Rafe- Notley should change electoral system following Alberta NDP win

Rafe: Notley should change electoral system following Alberta NDP win…no, seriously

Rafe- Notley should change electoral system following Alberta NDP win
Alberta Premier Elect Rachel Notley celebrates a shocking victory (Alberta NDP facebook page)

Somehow, the day after it happened, the election of the NDP in Alberta doesn’t seem quite as astonishing as it would have say, a year ago. Back then, one would have been in danger of certification as mad to predict that the Tories, after some 43 years, would be turfed out of what had become a political fiefdom. They reigned supreme with no contenders in sight, the Wildrose Party having apparently disintegrated. The Liberals had never been much of a force, although, from time to time, they would pop up hopefully as Liberals are wont to – and the NDP, well, they were just the NDP, a hopeless island of the left in a sea of the right.

A good part of the NDP victory is, of course, simple exhaustion with a very old government. It’s also due to some bad luck for the Tories – the same sort of bad luck that has hit every government relying upon fossil fuels for their day-to-day livelihood.

Ready for Rachel

Another enormous factor was Rachel Notley, bred in politics and ideally suited for the moment.

Leaders had become pretty stuffy in Alberta as they tend to become in democratic dictatorships, or any dictatorships for that matter. She caught of the mood of the times and had what so many politicians don’t have: patience. Mind you, much of that patience was imposed by the circumstances.

One cannot overlook the impact of the late Jack Layton on the NDP generally in Canada. The members of the NDP had been drifting towards the centre for sometime but their leaders had not caught up. Layton did and so did Notley.

What now?

There will be much more perspicacious observers than me looking at this election and I will leave the sorting out of the pepper from the fly shit to them. The question is what will the NDP do now that they have plucked the plum from the pie?

The honest answer to that question is, “I’m damned if I know.” However, one does not get away with that sort of answer in this business!

First off, Ms. Notley has homework to do. She has an economy that is bad, getting worse and a citizenry who are not used to that sort of situation.

Philosophically the NDP are not Tar Sands people. They must become that, however, if there is to be recovery and the question is how will that happen?

A Hobson’s choice

She really has three choices – she can subsidize the industry, she can actively help sell the product, or she can wait and see and hope that international oil prices save the day. This is a terrible triple Hobson’s choice and she’s not to be envied.

There is no money to subsidize in any direct way, so she will have to do it by way of taxation and other concessions. But, that’s the very reason the Tories were thrown out on their prats. While she has a four-year mandate, there is no point getting off on such a bad footing that she can never recover.

Secondly, to whom would Ms. Notley try to increase sales? That is the problem in a nutshell anyway – there are no customers right now for expensive Canadian heavy oil and unconventional gas.

The reality is that she’s left with no other choice but to sit back and hope for increased prices…At least in the short term.

There’s also no earthly reason why Alberta couldn’t use this opportunity to begin developing a clean tech industry that will yield jobs and revenues down the road. As our contributor and innovation expert Will Dubitsky has demonstrated repeatedly in these pages, that’s precisely what the US, China, Germany and other industrial nations are doing today – with great success. Now is as good a time as any to think the once unthinkable in Alberta.

A buyers’ market

As for the Tar Sands, the fact is that higher prices are really the only option any fossil fuel government really has in the world today. There are no mysterious kingdoms over the seas that have a burning desire (pun intended) for oil, have none, and just can’t wait to buy all they can. Everybody is in the same boat – producers have product but not enough customers.

This is not to say that Ms. Notley will not flap her wings and try to appear to be doing all sorts of things, but only to point out that she really hasn’t got too many options.

I have a surprise suggestion for Ms. Notley….

Changing the game

Having no bread, she needs a circus and this goes back to her election platform. To divert attention – and she will only be partly successful at that no matter what she does – she should bring in electoral changes in Alberta, some variation of Proportional Representation.

The results yesterday make the point that “first past the post” is about as unfair a way to run on the election as has yet been invented. She should take these results and run with them, perhaps having a constituent assembly as happened in British Columbia. She can tie this into the current economic situation by saying “if we had the input of other parties over the past years, etc., etc.”

It’s not as if this notion will fall on barren ground. Albertans have long chafed at their system – the Tories have not always been wildly popular in Alberta but seen as the only game in town. To offer voters the opportunity to vote effectively for whomever they please and still have a stable government at the end of the day is a very appealing thought.

Thin gruel?

Perhaps. But it is hard to imagine what else Ms. Notley can do at this stage. The Alberta economy is not one you can quickly or easily diversify (though she should start trying that now too, for good measure). The basis of the economy is in deep doo doo, and you’ve just been elected to do something.

Under those circumstances, one reads one’s Roman history and arranges a Circus Maxima, or at least as Maxima as you can make it.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

7 thoughts on “Rafe: Notley should change electoral system following Alberta NDP win…no, seriously

  1. Thin gruel? Yes, but dangerously potent nonetheless. Implementing pro-rep right off the bat, after not campaigning on it and having no measure of social licence for it would not only hurt Notley, but Mulcair also. If she did something like that, right-wing MSM will accuse her of having had a hidden agenda (the right’s been dying to return that accusation which had hurt them so badly before), and will ask rhetorically if Mulcair also has one by association—and from there it’s the trolls’ incessant innuendo.

    Given that Alberta won’t be returning to the polls for some four years hence, and the upcoming federal election will definitely not be pro-rep—no matter what anybody says or how they feel about it— injecting a complex issue as such (remember how unsuccessful pro-rep sales jobs have been so far?) can only complicate—needlessly—the main objective of this election: to get rid of Harper. To that end—and no other—strategic voting is the best approach; instead of wasting time and diluting the main message with notions of pro-rep—or worse, with certain distracting controversy by implementing pro-rep unilaterally (Notley, for example, did not campaign for pro-rep, and has no real licence to implement it)—educating strategic voters should take centre stage alone.

    Did it ever occur to you that the type of co-operation and compromise pro-reppers have faith will seize parliamentarians simply because pro-rep practically guarantees hung parliaments—a debatable belief—might be more legit if it actually represented the same type of co-operation and compromise among voters? That’s what strategic voting is asking for and we can’t very well expect it of our representatives—no matter what system they were elected by—if we the people can’t do it first.

    Forget about pro-rep for the moment, and avoid splitting the anti-Conservative vote by voting for the candidate most likely to beat the Conservative in your riding. Once Harper’s gone, there’s still a lot of consensus and discussion required to licence a change like pro-rep. We recall that it’s been rejected at referendum in three provinces, twice in BC, by twice the margin the second time (after voters had more opportunity to examine the STV version of pro-rep on offer) as the first. In these circumstances, pro-rep cannot very well be approved without a convincing reversal of popular opinion. That’s gonna take time and a mandate for Mulcair to support it. He’s gotta get there first, and he won’t if the anti-Conservative vote is split. Let’s keep priorities straight.

    1. Of course she should, and of course she has the mandate to move forward with it. Proportional representation has been an NDP plank, both in Alberta and nationally, for a very long time. If they walk away from it now that they finally have the power to do something, it would rightly be seen as yet another cynically broken political promise. And I am sure we can agree that we don’t need more cynicism about politics in this country.
      Scotty’s firm belief in the power of strategic voting is rather naive. There are calls for strategic voting in every election I have ever witnessed in Canada, and it has never made an iota of difference.
      Scotty has the facts a little twisted when he writes that pro rep was ‘rejected in referendum’ twice in BC. There should never have been a second referendum in BC, because the original STV referendum was supported by over 57% of BC voters, and received majority voter support in all but two ridings. That’s not ‘rejection’; that is strong majority support. The reason we continue to lumber under the undemocratic First Past the Post system is that BC Liberal and BC NDP politicians refused to accept that clear message from voters.

      1. Sjeng: I’m not suggesting the NDP drop pro-rep, rather simply that for Notley to implement it immediately after an election would be unwise—I don’t need to repeat why. It would be naive to ignore the reality of it.

        Yes, there have been calls for strategic voting before; I submit that the circumstances are much different now: the prospect of a hung parliament ameliorates to some extent the problem of not voting for one’s first choice in order to fulfil the strategy of uniting anti-Conservative votes riding by riding—it’s very, very likely that such voters will see their preferred party sharing real influence in some sort of coalition parliament (i.e., formal or informal)even if they don’t elect their preferred candidate in their own riding.

        Furthermore, the most important circumstance is that Harper is extraordinarily bad—never have we seen a government unabashedly game the system or attempt to subvert the Constitution. Prosecutions on those counts can only happen if his government is de-elected first. Getting rid of Harper is by far the highest priority any patriotic Canadian can have. Promoting anything else would be naive at best, unpatriotic at worst.

        The first BC STV Referendum was the product of a flawed process which, aside from failing to meet its own threshold (and we remind that supermajorities are required for many fundamental changes), was rejected once citizens had more opportunity to examine both the process by which it was developed and the changes proposed in detail, in a second Referendum by twice the margin as the first—which, incidentally, illustrates why supermajorities are a good idea sometimes. However, it would be foolish to let hair-splitting argument detract from a strategy to get rid of Harper’s government: if we don’t, there won’t be any opportunity to implement pro-rep or protect, via any system whatever, our democracy—that’s why I recommend what I do, and why Notley will probably refrain from implementing pro-rep without a clearer mandate to do so.

        I make no bones about my opposition to pro-rep, at least the STV model and most others imagined by various groups—but that’s not why I warn about Notely trying to implement it without a clear mandate, and especially right off the bat—for reasons outlined above. But I’ll add that I wouldn’t throw myself off a cliff if we did get pro-rep; for me, no electoral system can guarantee representatives will represent their constituents to any degree—and not just because it’s impossible to do it in every degree. The rationales and beliefs I’ve noted among many pro-reppers expose some pretty basic misunderstandings of parliamentary democracy–really, some very, very embarrassingly basic ones. At the very least, I for one will demand that referees fully understand these fundamentals before entertaining a change from SMP.

        I do not believe we “lumber under” SMP any more than we would under any other system.

        Finally, I’ve been a party member for years and can tell you the issue of electoral reform elicits a diversity , not a unanimity, of opinions. A “Democratic Party” naturally tolerates differences of opinion. There has been no unanimous endorsement of pro-rep—I know because I’m one who hasn’t.

        I’m interested in your viewpoints on pro-rep, but I cannot support a rash implementation of pro-rep in Alberta.

        1. You would never know it if you listened to the news, but last week’s UK election results were a great example to show why first past the post has to go. Conservatives gained 0.8% of the vote which gave them an extra 24 seats. Labour, which gained more votes (1.5%), lost 26 of its seats. The 1.5 million SNP party voters will be represented by 56 members of parliament, but the almost 4 million UKIP voters get just 1. And the Conservative party ends up with 100% of the power from less than 37% of the vote.
          This is not an aberration; this is just a ‘normal’ result of fptp elections. People may remember that we in Canada too are currently enjoying a ‘majority’ Conservative government who are also enjoying 100% power from less than 40% of our votes, and are now happily dismantling our country, with nothing to stop them. That’s just fine with Scotty apparently, who on the other hand doesn’t think that 57% voter support for a change in the voting system is a sufficient majority. How democratic is that?
          The fptp system served Canada reasonably well in the horse and buggy era, when there were just 2 parties and communication and travel were long and arduous. But in our easy communication and multi party reality it now only serves to distort the voters’ will. Fptp is anti democratic, creates false majorities and disenfranchises voters. In the interest of better, more inclusive, and truly representative government, it simply has to go. Alberta first, then the rest of the country. Go Rachel go!

  2. Rachel Notely seems to have the character and will to challenge the long running policies and sharing of beds between the PC [outgoing] and the oil sector and it’s free ride. She has announced higher taxes and reviews of the royalty structure. Wants to refine bitumen and will not advocate for pipelines. She also wants to implement a progressive tax rate on higher income.
    With these plans she has won Alberta in a landslide. This should send a strong message to the federal conservatives that their policies are not in the interest of canadians. The oil companies aren’t going anywhere with her plan, where would they go?
    I like her, she made no bones about her policy and for the most part seems on the right track.
    I envy Alberta, I wish we had her here.

  3. A moderate MMP system in Alberta would be as good a place as any to start in Canada.

    1. That might be true, Rick, but, as I point out, implementing such right off the bat, without a clear mandate to do so would be unwise.

      I’d bet any money that if you asked Notley about it, she’d say there are other issues prioritized by a long way, and that Albertans haven’t given her a clear mandate yet.

      The impetuous demand that it be dramatically implemented right off the bat betrays a frightful aspect I see from pro-reppers all the time: a blinkered attitude that would railroad this proposal in the same way they criticize SMP-elected representatives of doing. Pro-rep is not unanimously endorsed by either NDP party members or the electorate at large, and it’s easy to demonstrate pro-reppers regularly display misconceptions about parliamentary democracy and what might be expected of pro-rep (the hypothesis, for example, that pro-rep would effectively eliminate whipped votes is, on closer, proper inspection, patently preposterous). In fact, part of the reason I’m reticent to endorse pro-rep is these kinds of wishful thinking, and not least because they tend to chauvinistically ignore the potential down sides.

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