Anonymous Liberals cite terrible reasons for abandoning electoral reform

William_Hogarth_031.jpgPictured: SMP at work

Today Althia Raj reported that according to anonymous sources, the Liberals decided in January to abandon electoral reform, in part because they were worried about the far right gaining influence in parliament. To me this sounds an awful lot like spin intended to win back some sympathy from scorned progressives; I have little doubt that the decision was all but finalized months ago. But if it’s true, I think it reflects some very bad reasoning on the part of the Liberal leadership. The United States just proved that SMP (single member plurality, a more accurate label for FPTP) with two dominant centrist catch-all parties is not the ironclad guarantee against extremist politics that defenders of the status quo would have you believe. Under the right conditions, the far right can end up kingmaker in an intraparty coalition just as easily as it can end up kingmaker in an interparty coalition.

SMP arguably makes Canada much more vulnerable to the influence of the far right because of the highly regionalized multiparty system. If the far right captures one of the dominant parties, perhaps by exploiting regional grievances in the party’s coalition, they would need a much smaller percentage of the vote than Trump won in order to form a majority government. If, on the other hand, the far right establishes a new party with a decent regional base, or captures one of the smaller parties, they can also easily end up in a position to force concessions from a minority government — whether explicitly, through open negotiation, or simply by altering the independent strategic calculations of its competitors. With SMP, their exclusive status as representatives in certain districts would also be likely to exacerbate the tensions they exploited to win office in the first place — recall how the Bloc’s dominance in Quebec influenced separatists’ ambitions and expectations as well as perceptions of the province in the rest of Canada — and present barriers to participation and access to constituency service for members of minority groups.

In any democracy, the only reliable way to keep the nastiest kinds of people out of power is to make sure there just aren’t enough of them. If the Liberals are truly concerned about the far right in Canada, they would do better to strike at the conditions in which such movements thrive. As critics of reform zealots’ more extravagant claims often remind us, electoral systems are no panacea. This applies to the status quo as much as the alternatives.

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2 thoughts on “Anonymous Liberals cite terrible reasons for abandoning electoral reform

  1. Pingback: The conditions for compromise, then and now | Popcorn Machine

  2. Pingback: More terrible reasons for burying electoral reform | Popcorn Machine

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