Dead heat in New Brunswick: Electoral reform stalled?

Updated to include reference to the party platforms and to another blog (18 Sept.)

Polls in advance of New Brunswick’s provincial legislative election for 18 September show a dead heat between the incumbent Conservatives and their main challenger, the Liberals.

As noted here previously, this election was called early on account of the retirement of a Conservative member. The June, 2003 election likewise was a virtual dead heat (45%-44%), such that the member’s impending retirement would cost the government its 28-26 seat majority.

This election will be held under a new electoral map, in which the boundaries of almost every one of the 55 single-seat ridings have been altered. Canada East reports:

A poll-by-poll breakdown of results from the 2003 election indicates that, had the new ridings been in effect, the Liberals would have won the election with a one-seat majority, switching the results that gave Premier Bernard Lord and his Progressive Conservatives the same slim edge.

When routine alterations of constituency boundaries* potentially can affect who holds power, a jurisdiction is a prime candidate for an entirely new electoral system. And, of course, the incumbent government, upon the recommendation of an independent Commission on Legislative Democracy that it appointed in December, 2003, has set a referendum for next spring on exactly that. However, if the Liberals win on Monday, it is uncertain whether the referendum on MMP (among other reforms) will go ahead.

The governing Conservatives just released their full platform on 13 September, which includes a promise of an 8% personal income tax cut, a 30% cut in the gas tax, and other tax breaks. The leaders of the two large parties and the NDP held a “rancorous” debate yesterday, with insurance rates and a failed deal to secure cheap fuel from Venezuela among the issues they sparred over.

The electoral system and the referendum are not mentioned in news accounts of the campaign (despite multiple attempts on my part to search for stories including these themes). Nor does the major nationwide proportional-representation advocay organization, Fair Vote Canada, have any recent updates about New Brunswick on its web site.

While the Conservative Party’s platform book (available at the party’s website) includes a plank on “Democratic Renewal and Accountability Plan” (p. 20) it does not mention the commission, the electoral reform, or the referendum. The opposition Liberal party has a section of its platform devoted to “An Accountable and Responsible Government” (pp. 31-3). However, none of the points within it contains any reference to PR, the referendum, or any of the other institutional reforms proposed by the Commission on Legislative Democracy.

Theoretically, when major electoral reform is being proposed, one might expect the issue to be raised in an election campaign–especially in a close election, in which even if the percentage of voters who could be swayed by the issue of “reform” is small, it could be decisive. Given that the government responded to the Commission’s recommendations–favorably–only three months ago, the fact that it is not an issue in this campaign can’t be exactly good news for the prospects that the referendum will go forward (especially if the incumbent party loses), or that it will pass if held.

(The NDP, on the other hand, takes the government to task on its decision to call a general election before introducing any of the Commission’s recommendations. Of course, the NDP is the one party that has the most to gain from the direct consequences of the introduction of PR. (See the final page of their platform.))

Is electoral reform in Canada, which looked so promising just over a year ago, now stalled?

* Not to say that all of the redisrticting was minor, as reported by the above-linked Canada East story:

in Fredericton, Liberal candidate T. J. Burke, the first-ever aboriginal member of the New Brunswick legislature, lost the St. Mary’s First Nation from his riding in redistribution.

The riding altered most significantly is in northwestern New Brunswick where voters will have to choose between two incumbents battling it out in one large new constituency.

Some blogospheric discussion: At least I found someone who agrees with me that the high stakes of the NB election are being overlooked by those who don’t notice the PR debate. Alas, Liberal for Life has views on the matter more like Urquhart‘s, if not worse (though, unfortunately, common): The view that small parties in coalitions “rule” the resulting coalition. Such a stubbornly held view, such a wrong view.

0 thoughts on “Dead heat in New Brunswick: Electoral reform stalled?

  1. I’ve argued with Liberal For Life about that very issue. My impression is that he clings to that argument because he’s simply got nothing else. (Actually, the last time we argued about it, he tried to tell me that the Liberals would be interested in a coalition, but the NDP would refuse to participate, which…yeah.)

  2. I have deleted a comment for violation of F&V’s policy against profanity. For the record, the substance was that the NDP had “hijacked parliament” the last time the Liberals “held power.”

    Of course, the Liberals “held power” on just 36.7% of the vote! I know, I know. “Hishighness” (the name the propagator goes by) would have preferred to hold absolute power, despite far less than half the votes. Which situation is “hijacking” parliament? The one in which the government is accountable to the people’s elected representatives, or the one in which it monopolizes power despite a majority of voters having voted against it?

    As I have said before–this is also in reference to an argument made by the Hishighness right before he dropped the profanity on us–the best argument for PR is not “fairness” but rather its aggregate effects on representation, accountability, and governance.

    Regarding the comment policy, it is simple: You may make any reasonable argument here–and some of what this propagator had to say was reasonable, albeit demonstrably inaccurate– but if you resort to profanity, ad hominen attacks, or other violations of common decency, your argument is not worth reading. Swear on your own blog, not on mine.

  3. I apologize for my expletive.

    Anyway, I’d like you to point out to me please where I said I wanted absolute power? I of course would perfer my party win a majority every election, I’d be a pretty poor supporter of them if I didn’t. However, I do recognize our system is flawed and all I want is fairness for all sides.

    I’ll be the first to admit First Past The Post is unfair to small parties in that it gives them less power than they should have recieved; However, Proportional Representation in the forms that I’ve seen is unfair to large parties. Now maybe you don’t care about this but it is true, and all the fancy writing, claims of bias, and cries for fairness can’t change that.

    PR is a great system in theory, and the actual voting part of it is decidedly more fair than FPTP, but the way our Parliamentary system works it has the potential that a small party can hold Parliament hostage. What I want and what is the only fair system is some sort of system that would give each party the amount of power they were afforded by the electorate. PR doesn’t do this. It gives the amount of seats afforded by the electorate. And if you look at the example of Chuck Cadman you’ll know that in certain circumstances even one seat in 301 can hold far more power than 1/301st.

    I’m not a math expert so I don’t know exactly what I propose. Basically it would be a system that gives each party the amount of power they were given by the voters. Perhaps we could set it up so that each party gets the percentage of votes they recieve in federal dollars to spend on programs they see fit. So if the NDP gets 17.5% of the vote they get %17.5 of the federal budget to spend on programs they want. And of course if they so desire they can combine some of their money with the other parties to fund health care.

    Anyway, I doubt any of this will get through. But if you really want a fair voting system you’re looking at the wrong one.

    [Apology accepted, but some offensive and ad hominen remarks were edited out; ‘Hishighness’ is welcome to have a reasonable debate, so I’ll give him this chance, but he is not welcome to make personal attacks on me or anyone who comments here any more than he is welcome to use profanity.–MSS]

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