Thursday, October 22, 2015

Elizabeth May's Plan to Save FPTP !

You could kiss goodbye any hope for Proportional Representation (PR) voting in Canada, ever, if Green Party leader Elizabeth May's plan to elect 16 Green MPs in the recent Canadian election had succeeded.

For if the party could elect that many MPs (mostly from BC) and thus win crucial "Official Party Status" in Parliament, on a national vote of only about five percent*, why continue the fight for PR voting ?

*Five percent nationally made up of about 35% of the vote in 16 ridings and about 3% in other 310 ridings, and about 7% in the remaining few.

If FPTP is so self evidently not broke, others could then ask, 'why then fix it, Ms May ?!'

Now to fairly lay the blame about, this Green Party effort to save FPTP began in earnest back in the days of former leader Jim Harris, while its intellectual origins existed even in the earliest days of the party.

The janus-faced Harris Green Party

Harris pushed for the first ever all out effort to nominate a full slate of Green candidates once he realized a full slate would ensure the party of millions of dollars of government subsidies granted to all parties with 2% or more of the national vote, even if it didn't elect a single MP.

Harris's team worked hard to get a full slate and saw a ten fold rise in the party's share of the national vote (I was a very big supporter of that full slate effort).

But at the same time, Harris and almost all of the rest of the party, from top to bottom, were hoping to elect at least one or two MPs with money they had borrowed against those anticipated government millions.

Meanwhile I was all alone inside the party, as far as I know, in fearing the Greens might elect one or two MPs !

Understanding ENP indices key to winning 

As a political science graduate, I at least knew the difference between the two ENP (Effective Number of Parties) indexes that so reliably predict the direction that a nation's electoral system is heading towards.

One ENP index is based on the number of parties judged 'nationally competitive', based on their share of the national vote, regardless of how few seats they get in the national legislature.

A sustained high index reading 4 or more sees a successful push for PR voting.

The other ENP index judges how many parties are nationally competitive based on their share of the seats in the legislature, regardless of how little votes they got nationally.

This one is a little more complicated because if it sees that some parties with a large number of seats in parliament actually only win them in one or two regions, it discounts them as being truly nationally competitive.

It then tends to see the electoral system leaning towards an seat ENP index of 2 .

That is a two party,"ins and outs", system and hence supporting the original FPTP system.

(In practise, the seat-base ENP index value usually hovers, election by election, on both sides of 2.5, indicating two strong national parties and one weakly national party (or a collection of small regionally strong parties).

After the 2008 minority win election, Canada approached a high "vote-based" ENP of 4 and thus raised hopes for a sustained and successful push to PR, proportional representation.

That means Canada had four or more ideologically very different* parties that are repeatedly competitive, in terms of national vote, across the entire nation.

* Despite 1997's five party competitive election (on both indices), two of the smaller parties, Reform and the Conservatives, were not really far apart ideologically and soon re-united.This pushed the country back closer to a two and a half party system supportive of FPTP.

Victory looked assured after 2008

But after 2008's minority government win, Canada looked like it would regularly see two nationally competitive parties with about 30% for a base vote, a third almost as competitive with about 20% as a base vote and with a fourth growing ever competitive in terms of votes across the nation by regularly securing about 10% as a base vote.

(Independent candidates and tiny parties, with about a 2% base vote, and a regionally limited party with a base vote of about 8% rounded it up to 100%.)

In a FPTP system, that is the point where neither of the two big parties can ever find the extra 10% needed for a majority government with 40% of the vote.

zero Green seats on 10% vote is the real victory !

The battle for PR, so Greens could regularly expect at least three dozen MPs in Parliament, appeared won !

Merely by the Greens holding onto the 10% of the vote that used to be free to join which ever party was in the lead and secure for it a majority government.

But essential to this victory is that the Greens get 10% of all the votes but zero percent of the seats in Parliament.

Because winning seats meant that FPTP still worked.

Now political scientists around the world who specialize in studying the evolution of voting systems might have seen the merits of my argument regarding Canada's Greens but no Canadian Greens did then - or still do.

Elizabeth May was hardly the only Green pushing to elect MPs over raising the Green vote in every riding instead, but as the leader, she could have opposed it instead of being its biggest cheerleader.

May is a great environment movement leader, a great parliamentary leader but totally fails as a 'back room strategy-formulating' leader.

She doesn't know much about the political science end of crafting a long term political strategy, fair enough, but fatally she seems unwilling to learn from others who do.

Why I am forthwith resigning my Green Party membership

So I am resigning as a member of the Canadian Green Party until they decide to focus on winning votes not seats and hence speed the move to PR voting.

And yet I will continue to vote for them, donate to them, volunteer hard for them --- it might see a pointless gesture then.

I feel some sympathy for Tom Mulcair despite all I have said against him because I too am very intense and passionate and consumed, albeit in my case about the race against time to save the planet.

So I feel I must still make this gesture of protest.

Because without foot-dragging Canada and then the foot-dragging UK, USA and Australia moving to PR voting,greatly increasing their number of environmentally concerned elected politicians, the overall global fight to reduce greenhouse gases and mass extinction is probably lost for good....

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