Tag Archives: ndp

Greens Seeing Red: The Star

I’m pretty sure “red/green” puns have jumped the shark and should now be filed under any headline having to do with Kermit’s observations on how easy being green isn’t, but I’m not going to file a complaint or anything. From today’s Toronto Star:


NDP Leader Jack Layton‘s dalliance with the Tories on the issue of Senate reform is raising eyebrows among Green party members.

They wonder what happened to Layton’s insistence in the last election that bringing in proportional representation should be a top priority for the minority Parliament. Proportional representation is a voting system that gives seats in proportion to the parties’ total popular vote across the nation.

But when Harper and Layton talked recently about parliamentary reform, it was the Senate – not proportional representation – that was Layton’s priority. Layton is proposing a national referendum on the future of the Senate and Harper offered his tentative support for the idea.

Yesterday, Layton was in Calgary to “shore up the support of Western Canadians in the NDP’s bid to hold a referendum on the future of the Senate.”

So what about proportional representation?

“Since Parliament can realistically only deal with one democratic reform issue at a time, Mr. Layton’s out-of-nowhere proposal to abolish the Senate is at odds with the NDP’s traditional support for reforming our voting system,” Chris Tindal, the Green party’s democratic reform advocate, said in a statement. “What has happened to his priorities and his promises?”

NDP must reaffirm commitment to fair voting, Green Party says

Crossposted from greenparty.ca

For Immediate Release
November 8, 2007

TORONTO – NDP leader Jack Layton’s abrupt decision to support Stephen Harper by making the Senate his democratic reform priority raises serious questions about the NDP’s commitment to Proportional Representation, Green Party of Canada democratic reform advocate Chris Tindal said today.

“Since Parliament can realistically only deal with one democratic reform issue at a time, Mr. Layton’s out-of-nowhere proposal to abolish the Senate is at odds with the NDP’s traditional support for reforming our voting system,” Tindal said.

“It’s an open secret in Ottawa that Mr. Layton’s goal is to displace the Liberals and become leader of the opposition under the current First Past the Post system. During the 2004 election campaign, Mr. Layton made electoral reform a priority. Since then, we’ve heard almost nothing from him about fair voting. What has happened to his priorities and his promises?”

Fair Vote Canada, a multi-partisan organization that advocates for electoral reform, insists that the necessary discussion about the future of the Senate must come after citizens have determined how their MPs are elected. “At the federal level, the first and most urgent priority is beginning a citizen-driven process to determine the best electoral system for electing MPs,” said a July 2006 statement by FVC. “Job one is to create a truly representative House of Commons and legitimate majority government.” Under the current voting system, majority governments are often elected with less than 50 percent of the vote, leading to “false majorities.”

Tindal said that even if Mr. Layton’s proposal for a snap referendum on abolishing the Senate was constitutional – and it isn’t – it is both premature and too narrowly defined. Instead, he should immediately reaffirm his party’s commitment to Proportional Representation and push for a federal Citizens’ Assembly to explore that issue.

The Green Party recognizes and supports the need for Senate reform but believes it must explore all options and happen within the context of public involvement and study, and not until after citizens have had a chance to reform the federal voting system.


Senate Reform

“Has Jack Layton lost his mind,” asked someone on a federal Green mailing list yesterday. “The world is slowly falling apart and Layton wants to abolish the Senate? Does he think he’s Tony Blair?”

“Actually,” replied someone else who knows him, “he does.”

The first commenter was responding to Layton’s decision to resurrect his party’s desire to abolish the senate, apropos of nothing aside from an impending federal election and a weakened Liberal party. That’s what the second commenter was referencing. Tony Blair was able to take a left-wing party from perpetual fringe to government, and Layton thinks he can do the same. The end goal of yesterday’s announcement isn’t to abolish the senate, it’s to abolish the Liberal opposition.

It’s another example of the fact that Layton is willing to work more closely with Stephen Harper than any other leader, so long as it’s good for his party. In doing so, he’s losing sight of what’s good for the country.

Abolishing the senate is a popular idea. It has at least some support across Canada, including official support from four provincial governments (British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba). The current cynicism of Canadians about all things political–coupled with their minimal understanding of what the senate actually does–makes abolishing almost anything to do with politicians sound like a good idea. In that way, it makes good political sense for Layton to be pursuing it. And it’s absolutely the wrong solution.

Today, there’s a report that Stephen Harper would support Layton’s proposal, even though he favours an elected senate. Late last year when the prime minister first started floating those ideas, I said that issues as important and fundamental as the mechanics of our democracy couldn’t be dictated on a whim by any one person, let alone a government that’s received the lowest percentage of the vote of any government in our country’s history. Our democratic systems, by definition, can only be legitimately altered by people, not just politicians.

In this way Layton is right to at least call for a referendum, but he’s wrong to frame the issue so narrowly. Clearly our senate, like other aspects of our democracy, is in need of reform. But to simply call for its abolition without even exploring what that reform would look like and how it could strengthen our democracy is lazy, reactionary, and wrongheaded. (Not to mention that Layton’s proposal is also unconstitutional, since even with a referendum the federal government cannot abolish the senate without the support of the provinces.)

Instead, a wiser move would be to form a national Citizens’ Assembly to explore what options we have. They might consider the following possibilities:

  • Should we have term limits?
  • Should senators be elected?
    • If so, what voting system should we use to elect them?
  • How should we balance the need for representation by population with the need for representation by geography?
  • How does the senate fit into the bigger picture? What are senators doing currently that’s of value to our Parliamentary system, what are they doing that they shouldn’t be, and what other roles could they play?

And yes, that group could also consider if abolition was the answer. But to leap to that conclusion without understanding the important role that the senate currently plays in the complex fabric of our inherited British Parliamentary system is simplistic and dangerous.

Finally, this shouldn’t even be the priority within the world of democratic reform, let alone the national agenda. NDP supporters I talk to are increasingly confused as to why Layton seems to make more noise about things like ATM fees (and now this) instead of speaking out more often on climate change, the widening gap between our richest and our poorest, the multitude of economic threats posed by the imploding American economy, etc.

So, has Layton “lost his mind?” Depends on your perspective, I suppose. To many, he’s playing smart politics by trying to drive a wedge in-between him and the Liberals and by working closely with the Conservatives. To others he, like so many other Parliamentarians, has lost sight of what really matters and the good that he could be doing. As you’ve gathered, I tend to fall into the second camp. This is no time to play games for votes. Let’s please try to focus.