Friday, April 24, 2009

And They Said We Was Mad!

Look! A non-denial from Layton's national campaign director!

Adam Radwanski: In the blogosphere, at least, there's been some speculation on the prospect of the NDP pushing for the Conservatives to look seriously at electoral reform. Is that grounded in anything?

Brian Topp: Democratic reform is a real issue, no doubt about that. An electoral system that awards an MP for every 22,000 Bloc voters and not a single MP to 900,000-plus Green voters is not serving the country well.

See? See? What McClelland and I were saying! Most bloggers report on the world. McClelland and I craft its metaphysical parameters! Booyah! Booyah!


JimBobby said...

Whooee! Deja vu?


Layton as power broker

Globe and Mail Update
Monday, February 16, 2004

Ottawa — NDP leader Jack Layton says he's willing to form a minority government with Paul Martin's Liberals if the federal sponsorship scandal ends up denying the ruling party a majority of Parliamentary seats in an expected spring election.

"If the poll lines keep going the way they are going: us up ... and the Liberals down, then the probability of a minority government increases," he said.

But Mr. Layton says a non-negotiable precondition of any coalition with the Liberals will be holding a national referendum on switching to a new method of electing MPs to Parliament. "The condition of supporting any minority government would be that."

The NDP wants Canada to change to a so-called proportional representation system from the first-past-the-post method of sending MPs to the House of Commons today.

Mr. Layton said that proportional representation -- where parties win Parliamentary seats according to the percentage of votes they get in an election - would end Liberal dominance of Parliament. The Liberals often get no more than 40 per cent of the national vote but control a majority of seats because their candidates come up the middle after other parties split the vote in ridings, he says.

"We want to change the system that is allowing this kind of relatively arrogant ... government to exist in the country," Mr. Layton said.

He says a Parliament composed of MPs elected by proportional representation would more accurately reflect Canadian opinion.

Mr. Layton points out that New Zealand has successfully moved to a form of proportional representation from a first-past-the-post system. "It can be done without constitutional change," he said.

Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberals have seen their national support slide nine percentage points because of the $250-million sponsorship scandal.

An Ipsos-Reid poll conducted immediately after the release of Auditor-General Sheila Fraser's report on the scandal last week shows the Martin government dropped nine percentage points this month, down to 39 per cent of decided voters, from 48 per cent in January.

Another drop of five to six percentage points would put the government's majority in danger if an election were held this spring, pollsters say.


As you'll, no doubt, recall, Martin went on to win a majority and while Layton's NDP did not hold a complete balance of power, they were able to wangle $4 Bn worth of concessions from Martin when he needed his ass saved on a budget vote. Not once did Layton follow through on his "non-negotiable" precondition.

During the Martin minority session, Layton never even brought up PR. Ed Broadbent, however, did make a brief private member's statement endorsing PR.


JimBobby said...

D'oh! Martin went on to win a minority in 2004 not a majority like I typed above.

Reality Bites said...

Or in other words, Proportional Representation is something only discussed when there's no chance of it happening.

Mark Greenan said...

I posted this long history at Chris Tindal's blog and you clearly didn't read it JB, so I'll try posting it here.

To my knowledge (and I welcome other reformers to correct me if I’m wrong, particularly on the 37th parliament as I was less into the issue then), the NDP has introduced votable motions on electoral reform in the last three parliaments before this one. In the 37th, it was a motion from Lorne Nystrom to start a consultation process on electoral reform. While all NDP members voted for it, almost no one else did so it lost something like 200 to 30. You can search to see the exact vote and bill, if you want to educate yourself on the history of electoral reform in Canada.

In the 38th parliament, as a part of the horse-trading around the Martin government’s inaugural throne speech, the NDP got it amended to instruct the Procedure and House Affairs Committee to establish a public consultation process on electoral reform that would lead to a binding referendum.

Now you might ask, why didn’t the NDP just ask the Liberals to legislate PR? The simple fact is that they couldn’t. As Jack Layton told me (over the course of a series on questions I once posed to him on the progress of PR in that parliament), Paul Martin told him point blank when he asked him about legislating PR, “you don’t have the votes”. So not having the votes, the NDP did what they could, got that language put into the Throne Speech that would move the issue forward (I also think this subject is also touched on in Jamey Heath’s book about the same period). So at that point, I think a fair-minded observer has to give the NDP credit for moving forward the PR agenda as promised in the 2004 campaign, in the face of Liberal government opposition.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs then took up the task of crafting a public education process. Now I wasn’t at all the hearings, and I wasn’t in total agreement the positioning Ed Broadbent took at the committee, but ultimately the committee produced a report that laid out a decent consultation process that would essentially combine a Citizens’ Assembly and a parliamentary committee. Now my understanding is that such a process cannot just be started by a parliamentary committee, so they had to wait for a response from Mauril Belanger, the Minister for Democratic Reform (or was it Renewal?) to start the consultation process. Now the timing becomes relevant, I believe the committee reported in May or June 2005, instructing the government to respond by shortly after the return of parliament in September.

As an aside, the Spring of 2005 saw Belinda Stronach added to cabinet as Minister for Democratic Renewal (or was it Reform?). Note: the presence of two Ministers relating to democratic reform does not reflect a real commitment to substantive democratic reform on Prime Minister Martin’s part (and I think the facts bear me out on that).

So the House opens again in September and cadres of electoral reformers are anxiously waiting Belanger’s plan for a public consultation. And we wait, and wait some more, the prescribed date in the Procedure and House Affairs Committee report passes (contempt of Parliament, there’s some democratic renewal). I could be imagining things, but I believe the NDP even asked a Question or two about it in the House. Now at this point, can the NDP REALLY be blamed for thinking that the Martin government would never be an honest partner on electoral reform? At least in this parliament, with the Liberals having four times as many seats? I don’t think so and I believe this is confirmed by conversations I have had with people working in the centre of government at that time that indicates that Martin’s PMO wanted nothing to do with PR. I guess Mauril Belanger’s my MP so I should maybe ask him his side of the story sometime.

Now where I might accept that Jack and the NDP caucus might have let electoral reformers down is in their failure to try and push for the immediate legislation of PR in the final crazy days of the 38th parliament in November 2005. I wish they would have, if I were in caucus or in the decision-making circles I would have pushed HARD to make that the NDPs final demand of Martin, but knowing what I know about the politics of that issue in the House (as I have described above) and in the general population, I can’t blame them. Why? Again, they almost certainly wouldn’t have had the votes. By this time, they had lost Bev Desjarlais, so the Liberals and NDP caucuses would need the votes of at least 2 independent member to pass some bills (3 for bills that change the legislative status quo as Milliken would break ties the wrong way on those!).

On to the 39th Parliament, the NDP made their first votable motion, introducted by Catherine Bell, basically a rehash of Ed Broadbent’s proposal from the previous parliament. Like Nystrom’s bill, it was strongly defeated, with only the support of a few Liberals. Honestly, I don’t know what more electoral refomers could have reasonably asked the NDP caucus to do on the issue in the 39th parliament. Again, they didn’t have the votes to do anything.

As you likely know, the NDP’s first votable motion this parliament, a bill introduced by Bruce Hyer, was a reintroduction of the Climate Change Accountability Act, setting long-term science based GHG reduction targets. As Greens, I’m sure you won’t criticise the NDP for putting that bill before electoral reform in this parliament. I think it’s still young in the parliament to judge this NDP caucuses record on the issue.

Also, the continued support of many NDP caucus members for Fair Vote and other electoral reform campaigns and organizations should be noted and has been helpful to the electoral reform movement, in my opinion.

Now if you want to criticize the BC, Saskatchewan and Manitoba NDP, go ahead and let loose, they deserve it, but not Jack, nor the members of his caucus (particularly the many, easily the majority, of them who were helpful to PEI, Ontario and now BC electoral reform campaigns).

Thanks for giving me the bandwidth to rant Chris, but I’ve tried to give a detailed outline of the NDPs recent parliamentary history on the issue of electoral reform. I think it makes it clear that the overwhelming share of the blame for the lack of progress on the issue belongs to others (the media, the other 270ish parliamentarians, the government of the day, electoral reformers who aren’t donating enough to Fair Vote), not the federal NDP.

RayK said...

Topp's answer continues on the next page of the interview where he says:

"That said, I think it's a safe bet the New Democrats will be much more focused on what the economic crisis is doing to Canadian families - and on what the national government can do to help them."

Pretty clear. Without dismissing the importance of PR, it's a "safe bet" that RIGHT NOW the agenda will focus on the economy.

Did you just miss that?

bigcitylib said...


So a PR ref. is just a little further down their list of demands. So?

JimBobby said...

Thanks for that info, Mark.

This thing is personal with me. I admit it. I read and believed Jack's promise of a non-negotiable precondition to mean just what he said and on that basis and that basis alone, I voted NDP. I felt personally betrayed when Layton emerged from his big budget coup with Martin conceding all sorts of social benefit stuff but not a peep on PR. And, yes, budgets can be used to at least set up exploratory commissions or to provide for polling and opinion gathering. The Cons proved that budgets can even be used to change immigration policy.

I'll accept that the NDP have made some efforts to push for PR just as they have made some good efforts in the environmental file. On both topics (again personal, my pet issues) I've found the NDP to be lacking in follow-through on good words.