Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Electoral Reform: Changing the Rules to Win Without Changing

Canadian progressives want to change the election rules in Canada so they can beat Stephen Harper without having to merge their ambitions within one center-left party. They claim Europe’s system of proportional representation would make Canada a more representative democracy—and, consequently, make it easier for voters to put them in power.

They warn obsessively that Canada’s right-wing government could become a vicious Tea Party. At the same time, they avoid thinking about the spectacular success of America’s Democratic Party—that victorious alliance of every significant center-left constituency in America.

Instead of taking their chances by uniting, by acknowledging the pettiness of their differences, they’d rather change Canada—change the way it elects governments and then, unavoidably, change the nature of government itself.

They'd change Canada instead of going to the polls to elect a strong Harper, Trudeau, Mulcair, or Elizabeth May government, and instead of throwing out the last election winners  when they overplay their majority in Parliament. They’d have Canadians elect a coalition of parties—small parties with ideas and constituencies too precious to fit within one platform, with one leader.

In effect, they ask Canadians to believe that their country is too complex and too fraught with divisions to put the big decisions before the electorate, in elections, in the form of two viable choices. They’d rather do the heavy lifting after the votes are counted.

Canadian political observers have been very indulgent. They don’t ask opposition leadership candidates aggressively why they don’t favor merging now to beat Harper in three years. They generally accept the explanation that their “cultures” are too different to fit under one banner.

Left opposition leaders are challenged only to “renew” their party policies. Yet why would it sound naive to ask Justin Trudeau to explain why Liberals and New Democrats can’t unite?—they all cheer for Obama, the UN, the Charter, green growth, free trade, a strong, creative federal government, and free enterprise.

Liberals and New Democrats are just as vain as Tories. And they were left alone to waste a decade in the wilderness before accepting the legitimacy of the Reform Party of Western Canada.

A left-of-center compromise, nevertheless, has been hatched to avoid looking as reactionary as the old right.

Opposition figures speak favorably of “electoral co-operation,” that is, agreeing to pick one anti-Harper candidate for each winnable Conservative riding. This gambit was shredded yesterday by possibly Canada’s toughest political analyst Chantal Hebert of the Toronto Star.

“But too many of them (co-operative arrangements) are really only looking for a shortcut to beat the Conservatives without having to do the heavy lifting of seeking policy common ground with their opposition rivals.

“In the absence of a joint comprehensive platform, the single-candidate approach amounts to asking voters to wear a blindfold as they craft a non-Conservative government.”

Not only would voters be asked to prefer any one of three opposition parties over the Conservatives, they’d have to want Harper out so badly that they’d accept any one of three alternative Prime Ministers, or a troika, instead.

Canada and America’s mobile, liberal cultures and governing imperatives have been well served by our transcontinental, two-party systems.

In times of severe stress and regional division, third parties emerge in both countries, and fade away. These, however, are normal times. The left is not divided among revolutionaries, communists, socialists, and social democrats—and the right is not divided on the abolishment of the progressive income tax, universal suffrage, or the restoration of the ancient powers of the crown.

We have amazing democratic machinery. We only need ambitious adults to employ it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment