Thursday, August 17, 2023

Does Canada need a new Centre Party?

 Two prominent “Blue Liberals” wrote June 30 “Where is the Purple Party?

John Manley is a former deputy prime minister. Martha Hall Findlay is a former MP who ran for the Liberal leadership. They wrote “As former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole pointed out in his final speech in the House of Commons: “Canada has been slowing down at a time when the world is asking us to speed up.” Former Liberal finance minister Bill Morneau stressed this same concern about Canada dramatically falling behind and not achieving its potential in his recent book, Where To From Here. “. . . many Canadians might now be responsive to a more centrist approach, perhaps a “radical centre.” “What is needed is openness to ideas unconstrained by the labels of “right” and “left,” working instead on moving forward. We and a good number of other Canadians have, over the years, joked in asking, “Where is the Purple Party?” Not in the middle, but taking the best from the “red,” and the best from the “blue.”

Of course, the winner-take-all First Past The Post system discourages any third parties.

However, making every vote count with proportional representation has allowed centrist governments in Europe. Germany has six parties: the governing centre-left coalition excludes the Left Party and the two conservative parties, but includes the centrist liberal Free Democrats.

In the 16 German states, ten have centrist coalition governments. The national three-party left-centre coalition is in power in Rhineland-Palatinate, while a three-party Grand Coalition (Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Free Democrats) governs Saxony-Anhalt. In seven states the centrist coalition is a Grand Coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats and/or Greens. In Bavaria the centrist Free Voters are in the governing coalition That leaves two states with a Social Democrat-Green coalition, one state with a Social Democrat one-party government, and three states where the Left Party is part of the governing coalition; but nowhere is the hard-right AfD in cabinet.      

It's not just Germany. After last year’s election in Denmark, the governing Social Democrats decided to form a centrist coalition of the three largest parties, the other two being the centre-right liberals and the centrist Moderates. Austria has a conservative-Green coalition government.

By contrast, look at the one country where a new centrist party tried to beat the odds by taking power in a winner-take-all system: Macron’s party in France. By a fluke, he did, once.

The 2012 election for the French National Assembly, using a winner-take-all two-round system, followed the victory of Socialist Party candidate François Hollande as President, defeating incumbent conservative Nicolas Sarkozy. The Socialist Party and allies won 58% of the seats, while the conservatives won 40%. Rightist Marine Le Pen’s National Front won 14% in the first round but few of its candidates advanced to the second round and only two won seats. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Left Front got only 7% in the first round and won only 10 seats. Both Le Pen and Mélenchon were defeated.

Centrist François Bayrou had run third for President with 19% in 2007, but ran fifth in 2012 with only 9%, and in the National Assembly election his party got less than 2% and only 2 seats. A total two-party environment.

But in 2016 Emmanuel Macron, a minister in Hollande’s Socialist government, resigned to launch his own new centrist movement to support his presidential campaign. Centrist François Bayrou announced support for Macron.

Luckily for Macron, incumbent François Hollande had become so unpopular that he did not seek re-election in 2017. Hollande’s candidate Manuel Valls was defeated for nomination as the Socialist Party candidate by his left-wing rival Benoit Hamon, but Mélenchon out-shone him. Also boosting Macron’s campaign was the scandal of the moderate conservative (Republican) candidate François Fillon, who won his party’s primary but the national financial prosecutor then placed him under formal investigation for misuse of public funds and fraud, for putting his wife and children on the payroll. Marine Le Pen became the strongest conservative candidate, and the vote for the first round was Macron 24%, Le Pen 21%, Fillon 20%, Mélenchon 19.6%, and Hamon only 6.4%. For the second round, to stop Le Pen both Fillon and Hamon supported Macron who got 66% of the vote.

But Macron’s project had no roots. In 2021 in the 12 Regional Council elections the winning traditional parties in 2015 all retained control in 2021: moderate conservatives in seven regions, Socialists and their allies in five regions. Macron’s centrists got only 11% overall, ranging from 11.1% to 16.6% of the votes in 8 regions, while in 3 they were under 10%. In those 11 regions they were shut out of positions in the cabinets of the regional government. In only one region were they part of a grand coalition with moderate conservatives against Le Pen.

And Macron’s project failed to show enough staying power. in the 2022 election Macron lost his majority, getting only 245 seats. The new Left Alliance got 153 seats, Le Pen 89, moderate conservatives 64, others 26. 


Robert McDonald said...

As you note, FPTP discourages third parties.
Only if one adopts some form of PR will new parties have a reasonable chance to participate in government.

Vivian said...

Quite right, Wilf. Our voting system is an important part of the reason why the centre is hollowing and political options on the right keep disappearing. It's important that Canadians make that connection.

I do wonder If a "radical centre" can exist, and what that would look like. Can you explain?

Wilf Day said...

What would a "radical centre" look like? Good question.

Manley and Findlay wrote "Bold and decisive is anything but mushy. What is needed is openness to ideas unconstrained by the labels of “right” and “left." More extreme candidates (are) winning nominations – this applies to all current parties. The result is fewer and fewer moderate candidates that many Canadian voters can feel comfortable voting for. And to top it all off, many MPs are elected, and governments chosen, with a minority of the votes cast.

"Imagine that in the next election you could vote for a candidate and a team that, rather than offering a shopping list of expensive promises, stood for basic values and policy principles that don’t necessarily fit any label currently on the political spectrum, but that embody the need for economic prosperity and how to achieve it; that strive for equality of opportunity for all Canadians; that insist on human rights, dignity and respect for all; and that believe that government should be a force for good, but only where needed."

"The ripples of discontent feel like they’re becoming a wave. . . . Maybe that ripple of discontent is turning into a wave for change. It’s time for interested Canadians to start having this conversation, to envision Canada’s enormous potential, and to consider what is needed for us to achieve it."

Wilf Day said...

Bob wrote "Only if one adopts some form of PR will new parties have a reasonable chance to participate in government."


Wilf Day said...

In France, after an all-party meeting centrist and Macron ally Francois Bayrou said "leaders agreed to hold a "major conference on our institutions." They would discuss topics including proportional representation in parliament, he added.