2011/05/05

Blame the system, please, and fix it

Boy do lefties know how to beat up on each other. Maybe it was the deep moments of frustration, but I haven’t heard this much blame game thrown around this country since the early Chr├ętien years, by conservatives.

The facts we have include that the Conservatives ran a really strong campaign with a focused message (like, extremely focused), and picked up a majority of seats. The Liberals ran the wrong campaign after being pummeled by the Tory machine and their seat count collapsed.

Jack Layton described the platform of the Liberals as largely the same, the main difference being that they couldn’t be trusted in getting it done. The NDP took advantage of Ignatieff's poor showing and Layton's popularity and approach, and rose to strong opposition, the likes of which have never been seen.

Yes, if this and that happened, votes could have added up in different ways to defeat the Conservatives. I've seen people blaming parties, leaders and candidates, organizers and volunteers, and Canadian voters as a whole. But the problem is deeper than this, and we know it.

The ability of a group of unaligned voters in an election to sway its outcome in a strategic direction across the country is very small. It seems in fact, the stronger the effort toward strategic voting, the worse the result ends up for the strategists (though I won’t blame their attempt, either).

There are many explanations for this. Individuals and groups come up with their own methodologies for voting strategically. They aren't relying on complete and sound information; polls are not done locally or made widely available. Support for parties shown in polls also change, and this time the showing for parties on the centre/left at the beginning of the election was highly different than at its end. The momentum of campaigns most often wipe out any small gains here and there for strategic voting.

An individual who believes in a party message shouldn’t be blamed for lending it their vote. Neither should a party be blamed for doing well and gaining seats, that’s their job.

But here we end up with a result that doesn’t suit the 60% very well at all, and perhaps not even much of the 40% who probably thought they were voting for a minority government. It’s a result not caused by individuals making bad choices, but by a system of political and electoral representation that facilitates the pattern.

I've been involved with parties, and their goals are to increase their standing to implement their policies and values. Their goal isn’t to arrive at a Legislature that benefits the most “progressive” voters. Therefore it is the people who must press to get the House they want to see.

Politics is won by coalitions. Coalitions in and and among parties and those that help win movements and policy agendas. Natural coalitions could exist within the non-Conservative parties. I’m not advocating any approach, but there are many possibilities, including issue-based cooperation, formal coalitions, mergers and running or supporting candidates in certain areas. Any of these would have to be pushed by people from outside and inside political parties who want to see a different Parliamentary make-up.

Another approach is electoral reform. It’s too bad this wasn’t a priority by opposition parties in the last Parliamentary sessions, as it may have been easier to do than now. Today, the people of the United Kingdom are voting on one form, although the vote is not looking good. But it's a good place to start: proportional voting is supported by a wide range of organizers on the left.

At this time, it will likely be a theme of greater interest to Liberals (along with the Bloc and the Greens), who have taken the place of the NDP as First Past the Post loser. Even the NDPers who dislike the Conservative majority should be sure to keep up their traditional support for its implementation.

A number of various initiatives, websites and videos aren’t going to cut it. As Dave Meslin wrote on election day, these are band-aids. This time we know we have another election in another four years or so. We don’t have to wait until an election is spontaneously called and run around with our heads chopped off. In addition, an Ontario election lies around the corner.

Whatever the efforts, they should be big, bold and united. No more separate initiatives here and there.

Working together, we can get some good ole reform happening in Canada again. Working apart, Nick Kouvalis wins.