Monday, May 30, 2011

THE NDP STAR IS RISING

Back in 2004 when I was the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Official Opposition, I oversaw some research into what I felt was the second largest threat facing the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador in the long term.

The clear and present threat was a a tired, fed up caucus and a staff that were just coasting to the next election.  Of course, there is no reward for telling truth to power, just the guillotine. The biggest long term threat was the lack of effort that was being applied to managing the debt and re-organizing the parties grass root machinery. Everyone felt they had paid their dues, and Danny was unassailable. He might have been, but there was a job to be done.

The second largest threat may rise to the surface this fall. It is the potential rise in the electability of New Democrats to the provincial House of Assembly. The NDP had not formed a government in Nova Scotia in 2004, but they were heading for the official opposition and government was within reach. Voting habits in the traditional two party system had changed. The NDP were not prospering in the rural farming, mining and fishing towns where unionism and co-opertism were strong. The growth was in the urban areas. It was this growth, and the slow but steady gains that made be think, threat to the establishment. (Opportunity for the public perhaps)

Of course, I was not taken very seriously. The NDP were a joke, they were going no where. What could they offer anyone. The demographics of a larger urban population in the future, that at some point will demand a serious realignment of electoral seats amplifies the potential opportunity for the NDP at the expense of both the Liberals and the Conservatives.

Many political watchers argue that the dominance of the PC Party in the 1970's and 1980's was  as much about the addition of seats in the House of Assembly inside the overpass as it was about leadership and Liberal party rifts. The balance of power was shifted away from the rural and towards the urban. Despite the significant population shift to the Avalon in the past two decades, the electoral boundaries have not been dramatically adjusted. In fact, I believe that if the current arrangement could be successfully challenged in the Supreme Court because rural political power greatly exceeds it's population and entitlement to seats under in a system where every vote should be equal. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled, in the Electoral Boundaries Reference case, that Canadians should have a relatively equal voting power.

Roll together that this redistribution must occur (it is inevitable, whether I like it or not) and a rise in the attractiveness of the NDP and you see the potential for the party. Today, the NDP have become a force to be reckoned with. Both St. John's federal ridings are represented by hard working, known, credible NDP MP's. The vast majority of voters in the region have voted NDP. It is no longer throwing a vote away. The Jack Harris beachhead has become an assault on the traditional two party system.

The provincial NDP have a professional dedicated staff. The residual of the official opposition not playing an A -Game has meant that the NDP leader has garnered more media opportunities and credibility at the expense of the Liberals, particularly in vote rich St. John's. The recent electoral success of the NDP proves that change can happen quickly once it starts to take hold. An NDP campaign that is full of electable community, municipal and business leaders as opposed to names on ballots could be a force to be reckoned with this fall.

Imagine the potential gains the NDP can make when the redistribution of seats more accurately reflects  the one vote

Yes, governments defeat themselves. In a two party system that normally ensures that the other dominant party gains. The equation has changed in this province, New Democrats can and will win seats this fall. I predict, as I did in 2004, that they are poised to make a significant jump in support at the expense of the Conservatives.

The Liberals have not figured out how to play in a three party system. Arrogance displayed in a belief that the NDP are not a threat this fall will be there final undoing. The perceived rift in the PC Party is going to deliver votes, candidates and  support to the NDP.  You can feel it in the air. You hear in the conversations around the community, at the board room tables, at the water cooler and at the coffee shops. People who liked Danny Williams, are mad. They are dissapointed. They are disillusioned. They are going to vote NDP, unless they can be convinced that the Liberals stand for something.

Another factor , that must be considered, is the tendency of  rural voters to go with the government side because having a government member is considered critical to infrastructure and make-work funding. I would argue that this is less of a factor in St. John's where municipal politicians enjoy much greater profiles than MHAs

In a competitive three party system, a crumbing  government does not ensure gains for the official opposition.


22 comments:

Wm. Murphy said...

The residual of the official opposition not playing an A -Game has meant that the NDP leader has garnered more media opportunities and credibility at the expense of the Liberals, particularly in vote rich St. John's. The recent electoral success of the NDP proves that change can happen quickly once it starts to take hold

Something tells me that Craig Westcott has taken you off his Xmas card list!! You are correct....Westcott's ability to curry favour among the media has been as successful as his attempt to get a refund from Elections Canada. His performance has been a joke

The NDP are due to win a few seats however where they will be... is the big question. What is missing in your analysis is the one of Leadership. Neither Party is brimming over with huge Leadership credentials so the upcoming election is a dog's breakfast. The NDP is a "Jack Harris" away from causing quite a stir. A change in Leadership will not happen before October so we are faced with a huge leadership vacumn on all sides of the House.

The Libs had the opportunity to win the gov't with a change of Leader over the weekend, but no one decided to rise up. A shame really.

Peter L. Whittle said...

Leadership is an issue, in itself.

My point, I suppose is that the Liberals should not be arrogant and discount the NDP, particularly now.

Disgruntled voters, Conservstive and undecided have other options. Lorriane could bloom over the next few months.

Anonymous said...

The 'Cartoon Party' could be in for another rough ride this coming fall...or is that "FAIL".

Anonymous said...

I will be interesting to see how Yvonne and the "cartoon Party" do in the election this coming fall....or is that this coming FAIL.

Peter L. Whittle said...

I can think of a number of things the Liberals might need to revisit, but the animation is not one of them. It is an innovative way to get a message out in a medium that provides opportunities for a party with financial challenges.

Mark said...

Helpful hint #1 I think this is the case you meant to link to.

Helpful hint #2 I also think you should read the decision.

Helpful hint #3: The dissent is not the decision

D'Arcy Butler said...

Great post Peter. I think you are correct, the NDP will make a breakthrough in the fall general election.

As someone who has been an active NDP member and volunteer I have noticed that people are starting to look at our party in a very different light, in part because people are starting to question some of the many myths that the political establishment, which includes both tories and grits, have been espousing about the NDP.

In part, people are beginning to recognize that today's NDP reflects today's reality of population. The NDP of NL is made up of average people who believe that this is an incredible place to live and who want to make sure that no-one is left behind. Many of us have or continue to struggle with student loan payments or to maintain our standard of life, buy groceries, the regular day-to-day necessities. But most importantly, today's NDP know the value of a hard earned dollar and how tough it can be to find balance with competing priorities for that dollar.

Peter L. Whittle said...

Mark:

The court was clear that a balance has to be struck. Exceptions for isolated communities and aboriginal communities(communities of interest) aside.

I think rural newfoundland dodged the bullet in the last redistribution but the upcoming one will present a challenge to maintain the staus quo. There are a number of ridings were isolation may come into play.

So yea, I have read this and followed some other provincial and federal re-distributions.

What is your point? Are you saying that the electoral boundaries in this province are not going to be significantly changed in the future to reflect the shifting population.

Mark said...

I didn't say that at all. All I am saying is that you have completely Peter, you completely mis-read McLachlin's decision.

Anonymous said...

Isolated and Aboriginal communities are not the only "communities of interest".

"Community" doesn't mean "town or village" in this context.

Peter L. Whittle said...

Mark:

This is the point where your arrogance strains the conversation. We may have a perceived disagreement here on a point but you are not the oracle on this issue. First you suggest I read the decision, now you tell me I mis-read it. I would suggest perhaps you consider reading some of the literature on the decision because it would appear I am not alone.

The reference said a number of things. Equality of voting power is the factor of "prime importance" but there are situations where effective representation is paramount which allows for special circumstances. For example in NL the four Labrador seats are excluded from the divisor all together. There is also a special circumstance on the south coast because of the isolated communities that exist there. These all fit the exceptions. Other exceptions that are considered acceptable deviations from voter equality are communities of interest.

My point is that the geographic tests for geographic size may not provide enough protection for many rural seats to prevent them form being wiped out or amalgamated. There will be plenty of new Topsail seats and more lost seats like "Placentia" and "Stephenville" in the future. It is unavoidable because of the population shift. That will great a new paradigm in the urban seats where I suggest the NDP is poised to grow.

You may have completed a few more constitutional law course than me but I am not sure what it is your arguing with me about.

Peter L. Whittle said...

The Court made the following comments on the constitutional right to effective representation:

"What are the conditions of effective representation? The first is relative parity of voting power. A system which dilutes one citizen's vote unduly as compared with another citizen's vote runs the risk of providing inadequate representation to the citizen whose vote is diluted. The legislative power of the citizen whose vote is diluted will be reduced, as may be access to and assistance from his or her representative. The result will be uneven and unfair representation.

But parity of voting power, though of prime importance, is not the only factor to be taken into account in ensuring effective representation. ...

Notwithstanding the fact that the value of a citizen's vote should not be unduly diluted, it is a practical fact that effective representation often cannot be achieved without taking into account countervailing factors.

First, absolute parity is impossible. It is impossible to draw boundary lines which guarantee exactly the same number of voters in each district. Voters die, voters move. Even with the aid of frequent censuses, voter parity is impossible.

Secondly, such relative parity as may be possible of achievement may prove undesirable because it has the effect of detracting from the primary goal of effective representation. Factors like geography, community history, community interests and minority representation may need to be taken into account to ensure that our legislative assemblies effectively represent the diversity of our social mosaic. These are but examples of considerations which may justify departure from absolute voter parity in the pursuit of more effective representation; the list is not closed.

It emerges therefore that deviations from absolute voter parity may be justified on the grounds of practical impossibility or the provision of more effective representation. Beyond this, dilution of one citizen's vote as compared with another's should not be countenanced. I adhere to the proposition asserted in Dixon, supra, at p. 414, that "only those deviations should be admitted which can be justified on the ground that they contribute to better government of the populace as a whole, giving due weight to regional issues within the populace and geographic factors within the territory governed."


I ask who determines what can be justified? Another reference, hence my suggestion that the current configuration might be challenged because it is is, in my opinion, far from striking quality of votes.

I, like McLachlin, understand the importance of protecting the constitutional right of effective representation but there is only so far you can stretch the exceptions before you have violated the principle of equity.

If federal members can effectively represent seven or eight of these provincial district within a single federal riding, I would suggest that provincial members could do the same.

Anonymous said...

Pete, why are you trying to take seats away from rural Newfoundland? St. John's has all the say as it is. You have become a townie my son!

Mark said...

The fact that someone argues with you doesn't make them arrogant.

Here's what you said in your post:

"I believe that if the current arrangement could be successfully challenged in the Supreme Court because rural political power greatly exceeds it's population and entitlement to seats under in a system where every vote should be equal." (emphasis added)

That is not what Justice McLachlin wrote, nor is that statement supported by her reasons.

Peter L. Whittle said...

Mark:

I stand by what she said as well. She said she afreed that " "only those deviations should be admitted which can be justified on the ground that they contribute to better government of the populace as a whole, giving due weight to regional issues within the populace and geographic factors within the territory governed."

I argue that there is a point where the balance can not be justified by geography or community of interest. Who decides that in the case there is a disagreement? The Courts would? How to you do that, well you would challenge it? In the courts. The departure from parity must be justified. That is what the SCR said. They provided a flexible framework, going outside of it in a way that really challenges the goal of equality and effective representation would be grounds for a challenge, no?

Anonymous said...

"only those deviations should be admitted which can be justified on the ground that they contribute to better government of the populace as a whole, giving due weight to regional issues within the populace and geographic factors within the territory governed."

And so does the current electoral map of NL exceed those limits?

Peter L. Whittle said...

I would argue that there is a bit of a case, if someone wanted to, to argue that a rural vote has more weight than an urban vote. It will certainly be more pronounced when the research begins for the next redistribution exercise. The last one was very much delayed. This years census results will paint the picture for the extent in which change will need to occur.

A strict application of the act would have created a lot of change last, I expect the next redistribution will be more dramatic. The act allows for 10% variation and special circumstances for 25%. My point is that there are only three or four legitimate areas for the 25% exception to be used.

I really was expecting rural Newfoundland to lose up to six seats in the last redistribution. The Electoral Boundaries Act requires that the provincial government establish a commission to report on the delimitation of provinces into districts every tenth calender year. The last commission was appointed on August, 29th 2003.

Our act clerly points out the "Primacy is given to the principle that the vote of every elector shall have equal weight"

Anonymous said...

My point is that there are only three or four legitimate areas for the 25% exception to be used.

In the last redistribution, not one district on the island of Newfoundland deviated by more than 25%. The highest deviation was Fortune Bay-Cape La Hune. No other Newfoundland district was outside -/+ 10%.

The Electoral Boundaries Act requires that the provincial government establish a commission to report on the delimitation of provinces into districts every tenth calender year.

Every tenth year starting in 2006.

Our act clerly points out the "Primacy is given to the principle that the vote of every elector shall have equal weight"

Read the rest of that section, starting with subsection (2), which begins with the word "Notwithstanding".

Peter L. Whittle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter L. Whittle said...

As you are aware the process of redistribution was delayed last time around. It should have been done much earlier. The government ignored the legislation regarding every tenth year, pushing it out by almost three years. The report was supposed to be given to the Minister of Justice by Dec 2003. A new commission was not appointed until March 13 2006.

The 2001 census showed a population of 512,800 which was to be divided by 47 minus Torngat District.

I think the revised mandate for the commission included all four labrador seats, but I really am not sure off the top of my head. That meant that the quotient would be the population of the island divided by 44. I also recall that there was to be special consideration for the south coast from Round Contre East to Ramea.

I have already indicated that the act spells out exceptions to the equity of vote and what they are.

Many of the rural seats were right on the cusp of the 10% rule, many of them at 9%. Most of the Urban seats were close to the 10% on the large side.

It is going to be very difficult to keep the seats as they are for the next process, particularly in districts like Bay of Islands, Bonavsta North, Grand bank, both Grand Falls seats, Lewisporte, St Barb and the Straights. On the other side of the coin, there has been great growth in the Avalon. Seats like Harbour Main, CBS, Mount Pearl South, Topsail, and even Cape St. Francis.

The census will tell the tale. Your right though, using the terms of reference given, the 2006 Commission, by pulling the four Labrador seats out of the mix was able to get the quotient up from around 10,842 (pop/47) to 11,024 (pop/44). The result was only one district on the island being outside the quotient, that being FBCL at 21%. The divisor made a huge difference.

As well, using the 2001 figures, vs the 2006 numbers lessened the impact on the rural districts on the island. CBS had a 11% rate of growth in that period. Portugal Cove _ St. Phillips grew by 12%, Torbay by 15%, Paradise by 31%. These are significant population increases which reflect significant population shifts.

This still leaves a lot of change for next time. The geographic tests for geographic size may not provide enough protection for many rural seats to prevent them form being wiped out or amalgamated. For example now that three Labrador seats are connected by road, it may be harder to justify excluding them from the provincial quotient.

Plenty of change in store but the result is going to be at the expense of rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

Anonymous said...

The 2006 census figures weren't available at the time the 2006 boundary commission did its work.

Peter L. Whittle said...

I know that. They did not get published until early 2007. There was some suggestion during the hearings that the commission wait for them rather than make recommendations without them. The consensus was to proceed with the 2001 numbers because they would provide a better demographic picture than those used for the last boundary report that was done in 1993 (?). There was also a belief that there had not been that much movement to the St. John's Metro area since the 2001 census.

I mention the 2006 numbers just to illustrate my point about the shift in population and the impact it will have on establishing boundaries next time around.

A willingness to try and keep the districts as they were, advancing the time frame by 3 years as opposed to ten and the new numbers is going to make the next commission's recommendations appear much more drastic.