections of 2008, 2006 and 2004. That's assuming the MMP model recommended by the Law Commission of Canada.

But we almost got that on May 2, 2011. If 2.3% of the Liberal voters (blue Liberals) had not switched to the Conservatives in the final days before May 2, the Liberals would have held another 15 seats. Also, vote splits would have let the NDP take another five from the Conservatives while letting the Liberals hold on to one. Result: Conservatives 147, NDP 107, Liberal 49, Bloc 4, Green 1.

Would the Liberals have joined a coalition, or would they have supported Harper on the first confidence vote? We will never know for sure, but we do know what their voters wanted. On April 28 and 29, 2011, after the Liberals had slipped to third place in the polls, Angus Reid asked how voters would feel about various scenarios. On “The Conservatives win more seats than any other single party, but the Liberals and the NDP have more combined seats than the Conservatives. The Liberals and the NDP form a coalition government” they found 78% of Liberal voters liked it, 17% did not, and 5% were not sure. On “The Conservatives win more seats than any other single party, and form a minority government’ they found only 20% of Liberals liked it, while 76% did not. Of all voters planning to vote Liberal, only 13% said they would never consider voting NDP.

Would Ignatieff have accepted his voters’ wishes? He had spent the campaign saying “you’re looking at the guy who turned down the last coalition. I could be standing here as prime minister of Canada. I turned it down.” (Did this help scare the 17% of his voters away from a coalition with the NDP?) However, on this scenario he would have lost his own seat, and the Liberals would have dropped from 77 seats (so low that Dion resigned) to only 49 seats. So Ignatieff would have resigned.

By the time the House convened, the Liberals would have had an interim leader who would, let’s assume, have agreed to a coalition with the NDP.

It's not surprising that Liberal voters supported a coalition with the NDP. Even in January 2009 the initial hysteria against the Coalition had largely vanished, even though that earlier Coalition would have needed Bloc support.

Who might the cabinet have been? (Assuming 28 ministers (9 Liberals) and 11 ministers of state (3 Liberals).)

Jack Layton, Prime Minister
Tom Mulcair, Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Bob Rae, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Libby Davies, Health
Nycole Turmel, Public Works and Government Services
Ralph Goodale, Minister of Finance
Joe Comartin, Minister of Justice
Yvon Godin, Minister of Labour
Marc Garneau, Minister of Public Safety
Peter Stoffer, Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
Peter Julian, Minister of Industry
Dominic Leblanc, Minister of National Defence
Jack Harris, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway
Dave Christopherson, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities
Joyce Murray, Minister of National Revenue
Peggy Nash, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism
Charlie Angus, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario
John McCallum, Minister of Natural Resources
Linda Duncan, Minister of the Environment
Paul Dewar, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform and the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario
Stephane Dion, President of the Treasury Board
Françoise Boivin, Minister for Status of Women
Pat Martin, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development
Claudette Tardif, Leader of the Government in the Senate
Romeo Saganash, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
Nettie Wiebe, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board
Carolyn Bennett, Minister of International Cooperation
Alexandre Boulerice, Associate Minister of National Defence
Chris Charlton, Minister of State and Chief Government Whip
Jean Crowder, Minister of State (Finance)
Justin Trudeau, Minister of State (Sport)
Raymond Cote, Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism, and La Francophonie)
Don Davies, Minister of State (Asia-Pacific Gateway, Western Economic Diversification)
Anita Neville, Minister of State (Status of Women)
Dennis Bevington, Minister of State (Transport) and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency
Brian Masse, Minister of State (International Trade)
Martha Hall Findlay, Minister of State (Science and Technology)
Claude Patry, Minister of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec)
Irene Mathyssen, Minister of State (Seniors)

Would Elizabeth May also have been in cabinet? Why not?

In this what-if universe, let’s see what Jack Layton going on leave to fight cancer would have done. Who would have been interim Prime Minister?

Nycole Turmel still looks like the logical choice (although in hindsight, since Joe Comartin did not run for the leadership, he might also have been a good choice). Of all the potential NDP ministers, Turmel’s the veteran: the oldest (67), and with the longest history in federal politics of any New Democrat. She was Associate President (Labour) of the federal party almost 20 years ago. Turmel says “I’ve been at this for decades. In the 1990s, I chaired cross-country NDP panels that consulted Canadians on their ideas about progressive government. I moderated the leadership process that saw Jack Layton elected (in 2003).” She co-chaired, with Dick Proctor, the Social Democratic Forum on Canada’s Future, a panel of "nine distinguished Canadians" which held broad cross-country consultations between March 1998 and January 1999 "to create a vision for the future of the federation" and canvass Canadians' ideas about progressive government.

Active in PSAC (Public Service Alliance of Canada) since 1979, she served as vice president of a PSAC component in the late 1980s. She became PSAC Fourth Executive Vice-President from 1991 to 1994, First Executive Vice-President from 1994 to 1997, and National Executive Vice-President from 1997 to 2000. She became the first female PSAC President in 2000, retiring in 2006 when she was about to turn 63. She was also a member of the CLC Executive Committee. On leaving PSAC office she represented workers on the Management Committee of Financial Assets of the QFL Solidarity Fund, and served on many other boards.

Her term as PSAC President was marked by a major shift toward social activism for the union. She was a key player in the union's $3.6-billion pay equity settlement. Under her leadership, in 2003, PSAC created the Social Justice Fund to advance work in five priority areas including anti-poverty initiatives in Canada and humanitarian relief in Canada and around the world. During her presidency PSAC created its National Aboriginal, Inuit and Metis Network.

She had been so active at all levels of the party and the labour movement that Jack Layton drafted her from semi-retirement on Feb. 3, 2011, to be the NDP’s star candidate in Hull-Aylmer, one of the small handful of Quebec ridings that looked winnable at that time.

As the President of PSAC, Turmel had encouraged members of the union to vote for candidates - Liberal, NDP, and Bloc Québécois - that had been endorsed by the union for their progressive values and for being considered electable in their riding. In December 2006 Turmel made a political donation to the riding association of her friend, Carole Lavallée, who was the Bloc's labour critic; and also accepted a Bloc membership card in that riding. Turmel says that she refused to transfer her membership to her own riding when asked. Turmel, however, was never a separatist: she voted “no” in both the 1980 sovereignty referendum and in the 1995 sovereignty referendum, and has never voted for the Bloc. By voting NDP even in 2000, when the NDP got only 1.8% of the vote in Quebec, she showed herself as a hardcore federalist. This dual membership put Turmel in violation of the NDP constitution which prohibits being a member of more than one federal political party at the same time. In January 2011, Turmel cancelled her membership in the Bloc Québécois and agreed to run as a New Democrat candidate.