Politics is the art of compromise. There is not a single elected official in the world that personally agrees with every chapter, page and paragraph of his or her political party's platform, and for that I'm glad - I'd rather have government of independent intellects than a panel of spineless yes-men and yes-women that are incapable of thinking and acting for themselves.
And yet politicians will go along with ideas that they don't necessarily agree with because in this world that's the only way to get things done. If you pick your battles carefully you might actually win one once in a while.
That's why I had mixed emotions recently when it was rumoured that the federal New Democratic Party and Liberal Party were considering a merger into a new "Liberal Democrat" party.
It turns out that some discussions have been taking place among party insiders, but soon after word got out both party leaders were quick to rush out and assure us that it would never, ever happen. It was a perfect example of a Canadian political tradition of speaking first and thinking later, quashing the debate before the merits of the arguments could be weighed.
The progressive in me was disappointed. In my view, as long as the political left is divided into two and a half parties (given the Bloc's usually left-leaning position on most issues) then the conservative minority will be in a position of power in Canada for a long, long time.
Think about it. In the last election the ruling Conservative Party won just 37.65 per cent of the popular vote compared to 26.26 per cent for the Liberal Party, 18.18 per cent for the NDP, 9.98 per cent for the Bloc Quebecois and 6.78 per cent for the Green Party - the real majority in this country.
It's also a fact that Canadians generally lean to the left on pretty much everything except the economy and most types of crime. In poll after poll we're progressive in terms of our priorities (health care, child care, education, environment), in our views on issues like same sex marriage, legalizing marijuana, abortion, getting out of Afghanistan, etc. Yet the opportunity to represent these collective views has been lost in party politics that have become all about accentuating small differences of opinion.
I say that while also acknowledging that the Conservative Party is doing a decent job at the helm. I doubt that I would agree with Mr. Harper personally on 99 per cent of issues - I would have raised taxes as well as increasing our national debt to get us through the financial crisis, for example - but I give his party full credit letting public opinion guide their decisions in a way that's fair and democratic.
But while the progressive in me would welcome a united left, the democrat in me is terrified that Canada could one day become a two party country like the U.S. and there is no real choice and both voters and politicians have to hold their noses to vote for the lesser of two evils.
To a degree Canadians do the same sort of nose-holding. Because of our first-past-the-post political system we usually vote somewhat strategically. You may like the Green Party or NDP for example, but you'll vote Liberal because you think the Liberal candidate has the best chance of defeating the conservative, or vice versa. And most times you would be right, although that didn't stop 36 per cent of Canadians voting for either the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party in the last election. I'm proud that people continue to vote their values and principles even if it gets them nowhere today.
But here's the thing - an alliance of parties in 2010 doesn't have to be a permanent thing. It can be a temporary and conditional coalition to see how Canadians respond.
Polls even show that a left wing party with Jack Layton at the head could beat the Conservative Party in an election (while Michael Ignatieff would lose).
But before our left-leaning parties seal the deal with an uncomfortable kiss, there is another option to consider: electoral reform, ditching our first-past-the-post system for some form of proportional representation.
It'sa mystery why the ballot initiative to bring proportional representation to B.C. failed on the last two attempts, although it probably has something to do with the decision to advocate for the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, which is not easily understood and has some obvious drawbacks. But there are other systems out there and right now proportional representation is the rule in more than 80 different countries around the world.
Without proportional representation, the fact is that a significant percentage of votes cast in our elections simply do not count for anything. Only in Canada and a handful of other dated democracies can a party technically get 49 per cent of the votes nationally and still not win a single seat in the House.
Of course, I don't really suspect much is going to change. Canada still has an appointed senate, our head of state is the reigning British monarch, and the Speaker of the House carries a ceremonial frigging mace over his shoulder (that's 1d8 damage if you play D&D). Plus, the party in power never sees an advantage to switching electoral systems, while our opposition parties can't seem to agree on forming a coalition even if their political views are 90 per cent the same. Radical change just doesn't happen in Canada, even when the status quo is so obviously broken.
That's why the announcement of a coalition caught me by surprise; sweeping, exciting, practical and common sense things like this just don't happen very often in Canada. I knew it was too good of an idea to be true.
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