Voting fairness is not divisive
Since when did representation by population – a basic democratic principle if ever there was one – become “divisive?” Apparently since it might threaten the New Democratic Party’s support in the north, rural areas and Quebec.
Nycole Turmel, the NDP’s interim leader, was asked this week about the Harper government’s proposal to add seats in the Commons to ensure fairer representation for Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. All three provinces are badly under-represented for the simple reason that they’ve added lots of people over the past decade.
Turmel's viewpoint is woefully narrow. In fact, if she denoted the slightest understanding of western alienation in particular, she would comprehend that consistent under-representation in our Parliament has lead to much "division", much angst and ill feelings. Instead, the NDP position seems a simple champion of Quebec interests with no consideration of other regional viewpoints. The math defies the NDP's position, leaving them with the appearance of almost Bloc-like self interest, before the greater interest of the country. Whatever spin is provided, there is simply no distracting from the optics of resisting rep by pop in the name of political appeasement.
Strategically, the NDP are determined to shore up Quebec support, and one can hardly blame them. However, with a caucus now suddenly dominated by one province, there will inevitably be a "national" tension and this makes for careful navigation. This seat allocation issue is another example, within an emerging theme, that puts the NDP on precarious ground in the rest of Canada. Should other regions start to view the NDP as simply parroting Quebec's interests, it will lose credibility, of that I have no doubt whatsoever. This allocation question position, absurdly calling a move to more fairness "divisive" tells certain provinces the NDP doesn't have your back, they aren't fighting for you, their inclination is to support a democratic slight. Taken in isolation, perhaps nothing seismic, but if the Quebec-first perception starts to gel, the NDP are vulnerable.
Turmel's comments on seat allocation are disappointing for the Official Opposition. Amateurish in tone, offensive in substance, this one sided perspective may curry favour in Quebec, but it also leaves others feeling slighted. Add in the rural/urban disconnect, failure to comprehend the most basic ideas of electoral fairness, and the NDP look opportunistic and political, rather than principled. For my money, the single biggest dynamic in Ottawa to watch the next couple of years is how the NDP nuance the natural tensions of Canadian federalism. So far, so fail...