Prime Minister Layton and Proportional Representation

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Since during the federal election campaign over the last 3 months I’ve talked with friends about the outside chance of Jack Layton becoming prime minister. It’s still an outside chance, but it improved when Flaherty said an unsurprising bunch of nothing useful last night.

I’ve been impressed with the social movement that swept Obama to the presidency and spilled into Canada to send the federal NDP to a place where they raised more money from more people than the Liberal party.

Now with renewed talk of crashing the arrogant Harper government, Layton has a chance to become prime minister. Here’s how.

Election Financing as the Trigger

Harper is on record as wanting to destroy the Liberal party, not just defeat them. So one of the first things he does in this new parliament, while not seriously addressing meaningful interventions on behalf of working Canadians in this economic meltdown, is to remove the per-vote funding for political parties. His is well funded, the Liberals are always 8 minutes from bankruptcy and the NDP and Bloc are populist parties with solid and growing funding machinery.

So changing the financing rules to push the Liberals into financial purgatory seemed like a solid Harper bully move. The Liberals have been a party of corporate entitlement, so they do not have a populist funding regime. Maybe now after a few failed elections in this decade they will seriously work on building one.

Harper incorrectly stated today in the House foyer, typically without taking questions, that Dion [or anyone] cannot become prime minister without electoral support. Nice campaign rhetoric, but really, no one was elected to a majority so anyone who can come up with 155 votes has a legal shot at governing.

Coalition Dynamics

Judy Rebick wrote a piece in the Globe and Mail a few weeks ago on a 3 party coalition that can orbit a few key policy similarities and box out Harper. Canadians for a Progressive Coalition are working well coordinating the advocacy for an anti-Harper, progressive alternative and email campaigns to all opposition MPs from people all across the country, which returned a few emails from Liberal lackeys condemning the move as bad policy. Typical Liberal birthright arrogance about not wanting to share.

So today we learned that Ed Broadbent and Jean Chretien have been trying to broker a coalition with Bloc voting support to keep Harper from ramping up his attacks on all things not radically right wing.

Prime Minister Layton

So who gets to be prime minister in a limited coalition? Dion is a lame duck as he announced he’s stepping down at a convention. Some kind of new leader for the Liberals established over the next few days is unlikely and potentially illegitimate to party members or caucus.

The Bloc can quite easily stay out of a formal coalition with just a pledge to support votes. So Duceppe will not be prime minister. But there is something else to the Bloc. Plenty of people who are not separatists have been voting Bloc for some time now. Why? Because the Bloc gets things done for the province and the party’s social and economic policies are on the whole enviable, especially to progressives. And people vote Bloc to keep majority governments from the Conservatives or the Liberals because they are bad for Quebec since a majority federal government shifts the power too centrally and blocks provinces’ relative power.

So that leaves Prime Minister Layton, and not because his campaign rhetoric was that he wanted Harper’s job. With the lame duck Dion or fresh new Liberal leader being questionable prime ministers, and Duceppe being a separatist, the only compromise that isn’t a deal breaker could be Layton.

Proportional Representation

My agenda all decade has been to advocate for the end to majority governments in Canada and our 19th century electoral system which best serves a two party system, which Canada is far from today. Each minority government that gets elected puts a larger spotlight on the elephant in the room: that the electorate is too split or regionalized for simply two national motherhood parties. This means majority governments will become mathematically unlikely.

So if the opposition can crash Harper’s bully government, we will have a system more like proportional representation than first-past-the-post, but with the Conservatives on the outs. This event can be a springboard to electoral reform.

Changing to a PR system will ensure entrenched Quebec advocacy for the Bloc without need for referendum threats. It will mean millions more votes for the NDP as so many won’t need to vote strategically anymore. It will also mean the Green Party getting dozens of seats to support a green agenda, except to the extent that their platform isn’t progressive enough to address the hyper-consumerism that is aggravating the climate crisis.

And the Liberal party, though they will bleed votes to the NDP, Greens and Bloc, will have a chance to survive. And the Conservatives? Who cares. Let their solid base do its work and elect the dozens of MPs that reflect their crazy right wing ideals.

So at least the three non-Conservative parties may leap towards PR to improve their future access to parliament, and the Conservatives may have to join in just to keep from being wildly marginalized forever because they too are no longer a national party that can get things done.

And this all bodes well for the BC election on May 12, 2009 when we will try again to pass a PR referendum that would have passed last time if the 57% didn’t fall short of the suddenly new 60% threshold for referenda.

So the goal isn’t so much to get Layton in as PM, but to stop Harper from continuing his socially conservative and economically neoliberal, anti-social agenda. And out of it we may end up getting a far more fair electoral system.

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Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist. at Politics, Re-Spun
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, professor, speaker, consultant, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website,

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16 thoughts on “Prime Minister Layton and Proportional Representation”

  1. The coalition talk has been building for some time, and this latest business really makes it look like a possibility. However, there really isn’t a chance that Jack Layton will be handed the Prime Minister’s chair. There are too many reasons for this, not least of which is the Liberals’ fear of validating his national leadership aspirations. At this point it’s difficult even to guess who might take the helm in the event of a coalition, but I feel pretty safe in my prediction that it won’t be Layton.

  2. PR will not happen with this coalition. PR hurts the Bloq and Bloq support is required. We’ll have PR someday, but not with this coalition. Thanks Mr. Harper… your either a complete idiot or your planning a David Peterson, ie your own removal from office because you care only about yourself and don’t want the taint of leading the nation during bad times…. Either way your toast, soon you’ll no longer be PM and as a result your caucus will see you removed as Leader of the CPC.

  3. If the new BC PR plan is the same as the old one, it should probably be defeated. I don’t know why they insist on proposing bad plans instead of good ones. The one put forward in Ontario was disgusting.

  4. So today Harper blinks and a smirking John Baird pulls the plan to cripple public funding of political parties. With some vague reference to maybe it needing some kind of discussion…whatever.

    Flaherty’s press conference next week better solve cold fusion, the global potable water crisis and breast cancer or he will be under the bus by dinner time in Vancouver. By the way, anyone not up to speed on Cyndi Lauper’s role in the now essential idiom of throwing someone under the bus should read this:

  5. Ken S, good point about the Bloc. In the universe of my mind that plans out Prime Minister Layton, the Bloc would change some artificially stoked seats for a long term presence at the table as advocates for Quebecois, with or without referendum threats.

    And of course, that too is debatable. 🙂

  6. My favourite line from the mayhem of the weekend:

    “The stability of the government and the economy is paramount,” Flaherty told reporters, adding that the business community has recommended against any change in government.

    WELL! IF THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY recommends against it, then…

    And in case you weren’t following the news on the weekend, to show how wild a time it is for politics in Canada, and to support my contention that our electoral system of majority government worshiping is dying, here’s what’s happened in the 48 hours since I published this:

    Harper bails on the cut to per vote party funding and canceling the right to strike; he moves the budget up a month [irrelevant] and has his Flaherty fellow set up a press conference next week to do some desperate pandering.

    At 930pm Sunday night, the NDP and Liberals are reported to have reached a deal.

    Earlier Sunday, Harper widely releases [not in a brown enveloped dropped off at the CBC or anything] a recording of an NDP caucus conference call proving what most of us have known for weeks: that opposition parties have been plotting the constitutionally valid crashing of the minority government for weeks now.

    OK, remember this?

    Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
    [a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
    Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
    Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.
    Captain Renault: Everybody out at once!

  7. “Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

    Possibly my favourite quote from Casablanca, and the one I use most often.

    So, it’s to be PM Dion, then? Weird. Narrowly escaping his place as a footnote in Liberal history as the only leader to not become PM. Maybe. If the Conservatives don’t prorogue Parliament, that is.

  8. An entrenched Bloc status in a PR system with no foolish majorities anymore. I can live with that. Disclosure: my grandmothers were French Canadian and Acadian. 🙂 So I have some sympathies for the plight of the Quebecois, etc.

  9. This is an old post, but you were pretty close with your predictions. You have to admit that even with all the predictions that you can imagine, there are so unexplainable political moves which will take place and you can’t really know what will happen in the next years until it happens. Hopefully, everything will be ok.

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