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The Cullen proposal: The logistics of co-operation

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In 2010-11 I was co-ordinator for the Catch 22 Campaign -- a national strategic voting campaign designed to try and defeat the Harper government in 2011 "from below" and raise awareness about the need for Canada to scrap its antiquated first-past-the-post voting system in favor of a democratic system in which all voters have equal and effective votes and a Parliament that proportionately reflects the views of the electorate. Proportional representation (PR)/equal votes is the path bringing Canada to the status of a representative democracy.

We weren't alone. Project Democracy, LeadNow, Swing 33, Shit Harper Did and other initiatives also recognized the need to defeat Harper and for game-changing reforms to Canada's voting system. Sadly, Harper won his "majority" government with about 40 per cent of the vote. Tragically, NDP leader Jack Layton was taken by cancer. Always a solid and consistent supporter of PR, Layton was able to articulate a perspective on PR that not only looked at the interests of the NDP but was also cognizant that supporters of other parties were also ripped off by winner-take-all politics. NDP (and Green Party) policy officially supports PR.

The Liberal Party of Canada was reduced to third-party status. One would think that such a humbling experience would open the party to new ideas -- i.e. democratic voting -- given that they are now on the receiving end of first-past-the-post under-representation on a national level. But alas, at their recent policy convention, they endorsed "lipstick on a pig" alternative voting which does nothing to represent "the losers."

In any case, for the most part, strategic voting from below (independant of the political parties, candidates and campaigns), was unable to deliver. While social democrats were elated by the NDP's record-breaking success in breaking the 100-seat mark and becoming the Official Opposition, we are stuck with Harper's unbridled power for at least the next 3 years. We are seeing the results.

Nathan Cullen, MP for Skeena and NDP leadership candidate has articulated a one-time strategy that would both defeat Harper and move forward on proportional representation. It could be described as "strategic voting from above" (co-operation of the opposition parties at the riding level). It's become a lightning rod for his campaign -- attracting both support and criticism.

Can Cullen's proposal work? Historian and political activist Stuart Parker has just produced a new study on this proposal. It was released by the Catch 22 Campaign yesterday. What follows is the Executive Summary with a link to the full study. I think that rabble.ca readers will find it interesting.

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The Logistics of Cooperation:

A Study of Nathan Cullen’s Progressive Primaries Proposal

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY (Click here to download the full report.)

Stuart Parker, a historian with 20 years of backroom political experience**, here takes Nathan Cullen's general proposal for opposition party co-operation in the 2015 federal election campaign and turns it into a practical roadmap.

1) Traditional opposition strategies are unlikely to beat the Harper Conservatives

- For reasons set out at length with evidence, opposition party mergers are not on the near horizon.

- Neither the NDP nor the Liberal Party is likely to completely eclipse the other in public support. Voting statistics and voter preference polling data demonstrate that go-it-alone strategies by those parties are unlikely to defeat the Harper Conservative government.

- In particular, in the May 2011 general election the NDP under Jack Layton attracted just 26 per cent of the popular vote outside Quebec. Since then Liberal popularity has revived somewhat. Neither party is likely to overwhelm the other -- and any incredible claim to be "the only practical alternative" is likely to backfire. The Liberal Party remains the strongest alternative party in Ontario where most national media organizations are headquartered, a significant reality which the. NDP cannot duck.

2) Efforts by non-party actors to game the electoral system with "strategic" or negative voting campaigns are futile

- The Toronto Star was unable in May 2011 to direct voters to Liberal or NDP candidates depending on which had a better chance to defeat the Conservative candidate...

- Project Democracy and Catch 22 Harper Conservatives, two overlapping Anyone-But-Conservative internet campaigns, were unable even to identify the best-positioned opposition candidate in more than 10 per cent of their targeted electoral districts. They had little discernible impact on voting outcomes.

3) The untested national option: Party-co-ordinated strategic voting

- There is strong precedent for effective party-directed vote pooling in British Columbia provincial politics and in major multi-party countries with w_inner-take-all voting systems.

- In Canada any co-operative or pooling strategy must be based on a shared promise by the political parties involved to implement proportional representation for subsequent federal elections. Without that there will be a sharp reduction in their collective public support, probably to the net advantage of the Conservative Party.

- Efficient vote retention and transfer could move 35 seats in Anglophone Canada from the Conservative Party to the three federalist opposition parties. Even with national party permission, Liberal, NDP or Green activists in swing ridings will be reluctant to participate actively in local primaries to nominate a single opposition candidate.

4) Further measures needed to oromote party co-operation, effective vote pooling and a change of government in 2015

- National party leaders and officials will need to advocate the "local primary" concept very actively to all riding associations in nationally designated target ridings.

- The national parties should agree to target no more than 60 ridings for vote pooling and "local primary" candidate selection.

- To minimize partisan conflict and enhance voter retention the "local primary" nominations should occur in a one-step process Opposition unity candidates should run under combined party labels.

- For maximum impact the three federalist opposition parties should consider opening the ABC alliance to the Bloc Quebecois and other small political parties.

**Stuart served as founder and chairman of the BC Green Party’s youth wing 1988-93, leader of the BC Green Party 1993-2000 and in a variety of provincial committee roles in the BC NDP 2001-04 including the Electoral Reform Good Government and Standing Committee on the Environment. Currently a postdoctoral fellow of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and former lecturer at Thompson Rivers University and the University of Toronto, Stuart’s previous professional career includes serving as a consultant for the BC NDP, Liberal Party of Canada and public and government relations firms, including Barlee, Geoghegan and Associates, Cadence Communications and National Public Relations. Since 1997, Stuart has been a leader in Canada’s electoral reform movement, serving as a director of Fair Voting BC, Fair Vote Canada, Fair Vote Ontario, the BC Electoral Change Coalition and the Toronto Democracy Initiative.

Click here to download the full report.

You can reach Stuart by email here - [email protected]

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