Friday, May 04, 2007

From principle to practice

As a follow-up to my suggested principles for cooperation among Canada's left-to-centre parties, here's my suggestion as to the type of deal I'd think would meet the principles. Once again, this is simply a personal take as to the type of deal which would be most palatable - and there are some significant caveats as I'll discuss below.

The Process

In keeping with the need for democratic approval, I'll start by setting out what I'd think each party should want to do in order to secure approval for the substantive terms.

Once a deal is reached, each party should submit the deal to as strong an internal voting process as is feasible - but in any event no less than required by any party's constitution to formally approve the deal. Once a party had signed on, it would be formally entitled to end its participation in the deal either through the same process by which the deal was approved, or by a vote of a specified number of riding associations as a measure of grassroots disapproval.

Electoral Cooperation

In order to maximize the possibility of reaching the core goal of toppling the Cons, here's the structure I'd suggest:

- One candidate in each federal riding would be designated the "preferred candidate" as among the participating parties.

- Each incumbent MP from a participating party would be a "preferred candidate" by default. (This would both make sense in ensuring that the coalition doesn't go backwards from where it stands now, and would likely be an absolute requirement for current MPs to buy in - though I'd certainly be sympathetic to the idea of removing the default provision.) All other ridings would then be selected in turns by the participating parties.

*Based on Lib/NDP/Green cooperation with 85 incumbent Lib MPs (which I believe is close to the mark) and 28 incumbent NDP MPs, this would result in 150 seats having a preferred Lib candidate, 93 seats having a preferred NDP candidate, and 65 seats having a preferred Green candidate.*

- No party within the coalition would endorse any other coalition party to form government, or any other leader to be voted Prime Minister.

- No riding association would be prevented from running a candidate against a preferred candidate. However, the participating national parties would agree not to provide support to non-"preferred" candidates, aside from allowing them to participate in multi-candidate events and providing them with generic national materials.

- The participating parties would agree to coordinate messaging on a national level on the issues agreed to be addressed by the coalition government. In addition, the national parties and leaders would agree to avoid "low-blow" messages in opposing the other participating parties. This agreement would not be binding on individual riding candidates in establishing their own materials and messages, though they'd be encouraged to follow the deal's principles.

- The participating parties would agree to reassess whether any "preferred" designations should be changed to improve the chances of defeating the Cons. Any changes would be by agreement of all participating parties, and would be designed not to result in any one party forming a majority government (so as to ensure the deal remains enforceable).

Coalition Government

In addition to merely toppling the Cons, any deal should also include some discussion as to what party members (and Canadians at large) can expect. I'd see the following as the bare essentials for cooperation following an election:

- The participating parties would agree to form a coalition government. All coalition parties which win seats would receive cabinet positions in proportion to their number of seats won, in an arrangement to be agreed.

- The coalition's top priority would be passage of an environmental plan in substantially the same form as the currently-amended Bill C-30. Any further amendments would be only to strengthen the plan as agreed by all coalition parties. (This assumes of course that the efforts to pass C-30 in the current Parliament won't bear fruit.)

- The coalition would also immediately begin a Citizens' Assembly process to review possible federal electoral reforms. The parties would agree to maintain the coalition at least until this process is complete, such that a referendum on any selected change would form part of the next federal election.

- All budgets and similar general policy documents would be drafted by agreement among the coalition parties. At the time the deal is first reached, the parties would agree to baselines as to the minimum focus to be put into specific policy areas such as health care, child care, First Nations funding, education and social housing; these would be included within the coalition's budget and legislative priorities.


Beyond the questions of whether it's a plus for parties to be looking to make this kind of deal in the first place, there would still be serious issues about how the deal would be carried out. For one, I'm not sure what the parties' respective constitutions would require to allow for such a deal; I'm presuming that the voting processes would cover it, but it may be that there simply isn't a way to validly reach and approve this kind of agreement.

I'd also have some concerns about the effect of the Canada Elections Act on any type of substantial cooperation. Given the limit on party spending, there might be some argument that cooperation between parties serves as a wrongful means of getting around the spending caps. And I wouldn't want to see a deal either leave the parties involved on the wrong side of the law, or encourage a long-term adaptation from the Cons (either by taking up an NCC-style call to remove caps on spending, or by splitting into multiple linked parties to get full use out of their money each election.)

And, there's always the question of what additional details would be brought up which could undermine the purposes I'd outlined earlier. I won't speculate too much as to those, but please bring up in the comments any which seem obvious.

I'm not sure who, if anybody, would be prepared to push for this type of arrangement. And indeed, I can't say that I'd be at the point of supporting it immediately, even if I'd consider it about the best format for cooperation if any is to be found. But I'm interested to see how much taste there is among other progressives for something along these lines - or whether deals like the current Red Green deal (for all its glaring flaws) make for as much cooperation as others are prepared to stand.

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