Photo by Joanne Lostracco.
Let’s perform an experiment.
Let’s pretend that, instead of there being the Liberals and the New Democrats, we had one party representing the left wing in this country. Call them the Liberal Democrats. Now, granted, there will be some voters who might not want to vote for the Liberal Democrats. (Maybe they don’t like Jack Layton’s moustache.) So let’s assume that, oh, 5 per cent of the Liberal Democrat vote bleeds away to the Tories on the right. While we’re at it, let’s assume that 5 per cent also bleeds to the Greens on the left.
Under this scenario, the Conservatives would not have won the following ridings that they won last night, going from east to west: Labrador, South Shore-St. Margaret’s, Madawaska-Restigouche, Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe, Montmagny-L’islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, Ottawa-Orléans, Ottawa West-Nepean, Nipissing-Timiskaming, Sault Ste. Marie, Ajax-Pickering, Pickering-Scarborough East, Scarborough Centre, Don Valley East, Don Valley West, Eglinton-Lawrence, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Mississauga East-Cooksville, Richmond Hill, Bramalea-Gore-Malton, Mississauga-Brampton South, Brampton West, Mississauga-Streetsville, Mississauga-Erindale, Kitchener-Waterloo, Kitchener Centre, London North Centre, London West, Winnipeg South Centre, Vancouver South, Vancouver Island North, and Yukon.
That’s 31 ridings. Under this scenario, the Tories win 135 seats and the Liberal Democrats 168.
Similarly, under a single transferable vote system—in which a voter would be able to rank her choices of candidate in order—the Tories would almost certainly lose at least that many seats and likely a few more on top of it, even with the New Democrats and Liberals both extant. How about a purely proportional vote system? Well, in that case, the Conservatives would have scored 122 seats, versus the NDP’s 95, the Liberals’ 58, the Bloc Quebecois’s 19 and the Green Party’s 14: good for a minority, but likely unable to stop an eventual coalition.
This, then, is the first point that the talking heads on TV kept ignoring last night when they talked about Harper having received a “mandate”: the Conservatives don’t have the support of a majority of this country. They have never had it. They’ve had a system that benefits there being only one right-wing party, and they’ve worked that system like a son of a bitch. Good for them: it’s the rational thing for them to do. So please, everybody on Facebook and Twitter (and Myspace, if anybody is still there) whining about how you’re “disappointed in Canada,” just shut up, because Canadians simply didn’t express their overwhelming love for all things Tory: the majority of Canadians got snaked.
The second point that the talking heads ignored is this: for all the happy talk about a comeback from last night, the Liberal Party is a dead party walking. Stephen Harper and the Tories have wanted to kill public electoral funding for years: well, now they can and will. (If it takes them more than three months, I’ll be shocked.) The NDP can survive that, because Jack Layton is one of the most tactically farsighted party leaders in Canadian history and he’s spent five years building up a funding base for the NDP that honestly rivals the Tories.
But the Liberals have never gotten past being nostalgic for that time when they were the party of rich Bay Street donors; those rich Bay Street donors are all donating to Conservatives now, because rich Bay Street donors like winners and the Liberals aren’t winners. The Liberals have no funding stream and their support is withering on the vine: without public funding they’ll cling to official party status until they lose it, and it doesn’t matter how charismatic Justin Trudeau is—they will fall apart.
The bottom line is this: the Liberals need to swallow what little remains of their pride and merge with the New Democrats. There can be no functioning left wing in this country while it is represented by three or four parties all at once, and certainly not with two major parties, one centre-left and one left-centre, competing for the same pool of votes. This election has made that crystal clear.
Granted, if we had an electoral system that wasn’t an outdated relic from pre-Renaissance England, this wouldn’t be a problem. But we do have that system, and we’re not going to be able to replace it as things currently stand—not unless the Conservatives absolutely crater in support and lose an election so dramatically as to themselves splinter. Left-wingers, liberals, and left-centrists in this country need to face facts: we have a first-past-the-post system, and if the left wants to win under that system (and then maybe get a better one in its place) then they need one party, not two or three of them.