Monday, May 18, 2015

On proportionality

Among the other possibilities raised by the Alberta NDP's election victory, plenty of voices have chimed in on a shift to proportional representation. And while there may be limited scope to make a move immediately, electoral reform could well become both good policy and good politics for Rachel Notley.

Let's start, though, by pointing out where the Alberta NDP has positioned itself on proportional representation.

PR was not a part of the NDP's platform in the recent election. So there's ample room for opponents to argue that there's no immediate mandate for a unilateral change to Alberta's electoral system, and for supporters to see it as less than a top priority. (This is of course in contrast to the federal scene, where Tom Mulcair has made clear that a majority NDP government means a change to proportional representation.)

But in addition to being worth pursuing on the merits, PR has also long been part of the Alberta NDP's party policy. So we should expect Notley to look for ways to advance it. And fortunately, the circumstances of the NDP's win should lend themselves to one of two paths which might lead to PR by the next election at the latest.

For the short term, Notley would be well served to have a PR bill drafted and ready for presentation in the Legislature at any moment.

After all, the opposition parties are sure to complain ad nauseum - based on the same arguments made for PR - that 40% of the popular vote isn't enough of a mandate to support any of Notley's policy plans. But what better answer than to lament that the PCs refused to implement a better electoral system while they were in power, to agree that future elections should be decided by a majority of voters, and to offer to pass legislation ensuring that happens with all-party support?

Of course, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the opposition parties to sign on. But if the best-case scenario is to secure PR before the next election, and the worst-case outcome is to expose opposition criticism as utterly unprincipled and self-serving, that's not a bad set of possibilities.

Moreover, any opposition complaints about legitimacy would also raise the question of how to put the issue to voters.

On that front, a PR referendum alongside the next election ballot would serve as an ideal opportunity to give Albertans a choice in electoral systems. And both the PR cause and the NDP's re-election prospects could benefit from being seen as part of the same project of permanently changing Alberta politics away from the PCs' one-party state toward a model where cooperation and diversity are the norm.

In sum, even if PR wasn't part of the Alberta NDP's platform, it's well worth advancing as part of the NDP's long-term vision for change.

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