Opinion Column

Fed NDP backs loser in prop rep

Bill Tieleman

By Bill Tieleman, News, Views, and Attitude – 24 hours

Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. (REUTERS)

Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. (REUTERS)

“I used to be a fan of proportional representation, but I am not at all now I have seen it in action.” - Helen Suzman, South African anti-apartheid politician, 1917-2009

Imagine you are guiding Canada’s opposition New Democratic Party, working hard to topple Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper while elbowing Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau out of your way.

And on Dec. 3 you have your final “opposition day” of the year – an enormous chance to denounce the government, hold Harper to account on uncomfortable issues, capture media attention, and keep Trudeau sidelined.

Even better, hapless Defence Minister Rob Nicholson is on the ropes for mistreating Canada’s veterans, with wounded former Afghanistan soldiers suing the government because their disability benefits were slashed.

And oil prices are dropping dramatically – making the government’s betting on bitumen a potential economic disaster.

So where do you aim your bulls eye in such a target rich environment?

Proportional representation. No, really.

Astonishingly, the NDP decided to debate a proposed electoral system rejected four times – in Ontario, Prince Edward Island and in British Columbia twice, where I led those opposed to the Single Transferable Vote scheme in the 2005 and 2009 binding referenda.

Yet there was the NDP, earnestly demanding federal elections be held under proportional representation, for at least the fifth time in 12 years.

But Elections Canada did a comprehensive study on the 2011 election and 60% of those surveyed said “everyday life issues” caused them to not vote.

Only 5% cited “meaningless vote” as their reason – yet that’s why the NDP and prop-rep fans say change electoral systems.

Nonetheless, leader Thomas Mulcair, arguably the most effective opposition leader Canada has seen, came to talk proportional representation in Victoria on Monday.

The NDP has to get serious by the October 2015 election – does it want to form Canada’s first social democratic government?

Or be a debating society for issues that are irrelevant to most voters – who worry about jobs, the economy, public services and how we mistreat our disabled veterans?

Win an election and then talk all you want about proportional representation – if you have the time while running the country.

But until then, stick to bread-and-butter issues that matter to real people – or be prepared to keep talking electoral systems long after another party takes power.

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist. Read his blog at www.billtieleman.blogspot.com Email: weststar@telus.net Twitter: @BillTieleman  

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