Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Layton's Price

Just a quick thought this morning, before returning back to bed to nurse a damned stomach flu that's emerged as an unwelcome side-effect to that great weekend.

Why didn't Layton ask Martin to support some type of proportional representation style reform as the price of his support, as noted by a reader of Coyne's? It is a much more principled and popular position than what will naturally be portrayed as an unseemly grab for money for Layton's pet issues, especially since it only amounts to "chump change" by Wells' account. By contrast, support for PR long been an aspect of NDP policy, it only stands to benefit the party in the long run, and may only get off the ground when a governing party finds itself this desperate.

Getting electoral reform on the agenda now would have helped move an NDP issue into the spotlight and implicitly highlighted Martin's failure to address the "democratic deficit". Instead, Layton plays right into the socialist stereotype that wants above all to eat the rich at every opportunity. If they do get this deal, it seriously undermines the main electoral argument that Liberal priorities are indistinguishable from those of the Conservatives. And since the cuts are "radically back-loaded" anyway, what's to prevent the next government from reneging on them.

The establishment of a federally appointed commission/body to look into PR might amount to a small victory, but it could have a lasting effect in popularizing the issue in years to come. Poor politics from Layton, then. He should have set a different asking price to keep this government afloat.

Given the ever-declining voter turnout in Canada and the likelihood of provinces (Quebec, Alberta) sweeping in representation from only one party, you'd think proportional representation is an idea whose time has finally come. But we are made to wait.

So is Britain, incidentally. Martin Samuel has a great piece in the Times here today on the very issue. Maybe this election would be more exciting if it wasn't being fought so exclusively in the marginals. Samuel's main point:
According to the ERS, in addition to the 425 dead rubbers, there are 54 more that need a 7 per cent swing to change, and are therefore easier to call than any sports event this year (bar the Ashes). At best, 800,000 citizens of any age will get a chance to truly rock the vote on May 5. So maybe the debutant abstainers have a point. First past the post might be the way to sort Joe Pasquale from Paul Burrell or Ant from Dec, but it is far too frivolous to be trusted with the serious business of government. No other large nation in Europe uses it, and few large democracies, except America: and we all recall how well it worked there.

Let's bring in reform. It is long past time to register the support of Conservatives in Brixton and Quebec, Liberals in Alberta, and the new parties (like the Greens) throughout the country as a whole.


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