Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Uniting the Left

As a Liberal, I'm not comfortable with the discussion of uniting the left. We try to "unite the left" when we compete with the NDP, Greens and Bloc in elections. The "unite the left" movement seems like an undemocratic way to try to achieve the same thing.

I don't see evidence that the NDP wants to be "united" with the Liberals. Since the Liberals are by far the larger party, union would mean killing off the NDP. The NDP has a proud heritage and is the party that brought us many of the social programs that give us the most sense of pride as Canadians - such as universal health care - and if they survive, they will continue to be the party that pushes for progressive policies (as evidenced by their deal with Paul Martin that resulted in a national day care program, later killed by Harper).

Harper didn't unite the right: he staged a successful hostile takeover of the Progressive Conservative party and coopted their brand. People like to say that the coup rebounded on him because the moderate PCs have diluted some of the ideology of the Reform Alliance. That's not really true. Harper runs a tight, top-down, centralized party and his central core calls the shots. With just a minority government he has already made enormous changes to Canada that no real Tory would have made, like moving towards an American-style justice system that aims to incarcerate more youth and wants to create a false culture of fear.

But following along that argument, some would say that uniting the left would result in a greater progressive element in the Liberals. I question this. For one thing, the Liberals already have a very strong progressive bent, and when it is not realized that is because of prudent considerations such as (1) fiscal responsibility and (2) considering all Canadians, not just an ideological base. The prudent nature of the Liberal party is our greatest strength and what makes us stand apart. Some people may malign it as "political expediency" but it is actually what makes us the most effective, decent and responsible governing party, and it must remain our core.

In our recent election, the "left" got 61% of the vote and the Conservatives got 38% of the vote, yet the Conservatives formed the government. If we want to unite the non-Conservative parties, we should think of means that don't involve killing off parties: coalitions and special agreements. These can't be imposed from above, as Elizabeth May found when she suggested strategic voting during the election and disaffected large portions of her party. We need an open dialog. We could start small: greater coordination to achieve common goals during this minority government. Or don't run opposition against each other's leaders, thus freeing up the leaders to do a national campaign (I think there's historical precedent for this but am not sure). In addition, voters could engage in more effective strategic voting.

The problem with strategic voting is that voters need accurate polling information to make a useful strategic vote. Sites like Vote for Environment actually damage our ability to vote strategically because the data is so shoddy. The site claims that "This site offers comprehensive, up-to-date riding by riding information on how to defeat Harper and his anti-environment policies." That implies that they have riding-level polling data. However, in the small print they admit that their numbers are calculated by taking "the number of votes each party received in that riding in 2006 modified by each party's current standing in this week's cumulative polls." In other words, their information is garbage. And it had bad results. For example, Vote for Environment said that Kitchener-Waterloo was a safe Liberal seat and told voters to "vote with your heart." The Liberal lost by a small margin, and Vote for Environment could be considered the reason.

It is definitely unfortunate that the Conservatives were able to form the government with such a small percentage of support (21% of eligible voters) and it's natural to think that the fractured left is the culprit. However, a multi-party left is also a source of strength. It leads to a culture of ideas that the Conservative monolithic structure does not generate. While they are stagnating, we can enjoy a renaissance.


Anonymous said...

Good post, you're right that "uniting the left" is a waste of everyone's time.

What we need is proportional representation, so that all Canadians are represented fairly in the House and we get governments supported by a majority of voters.

wilson said...

''In our recent election, the "left" got 61% of the vote and the Conservatives got 38% of the vote, yet the Conservatives formed the government.''

There is a problem with that statement.
You are including Quebec, where the votes were not left vs right but a protest of all federal parties.

When you look at the left vs right votes, % of the 'came in second' must also be factored in.
The Cons came in 2nd in 95 ridings.
Look at the Dusanj win, 20 votes.
But a win is a win, right?

So look at the wins,
in the ROC (where no Bloc ran), the Conservatives won 57% of the ridings (not sure, but this likely mirrors the % of votes too).
The Conservatives won 48% of the ridings in Ontario.
The Liberals won only 8 seats in total, out of 95 ridings,
West AND North of the Ontario boarder (4 provinces + 3 Territories, Libs won 8% of the ridings)

The left combined, in the ROC, only won 43% of the seats.

PMSH came very close to winning a majority, that included Quebec and Danny's ABC, on his strength in the ROC.

Chrystal Ocean said...

I would never support a "unite the (purported) left" campaign unless it included this proviso:

That the first order of business of any coalition government be to initiate public consultations, including a Citizens Assembly, on instituting a proportional voting system, to be followed by a referendum by which Canadians can choose the best voting system.

As to uniting all parties on the "left" - again, purported - into one party, and on a permanent basis, that I would never support.

In forming multiple parties in the first place, voters have shown their dissatisfaction with the representation they were getting with existing parties.

In any democracy, choice is paramount. To reduce voters' choice to party A or B - or neither - is no choice at all.

Patrick Ross said...

Tell us more about the culture of fear.

Yappa said...

Hi Patrick Ross,

Thanks for the comment. By culture of fear, I was talking about scaring Canadians by demonizing people accused of offences, especially youth, in order to dismantle decades of jail diversion programs that are the envy of the world and that have kept our crime rate low, to bring in new laws and sentencing that create an American style justice system.

I wasn't talking about attack ads. It's a bit rich that a Conservative would complain about attack ads. Your party has raised the attack ad to heights not seen even in the US - even in the US they give it a break between elections. We just endured two years of attack ads against Stephane Dion. Last summer in one day I got five ads in the mail that belittled Dion. The lies were just amazing. "I'm scared of the Green Shift," an anonymous voice said in one radio ad during the last election, "because I can't afford to pay more to fill up my car." Never mind that the Green Shift did not impose any sort of tax on gasoline. (link)

What Harper has done to our justice system is proof that we were right to fear what he would do in power. Even with a minority government he has done incredible harm to our country, and wrecked the lives of thousands of people. It's not just the youth in jail whose life is messed up, but his parents and siblings and extended family. It is all so unnecessary. And I don't believe that Canadians (even most Tories) want a US-style justice system. Such a system creates higher crime levels, is incredibly expensive, and is a major abuser of human rights.

Patrick Ross said...

First off, I don't have a party. I just won't tolerate hypocrisy.

Second of all, our justice system is hardly the "envy of the world". And a few mandatory minimum sentencing laws fall far short of what would be necessary to build an "American-style justice system".

One thing that conservatives (as well as Conservatives) have no patience for is laws that fail to protect society from dangerous offenders.

Anyone in this country convicted of three violent offenses fits this bill, regardless of what the ideologically blinded may think.

How keeping these three-time violent offenders in prison where they can't hurt law-abiding Canadians violates their human rights is a narrative I'm perfectly willing to follow you down, but you really don't want that to happen.

On top of this, how anyone who claims to oppose gun violence could also oppose mandatory minimum sentences for firearm offenses is beyond anyone with so much of a shred of capacity for rational thought.

While these laws admittedly won't have much of an effect on crimes of passion, it should be expected to have an effect on those committing premeditated gun crimes, such as the individuals who shot down Jane Creba.

Which brings one back to the most important point of all: only a the most blinkered ideologue could insist that it's Stephen Harper creating a "culture of fear" when his government legislates on the issues that Canadians are concerned about.

Whether you like it or not, Canadians are concerned about crime. Canadians are fed up of hearing about violent offenders being turned loose into the streets to offend again. If anything is creating a "culture of fear", it's a justice system that fails to recognize when someone belongs behind bars indefinitely and when they don't.

If anyone is creating a "culture of fear", it's people who gun down law-abiding Canadians on crowded streets.

If anyone is creating a "culture of fear" it's people racing their cars on our streets, sometimes even through residential areas.

If anyone is creating a "culture of fear", I'd say it's a political party that falls all over itself to try and make people terrified of a competing party.

Furthermore, you can't tell me that the fear provoked through these particular ads doesn't, in turn, get transferred into people within any particular riding who vote for that party.

Any party that would choose to try and stir up fear about a political party and, by extension, their supporters is most certainly creating a culture of fear.

It's actually pretty hilarious that you'd accuse the Conservatives of taking negative campaigning to "heights never seen in the US".

I've never seen an American campaign ad that accused a political opponent of wanting to build a military dictatorship.

The Liberal party also ran ads against Stephen Harper before the 2004 election. Unlike the "Not a Leader" ads, these particular Liberal ads were (surprise, surprise) fear ads. So that's a high horse that I'm afraid you're simply too short to ride.

Patrick Ross said...

And by the way, just because the Green Shift didn't levy any direct taxes on gasoline doesn't mean it doesn't levy any additional costs.

An introductory course in economics would probably be quite enlightening for you.

Yappa said...

Hi Patrick Ross -

I regret my angry tone in my first response. I try to keep my comments section civil, and I welcome differing opinions, but I have a couple of hot buttons and one of them is Harper's changes to the justice system, particularly in regards to youth crime.

Putting more youth in jail, and more of them in adult jails, is going to cause those individuals to commit more crimes and is going to increase the crime rate.

Since he first got in office Harper has spent a lot of money on propaganda to try to make Canadians afraid of crime, and especially afraid of youth.

Harper created a new law called street racing that charges people with street racing who are not street racing, just speeding. The law means that statistics will be collected that "prove" that street racing is widespread.

This false explosion in street racing will increase Harper's propaganda about youth committing crimes and increase the sense of fear he's creating about out of control youth who need ever more stringent punishment.

I provided links that expand on and provide evidence for all these points. I have been writing about these issues on this blog for two years. I have also written extensively about the green shift and similar proposals; in particular, I'm concerned about switching from progressive income tax to regressive consumption tax.

Finally, to the point of whether it's unfair to point out that Harper has values and a vision of Canada that break not only with the past but also with most Canadian's values. You seem to be saying that it is inappropriate to talk about his hidden agenda: his far right ideology hidden in a center-right party and rhetoric. Of course we must talk about it. Again, I've written about this many times and it's difficult to sum up briefly. Here's some more of my thinking. I linked to the same post before but I assume you didn't read it since you didn't notice my note about my economics training.