Stop Harper, how? An alternative form of political co-operation

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So you want to stop Harper. Happily, you stand with a solid majority of Canadians, who are unhappy with what he represents. His government has the support of only about one Canadian in three.

Unfortunately, the opposition to his regime, a.k.a. one-man rule, is divided. Four opposition parties share prospective anti-Harper voters. Not everybody who wants to stop Harper is as engaged politically as Brigette DePape, the page who was terminated for brandishing a Stop Harper sign on the floor of the Senate.

The blog averages responses from all polling firms to questions such as: who would you vote for if an election were held today? Latest calculations show the Conservatives lead with 34 per cent, followed by the NDP at 28 per cent, Liberals at 26 per cent, Bloc at six per cent (based on 24 per cent support in Quebec), and Greens at five per cent.

Optimists point to the 1993 election when the Conservatives were reduced to two seats. Like Brian Mulroney before him, Harper and his party could fall enough out of favour to be thrown into political oblivion by angry citizens by the time of the next federal election, expected in October 2015.

Realists acknowledge that while governments are defeated rather than elected, in order for Harper to lose, someone else has to win. Unless either the Official Opposition led by Tom Mulcair, or a resurgent Liberal party behind Justin Trudeau, prove strong enough to attract the anti-Harper vote, vote splitting could see the Conservatives in power for a second majority term.

Political co-operation is touted as a way to ensure, on a riding-to-riding basis, that anti-Harper voters can coalesce around one agreed candidate capable of defeating a sitting Conservative, rather than split three or four ways. An agreed candidate could be designated in Conservative-held ridings, say, in a primary election hosted by the opposition parties. All parties could contest the riding, but only one would have the designation as the voter co-operation -- defeat a Harper Con -- candidate.

Support for political co-operation comes largely from non-partisans. Understandably, party leaders, who have to answer to their membership, are loath to see candidates other than their own win seats. Faint hope Liberal leadership candidate Joyce Murray advocates such a pact, as did NDP MP Nathan Cullen in his leadership bid. Defeating Conservative candidates is a worthy objective, but parliament could still keep Harper in power, even if his government is reduced to a minority.

The Green Party and its leader Elizabeth May, are supporting a one-time political co-operation agreement so as to elect a (coalition) government that would adopt proportional representation (PR). May has written to opposition MPs promoting the idea, and is calling on Canadians to support it.

The negative consequences of first-past-the-post voting for democracy worry the NDP, but not to the same degree the Liberals. Like the Greens, the NDP supports proportional representation. The Liberals, however, support an alternative ballot, whereby voters rank candidates preferentially, and the second choices of voters for losing candidates are added to the total until one candidate wins 50 per cent plus one of the votes. As Wilf Day has shown, elections run under the proposed Liberal voting system would produce fewer changes than under PR.

Reforming the electoral system is not a burning issue in the public mind, in the same way, for example, as free trade was in the 1988 election campaign. But, for many people, defeating Harper is an over-riding, urgent, priority, requiring extraordinary measures.

A "stop Harper" pact among the opposition parties has considerable appeal for those worried to terrified about the consequences of a second Harper majority, and wanting to see a minority parliament dominated by progressives. Most prominently, these are social movement activists who see the fabric of Canada being thoroughly damaged by more Harper policies.

For environmentalists, feminists, trade unionists, seniors, students, artists, farmers and others affected directly or indirectly by spending cutbacks and program closures, Harper has to be stopped. Direct actions such as Idle No More have created hope for building new alliances.

Among those who cheered the defeat of the Conservatives in 1993, after eight years of right-wing policies, were Liberal voters surprised to discover that the Chrétien government continued to impose the same de-regulation, privatization, free trade agenda developed by the Conservatives.

The Liberals built a solid base in Ontario, but lost Quebec on economic and social issues, creating space for first the Bloc and then the NDP to win support. There have been many signals Liberals want to replace Conservatives; fewer signs Liberals have become progressive.

A concrete way to envisage political co-operation is through an agreement or accord on policy. Working out a common accord on priority issues, and what to do about them is something civil society groups have experience doing.

Negotiating an accord that would cover Aboriginal issues, climate change, active economic and social policy, the intergenerational bargain, and social determinants of health, and getting political candidates to sign on as supporters, would lay the groundwork for a progressive coalition government.

Duncan Cameron is the president of and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: jonathonreed/Flickr

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