02.07.2017 08:39 AM

NDP doctor, heal thyself, etc.

The CBC informed me, this morning, that there is a petition with many names on it about Justin Trudeau’s broken “electoral reform” promise.  Here it is.

Is it a broken promise?  Well, there’s no dancing to be done on the head of that particular pin. As I said on the regular Monk/Mills/Kinsella panel on Evan Solomon’s CFRA show yesterday – it is a broken promise, yes.  But it was the right one to break.

I’ve offered ten reasons for that in the past.  The main one, as I related to my CFRA pals, is that Canadian democracy belongs to Canadians – and self-interested politicians are not allowed to fundamentally change it without carefully, thoughtfully and methodically consulting with the people who make up that democracy, first.  That applies to all of the parties.

Anyway.  The NDP – as with all things – is brimming with outrage and piety about the broken promise.  They’re whinier than Donald Trump after being forced to watch a weekend-long Saturday Night Live retrospective.

They say Justin Trudeau is a liar, the Liberals are going to lose the next election over this, blah blah blah.  And so on.

So I (and others, apparently) got to thinking.  In the (too) many times when the Dippers have been in power, they brought in proportional representation right away, right?  I mean, proportional representation – uncharitably known, to some, as The Endangered New Democrat Species Act – is central to our very survival as a people, isn’t it?  So, what did the NDP do about it when they won power under that awful, illegitimate, undemocratic first-past-the-post system?

Well, they did nothing, actually.




  1. Christian says:

    Your (and my) MP, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith’s office has been flooded with calls of support for his stance criticising the Liberals for breaking their promise (according to the office staff person I spoke with). My feeling is its not so much about electoral reform itself. But more that Trudeau broke a promise that he specifically made (and repeated on the campaign trail more than once) and tied it to his pitch that he would do things differently. Its this sort of stuff that increases cynicism in politics, erodes Trudeau’s appeal as ‘young, fresh, different’ and gives ammo to would be populists.

  2. Joe Vasseur says:

    Thats right. You should keep following the Barack Obama model of neoliberalism. Look pretty and sound as progressive as you can to as many demographics as you can and when you get into power act on social issues while doing nothing to address the underlying economic and democratic issues. You make an astute point about no other party implementing proportional representation but you fail to acknowledge the time period that we are living through currently. As neoliberalism continues to squeeze the middle classes more and more the levels of POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT ARE HIGHER THAN EVER BEFORE. Where as in the past this issue would barely register as a blip on the political landscape we are living in much more sensitive times presently. Ask Barack Obama how promising systemic change and delivering incrementalism worked out for neoliberal friends south of the border. Look at how they scream about how they captured the majority of the popular vote but a less than democratic electoral process (electoral college in this case) delivered them Donald Trump. Time to get out of business as usual (politicians and especially smug pundits) and start delivering for the people of this country. You won’t have Ted Cruz North (Harper) to go against next election. If the NDP can adopt a legitimate progressive movement and leave behind the center-left neoliberalism of Mulcair Trudeau will start to pay the price of his many missteps. If not then we have the potential of some Trump light Conservative trying to fill the political void that neoliberal economics eventually creates by offering austerity as the only viable political solution to what ails our (all ?) society. So continue to provide brilliant, snarky, tone deaf takes where you can deflect the blame onto someone or something else other than typical, business -as-usual out of touch politicians rather than confronting issues that Canadians deserve fair analysis on. Tackle some American issue like your take on this one and you might be able to become a contributor on CNN.

    • Miles Lunn says:

      Most of Europe who uses PR also is neo-liberal as well. The reality is while people may complain about our economic system, but I don’t think there is a huge desire to take a sharp turn to the left never mind the damage in economic growth from it would be far greater. True neo-liberalism like any system has its flaws, but it also is a big reason why we are one of the most prosperous countries on earth. Perhaps maybe doing more to help those left behind rather than getting rid of it is the solution.

      • Economic growth has been slower during the Neo-liberal 1980s, 1990s and 2000s then it was during the Keynesianism of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

        • Miles Lunn says:

          I would argue demographics is the main culprit. The 70s which was still Keynesianism had high inflation, high interest rates, and high deficits and likewise the 80s had a bad start and end due to the recession but some of the best growth in between. The late 90s likewise was one of the strongest post war booms although to be fair most Western governments were centrist as you generally as unlike now most countries had centre-left parties in power that were more pro free market than their parties traditionally were. Chretien, Clinton, Blair, and Schroeder were examples of this, while in the 70s you had the more ideological left wing ones in many countries be it Trudeau Sr., Carter, Callaghan in the UK, Mitterand in France. Carter was the least ideological of them while Mitterand and Callaghan were the worst offenders and both were disasters for their respective countries. It is why Jeremy Corbyn will never be PM. He has no charisma so cannot bring out younger voters while the older voters in Britain remember his policies from the 70s and don’t wish to go back. Since 2000, you have more people retiring than entering the labour force so no matter what political stripe the government is this will slow growth. Japan which has the highest median age in the world and largest senior population has tried every fiscal policy possible and not one of them has managed to kick start their economy.

        • Ted H says:

          Why is PR necessarily considered a turn to the Left? Or is it simply that any policy based on evidence, fairness and common sense is considered leftist by anyone whose centre is as close to balance as a man with only one arm, the right one.

      • Joe Vasseur says:

        Neo liberalism and free markets unconstrained by government regulations is great for creating wealth but has no interest in a sane redistribution of wealth. It is only concerned with cost reductions (wages). You may have noticed that the it is not just USA, GB but most of Europe that is revolting against neoliberalism. France, Holland, Italy, Spain are all starting to lean heavily to the right. PR gives more room for a diversity of voices to at least challenge and slow down the rise of right wing nationalism that is one possible outcome. It beats alternative of a base of right wing parties controlling everything. May be a slower and more burdensome process but at least everyones voice will count and some form of consensus would be required before terrible policies could be enacted. The USA also does not have PR and now we get to enjoy Donald Trump even though he got less votes. 1 person equals 1 vote is democracy however messy that might be. You might not want a populist left movement to tackle the rights populism (even though regular people are crying out for one) but we should be doing everything in our power to encourage voters to particapate and this is the very best way to do it, flaws and all. Just ask Justin Trudeau, he laid it all at during his election campaign.

  3. As an NDP supporter, I would like to take this opportunity to condemn them for their failure to do so.

    • daveconstable says:

      Same here. In 2001 I was an increasingly disgruntled member here in BC. After the election that year, the Green leader, Carr, came up with a petition for a referendum that mixed our 34 federal ridings, with PR for the other 35 seats. A step forward and perfectly sellable. Teh big shots down south sat on it. I asked frequently and was told, We have a committee working on this. I never saw a report or any evidence of a committee on this at all. Carr’s petition got ony 58% – not the 60% required to force a referendum.
      Then came the Citizens’ Assembly. Academics sold them the Single Transferable Vote. This time, NDP big shots down south actively campaigned against the idea. It was complicated to sell, and went down in flames at the referendum held at eh same time as a provincial election.
      I figured that the leadership of the NDP in BC was okay with FPTP and just sitting around waiting for their turn a the trough.
      That’s what Liberals and Conservatives federally are doing…just awaiting their turn at the trough.
      The Conservatives played FPTP perfectly for 10 years, and the Liberals are doing okay now, as well.
      So now, about 28% of registered voters gives the PMO 100% of power (as exemplified by this trashing of Electoral Reform ) …it’s a wet dream for well heeled lobbyists.

      Not so good for people who opt for a a modern democracy!

  4. bluegreenblogger says:

    Two weeks ago I suggested that this was an ‘own goal’ by the Liberals. I am pretty certain of it now. I know a lot, a lot of people who are quitting the Liberals, swearing and cursing ten times louder than usual, because they did believe the promise, and worked their asses off to get Trudeau elected. Personally, I am pissed off too. Not because I yearn for electoral reform, but because I believed, and persuaded other friends to believe, and they believed and worked shoulder to shoulder with me…. I will never do that again. I may volunteer, but I will not drag in every person I know ever again.

  5. Peter says:

    What seems to have happened is that a sizeable number of wonkish types from third parties (many of whom spent ten years trying to convince themselves Harper had no mandate) got behind this issue and spent a lot of time talking to one another and to similarly wonkish academics and politicans, and to no one else. Although quite divided on the alternatives, they all wanted change and came to believe there was no argument against and that there wasn’t much difference between FPTP and a dictatorship. The rhetoric became overblown (“wasted votes”, etc.). When it finally started to be put to the public in a serious way, they discovered to their chagrin that many folks didn’t care much or see the urgent need for change, and they certainly did not believe Canada isn’t a “real democracy”. What was looming was popular resistance, not on substance, but on being asked to rubber stamp a consensus from on high about a confusing issue without being particularly disatisified with the status quo. Remember Charlottetown?

    Proponents of marijuana legalization should take note. Majority support for generalities in simple opinion polls does not automatically translate into ongoing support when all the detailed “Who, What, How” questions are thown out front and center. If you want it, you’d better get out and fight for it, not just agree with like-minded people about how backward the status quo is and how irrational its defenders are.

    • Joe Vasseur says:

      It was such a wonkish issue put forward by a slim minority with all kinds of self interest motivating them that did not communicate it to the body politic that Justin Trudeau fell right into their clever wonky trap and made grand election promises on almost every campaign stop he appeared on to address this wonky issue so that he could capture the hearts and minds and votes of all that wonky minority of voters out there. What insightful analysis

  6. Steve T says:

    Proportional Representation is favored by losers.

    Catching your attention with that provocative sentence, let me expand. PR is favored by those who wouldn’t otherwise have any hope of winning many seats. The fewer seats you think you can win in first-past-the-post, the more you like PR. That’s why Lizzy May is completely apoplectic about Trudeau’s broken promise. The Greens have the most to gain in PR.

    By contrast, the provinces you’ve highlighted are ones where the NDP has won under FPTP. So they have no incentive to change to PR, because they know they might actually lose ground.

    Proving once again that, no matter how noble the purpose seems to be, every political party is guilty of favoring self-serving policies.

    • Joe Vasseur says:

      I have an idea. Forget about political parties and worry about the people of the country instead. One person equals one vote regardless of political aspiration, period. You get what you get. The lobbyists would hate that. They might have to double their budgets to buy off more politicians and we would not want that. Maybe we can adopt the ectoral college from the US so we can make more votes count for nothing in this country and do more to dissuade people from bothering to vote.

    • Those pathetic losers who represent a mere 60% or so of voters deserve the complete lack of influence on the government that they get.

    • .Kelly says:

      There are less than 10 democracies in the world that use FPTP. Every other one uses some form of PR. No new country that would form would select first past the post — it’s the system for liars and phonies . it’s a sham democracy. It’s for demagogues

      • Kev says:

        Wrong: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First-past-the-post_voting#/media/File:Countries_That_Use_a_First_Past_the_Post_Voting_System.png

        And there are 65 first- and second-order democracies on the North American continent alone that use FPTP: the US and Canada federally, and at the state/provincial/territorial levels, to say nothing of municipally.

        • Miles Lunn says:

          UK also uses FTFP, while even countries that don’t use FTFP, not all are proportional. France has run off elections, Australia uses AV for the lower house (Upper house is proportional with STV), Japan uses parallel voting which is a hybrid between MMP and FTFP, Greece and Italy have moved to re-enforced proportionality whereby the party who comes in first gets bonus seats so as to make minority governments less likely (note they used PR before but switched due to instability of governments). In fact of the G7 countries only Germany is truly proportional while Italy and Japan are somewhat proportional whereas Canada, France, US, and UK all use majoritarian systems.

  7. BlueGritr says:

    Sure, Justin frequently promised electoral reform during the last campaign. So what? More pressing things to deal with right now like advancing the economy and managing the Mad Man, south of the Border. Time for the NDPers to move on and offer ideas on how they can make this country better and economically strong once again.

    • Joe Vasseur says:

      What exactly are our ideas for the economy again? More of the same boom bust policies that relies on extraction and housing market bubbles? More public-private partnerships that reward lobbyists, captains of industry and friends of the government. Maybe some more fundraising dinners with Chinese billionaires so we can open up more markets to increase our trade deficit but enrich CEO’s and shareholders. Maybe we can beg them to take on some more of our bitumen even though they have all the supply they need with new deals with Iran and Russia for the next 30 years. As for the mad man to the south the thought of Trudeau “managing” him is laughable. He’ll keep his head down and hope that Canada escapes his notice. Trudeau only talks he doesn’t act so lets not set ourselves up for disappointment on the Trump front. So please stop with the Hillary Clinton neoliberal apologies and lets hold our politicians to a better standard. Some with lame excuses and defecting. Its’s these attitudes that are allowing white wing populists to fill the political leadership void that we have in this country and many others around the world today. Be thankful that you are right about the NDP right now as they are adrift but please stop with that smug attitude that says people don’t care about our democracy and electoral promises that were espoused with great fanfare during the last campaign. People actually care a lot more now than they ever have in the past 40 years.

    • Kelly says:

      They could advance those policies – – like fairer taxes and a guaranteed income, national childcare, better training for skilled immigrants without Canadian qualifications, moving allowances for workers to relocate to areas of lower unemployment, etc. If…IF…we had PR and they got into a position to make them happen. The only time anything good happened in this country — medicare, CPP, OAS, the Autopact, multiculturalism, etc, we had a minority government with the NDP holding the balance of power.

      • Miles Lunn says:

        Not necessarily. The assumption by many on the left is we would be more progressive if we used PR, but Europe has had plenty of right wing governments. It’s true their social welfare system is more generous than ours and their overall taxation is generally higher, but flatter and less progressive than ours (Otherwise higher VATs, lower corporate taxes while income taxes are much higher at lower and middle incomes while around the same at higher, in most European countries the top rate is upper 40s to low 50s for top rate so similar to Canada but kicks in around 60 to 80K instead of 200K), and the austerity in the past decade was generally much harsher than what it was in Canada mind you they were in much worse fiscal shape than us. On immigration almost all European countries are more restrictive with perhaps the exception of Germany and Sweden and in fact PR has forced some like Denmark to bring in some of the harshest immigration restrictions to appease the far right. The Danish government even took an ad during the refugee crisis in the Middle East urging refugees to stay away from Denmark as they would get no assistance from the government. On social programs like health care, most European countries have more comprehensive plans that include prescription drugs, but also unlike Canada they generally charge small user fees and they also have a parallel private system so those with money can pay for faster service.

        Besides many good policies were brought in under majority governments which never would have happened under a minority like the GST, NAFTA, balancing the budget in the 90s.

        • Joe Vasseur says:

          PR is not espoused in order to get the electoral result that you want every time it is done because it represents the will of the people and ENCOURAGES people to participate in the electoral process. Right, left and center governments and combinations of them will be the result. Taxation that results in quality and less rationed social services is good and closing the numerous tax loopholes and offshore tax haven stashing would go a long way to providing some needed balance and support to our declining social safety net. Austerity over long periods of time equals voter outrage and populism as people rebel against takjing on public debt in order to socialize the cost of private leverages losses. People are on to the bait and switch game of the last 30 years. They realize that it is socialism for the large corporations and financial institutions and rugged capitalism and wage and social safety net reductions for all else. Immigration policies should be geared towards making it easier to attract skilled immigrants and generous to those who have been vetted properly and impacted by the Wests awful foreign policy since the collapse of the USSR. We’ll have to agree to disagree on the merits of free trade deals that empower corporations at the expense of governmental policy and that essentially takes away all notions of nationhood and public good and turns us into an economic zone where citizens are a secondary concern to the interests of our corporate persons. PR, though it does not guarantee voter turnout, ENCOURAGES voter turnout much more than FPTP. We will need all the voter engagement we can get in the next 10 years I am afraid because no matter how much you want to put a big bow on neoliberalism it is an ideology that very much weakened and becoming discredited with the great majority of people in Europe and North America.

          • Miles Lunn says:

            I realize it doesn’t create certain results, but I do find what system people favour tends to be heavily correlated with which way they politically lean. As for taxation, I agree with closing tax loopholes, but most Western countries have very high tax rates and you cannot slam the door shut to people moving elsewhere. US off course is an outlier, but most other Western countries have far more generous social safety nets and far less tax loopholes. In addition austerity is only done because countries were spending beyond your means. If you rack up too much personal debt, you likely have to make many personal sacrifices to clean it up. When one borrows money, they must pay it back with interest and if they default that makes getting loans in the future a lot tougher.

          • Joe Vasseur says:

            Socializing private leveraged debt for Too Big To Fail institutions and then passing the costs on to the public purse is not spending beyond your means. it is socializing deregulated institutions that engage in casino capitalism. Bait and switch.

  8. Miles Lunn says:

    If the recent elections in Spain, Ireland, Iceland, and Belgium a few years ago wasn’t enough to convince people the idiocy of the idea, hopefully the upcoming one in the Netherland will be where you have 11 parties with seats in their legislature including single issue ones like 50+ and party of the animals and the far right racist Geert Wilders is leading in the polls at only 20% because the opposition is so divided. While Netherlands votes on March 15th, I would be very surprised if they have a government in place before July 1st, especially if Wilders comes in first in which case a five party coalition with little in common other than wanting to keep the racist out will have to come together and form one. Now some may like this, but these examples I think show us why Trudeau was right to stick with what has worked well for 150 years.

  9. Charlie says:

    Thank you, Warren. This needed saying.

    New Democrats are so full of shit that I’m surprised they have the capacity for such much self-righteous sanctimony given the degree cognitive dissonance they are comfortable exuding.

    Did Justin Trudeau break an electoral promise? You bet your ass he did. Was he wrong to lead everyone down a road without any plan? Absolutely. Did you vote for him on the basis of that promise and are now going to abstain in the next election? Go right ahead.

    But lets clarify some key pieces of information here:

    1) Any notion of the NDP pursuing a PR voting system for altruistic democratic purposes is pure bullshit. They want a PR system because they are perpetually the third party in the House of Commons and can’t conjure up enough support across Canada to sustain anything above that position. So what do they want? A system that over-rewards their inability to develop a platform that is palatable to most Canadians; a system that over-rewards their inability to pick leaders who don’t suck; and a system that would effectively allow the New Democrats to piggy back on the Liberals, those bastardly un-progressive wolves in sheep clothes.

    2) Incidentally, every province the NDP has succeeded in forming government has not once seen even a gestural effort towards reforming the system whilst governed by New Democrats. Apparently, Liberals are should be crucified for preferring to keep the FPTP system when it elects them but the Dippers don’t have enough time to concern themselves with such trivial matter when they are elected by the very system. I live in a province that had NDP government for 16 years; not once did the topic of electoral reform come up. For Dippers to say that this is totally a matter of “true democratic representation”, is highly disingenuous.

    3) Speaking of hypocrisy, what is the NDP’s official stance on pipelines? Evidently, its everything opposite to what the Trudeau Liberals do but simultaneously supportive of what Rachel Notley does ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Given that the NDP is one uniform party across federal and provincial lines, “jurisdictional boundaries” mean nothing when the entire party shares one platform.

    4) If a party is to be judged by its behaviour then I would purpose that the NDP haven’t a scintilla of credibility to sit on as “progressive warriors” given the frequency by which they cooperate with Conservatives. For a party that is so fundamentally committed to values, it seems to abandon them quite easily when the situation suits it — i.e. stickin’ it to the Liberals.

    The simple fact of the matter is the the New Democratic Party is surviving on extremely shallow oxygen. Wailing like unconsolable widows and launching into hyperbolical diatribes (looking at you, Nathan Cullen) is doing utterly nothing for a party that can’t seem to convince one person to succeed Tom Mulcair. Instead of looking inwards for some productive introspection, New Democrats are keen on blaming all their woes on Liberals. Nothing says “ready to govern” than a party that behaves like a jealous sibling.

    • When has the NDP cooperated with the Conservatives? That one non-confedance vote 15 years ago?

      • Tim Sullivan says:

        That one non-confidence vote against Paul Martin’s government, premised on some kind of bull shit health care funding brought about 10 yrs of mismanagement, deficits, prorogations to avoid confidence votes, illegal elections and ballot-stuffing and illegal spending is one you might consider as having happened.

      • Joe Vasseur says:

        What I don’t understand is why people are trying to link the legitamacy of PR to the inadequacies and and very breal failures of the NDP. Why do people want to discourage people from getting interested and involved in the political process and making our democracy stronger and more inclusive. If the NDP is destined for permanent 3rd party status so be it. It is not an “over reward” it is how many votes that were cast for it. If the NDP were to piggyback the Liberals they will get their just deserts. PR would encourage them to develop their OWN distinctive positions so that would be good news for the Liberals I would suppose. They could champion and defend the status quo and be punished or rewarded as the ELECTORATE sees fit.
        The NDP being opportunistic should not be a disqualifier for the merits of PR. It is easy to honestly attack the NDP as they have failed to provide a mandate that is all that different from the Liberals or the many centre left parties in Europe today.
        The NDP is filled with hypocrisy. This is totally a valid point but does not take away the merits of moving to PR and away from FPTP. I am more worried about right wing tv stars than the discredited center-left of Mulcairs NDP. You reap what you sow there.
        Don’t know about cooperating with the PC but I agree that NDP has little right to talk of themselves as progressive warriors. More along the lines of soft neoliberalism or Liberal light. Again the NDP failures has nothing to do with PR or at least some variation being better than FPTP. We need electoral engagement and this should be one part of a larger strategy to encourage this. We live in dangerous times that transcend petty party politics and look to deal with the populism tat is rising due to neoliberalism contradictions between sound economic policy and good governance.

        You are right about the NDP but glaringly wrong about about the merits of PR and Justin Trudeau’s cowardly about face on an important issue that he stressed time and again on the election trail. ENCOURAGE voters to participate. Do no DISCOURAGE them.

  10. BlueGritr says:

    New Democrats will continue to blame their woes on the Liberals because the Justin Trudeau Liberals ate their lunch in the last election.

  11. daveconstable says:

    One thing I notice is that, like a lanced carbuncle, the ooze of excuses and rationales is spreading over the Canadian body politic now that the reform has been cancelled. I caught quite a bit of the committee hearings and I did not then hear any of the excuses I read now. I really can’t figure out why all the experts and sober comment makers were not at the committee meetings. The claims about FPTP and alternative systems are only now being paraded…instead of during the time the millions of dollars were being spent on the committee’s work.

  12. Tim Sullivan says:

    It was a stupid promise when it was made. It would take longer to implement than 4 yrs. The alternatives are not well understood by my observation.

    Most people who want some kind of change seem to want proportional representation. When I explore the reasons for that from people, the predominant reason seems to be that a minority wins a majority of the seats. This seems to lead to the conclusion that a PM can govern like a dictator for 4 years, setting aside that oxymoron for a moment, no one, to a person, can justify selecting representatives from a list. Not one person explained how “the people” and not the party would select the MPs. Not one person said how to select the first 100 or 150 people to be on that list who would likely be MPs in government.

    It would take a lot of explaining, for a long time, to get people to understand PR. There was no word on the chances of having the Libertarians or Marxist-Lenninist Party or some Nazi party gain some kind of foothold with 5% of a vote, for instance.

    There is no mention of the FPTP system working to keep Canada, an un-natural union, together artificially. The Bloc run candidates only in Quebec and were able to form the Official Opposition. Northern Ontario pipes up sometimes about separating. Alberta does not have a natural constituency in Ontario or Newfoundland. There are no maple trees out west.

    If we are to change, I would want several years of discussion, very good comprehension and a long time to implement, and maybe a sunset provision in case it doesn’t work out.

    That being said, a run-off at the local level might meet everyone’s concerns but there are myriad of problems with that one, too.

    • The usual way suggested to pick the additional MPs would be for party members to select them, just like party leaders and candidates are. There are other options like picking the non-winning riding candidates who got the most votes.

      FPTP helps regional parties which is generally bad for unity. In 1992 the BQ would have been the 4th party, rather then the official opposition.

      • Tim Sullivan says:

        That’s one example. In 150 years, we have not really had regional parties amount to elected MPs.

        In fact, when was the last time there was any party with status in the House that was not NDP, Liberal or whatever the conservatives go by?

        Socred back, when? The Bloc for about 12 yrs recently. Before that … nada.

  13. Vancouverois says:

    When did electoral reform become an NDP policy, though?

    I suspect it may have been after some of those governments were elected – in which case they shouldn’t be included in the count.

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