It is time for progressives in Canada to face a certain reality; electoral cooperation as it is understood is impossible, or at least incredibly unlikely.
The point of electoral cooperation is that the “left-wing” parties (NDP, Liberals and Greens) divide the vote. When put together they form a strong majority, especially when measured against the 40% the Conservatives use to form majority government. Proponents of cooperation want the three parties to not compete against each other in ridings held by Conservative MPs, nominate a consensus candidate and rally behind her/him to defeat the Tories. The winning coalition of New Democrats, Liberals and Greens would then introduce proportional representation for the following election.
The idea has been floating around in some form since at least the 2011 federal election where 60% of voters chose “progressive” parties and instead we got a Conservative majority government. Since that time the issue has been debated by the New Democrats and Liberals and both have seemed to come to some firm conclusions.
In 2011 the NDP held a policy convention in Vancouver. One of the resolutions was to rule out electoral cooperation with the Liberals, and eliminate the possibility of a merger. The resolution was adopted by a majority of the delegates there and it is safe to say reflects (at least to some measure) the membership of that party. In 2012 Nathan Cullen (NDP – Skeena-Bulkley Valley, BC) ran to be NDP leader on an explicit platform of cooperation. While many argue that Cullen’s campaign was buoyed by this plank he ultimately finished third with about 25% of the vote. Tom Mulcair (NDP – Outremont, QC) has never supported cooperation.
In the Liberal leadership race Joyce Murray (LPC – Vancouver Quadra, BC) has also been campaigning on cooperation. Despite the fact that she built a significant network within the Liberal Party it is Justin Trudeau (LPC – Papineau, QC) who will be anointed leader in the near future. Trudeau has expressly rejected cooperation and gone further to suggest that Canadians don’t really understand what proportional representation is, and it would not be good for the country.
Therefore by May 2013 with the Mulcair NDP and Trudeau Liberals cooperation is a dead issue. This ignores the legal, practical and political forces against electoral cooperation. While a simple idea it would force a radical shift in the political culture of our country. I do not believe it is impossible, but it would probably take a long time to figure out, and definitely not something that could be thrown together in the year leading up to an election. That all being said, recent polling suggests that cooperation before the election will be unnecessary.
Eric Grénier from 308 Blog broke down how recent polls would affect seat distribution on his website and for the Globe and Mail. With the Liberals and Tories sitting at about 30% each and the NDP at 25+% it seems that the Conservatives winning an outright majority is out of the question. Part of the explanation is that the Liberals and NDP are strong in different parts of the country. Liberal fortunes are on the rise in Ontario and Atlantic Canada. This badly cuts into the Conservative majority, which is primarily built in Ontario.
Grénier estimates that at current polling the CPC would win 136 seats, LPC 102, NDP 86, BQ 13 and Greens 1. Yes, the Conservatives still win the largest number of seats, but the NDP and Liberals could combine to form a coalition government of 188 seats. Even if the reverse were to happen the Liberals could support an NDP government. The question is what could happen next. Fearing a Tory revival I’m sure Mulcair and Trudeau would be under considerable pressure to introduce electoral reform. Given Trudeau’s position something like instant runoff might carry the day, but even that is preferable to our current system.
I understand the above is predicated on a lot of ifs, but so is electoral cooperation. More important than cooperating before an election our progressive parties should consider cooperating after and permanently ending our antiquated election system.