Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Time for Canada’s NDP to move electoral reform forward

Justin Trudeau’s broken promise to make every vote count cost the Liberals their majority last year. It’s time for the NDP to act on their policy, adopted two years ago, that the NDP would make proportional representation a condition for support for any minority government.

As many sources report, many Liberal MPs are quietly saying they know this issue cost them many of the young voters they picked up in 2015, which in turn cost them their majority.

Common ground

Of course Justin Trudeau will resist reversing himself 180 degrees overnight. But the electoral reform process ended in 2017 with the Liberal members stating “we recommend that the Government further undertake a period of comprehensive and effective citizen engagement before proposing specific changes to the current federal voting system. We believe that this engagement process cannot be effectively completed before 2019.” The NDP platform in 2019 promised “We’ll establish an independent citizen’s assembly to recommend the best way to put it in place.” So there is common ground on how to move forward on this issue.

Parties should work together

During the pandemic, everyone wants parties to work together, just as parties generally do in countries with proportional representation. But if the Liberals are tempted to roll the dice and try for a majority, and refuse to engage citizens about Justin’s broken promise, the NDP should be ready.

Ranked Ballots are off the table

Justin Trudeau said it himself on Feb. 10, 2017: "I always felt that we could offer people to give a preference on your ballot. To rank your ballot. A lot of people don’t like it. A lot of people say it favours Liberals. I have heard very clearly that people don’t think that’s a good thing, or that they think it would favour Liberals too much. And therefore I’m not going near it, because I am not going to do something that everyone is convinced is going to favour one party over another.”

Not even the Liberal ERRE minority report recommend the ranked ballot. When the media asked why, the ERRE chair, Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia, said bluntly “nobody wants ranked ballots.”

I admit I could not have said it better.  So only proportional representation will make every vote count.

National NDP Policy

In February 2018 the NDP national convention passed overwhelmingly a resolution that:

"That the New Democratic Party of Canada reiterate its support for Mixed Member Proportional Representation and ensure that Mixed Member Proportional Representation be given a high profile in the NDP platform in the next federal election.

And that an NDP majority government will bring in proportional representation in time for the next election. In a minority parliament, the NDP would make proportional representation a condition for any potential alliance, or for support for any minority government." The arguments leading the convention to support this were Jagmeet’s own arguments, his statements during the leadership campaign and since. After three speakers on each side, it passed overwhelmingly. The resolution had been submitted to the Convention by 15 NDP riding associations across Canada.

Every MP will face the voters

In the past six years I have heard no New Democrat support a model with closed party lists. As the Law Commission of Canada recommended in 2004, "Based on the feedback received during our consultation process, many Canadian voters would also most likely desire the flexibility of open lists in a mixed member proportional system. In essence, allowing voters to choose a candidate from the list provides voters with the ability to select a specific individual and hold them accountable for their actions should they be elected."

The broken promise cost them their majority

In at least 16 ridings in 2015 the Liberal stick (Stop Harper) and carrot (this is the last time you will have to vote strategically and be represented by your second choice) had picked up enough Green and NDP votes for a Liberal candidate to pick up a seat. That includes some new voters who would have voted NDP or Green but switched to Liberal. Millennials were especially attracted by the pledge “we will make every vote count.”

The 2019 stick (Stop Scheer) held a few of those switchers, but with the carrot vanished, and the promises of “Sunny Ways” losing their shine, enough of those Green and NDP votes went back to the Greens or NDP to sink the Liberal in these 16 ridings. They fell 13 short of a majority.

The average in these 16 ridings was this: in 2015 the Liberals picked up about 5,200 votes from the NDP and about 700 from the Green Party. That’s about 5,900 mostly young voters. In 2019 they lost about 3,300 of them on average to the NDP and Greens. In each of these ridings that swing cost the Liberals the seat.

Four Liberal losses were to the NDP, Green or an Independent advocating proportional representation: St. John's East, Winnipeg Centre, Fredericton, and Vancouver Granville. The other 12 were to a Conservative: Calgary Centre, Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, Kildonan—St. Paul, Northumberland—Peterborough South, Hastings—Lennox & Addington, Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, Steveston—Richmond East, Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, Kelowna—Lake Country, Fundy Royal, New Brunswick Southwest, and Tobique—Mactaquac.

By contrast, in Beaches—East York Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith had won in 2015 on the same promise, but voted in the House for electoral reform, breaking ranks with the party. He won last fall with an increased majority.

BC Referendum

PR-sceptics may respond "the loss of the BC referendum changes things." But my own conclusion from polling data is "
Thousands of electoral reformers spent six months defending the process and how it was arrived at. It’s hard to admit that the process was the problem. But the polling evidence is clear. With a referendum on first-past-the-post versus a fully fleshed-out alternative, designed and explained via deep public consultation, PR would have won. Reformers should not be afraid to say so."