Ontario Election 2011: Why the left should hope for a Liberal Minority with NDP support
Oct 3, 2011

Ontario Election 2011: Why the left should hope for a Liberal Minority with NDP support

I suspect that many people, perhaps most, have a favorite party that they would prefer to win a majority. Somewhat incorrectly, I think, it has become the conventional wisdom that we should always hope to have a majority government. I have even heard it said on several occasions that having a majority is more important than whoever actually wins for a majority is needed for effective governance.

If nothing else, Stephan Harper has demonstrated that this narrative is false; we can have a minority government that is effective at passing large amount of legislation without getting locked into intractable tussles and can continue to exist for years. If anything, we have seen that a Canadian minority government is far closer to a majority government in its concentration of powers than we might have expected. That said, at the federal level the outcome of legislation was undoutably substantially different than it would have otherwise, influenced by the need for Liberal support. As such, I think it is entirely acceptable to have a minority government in principle.

It is worth noting the realpolitik that there are essentially three realistic options possible based on the poll numbers barring some massive last minute change ala Quebec in the 2011 Canadian Election. It will either be retaining a Liberal majority, a weakening to a Liberal minority, or a Conservative minority. The current width of the NDP seat distribution is fairly small, we ought not to expect much movement. If it is a Liberal minority, or even a Conservative minority where the difference in seats is relatively small, the likely outcome is that the Liberals and NDP will band together to be able to form a Liberal led government (the Liberals have explicitly refused any possible formal alliance or coalition). Should the Conservatives win a minority and manage to form a government with it, it would likely exist very similarly to what existed at the Federal level with tacit support from the Liberals who would not want to quickly go back to the polls while the memory of their eight year incumbency was still strong; the NDP would for the most part vacuously oppose. A stalwart NDP voter thus ought to hope for the Liberal minority option as it gives their party a chance at some real power.

There are two major themes that dominate this election both in the sense that they ought to be important and in the sense that they actually did get considerable attention (a coincidence that doesnt always occur). The first is essentially a referendum on McGuinty's green energy plan, and the second is about the relationship between Queen's Park and the jurisdictions of the Federal government in Ottawa and the city of Toronto, both of which are currently held by Conservatives.

On the green energy issue, as I have argued, despite any problems and despite the costs, the extensive investment in green energy across the board is too important to sacrifice. Ontario is leading the continent on some of these issues and my previous endorsement of the Liberals is based on this issue. However, the system is not perfect, and it does come with regressive costs. Having the NDP have influence will allow them to curb the rough edges and to force through a perspective that is somewhat more progressive in where the dollars come from.

It is only a secret to the three candidates that Ontario's fiscal situation is very bad and none of the platforms really address this reality. I think it is quite likely that any elected government would be forced to break campaign promises and cut spending or raise taxes in some combination. Wth the NDP having some influence, when this comes it means it can be as a hook to pressure the tax increases coming from corporations (Ontario's rate is quite competitive as a jurisdiction) and not to cut some of the more important social programs.

Likewise, when it comes to the negotiations between Ottawa and Toronto with whoever is in Queens Park, framing the agenda and discourse will be very important. The Conservative trifecta ought to be feared - even by moderate who sometimes vote conservative. However, having the NDP in the mix shifts the conversation to the left from its current overly right situation. To a limited extent, the negotiations over things like health care transfer payments between Ottawa and Canada's most populous province - and thus by proxy all the other negotiations - will now at least have to tacitly take into consideration the need for NDP political support. Of course, presuming the form of the minority is an issue by issue one, the Ontario PCs can align with the Federal Conservatives to approve any deal between them and the Ontario Liberals; however, the NDP can still be a thorn in this process threatening to defeat the government on some other issue and the like.

One of the advantages that progressives have in Canada is that we often have three options to choose from, the NDP, the Liberals and the Greens. For the "center", such as it is, there is a choice between the Conservatives and the Liberals. For the genuinely right, there currently isn't anything to it but what becomes essentially a ratification of the Conservative party.

This freedom the left enjoys comes with its own heavy costs (vote splitting chief among them), and so we should make as good use as possible of the benefits from having multiple left parties. A Liberal minority with NDP support represents a modest shift to the left from the current position. The narrative of the public dialogue - and the policy outcomes that result form it - will undoutably change. Anybody on the left who cares about the green energy issue, cares that it is implemented in a progressive way, and cares that there is a strong left response to conservatism at the federal and municipal levels ought to like the idea of a Liberal minority with NDP support.

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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Poyan said...

The author falsely assumes that the Liberals are a centre-left party. They are not. They are centre-right.

Compare the platform of the three parties on their proposed rates for corporate taxes for example.

NDP: 14%
Liberal: 10%
PC: 10%

Mathematically, the Liberals are the same as the PCs. So what is the difference between the parties? The Liberals are more media savvy. That's it.

When the PCs spit in your face, they tell you straight-up that they just spat in your face. When the Liberals spit in your face, they just tell you it's raining.

The author is wrong about another major point. It is highly unlikely that come election day, should a minority government arise, it would be the NDP the Liberals would use as a crutch to govern.

Think about it. You are Dalton McGuinty. You promised a 2% corporate tax cut. The PCs promised a 2% corporate tax cut. The NDP promised a corporate tax increase. Who are you going to count on to vote with you to pass your 2% corporate tax cut?

bazie said...

The left-right spectrum isn't fixed in stone, it depends on the context and framing of the day. I think calling it centre-left or centre-right really isn't all that instructive, people typically do this to drive a sort of partisan point. I don't have any preference, call it what you will.

Anyways, the clear indication of what you are saying is that the Liberals are much closer to the PC then the NDP. On some issues (such as the one you mentioned, corporate tax rates) this is true. On others, such as green energy, in many ways the NDP is closer to the PC and as we saw in the debate the NDP and PC frequently ganged up to attack the same Liberal policies. So one really has to look policy by policy, some of these generalities are more difficult.

As to the situation if a minority government were to arise, I think by analogy with what happened at the federal level - and by looking holistically at the platforms - it is more likely that the Liberals will get votes from the NDP and not the PCs. On some issues they probably will get PC votes (negotiating with feds is another example). But I do think it is undeniable the NDP will get more power than they currently have. As an NDP supporter, I would presume that would be a good thing for you.

Poyan said...

"But I do think it is undeniable the NDP will get more power than they currently have. As an NDP supporter, I would presume that would be a good thing for you."

This is the assumption with which I disagree. I don't think this is undeniable at all. In fact, I believe that it is far more likely that the NDP will be even more isolated.

The assumption which you are making is that if we do end up with a minority Liberal government, that government will rely on the NDP to get the majority votes it needs to pass legislation. I think the liberals are actually far more likely to work with the Conservatives as they did on the Federal level under Paul Martin. They are far closer on most issues to the Conservatives than the NDP. It was only after Steven Harper had made his intention clear to bring down the government that the Martin came to Jack Layton for support.

I also disagree with the notion that the NDP are close to the Conservatives on environmental issues. The only agreement between the two parties is that they reject Liberal initiatives, but often for completely different reasons.

bazie said...

Indeed, but in the end it was the NDP that supported the Liberals in exchange for considerable changes to the 2005 budget. Heck, Layton often used to trump this as the "first NDP budget" for years afterwards and, incidentally, DID differ a corporate tax cut. I see little reason why we would not expect the PCs to, in the not too distant future want to have another election and another chance to win against a 9 or 10 year incumbent and needing the Liberals needing the NDP for support. I am not saying that the Liberals will not work with the PCs ever - I even explicitly said they probably would on the health care transfer negotiations - but I can't see how the NDP could be further marginalized than if they had a Liberal majority which didn't ever need them for anything. In the minority situation, there is at least the possibility (even if it is not realized) of direct NDP involvement where they draw concessions from the Liberals in exchange for support ala 2005 budget

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