Living on a knife-edge does strange things to people. On the one hand, it leaves the parties in a perpetual fever of anticipation, convinced they have only to gain a few points in the polls to destroy their opponents. That is one reason the two federal conservative parties, Progressive Conservative and Reform, were so reluctant to merge. It is also the reason why minority governments tend, under our system, to be so unstable.Exactly. Conservatives should not look at the short term benefits of MMP for the left, but the longer term potential for them. If we get MMP, then elections will be true battles of ideas. The legislature will become a marketplace of political thought. Coyne and Greg Staples see this potential. I think they are right to do so.
On the other hand, the consequences of losing a few points makes them excessively, almost neurotically cautious, unwilling to take the slightest risk or advocate the mildest change, but each hugging as close as it can to the median voter, the status quo and each other. Hence the dominance of the two brokerage parties, indistinguishable in philosophy -- alike, that is, in the lack of it.
Put the two together, and you have much of Canadian politics -- viciously partisan, yet unspeakably trivial; much ado about nothing much. McGuintoryism, in short.
So the case for electoral reform, it seems to me, is one that conservatives, if not Conservatives, should find appealing. It is a cause that has tended, historically, to be identified with the left, not least in the current referendum debate; many conservatives have accordingly rejected it. Yet it is not the left that has suffered most under the current system. It’s the right.
By whatever combination of historical circumstances, the left has a party that will advance its ideas, free of the brokerage parties’ grip: the NDP. Though not often in government, outside of the West, it has succeeded in dragging the entire political spectrum to the left, its policies adopted by Liberal and Conservative governments alikes. Nothing like it exists on the right, federally or provincially, nor has since Reform’s demise. Nor is one likely to emerge, so long as “first past the post” remains the rule.
The same is true of parties less easily categorized, like the Green party. Though it is the party of choice for hundreds of thousands of Canadians, it has yet to win a seat, unable to concentrate its support geographically in the way that FPTP requires. How many more votes might it win if potential supporters were not disheartened at the prospect of “wasting” their votes, or worse, “splitting” the vote, as they are forever warned against doing?
But what if there were a system in which no votes were wasted, where vote-splitting ceased to be an issue? There is such a system, and it’s called proportional representation, of which the proposal before Ontarians is a variant. Not only the Greens, but other parties -- libertarian, social-conservative, or other -- might then have a fighting chance. The spectrum of acceptable ideas for debate would noticeably broaden.
Update: Read Greg Staples' own take on Coyne's column. Recommend this Post