Liberals and Greens Swapping Ridings

Back in August, I suggested the Greens and NDP should work out some sort of riding swapping arrangement. I suggested this as a way for both parties to gain seats by reducing vote-splitting, reducing the number of "wasted votes", and making the parliament more representative of the popular vote. In the absence of true proportional representation (which is a long ways away in Federal politics) this is a great idea.

Today a similar arrangement was made made between the Liberal party and the Green party that "is being touted as a historic turn in Canadian politics" according to this CTV article, "Critics charge May, Dion made backroom deal." The Liberals will not run a candidate in Peter Mackay's Nova Scotia riding (the riding in which Green leader Elizabeth May is running in). In turn, the Greens will not run in Stephane Dion's riding of Saint-Laurent-Cartierville in Quebec. Rather than describe this move as a way to "team up to get Harper" or a ploy to reduce vote-splitting (and it is reasonable to try to reduce it), Ms. May said it came out of their "shared commitment to a greener Canada." Fair enough. Harper is the weakest on the environment, so that's another of saying "we want anyone other than a Conservative to win either of these seats. Just based on the 2006 election's results, it turns out Peter Mackay's seat is probably a sure win for him, with or with the Liberal candidate, and Dion probably has a lock on his riding as well so this whole thing won't really make a difference. There's nothing that Dion or Mackay have done (or not done) in the past year to really change those numbers too much. Which makes me wonder why they bothered? It starts to look like two party leaders trying to secure their own seat (well, in this case just Dion) in which case I can understand when John Baird said "it's a bit surprising and I think what it amounts to is an incredible example of bad judgement on Stephane Dion's part". An alternative with much better optics would be have to swap a riding where the Liberals lost previously by a narrow margin (or won by a small margin) and the Greens "stole" more votes from the Liberals than the other parties, with a riding where the Greens garnered lots of support (like the Saanicih-Gulf Islands riding where Greens grabbed 17% of the vote in 2004).

The replies from the other parties ranged from laughable to logical. One of John Baird's comments sort of makes sense: "To have to make a deal with the leader of a fifth party to try to save his own seat and prop her up just leaves you scratching your head." Again, Dion probably had a lock on his riding already with or without the swap and I don't think May stands a chance of winning the riding she is running in with or without the swap. She would have to pick up all of the Liberal votes and half the NDP's.

Jack Layton said it denies Canadians true choice in the next election: “We’re going to make sure that we offer a choice to vote for a New Democrat candidate in every riding because we think that’s Canadians’ right . . Why should people in some riding be denied the choice that other Canadians have in other ridings?"

There's that riding thinking if who you elect in your own riding really matters. I agree that if there were only a Right-wing Christian party candidate and a Marxist-Leninist candidate running in my riding I would be disappointed. But we are only talking about a couple ridings here and what's stopping the parties from gaming the system a bit? The only thing we should all care about at the end of the is whether or not your vote is represented in the allocation of seats. The NDP is always the most under-represented part in parliament compared to the percentage of the popular vote it gets. They are the ones that could benefit the most from riding-swapping. The NDP is clearly in favour of proportional representation (PR). Yet, in the absence of an actual implementation of PR you have Jack Layton proudly saying that the NDP is running a candidate in every riding in Canada. If he partnered up with another party and did some riding-swapping (hence not running a candidate in every riding) that would most probably lead to a government representing the popular vote better, just like it would if there were run-offs in each riding. So Jack is contradicting himself to a certain extent. He's basically saying, we want proportional representation but only if its done right (by passing a bill). Ironically, if the NDP engaged in riding swapping with another party in key ridings it might get get people talking about the negative effects of vote-splitting, and so on, possibly leading to proportional representation at the federal level sooner, rather than later.