Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Strange strategy

From the Globe and Mail, December 23rd, 2006:

The Liberals are planning a "308-seat strategy" for the next federal election in which they will contest all seats in the Commons, including those in regions they have previously written off, such as Alberta.
Now, it wasn't spelled out there exactly how a "308-seat strategy" would differ from campaigns the Liberals have run in the past, but presumably at the bare minimum it would suggest running a candidate in 308 ridings, no?

From the Nova Scotia Chronicle Herald, April 12, 2007:
The Liberals can’t decide whether to run a candidate in Central Nova or step out of the way to improve Elizabeth May’s chances of unseating Peter MacKay.

On one side are most Nova Scotia Liberals, who think the party ought to run a candidate in every riding in Canada. On the other side is federal Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, who would prefer not to run a candidate in Central Nova, perhaps because Ms. May often praises his character and environmental credentials, which helps him in the national media.

"There’s a widespread sentiment that Dion is off his rocker to be considering this," one prominent Liberal said this week. "There’s increasing division within the party in Nova Scotia. If Dion proceeds with this, he will have done himself big damage in Nova Scotia within the Liberal party."
I'm not sure what kind of strategy trying to help the leader of another party counts as, but it's certainly not a "308-seat" one. The Liberals took a respectable 25% in Central Nova in the last election, and have an established local riding association that will be completely demolished if they do this. And for what? The vote totals in Central Nova in the last election looked like this:
Conservatives 41%
NDP 33%
Liberals 25%
Greens 2%
Which means that even if every single person who voted Liberal in the last election were to vote Green in the next one (a dubious assumption given how upset some of them seem), that would still only move the Greens into third place.

May had better have offered Dion an awfully sweet deal for him to even be considering this one.

[Update: It's official--it's happening. Perhaps predictably, some Liberals are trying to spin this to say that the only reason New Democrats might speak out against this is that they see this "progressive coalition" (sic) as a threat. Well, I won't speak for any New Democrats but myself, but that's not my objection at all. I'm not threatened--I'm well and truly baffled, on two different fronts.

The first front has to do with ideals. Like I said over at Woman at Mile 0's blog, I’m an immigrant American who chose Canada. One of the things I value about this country is that there’s real political diversity--a full spectrum of parties that, unlike my country of birth, allows voters to have genuine choices. And what it comes down to is the question of whether the Greens and the Liberals really are two distinct choices. If the two parties aren't sufficiently different to maintain two separate political identities, then they should merge. If they are sufficiently different to maintain two separate political identities--i.e., if the two parties can articulate concrete reasons why people would want to choose their party and not the other--then they should start acting like they know they're separate parties. It's really that simple.

Now, some will inevitably be thinking here: "but IP, I know you, and you LIKE the idea of coalitions!" Well, to that I can only say that this is quite a different animal from a coalition. A coalition happens in GOVERNMENT, AFTER the election. If, for example, the Liberals were to win a minority of the seats and the Greens were to get a few more, enough to make a majority government together, then they could form a coalition and govern side-by side. I would find nothing wrong with that; indeed, it would be the kind of thing I argue for in every third or fourth post in this blog. If the Liberals and the Greens want to stand up and announce their preference for forming the government together after the next election, I will applaud that. Actively banding together before the election, though, is not a coalition; it’s just a very puzzling strategy that disenfranchises Green voters in Saint-Laurent–Cartierville and (much more debilitatingly) Liberal voters in Central Nova. And as someone who thinks real voter choice is one of the best things about this country’s politics, that’s something I can’t support.

The second front is more about pragmatism--i.e., the real short- and long-term effects of this decision on these two parties. Presumably the two parties think there are concrete gains to be made from this deal, but I'm sorry, I'm just not seeing it. I talk about some of the reasons why above; and Accidental Deliberations outlines the rest of them. This is simply not a good idea, no matter how you slice it. Now, neither of these parties is my own, so it's not my place to get all outraged on their supporters' behalf or anything, but I'm certainly going to be sitting over here shaking my head in that aforementioned bafflement.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't note that something is getting lost in the shuffle, here--i.e., the fact that there's a much better solution to the problems that May and Dion are trying to solve. It's even something that both May and Dion are on the record as favouring. And I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd sure like to hear a lot more talk about that option and a lot less about ones that are completely antithetical to real, long-term reform.]

[Upperdate: Green blogger Herbinator sums up my issues with this in much fewer words:
It seems I am the only one who thinks it is wrong to sell votes. Nobody has a problem with thinking the buying of votes is incorrect. People vote, THEN politicians live down to their reputation. Politicians usurping an individuals right to vote for a party of choice is unconscientious.]
[Upper-dupper-date: The National Post wins IP brownie points by not incorrectly referring to this as a "coalition." "Non-aggression pact" is a fun term, too! I like it.]

[Upper-dupper-date-date: More from Herbinator here:
I can understand not being able to field candidates. I cannot understand removing a citizen's right to vote for a party of choice simply for self-serving political expediency. It is wrong to buy a vote; it is wrong to sell a vote.

Voting is an opportunity for the voter to be self-serving and capricious. It is not for the politician to presuppose any voter's intension.

I am stepping down my activities in the Green Party of Canada in protest.
And while Liberal blogger Cerberus says a lot of things in this post that I can't agree with, this is the part where we're on the same page:
Now I like Elizabeth May and think she is an awesomely refreshing addition to federal politics. I think Canadian politics will benefit from having a growing and strong environmental movement getting elected. But if you want to see Elizabeth May in Parliament or more Greens in Parliament or more narrow-focused fringe parties in Parliament, then advocate for proportional representation. Don't mess with the democratic system like it is some plaything.]
[I-promise-this-is-the-last-update: pogge's post is hilarious and worth a read. Though it will undoubtedly tar him as a vicious partisan. *grin*]


Greg said...

The deal is simple. May will badmouth the NDP as often as possible. We have seen this from her in the past. What Dion will give her in exchange is anyone's guess.

KevinG said...

The up side for dippers is that it just may bleed enough support into the NDP camp to get them up and over.

I'm willing to bet that, in the end, the pragmatists will carry the day.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I hope you're right, of course, but seeing as how Alexis MacDonald isn't running again, I think that's not terribly likely. No, I think Peter MacKay is pretty much guaranteed a win here.

Anonymous said...

It's going to be MacKay in a cakewalk, more's the pity. I confess I find it rather delicious when the backroom infighting makes the papers quite so spectacularly :-)

Evolving Thoughts said...

Elizabeth May sells the farm and I'm sure green party supporters are not to happy that their leader is going to be seen as having the same vision as Stephane Dion on the environment. It's a good day for the NDP and a sad day for those green supporters who believed that Elizabeth May would stand up for the environment. Instead she has decided to take the green party and finally show to all Canadians where the green party actually stands on the environment. For those dis "May" ed supporters out their you always have a real option for change in Jack Layton and the NDP who if I may add have consistently been ranked by numerous environmental groups as having the strongest environmental policies. Remember "Don't let them tell you it can't be done" Vote NDP for real change!

janfromthebruce said...

With Dion's move to not run a candidate, the NDP should back and ask Alexis to run again. She now, as far as I am concerned has an exceptionally good chance of taking the riding. The pissed off Lib supporters, I believe, will vote for Alexis and the NDP, to spite the libs.

KevinG said...

Well, it looks like the Liberals finally decided. I dunno. I think maybe you guys should go out and find a really strong candidate!

Saskboy said...

IP the only way MacKay is assured a win is if the NDP choose to run a candidate against May and MacKay. Layton will just have to decide what's more important for Canada and his party: another backbencher NDP, or one less Harper cabinet MP returning. The outcome makes this an easy choice for someone really interested in working with like-minded parties. Unfortunately Layton is primarily interested in appearances and hanging on to at least as many seats as he has right now. Growth is not possible with a defensive attitude he brings to politics.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Nonsense. Dion is making a mistake, as is May. Layton shouldn't make the same one.

It comes down to valuing political diversity and not disenfranchising one's own voters. This isn't a riding with no Liberals in it--they got a perfectly respectable 25% of the vote in the last election, for god's sake. Those voters deserve real choice. If the Liberals and the Greens want to make some backroom deals to try and oust some Tories, then so be it, but they should be able to find creative ways of doing that without disenfranchising large portions of the electorate in particular ridings.

How can you support proportional representation and yet still think this is a good idea? Those two positions are incompatible. And speaking of that--how about we hear more about that solution from these two leaders who supposedly support PR? It would help both parties, without singling out their voters in any particular ridings for marginalization.

James Bow said...

In the lead-up to the Ontario provincial election, the late Bob Hunter appeared on television and told Green Party supporters to vote Liberal? Why? His argument was that the only way to get the proportional representation that was required to give the Green Party its voice in Queen's Park, was to give the mainstream party that believed in proportional representation (supposedly the Liberals) a majority under first-past-the-post rules.

Well, you can certainly have at it regarding the flaws of this logic, and this seems to be a recycling of the same mantra -- although, transforming this move into something that gives the Green Party a seat or two _right now_ is probably a better outcome than just asking all Green Party supporters to lend their support to the Liberals.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I'd buy a lot more that that was what was going on if:

a) Dion actually were actively supporting proportional representation (as McGuinty clearly was),

b) either May or Dion had brought up the issue as a part of the deal,


c) May had a chance in hell of winning her seat.

JG said...

The Liberals support PR now? Really? When did that happen?

I've actually raised the issue with Brison on numerous occasions and he has been quite unreceptive.

IP the only way MacKay is assured a win is if the NDP choose to run a candidate against May and MacKay.

Better yet, if May chooses not to run, opposition to MacKay can coalesce around the NDP candidate, who comes into the race several thousand votes ahead of the combined support the Liberals and Greens (the latter of whom offer a whopping 700 votes).

Layton will just have to decide what's more important for Canada and his party: another backbencher NDP, or one less Harper cabinet MP returning.

On the contrary, May will have to decide whether it's more important for her to boost her ego than to take out MacKay.

The outcome makes this an easy choice for someone really interested in working with like-minded parties. Unfortunately Layton is primarily interested in appearances and hanging on to at least as many seats as he has right now. Growth is not possible with a defensive attitude he brings to politics.

You know, I am very, very tempted to employ some colourful metaphors when I see this sort of BS. Very tempted. But I will hold back unless IP gives me permission. ;)

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Even if I did have something against "colourful metaphors" (sometimes I really wish my writing style didn't have me painting myself as so goddamn stuffy!), you'd have me so curious about what you want to say that I'd have to give you permission anyway.

JG said...

Simply put, Saskboy's carping about Layton deserves the same response that it would coming from Liberals like Cherniak. In short, two words: "Fuck" and "Off".

For all the talk about building some sort of progressive coalition against Harper, I don't and have never trusted the Liberals to be so progressive. I do like Dion, but it's true - the Liberals' talk up lots of environmental/progressive issues and then flail around about what to do. Dion's time as Enviro Minister was short, yes, but that in itself is not enough for me.

As for May, well, she's struck me as nothing more than an egotistical dilettante who is unwilling to compromise on her positions - opposing the recent plan to bury the Sydney Tar Ponds. May belongs to a particular sort of activist group which is more interested in self-referenced fact sheets than peer-reviewed research, and the Sierra Club has always had more than little flakiness in it.

Consider this policy item from the 2006 platform:
"Ban all non-natural pesticides and insecticides by the year 2010 and provide alternatives for farmers."

Nothing more than Ludditism - my own research colleagues at Agriculture Canada have explained that so-called organic pesticides can have a greater and more detrimental effect on the local ecosystem than available synthetics - and this is part of the same nonsense that would suggest something "synthetic" is somehow qualitatively bad, even if the chemical composition is actually the same or better.

So... I don't like the flakiness of the Greens or May (or, indeed, our local Green candidate, who wants to ban pesticides of all sorts for (broadly) "aesthetic" purposes) and I don't trust the Liberals. And I never have.

Hence, Saskboy can take his Green-tinged arrogance somewhere else.

Here's Layton's press release, btw.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Whoa, strong words from a New Democrat who once said "if anyone could make me a Liberal, it's Dion." Truth be told, I also like Dion's style (if not all of his policies) and this hasn't changed that. But I do think this was an error in judgment.

I think the Layton press release is fine, by the way, but I also hope it's his last word on the subject. He needs to not get bogged down in namecalling and just charge full steam ahead, same as ever. When your opponents are doing stupid things, you have to just ignore it and let it happen.

JG said...

Well, note that I said "if". ;)

However, that Jason Cherniak was heavily involved in Dion's campaign is more than enough to give me pause.

JG said...

Oh, and another point - this deal pretty much kills any justification that May might have had for participating in the leaders' debate. If the Liberals and Greens have some sort of alliance and Dion and May are in agreement about matters of the environment, then what business does the leader of a party with no seats and (evidently) no distinct platform have in being there? (Yes, I am glossing over differences in Liberal and Green policy - but Dion and May already beat me to that.)

Anonymous said...


When has McGuinty been actively supporting PR? He's got a Citizens' Assembly underway in Ontario. But I don't think he has called for a yes vote in the referendum come October.

Or are you referring to David McGuinty instead of Dalton. David is definitely the more progressive one. He supported one person one vote as a way to elect the Liberal leader. Therefore, if there is one McGuinty that is supporting PR, it's probably David.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I had assumed that putting together a citizens' assembly counted for something, but since you're a Liberal in Ontario who supports PR, I'll have to assume you know more than I do!