Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Friday, March 07, 2008

Getting 'D's in Democracy

I was a bit peeved yesterday after reading an article in the Edmonton Journal expressing the thought of the Liberal, NDP and Green provincial parties merging to form a left of centre alternative to the Conservative party who, on Monday, swept in for another term with a landslide majority. I am a left of centre person in my political beliefs and especially want to see a government in power that provides more social funding to things like education and healthcare and has a strong environment agenda. I would love to see such a party get elected in many ways.

This is the problem, however. The people proposing such an alignment of the left are doing so with the sole purpose of getting elected. They are not proposing this because they are unified in their political beliefs. Such a foundation is no good for a party that could feasibly form the next government. Compromise is fundamental to harmony in life, but too much compromise inevitably will cause some to bristle, and therefore dilute or fragment such a party. My biggest issue with political parties in this country is their lack of any kind of idealism. Elections are like job interviews. It’s difficult to get a straight answer as everything in regulated by party spin doctors.

It bothers me that I live in such a right wing, conservative province. Who was it who said something to the effect that “democracy is a terrible thing, but it’s the best that we’ve got”? Churchill I think…

Here's the article:

Should Liberals and NDP unite?
A combined opposition might have won more seats, but not the elec

Graham Thomson
The Edmonton Journal
Thursday, March 06, 2008

They might be political enemies but Liberals and New Democrats must be feeling a strange sense of kinship today, something like fellow accident victims laid up side-by-side in hospital, casualties of the same hit and run.
The first question they'll be asking each other: "Did you get the number of that truck?"
The second: "Is it time for us to join forces?"
It is a perennial question, one that pops up whenever vote splitting between the Liberals and New Democrats helps Conservatives win seats in Edmonton, as it apparently did in Monday's election.
It is a question that Liberals began asking themselves almost as soon as the polls closed.
Of the 235,000 votes cast in Edmonton, about 40 per cent went to the Tories with about 30 per cent going to the Liberals and 25 per cent to the NDP.
Put another way, the Liberals and New Democrats won a combined total of 55 per cent of the vote here -- but got just five of the city's 18 seats.
With 40 per cent of the vote the Tories won a majority -- 13 -- of the seats.
You can see how it worked in Edmonton-Mill Woods, for example, where the Tory candidate Carl Benito won with 4,752 while the Liberal incumbent Weslyn Mather got 3,996 and the NDP Christina Gray played apparent spoiler by capturing 1,474.
Add up the Liberal and NDP vote, goes the argument, and the opposition would have won Mill Woods handily.
Do that same math for all the city's ridings and Monday's results would have been reversed with a Liberal/NDP party getting 13 seats and the Tories just five.
It's very neat and tidy math, and no doubt vote splitting did cost the opposition some seats, but it's also overly simplistic.
You can't simply add up the opposition votes and reach a simple answer. People vote for parties for all kinds of complicated reasons.
A vote for a New Democrat candidate in Monday's election was probably as much a vote against the Liberals as it was a vote against the Conservatives.
It was also a vote for something, for an NDP platform that presented a unique position on many issues including advocating for public auto insurance, ending corporate political donations and significantly increasing energy royalties.
Any new Liberal/NDP coalition party may well have erased the NDP message and therefore much of the NDP support.
Conversely, if the NDP message had survived in this new "super party," it might well have been perceived as too radical by traditional Liberal supporters who would have had no comfortable place to put their vote.
New Democrats have shown over the years they don't want to be assimilated despite sweet talk from Liberal supporters who point to the federal unite-the-right campaign that saw the creation of the new Conservative party that now holds on to a minority government in Ottawa and just might form a majority government next election.
However, the rewards wouldn't be nearly as lucrative for any unite-the-left movement in Alberta. It's just too small.
Adding up the Liberal and NDP vote provincially from Monday's election, for example, would have given the new middle-left party a total of about 35 per cent of the vote, far too small to form even a minority government, especially the way the opposition vote is diluted outside of the cities.
Proponents of combining the two parties have in the past presented the gestalt argument, the theory that the whole of the new party would actually be much greater than the sum of its parts.
That new body could better muster resources, attract volunteers and exploit pent up anger at the government, goes the argument.
Then again, it just might end up being a warmed over Alberta Liberal party.
That brings us to the next perennial, post-election question: Should the Liberals change their name?
For many Albertans Liberal is a four-letter word that generates a hatred based on real and imagined historical slights that defies any logical counter argument.
Premier Ed Stelmach played successfully to that audience a few times in the campaign with his reference to Trudeau Liberals and the National Energy Program.
The brand is so hated that you could rename Alberta Liberals the "Same-Sex Mad Cow Party" and get more votes in some rural areas.
More realistically, Liberals could follow the lead of the Saskatchewan Party that was formed 10 years ago in a coalition of Liberals and Conservatives to knock off the NDP -- and which succeeded in that goal in 2007.
Mind you, the label "Alberta Party" is already taken.
There's no rush for the Liberals to make up their mind what to do.
Regardless of how you crunch the popular vote numbers, the Conservatives won an impressive 72 seats under our first-past-the-post system and there won't be another election for four years or so.
That's plenty for time for the Liberals to figure out what to do while they're recovering in the political intensive care ward with their roommate, the NDP.
© The Edmonton Journal 2008


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