Stephen Harper’s Evaporating Legacy

Harperism bookIn his 2014 book, Harperism, veteran journalist Donald Gutstein argued that Stephen Harper, during his time as Canadian Prime Minister, sought to fundamentally change the course of Canadian political history. His goal was nothing less than to establish a permanent legacy under his own name similar to the economic and social policy legacies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

In maintaining careful control over his agenda, Harper kept his Ministers on a short leash. He insisted on unwavering party loyalty and strict adherence to the party line. He even went so far as to provide his Ministers with scripted responses to questions in Parliament and carefully vetted their statements to the press.

But since losing to the Liberals in the federal election last October and resigning as leader of the Conservative Party, Harper’s hoped for legacy seems to be rapidly evaporating. In their first few months siting in opposition, his former ministers, MPs and other party members have quickly distanced themselves from their former leader’s policies.

Rona AmbroseThe first sign of a break from Harper’s legacy came just two weeks after the election when Rona Ambrose, the newly appointed interim leader of the Conservative Party, announced her support for a public inquiry into murdered and indigenous women. CBC News described this as “a stunning reversal of the position taken by the Conservatives under Stephen Harper, who repeatedly rebuffed growing calls for a national inquiry.”

Tony_ClementMore recently Tony Clement, a prominent Minister in the Harper government and former candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party, forcefully called on the Liberal Government to make public the report on the recent controversial arms sale to Saudi Arabia that his own government had negotiated in secret and had refused to release to the public. When criticized for asking the Liberals to release the information that the Conservatives had steadfastly refused to release while governing, Clement replied, “the new leadership of the Conservative Party feels differently.”

cbc_radio_logoBut perhaps the most telling sign that Canadian Conservatives are seeking a dramatic break from the legacy of Stephen Harper and his policies, came to light in a panel discussion this past Saturday on CBC Radio’s current affairs program, The House. When asked whether Conservatives should mount a long or a short campaign in selecting their next leader, the Parliamentary Bureau Chief for La Press, Joel-Denis Bellavance, replied,

The strategy to have a long race is to encourage people from the outside to come up and join that race. Right now if you have a short race, only former cabinet ministers will be running. Some of them say right now to defeat Justin Trudeau, you need somebody who’s equal in terms of youth and generational change.

In other words, the emerging view is that if the Conservatives are to have any chance of governing again, they will need to choose a leader who is not strongly connected with the previous Harper government. They will need a fresh face and new ideas signaling a “generational change” within the Conservative Party.

Stephen Harper’s hoped-for permanent legacy is evaporating before our eyes.

A New Era in Canadian Politics

ballot boxThe federal election on October 19 dramatically changed the political map of Canada. Click here to see two overlapping maps of Canada, one showing the seats held by each party following the 2011 election and the other showing the results for 2015. In moving the cursor over the maps one sees the shift from one election to the other.

The Liberal Party under its new (and untested) leader Justin Trudeau, swept the Atlantic provinces, made major gains in Québec and Ontario, established inroads in the main urban centers across the Canadian prairies, and finished strong in British Columbia.

As a result, the Conservative Party has been confined to its traditional strongholds in Southern Ontario and the Canadian Prairies. It no longer represents all regions of Canada. And that is significant. Here’s why.

In Southern Ontario there used to be both “Blue Tories” and “Red Tories.” The Blue Tories (also known as “small ‘c’ conservatives) stood for lower taxes, small government, embraced neo-liberal economic policies, and leaned toward libertarian ideals.

The Red Tories, on the other hand, were knows as “progressive conservatives,” and argued that the wealthier members of society had a special responsibility (a noblesse oblige) to contribute to the common good. They endorsed broad social programs to assist the poor, fund education, and provide public health care. Both wings were housed within what was at that time called the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

KimCampbellBut in the 1993 federal election the Progressive Conservative government under Kim Campbell (Canada’s first female Prime Minister) imploded with the PCs going from 169 seats in Parliament to just 2 seats and losing their official party status. Replacing them on the conservative spectrum was the upstart Reform Party under Preston Manning based in Alberta, which went from 1 to 52 seats in Parliament.

The Reform Party was, generally speaking, a populist party representing Western conservative interests. By 2000 it had morphed into a decidedly right-wing populist party briefly known as the United Alternative, then the Canadian Reformed Alliance Party (until they realized that it spelled CRAP) so it was quickly changed to the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance, and finally just the Canadian Alliance. In the 2000 federal election it campaigned on a platform of tax cuts, ending the federal gun registration program, and traditional “family values” (largely opposing gay rights and abortions).

After severe infighting within the party, Stephen Harper emerged as the leader of the Canadian Alliance party in 2002 (he had previously been its chief strategist). In December of 2003 it merged with the (eastern based) Progressive Conservative Party (which at that time held just 12 seats in Parliament), becoming known as Conservative Party of Canada in what some easterners viewed as a “hostile takeover.” In March 2004 Stephen Harper became the new national party’s leader.

Harper_2004Stephen Harper can be credited with building up the Conservative Party from the ground up; it is his creation and bears his personal stamp. Ever the strategist, and vigilant against the kind of inner-party dissidence that had plagued the earlier Canadian Alliance Party that he had headed, Harper held tight control over the party’s MPs. Everyone spoke from prepared scripts approved by Harper himself, and no one deviated from the official party line. Harper was widely seen as an impersonal calculating micromanager, and he certainly lived up to that reputation.

However, through calculated tactics, thoroughly managed messaging, and more than a bit of luck, Harper was able to revive the Conservative Party’s fortunes. After two short-lived minority governments in 2006 and 2008, he was finally able to win a majority in 2011, and began implementing his aggressively conservative platform.

Needless to say, Harper’s conservatism was very much in turn with present Republican conservatism in the United States. So closely was Stephen Harper aligned with the policies of his contemporary, George W. Bush, when he took office that some commentators have called his election loss the defeat of the last surviving Bush-era government in the West.

The writing has been on the wall for some time for Stephen Harper. When he first formed government in 2006 he made sure to appoint some leading Progressive Conservatives to key positions within his cabinet to keep peace within the party. By the time he had called the election at the beginning of August this year, his last remaining Progressive Conservative cabinet minister had resigned. Other incumbent former Progressive Conservatives declared that they would not be candidates in the election. They realized that they no longer had any place in Harper’s Conservative Party. Former Progressive Conservative Prime Ministers Bryan Mulroney and Joe Clark have been fairly scathing in their assessment of Harper’s leadership and policies.

In the wake of the election it became clear that the only long-term conservatives re-elected in Ontario were former Blue Tories; the Red Tory faction was not to be found. Overall, the moderate conservative faction has now disappeared from Canadian politics just as it has in the U.S.

During his time in government, Stephen Harper fought hard to crush his main political opponent – the Liberal Party of Canada – and he nearly succeeded. It plummeted from having 135 seats in Parliament in 2004 to only 34 seats in 2011, dropping to third-party status. The Liberal comeback under Justin Trudeau in this election was therefore all the more remarkable.

Justin_Trudeau-3After Trudeau was elected as party leader in 2013 he set about giving the party not only a new public face, but also a redefined identity. He was criticized for being absent from Parliament much of the time, but he spent that time travelling the country meeting constituents, listening their concerns, and consulting with a broad range of interested parties.

Trudeau’s strategy as leader has been to redefine the party, working from the ground up, and also to redefine how it operates, just as Stephen Harper did with the party he was elected to lead. But Trudeau has chosen a very different model than Harper. Instead of tight management and strict ideological control, Trudeau has initiated a process to make the party more open and transparent, more consultative and inclusive, and more cooperative and engaging.

In speaking with Canadians from across the country over the past two years, Trudeau has worked hard to develop a new consensus around core policy issues and fresh policy initiatives. He has shown a keen political sense (in the best meaning of that term) for identifying the chief concerns of the majority of Canadians and then shaping them into policy positions that are positive, unifying, and non-polarizing.

This was especially seen during the election campaign. During the campaign Trudeau refused to engage in negative advertising (no personal attacks on candidates or leaders – just stick to the issues) or to exploit the “politics of fear” that defined Harper’s campaign. Instead, he presented a positive message of “hope” and “change” (one which had worked quite effectively for Obama in 2008).

Whereas Harper talked about constraints and what could not be done – warning of economic dangers, the threat of terrorism, and the need to cut social programs while maintaining military strength – Trudeau’s campaign capitalized on the phrase, “This is Canada. And in Canada we can always do better.” (Sounds a lot like Obama’s 2008 refrain of “Yes, we can!”) In fact, many are saying that with Justin’s election victory Canadians are now enjoying their own kind of “Obama” moment.

Can Justin deliver?

Justin_Trudeau-2Since the election results came in a week ago, many people have been asking, “Will Justin be able to deliver on his election promises?”

Just look at the uphill battle that Obama has faced in getting his legislative agenda through congress. Look at the refusal of the Republican-controlled House (and now Senate) to pursue the initiatives he has spelled out in his State of the Union addresses. Look at the ongoing efforts to repeal (or cripple) even the programs he did manage to get through Congress before the 2010 midterms. Could the same thing happen to Trudeau?

The answer, simply put, is NO. Not a chance. And to understand why, one needs to understand a bit about the Canadian parliamentary form of government.

Like Americans, Canadians have an Executive branch of government, a Senate, and a House, but they all operate quite different from the American system.

The first thing to do in comparing the two system of government is to forget about the Executive branch. The highest-ranking Canadian official is the Governor General, who acts as the Queen’s personal representative in Canada. This person is not elected, but is appointed (normally for a five year term) by the Prime Minister. They are to be strictly non-partisan, and they fill what is largely a ceremonial role in greeting foreign heads of state, and providing royal assent to all legislation passed by Parliament. Only then does it become law. But the Governor General neither proposes this legislation, not will he or she ever attempt to amend it. They simply give final assent, acting for the Queen who is the constitutional ruler of Canada.

Next, forget about the Senate. Members of the Canadian Senate are also not elected, but are appointed to their positions for life by the Prime Minister. (It’s kind of a Canadian adaptation to the British House of Lords.) Senators do not initiate legislation; only the House does that. Senators merely receive the bills passed by the House and review them (as the chamber of “sober second thought”) with the ability to suggest amendments and return the bill to the House if needed. Most of the time they do not do that, but simply ratify the bills, so that they can be passed on to the Governor General to be signed into law.

House of CommonsThat leaves only the House of Commons, which actually does function a lot like the House of Representatives in the United States. And this is the most important thing to know about the Canadian parliamentary system. The Canadian Prime Minister operates most closely like the Speaker of the House in the U.S. Congress.

Like the Speaker of the House, the Canadian Prime Minister is historically chosen by his own party members to lead the affairs of the legislative chamber. (In recent years this has been widened to a convention of party members rather than being limited to sitting parliamentarians.) Like the Speaker of the House, the Prime Minister chooses what legislation will be introduced on the floor of the House (and what will not be considered). The PM shepherds that legislation through its successive stages of debate (first and second readings) and through its final passage. All government-sponsored bills must go through committee (to be costed out and to establish their final wording) before being voted on, and the Prime Minister makes those committee appointments. So really, he holds all the cards.

One important difference between the Canadian and American systems of government is that in Canada whenever the party in power has a majority of the seats in Parliament, the opposition can do very little to hamper its operation. Neither the Senate nor the Executive branch can counter its will. This is much different than the American system.

The American founding Fathers, wary of the dictatorial dangers inherent to the British parliamentary system of government, designed an elaborate system of “checks and balances” to limit the power of any one branch of government. Canada follows the British system and does not have any such system of checks and balances. This means that the Prime Minister has far greater political power than either the Speaker of the House or the American President. On the plus side, it means that there is no danger of congressional gridlock as in the American system. On the negative side, it means that the Prime Minister is free to operate in a near-dictatorial manner if he or she wishes to do so.

A year ago I published a blog entry entitled “A Real Dictator?” comparing criticism from Republican ranks that Obama was acting as a dictator with the much more sweeping “dictatorial” powers of the Canadian Prime Minister (having in mind the way Stephen Harper operated). In that blog I summarized the powers of the Prime Minister as follows:

The Canadian Prime Minister appoints the Senators who give all legislation a “second reading” and can either approve the legislation or amend it and send it back to the House for reconsideration. He appoints the Governor General (the Queen’s representative in Canada) who provides the final signature passing any bill into law. The Prime Minister appoints members of the Supreme Court and all Federal Court judges. He appoints the ministers in his Cabinet, every Deputy Minister, and all parliamentary secretaries and committee chairs. In addition, he appoints the Governor of the Bank of Canada, the heads of all major crown corporations (national public utilities, etc.), and the Chief of the RCMP (the national police force). Even the (supposedly) independent officers of Parliament, such as the Auditor General, the Information Commissioner and the Privacy and Ethics Commissioners, are all appointed by the Prime Minister. These appointments are not subject to opposition, debate, or review. The decision is solely the Prime Minister’s.

So, returning to the question of whether or not Justin Trudeau will be able to make good on his election promises, the answer is – there is little to stop him.

He will, of course, face the same financial constraints in implementing some of his desired programs that any Prime Minister would face. He will have to face vocal opposition from his political opponents across the aisle (with no real power to alter his plans, however). And he will have to face the press and deal with public opinion. But basically, he is free to do whatever he wants (within constitutional limits) between now and when he chooses to face the electorate again in four or five years to ask for a renewed mandate.

Justin_Trudeau-1Judging from the leadership style that Justin Trudeau has consistently demonstrated in leading the Liberal Party for the last two years, I doubt that he will abuse his powers in the way that Stephen Harper was often accused of doing. Instead, I look forward to seeing him continue to operate in a manner that emphasizes openness and transparency, inclusiveness, and cooperation.

We shall see over time whether or not he lives up to the role model he has established for himself.

Photo credits: Canadian Press; Sean Kilpatrick/CP; Riziero Vertolli – Burlington Post

Dead Cat and Dog Whistle Politics

ca_election_2015The Conservative Party of Canada has just mounted a strategic ploy to try and salvage a win in the closing days of the federal election campaign.

Throughout the first half of the campaign the Conservatives were regularly on the defensive, with the media giving extensive coverage to three contentious issues: First came the Mike Duffy hearings and the Senate scandal (very bad for the ruling Conservative Party). Then came non-stop coverage of the drowning of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi and Canada’s appalling record in taking in refugees (another black eye for the Conservatives). This was followed by the economic news that Canada had just recorded its second consecutive quarter of negative growth and was technically in a recession (again, bad news for the Conservatives who were campaigning on experienced fiscal management).

But behind the scenes important changes were taking place.

LyntonCrosbyIn September Stephen Harper hired an Australian political consultant, Lynton Crosby (the so-called “Wizard of Oz”) who masterminded the political campaigns of the U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson. Crosby has fine-tuned the art of “dog whistle” politics in securing his political wins. He is said to be especially skilled at finding issues that voters can suddenly seize upon to turn around a flagging campaign.

In 2013 Boris Johnson described one of the key campaign tactics he learned from Crosby.

Let us suppose you are losing an argument. The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and, the more people focus on the reality, the worse it is for you and your case. Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as “throwing a dead cat on the table, mate.”

That is because there is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table—and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, “Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!”; in other words, they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.

In the French language debate last Friday Harper threw “the dead cat” on the table. Suddenly everyone is taking about “the niqab issue.” As Evan Solomon reported in a feature article in McLean’s (Canada’s national news magazine),

The NDP, which was once riding high on polls that showed Quebecers were ready to turf Harper, have whiplash. It has lost control of the agenda. It’s all niqab, all the time.

So, what is the niqab issue?

In 2011 the Conservative government implemented a policy stating that candidates for citizenship must remove any kind of face covering that could conceal their identity when taking the public citizenship oath. Since then precisely two people have declined to go through the citizenship ceremony under those conditions. (So this deserves to be a major issue?)

niqab-citizenship-zunera-ishaqOne of these people is Zunera Ishaq, a Pakistani woman and devout Sunni Muslim who is seeking Canadian citizenship. Based on her religious beliefs, Ishaq wears a niqab, or veil, to cover most of her face when out in public.

She has stated that she is quite willing to remove her niqab in private before the ceremony for a female citizenship officer to verify her identity, but that she is opposed to appearing immodestly without the niqab for the lengthy public citizenship ceremony.

Ishaq took the federal government to court over the ban, and a Federal Court judge struck the ban down. The federal government applied for a stay of the ruling to prevent her from taking her citizenship oath and thus become eligible to vote in the October election. On September 18 the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s decision, saying there was no basis for issuing a stay, and cleared the way for Ishaq to take her citizenship oath. The Conservatives threatened to take the case to the Supreme Court, to once again prevent her from voting in this fall’s election.

Now the Conservative Party has made the ban on the niqab a major campaign issue. They have pledged that legislation will be introduced within 100 days of a re-elected Conservative government that will require one to show one’s face while swearing the oath of citizenship.

Chris AlexanderIn a news conference on Friday, The Conservative’s Immigration Minister, Chris Alexander, stated, “Let’s be clear. This practice of face covering reflects a misogynistic view of women which is grounded in medieval tribal culture.”

In this news conference Alexander also reminded voters of the Conservative government’s Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act passed last November. Alexander promised more government resources to uphold the act if re-elected, and also proposed a RCMP tip line where people could report “information about incidents of barbaric cultural practices in Canada.” 

As Edward Keenan pointed out on Saturday in The Star, when Stephen Harper refers to “barbaric culture,” that is dog-whistle terminology for “Islam,” and he is hoping that this appeal to Islamophobia will turn the election around and solidify his conservative base.

nun : niqabBut most Canadians are not Islamophobic, and outside that base, this tactic has resulted in an explosion of Twitter memes pointing out the hypocrisy of singling out face coverings worn by Muslim women as misogynistic and grounded in medieval tribal culture, but ignoring similar accepted face coverings worn by women in Western societies.

In addition, a host of satirical sites have sprung up such as accusing the Conservative government itself of promoting “barbaric cultural practices in Canada.”

The majority of Canadians are able to see through this rather desperate diversionary tactic being mounted by the Conservatives. Let’s hope the debate soon returns to real election issues that the Canadian public actually wants to debate.

Photo credits: Rex Features; Patrick Doyle/CP; Canadian Press

Gaming the Canadian Election

o-ELECTIONS-CANADA-facebookIt’s now official. The Canadian federal election campaign is underway.

In a surprise move, Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid a visit to the Governor General on Sunday morning and requested him to dissolve Parliament so that a federal election could be called.

Harper-electionThe announcement caught the other parties off guard. They had been anticipating the election campaign to begin in mid-September – five weeks (a minimum of 36 days) before the fixed election date of October 21, 2015.

Only the Conservative Party was prepared, with Cabinet Ministers and prominent MPs fanning throughout the countryside the day before to announce newly approved government projects for their ridings to the tune of over $1 billion.

The election campaign beginning today will last for 78 days, or eleven weeks, rather than the usual five weeks. This will make it the longest Canadian election in history after the very first national election following confederation in 1867 (81 days), and the second election in 1872 (96 days).

This has led news commentators to warn that the candidates and their supporters will have to be careful that they do not burn out early with such a long election campaign, and to wonder how the party leaders are going to sustain people’s interest in the election over such a long period of time.

(Readers familiar with American elections may scratch their heads at this point.)

So why has Stephen Harper arranged for such a long election campaign period? The answer is simple: calculated political advantage. Harper has a well-earned reputation as a master strategist. And he is operating true to form.

canadian-money-savingAs regulated by the Canada Election Act, each federal political party is normally allowed to spend a maximum of $25 million on their campaign and individual candidates are limited to spending no more than $100,000.

In five of the last six federal elections, the campaign period has been either 36 or 37 days. But (evidently thinking ahead) last year the Conservative government under Stephen Harper amended the Canada Elections Act to allow for increased spending during lengthier campaigns.

For each additional day the limit was increased by 1/37th, or $675,000. This means that over the 78 days of the campaign each party will be allowed to spend more than double the previous limit – over $50 million. (Spending by individual candidates also increases by $2,700 a day, raising their allowable campaign expenses from $100,000 to over $200,000.)

Mulcair-Harper-TrudeauThe two other major political parties, the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberals were, until this past weekend, gearing up to raising their maximum allotment of $25 million. It is doubtful that they will be able to double that during the election campaign itself.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives, relying on wealthy corporate and individual donors, are in an excellent position to raise this additional money. And the smaller parties (the Greens and the Bloc Québecois) will find themselves trailing far, far behind.

The NDP and Liberals will likely borrow heavily to raise the necessary funds to compete with the Conservatives. But another change to the Canada Elections Act made by the Harper government last year prohibits the parties from accepting interest free loans; they can only borrow from financial institutions.

Some have speculated that if the Conservatives are able to form the next government, within a year Stephen Harper may ask the Governor General to again dissolve Parliament, and the Conservatives will go into the next election with a full war chest while the other parties are still paying off their debts.

It’s a masterful plan.

Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley speaks following his signing the first of the 301 writs to be signed for the upcoming federal election at Elections Canada in Ottawa, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2000.(CP PHOTO/Jonathan Hayward)

But not everyone is pleased with it. In an interview this weekend on CBC Radio’s The House, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, the former head of Elections Canada, accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of “gaming the system.”

“What it does,” he said, “is completely distort everything we’ve fought for; everything we’ve established as rules.” In particular, it eliminates the concept of a level playing field. “That level playing field gets it in the neck.”

A second element in Stephen Harper’s political calculation is that by calling an early start to the campaign he can stifle criticism of his administration by third parties.

greenpac-logoPolitical Action Committees (PACs) are new to Canada, but with an election looming and the Harper government using public monies to tout its achievements, various organizations have gotten into the fray strongly criticizing the Harper government and its policies. They have become a major irritant to Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

Under Canadian law there are no restrictions on spending by PACs outside the election period, but once an election has been called, third-party advertising by any group is limited to $150,000. Stephen Harper can flood the airwaves and other media with his $50 million worth of positive sounding campaign ads without having to worry about negative ads by outside groups.

li-cash-money-canadian-currency-620Many people have raised questions about the increased costs of an 11-week election campaign. It has been estimated that a 37-day campaign would cost Elections Canada (and thus the Canadian public) about $375 million to administer. The 78-day campaign will cost much more to oversee, with lengthier leasing of offices and salaries for elections staff in each riding.

Then there is the increased cost to taxpayers for the raised limits on campaign spending. Under the Canada Elections Act, all parties receiving least 10% of the popular vote are reimbursed by the government for half of their campaign expenditures. Individual candidates receive 60% back. With campaign expenditures more than doubling in this election, the Canadian public will be saddled with reimbursing the parties and candidates millions of additional dollars. This is not going down well with many voters.

Stephen Harper’s political opponents may be furious with his tactics, but his supporters are happy to press their advantage. In eleven weeks we will know whether or not his political gamble has paid off.

Photo credits: Canadian Press; Blair Gable/Reuters

Ending Conservative Rule

Stephen HarperWhat if voters could permanently end conservative dominance in Canadian politics? It’s not that hard to do. All it requires is two simple steps.

First, voters will need to defeat Stephen Harper in this fall’s election. That should not be hard to do.

Harper’s Conservatives won the 2011 election with only 39.6% of the vote. By contrast, the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party of Canada each received 30.6% and 18.9% of the vote respectively.

EKOS Poll 6:15The most recent EKOS poll (conducted at the end of June 2015) shows just 27.3% intending to vote for the Conservatives this time around while 30.9% say they will vote for the NDP and 25.6% say they will vote for the Liberals. That’s more than a 2 to 1 advantage for the combined NDP/Liberal forces over the Conservatives.

Last week reported a further slide for the Conservative Party with it receiving 28.4% of the popular vote compared to 32.1% for the NDP and 27.3% for the Liberals.

308 ProjectionThe projection of parliamentary seats to be won by each party is the most interesting feature of this poll. It shows (even on the high end of the projection) no party having any chance of winning a clear majority; instead, a minority government is virtually assured. Low, high, and median projections all show the NDP winning the most seats, followed by the Conservatives and the Liberals.

The most likely outcome to this fall’s election: An NDP-Liberal coalition government with the Conservatives sitting in opposition.

First step accomplished

Next the coalition government will need to introduce legislation to revise the Canada Elections Act to change from the present “first-part the post” system (in which each candidate with the most votes receives a seat in parliament) to one of proportional representation.

With proportional representation, registered parties that receive a minimum threshold of votes nationally (say 3 or 5%) would receive an allotment of parliamentary seats proportional to the percentage that party received in the popular vote. Following recent voting trends, the Conservative Party would be relegated to minority status in all future elections until some time in the indefinite future when it can improve its appeal to the majority of voters in Canada. We should note that this has happened only once in the last 50 years – when Brian Mulroney’s Conservatives won 50.03% of the vote in 1984.

Election by proportional representation is not a far-fetched idea. As Jeffrey Simpson reported earlier this year in the Globe and Mail,

Throughout Western Europe, proportional representation systems predominate.

The electoral systems in Germany and New Zealand provide ready, proven models for Canada to use.

A system of proportional representation makes the exercise of government more democratic and responsible. In encouraging consensus it leads to reduced partisanship. In relying on negotiation rather than confrontation it leads to greater cooperation among elected representatives.

Attempts to introduce proportional representation elections have recently been attempted in British Columbia and Ontario. Both New Brunswick and Québec have established commissions recommending proportional representation in those provinces.

A poll conducted by Environics in 2013 showed that a majority of Canadians (70 per cent) support moving toward some form of proportional representation.

More importantly, both the NDP and the Liberals have officially endorsed this concept.

Making It Happen

Thomas MulcairIn January of this year NDP leader Thomas Mulcair promised he would enact proportional representation if his party forms the next government. The NDP even has an on-line petition for people to sign calling

on Parliament to adopt a proportional representation voting system so that the House of Commons better reflects the diversity and political preferences of all Canadians.

Justin TrudeauSomewhat more cautiously, the Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau has also passed a resolution (”Restoring Trust in Canada’s Democracy”) pledging that

immediately after the next election, an all-Party process be instituted, involving expert assistance and citizen participation, to report to Parliament within 12 months with recommendations for electoral reforms including, without limitation, a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation, to represent Canadians more fairly and serve Canada better.

The Bloc Québécois and the Green Party have also endorsed the principle of proportional representation. Only the Conservative Party has officially voted against it.

Proportional representation is coming to Canada. And when it does, the conservatives will no longer exert absolute control over parliament.

Fair Vote Canada-8You can add your voice to the campaign for a fairer system of parliamentary representation by signing the Fair Vote Canada petition found here.

Photo credits: Andrew Burton / Reuters; Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press; Ashton Patis