The Political Impasse in Canada and the 60% Solution

THE POLITICAL IMPASSE IN FEDERAL POLITICS IS OBVIOUS: a majority Conservative government that 60% (actually 60.4%) of Canadians voted against. It’s the Conservatives’ third victory with under 40% of the popular vote. They are cocky now, with control of the Senate, as well, moving on measures they had to put on hold during their two previous minority governments. This government’s negative conduct at the Durban climate change meetings (UN Framework Convention, Conference of the Parties 17) and decision to withdraw from even the minimal commitment Canada made (under a Liberal government) when it ratified the Kyoto Protocol give us even more reason to seek change.

The solution is not hard to figure out: get the 60% now split across four different parties together. No, not a merger, for the differences between the parties are too great. A temporary electoral alliance, geared to the federal election in 2015, is the practical way to go. Such an alliance would not preclude merger later—indeed it could be a trial marriage to see if the partners want to make it permanent. The 60-40 arithmetic is easy, but the steps needed to get there are more complicated: the creation of a common election manifesto, an arrangement for who would run where in 2015, and a plan for proportional representation for the future.

A Common Manifesto for 2015

THE FORMULATION OF A COMMON ELECTION MANIFESTO should start as soon as possible. Since the climate crisis is the most urgent matter facing the world, a comprehensive, science-based strategy, with targets, regulations and timetable, should head the list. The provinces are better than Ottawa on climate action (two have carbon taxes), while polls show significant majorities of Canadians want stronger action than Harper will give them.

There are many other social justice issues that have strong support:

  • fairer taxes, to reduce social inequalities (would this induce city occupiers to get politically active?)
  • stop the prison building program (and divert the money to crime prevention)
  • repeal the Criminal Code amendments to increase sentences (longer sentences don’t reduce crime, which is declining anyway)
  • establish a national child care program (promised before, but never enacted)
  • implement measures to end child poverty (again, promised and even voted on, but not done)
  • address the many environmental issues of oceans, forests and biodiversity (climate change is not our only shame).

The list could go on, the criterion for making it being acceptance by that core 60% of centre-left Canadians. It could establish a (new) national transit strategy and revive (old) energy efficiency and conservation projects Harper canceled. It could bring back the long form of the Census and (possibly) stop the demolition of the long-gun registry. Might the de-criminalization of cannabis—as a harm reduction strategy—make the list (with taxes and health warnings)? At least de-criminalization of possession of small amounts?

A Sharing Arrangement for 2015

SINCE WE STILL HAVE A FIRST-PAST-THE-POST ELECTION SYSTEM, an arrangement has to be made to run a single candidate for a selected list of ridings where the Conservatives are vulnerable, say their weakest 50 seats (they successfully targeted a small number of vulnerable seats in the last election).

Canadian voters have already been resorting to “strategic voting” in elections. A sharing arrangement would make these strategic guesses, which sometimes backfire, unnecessary. A sharing arrangement, however, is a temporary device, until proportional representation is established.

Proportional Representation

PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION (PR) IS THE KEY both to fair representation and the long-term survival of the 60% alliance. Most of the world’s democracies use a proportional system. The Law Commission of Canada in 2004 recommended a mixed member proportional system (MMP) which would result in one third of MPs being elected by PR. Two thirds would continue to be elected, as they are now, in regular constituencies, which would be one third larger. MMP is increasingly finding favour because it combines valued features of the current system—constituents have their own MP—while bringing in (near) proportionality with those (one third of the House) elected by PR. Germany has a mixed system, as does New Zealand, Scotland, Wales and many others.

Countries with PR not only get fairer results—party seats similar to popular vote— but result in higher voter turnout, the election of more women, greater citizen satisfaction with democracy, stronger environmental protection laws and greater energy efficiency.

True, PR was rejected in several provincial referenda. Public support in all cases was considerable, in spite of confusing campaigns and poor public education. We would have good allies in a campaign for proportional representation (for background see

A lot is at stake. If we don’t re-form the political system, the prospect is dismal: ongoing Harper majorities with declining voter turnouts, our country continuing its career as a climate change criminal, all thanks to 40% “majorities” that leave the rest of us wondering how they get away with it.

by Lynn McDonald (former NDP MP and environment critic.)