Liberal voting reform endorsement reduces chances of NDP-Liberal merger
Jan 17, 2012

Liberal voting reform endorsement reduces chances of NDP-Liberal merger


The question of a Liberal-NDP merger was something that was discussed quite openly following Harper's ascent to a majority. Such poltical heavyweights as Jean Chretien even weighed in on the idea, and Jack Layton (an opponent or merger) has now passed away. It is thus worth noting, given recent events, how such an action is decidedly not on the agenda and should be considered very unlikely until after the 2015 elections. 

During the Liberal convention in Ottawa, the topic of a merger with the NDP was largely off the table, a fact acknowledged even by those on the fringes who support it such as Senator Terry Mercer, with standard bearers for the Liberal Party like Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty railing against it to keep it that way. During the ongoing NDP Leadership nomination, only one of the candidates - Nathan Cullen - is running on a pro-merger ticket and he has not been able to gain much traction. The necessary conversations that could pave the way for any form of alliance, at least in the first half of this decade, simply are not occurring right now. 

The strongest recent move against a merger however, both in the medium and longer terms, was the action by the Liberals at its convention to change from advocating the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system to a preferential ballot system. Since this now agrees with the NDP, which has long supported alternative voting systems, there is a fairly reasonable chance that if an NDP-Liberal coalition (as in, one of these gets a minority, not an actual merger) or a majority from either party happens in 2015 then Canada will move away from FPTP. 

FPTP has traditionally helped the Liberals, as it helps the Conservatives (and, very slightly, the NDP) right now by giving them a far higher seat share than their share of the popular vote. Reform, in most of the varieties in which it is proposed, would bring the seat share closer to the vote share. Now that the Liberals are coming from behind, they are in the position the NDP used to be of being hurt by this system which explains their willingness to change systems after so long of being advocates of FPTP. 

The main advantage of an NDP-Liberal merger would be to eliminate the vote splitting of the left that occurs and thus enables the Conservatives to have a majority with fourty percent of the vote. FPTP intrinsically works towards a two-party system where third parties are pushed to irrelevance and it is rare for something to occur, as it did this last May, for a distant third party to replace one of the two dominant parties. Going for a merger satisfies the constraints of a FPTP system by making it Conservatives vs NDP-Liberals and eliminating the vote splitting problem. 

Should we switch electoral systems, however, then the problems of voting splitting largely go away. People can disagree on whether they would rank Liberals or NDP first on their ballot, but as long as they agree that Conservatives are third or worse, then their votes will go to helping whichever party is best challenging the Conservatives in a given riding. Seat share will tend towards popular support share, relative to the wide discrepancies now, and voting for third parties (whether that is the NDP, Liberals or Greens at a given moment) won't serve to help the party furthest from you politically. 

It is for this reason that the Liberal adoption of preferential ballots as their advocated system significantly reduces the longer term chances of an NDP-Liberal merger. They are advocating to a system that fundamentally doesn't need a merger, doesnt need to worry about vote splitting, and where multiple smaller parties can be relevant and can compete without hurting each other. It is a system where the NDP and the Liberals may well have to work together to form a government, or to pass important bills. But this is not a merger. Should anything close to the last two election results have occured with a preferential ballot system, the Conservatives would likely not have been in power, and there would be no talk of merging if one of these parties were in power.

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Skinny Dipper said...
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