Canada needs a unified progressive party

 

Our vision for Canada’s government (and governance) in the twenty-first century is one of inter-party cooperation and consensus, policy based on evidence rather than ideology, and that places progress over partisanship. The current Conservative majority government (which received only 39.6% of the vote in the 2011 election) has time and again proven that ideology drives their policies, while rejecting the recommendations of experts and scientists — even those the government itself commissioned — in policy development and implementation.

 

This is not how a country should be run. For a more extreme yet very real example of the results of ideological governance, we need look no further than our neighbours to the south. Since Barack Obama’s taking office in January 2009, U.S. Republicans have embarked on a deliberate campaign of obstruction, often refusing to even hold votes on legislation proposed by Barack Obama and the Democrats, simply because of their ideological opposition to even remotely progressive policies. Republicans have also held not only the country’s economy hostage but the survival of the poor and unemployed as well, in order to have their draconian demands met. It’s clear that the needs of the American people are not nearly as important to them as fighting ideological battles.

 

Fortunately, our government hasn’t reached that point — but make no mistake, Stephen Harper and his Conservatives have been bringing us closer and closer to this indifference to the citizen and ignorance of sound, evidence-based policy in favour of imposing their ideology on a country whose clear majority does not support this. The Libdemo Movement believes that Canadians deserve better than that — and that now is the time to work towards change.

 

Election 2011: an eye-opener

 

The 2011 federal election was an eye-opener for many Canadians: the Conservatives won a majority government with only 39.6% of the popular vote. The rest of the federalist vote was split between the NDP (30.6%), the Liberal Party (18.9%), and the Green Party (3.9%), with the separatist Bloc Québécois at 6.1%. While the three federalist parties have their own histories, ideologies, and traditions, they have one thing in common: they are not (small-c) conservative, being situated in the centre or centre-left of the political spectrum, and their policies on issues that matter most to Canadians both overlap significantly and oppose the Conservatives’ policies. (See our Common Ground document for some examples of these overlaps.)

 

Upon realizing that the will of the majority of Canadians was not being represented in government, many citizens’ groups sprang up, most calling for electoral reform from our current ‘First Past the Post’ (FPTP) system, in which the party wins a plurality (more seats than any other single party, but not a true majority) forms the government, to a proportional representation (PR) system that would allocate House of Commons seats based on each party’s percentage of the popular vote. Some proposals would introduce “mixed-member representation,” “ranked balloting,” runoff elections, or other similar systems.

 

The Libdemo Movement appreciates the work of these citizens’ advocacy groups, for they demonstrate that Canadians are waking up and realizing that something is wrong with our electoral system as it works now. Some of these groups propose “one-time electoral cooperation” between the Liberal Party, the NDP, and the Green Party in the 2015 election, in order for electoral reform to be enacted by Parliament. But so far, such an agreement is looking more and more unlikely.

 

Coalition governments: not an effective solution

 

However, while PR and other electoral reforms might well be good ideas for the future, the Libdemo Movement is more concerned with the 2015 election and what happens afterward. A PR-based House of Commons would usually necessitate coalition governments, which can be notoriously unstable. In this kind of arrangement, the parties still retain their own self-interests, which naturally leads to the ‘junior’ parties with fewer members extracting difficult concessions from the ‘senior’ party with the most members in exchange for their support in Parliament. As well, the junior parties must also compromise on some important issues. This risks alienating voters of all three parties, many of whom voted for their party’s policy positions, only to see many of these diluted or set aside. If and when gridlock between the coalition parties takes hold, the coalition can dissolve.

 

This runs counter to our vision of cooperative government whose policies are evidence-based and developed through constructive consensus, not concessions. As well, situations similar to the vote-splitting phenomenon can occur within coalitions: the senior party (with the most MPs) might only hold a plurality within the coalition, with the junior parties together holding more seats than the senior party. Unless stipulated in a coalition agreement, if the junior parties are dissatisfied with the coalition, there’s nothing stopping them from withdrawing their support for the senior party, or even merging and toppling the senior party — again, all within the coalition. This constant tension and backroom wrangling could pose a serious impediment to effective policymaking.

 

Progressive unification

 

We believe that Canada would be best served by a unified ‘big-tent’ progressive party that, being one entity and not several distinct parties cobbled together in a coalition, would provide a strong and stable government that would be better suited to developing and implementing forward-thinking, evidence-based policies that focus first and foremost on our most pressing issues, such as climate change and the environment. Supporters of this great new party would vote for a clearly-defined platform; essentially, they’d know exactly what (and who) they’d be voting for, which is not always the case with a coalition scenario — especially if the coalition is formed after an election.

 

Of course, there could be various ‘wings’ within such a party, some leaning more to the left or right, some prioritizing certain issues (such as the environment), and so on — but these already exist behind the scenes. Ideally, were such mini-caucuses to ‘come out’ and be open about their concerns and positions, they could positively influence the entire party’s policy development. The result would be pragmatic and efficient policymaking that the entire unified party (and its supporters) could get behind.

 

A common argument against progressive unification is that each party has its own traditions, history, and ideology, and that these are incompatible. First of all, this notion implies that partisan interests are more important to them than representing the Canadian people. (They seem to forget that only 1 to 2% of Canadians belong to a political party.) But more importantly, this is simply not a valid reason for the parties to remain divided and, often, engage in partisan bickering, instead of working together for real progress for Canada and Canadians. In a unified party, no founding member party would lose its history or traditions — instead, they would be writing a new history and sharing their traditions. Ideology is more and more proving to be an impediment to progress — again, just look at Stephen Harper and his Conservatives, or at the U.S. Republicans — and it often produces irrational, even harmful, policies that hurt society rather than advance it.

 

Demographics: the coming progressive majority

 

We also believe a unified progressive party is where we are ultimately headed anyway, even in the absence of any citizen action to bring this about. The 18-to-34 Millennial generation will make up 35% to 38% of the voting-aged population by 2020, and study after study have clearly shown that the Millennials are overwhelmingly progressive in their political and social views. And it’s only logical that an even higher percentage of the next generation (today’s teenagers and pre-teens) will be as well. As the saying goes, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”—and this comes about through progressivism.

 

This new progressive Canadian voting majority of the twenty-first century will inevitably direct their support to whichever party is most firmly and credibly committed to their shared values. In the absence of party unification, one party will be ultimately the beneficiary of the bulk of the progressive vote, with the others quite possibly reduced to irrelevance, and would likely have no choice but to merge with the majority party if only to survive. It is therefore in the best interests of all the centre and centre-left parties to begin moving towards unification, so that each can bring its own particular strengths and best ideas to the new party.

 

The Libdemo Movement is committed to raising awareness of the benefits of progressive unification to everyday Canadians, to the three party leaders, and to Members of Parliament. We strongly believe that a unified progressive party, free of partisan division and bickering, and dedicated to serving the interests of Canada and Canadians, is the best way to bring about real progress for the twenty-first century.

 

Libdemo Movement / February 2014