Thursday, May 14, 2009

Time for the Green party to call it a day

If the Green party hadn't been so boneheaded four years ago, it might have several MLAs waiting to be sworn in today.
The party's failure to support the single transferable vote in the 2005 referendum is one of the great all-time political bumbles.
Greens would have been the big winners if STV had passed. It has enough support to be sure of winning seats under the system.
Bizarrely, then leader Adriane Carr first fought against STV and then said the party would be neutral.
STV received 58 per cent support in that referendum, just below the 60 per cent needed. An extra 500 yes votes in each riding could have changed the outcome. And a strong Green effort could have delivered those votes.
The Green referendum position reinforces the perception that most parties on the outside, on some level, are happy to be there. The hardcore base equates popular support with ideological weakness. It took Stephen Harper, after all, to drag the Reform/Alliance base into the mainstream from its comfy, crabby outsider den.
Carr, now one of two deputy leaders in the federal Green party, wanted a different form of electoral reform - a mixed member proportional system. That would see two kinds of MLAs. Some would be elected from constituencies and then others would be appointed, from lists proposed by the parties, to ensure the legislature reflected the popular vote.
The system is widely used in other countries and has its own strengths and weaknesses.
But the Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform didn't recommend it. The members, after months of study, thought STV was a better choice for B.C. That's what was on the ballot.
Carr initially threatened to throw the party into the battle against STV. After some internal wrangling, the Greens decided to remain neutral.
No one can know whether Green support could have tipped the balance. I think it would have.
This time, the Greens took eight per cent of the vote. That could have produced three seats under STV.
Earlier this year, polls had the party as high as 16 per cent. Many of those people abandoned the party because they judged a Green vote would be wasted. They decided that it was better to back a Liberal or NDP candidate. Or to stay home.
With STV, they would have stayed with the party, which could have meant more Green MLAs.
And then, of course, there are the other impacts. What high-profile candidates might have come forward to run for the Greens if they had a real chance of being elected?
But that chance was thrown away. STV fell just short in 2005 and was soundly rejected this time.
Which leads to a question. Is it time for the Green party to dissolve, at least as a party running candidates?
Leader Jane Sterk got 17 per cent of the vote in her riding, the best Green showing. She finished third. The party's overall support fell again, as it did in the last election.
It's hard to see the point of running for office if there is no hope of being elected. And equally hard to see the point of voting Green, particularly when that costs you a chance to have a say in the battle between the two main parties.
British Columbians, in rejecting STV, have opted for a two-party system. Greens could have influence by joining the Liberals or New Democrats and pushing their issues. They could become a voting bloc and support a party or candidates that back their goals.
Otherwise, they're going to a lot of trouble for an opportunity to be in candidates' forums.
And they are choosing not to have a voice in deciding who represents them and which party governs.
Certainly, the Green party can keep raising issues. But by failing to fight for STV in 2005, they lost any hope of electing MLAs. The party seems, if not pointless, at least an ineffective way to bring change.
Footnote: If Green voters had shifted to the Liberals or New Democrats, the outcome could have been much different - from an NDP majority government to a more dominant Liberal one. There were 18 races close enough that Green votes, redistributed, could have changed the outcome.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Old media, new media and the election

Over at my favorite blog, the Gazeteer posted last night on the impact of non-traditional media in this election.
Would the gap between the Liberals and NDP have been much greater without the role played by The Tyee and bloggers and other non-traditional media, he asks.
To which I commented:
"There was some excellent coverage from non-traditional media, for want of a better term, during the campaign - Holman, Tyee, here.
But would the gap have been much different without it? The results are close to identical to 2005, in terms of popular vote. The most significant change might be the emergence of a Conservative vote in some regions.
The mass news media has suffered audience declines in the last four years; non-traditional coverage has expanded. But I'm not sure of the influence of either at this point.
One factor, I'd argue, is a tendency to be non-inclusive in many non-traditional news/commentary sources. The argument starts based on shared assumptions. But often those assumptions are shared by a minority.
Not that they are necessarily wrong. But the majority are left out of the discussion. It's like forming a hiking club and announcing that the first walk will start at the 7,000-foot mark on Mt Robson."

It's an important discussion. Mainstream media or whatever you want to call them have great benefits. They provide a shared starting point for community discussion on an inclusive basis. People in Lillooet might not all love the Lillooet-Bridge River News. But when there's a controversy - like the one right now about proposed water meters - most people have read its coverage. They can develop opinions based on it and can do their own research and advance the discussion. (Today, more than ever.) Blogs don't offer that universal starting point that sees 80 per cent of the people in a community literally on the same page on Wednesday when the paper comes out.
That reach also imposes a discipline on writers or journalists or whatever you call them. When I wrote editorials long ago for the Red Deer Advocate - a fine newspaper - I knew that probably two-thirds of the people in that Central Alberta would at least glance at them. Retired farmers, rig workers, store owners, college instructors, car salesman. So if the editorial was to be persuasive, it had to start at a place where all of them could be comfortable and make an argument they could all consider seriously. Otherwise, what would be the point?

That, I think, is missing in the role non-traditional media play. They are mostly starting at a place that shuts a majority of the population out of the argument.
I'm not sure how that can change. One critical question is how you create a community that is broader than people who share beliefs about policy or politics, whether its geographic or occupation-based or.....

The battle of the pollsters

There was some pundit sniffing at the credibility of an Angus Reid Strategies poll showing a narrower gap between the Liberals and the NDP, in part because the company uses an online panel rather than telephone sampling.
But Angus Reid claims victory today as the most acccurate forecaster. (As the company was in the last federal election.
For the dedicated, there's a rundown of the polls here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Now we find out what the Liberals will really do

After four weeks of official campaigning - and months of unofficial efforts - we're back where we started.
As I write this, with ballots still being counted, the legislature will look much as it did before the election, with a comfortable Liberal majority.
That is a significant achievement for Gordon Campbell, who is only the third B.C. premier to win three consecutive majority terms.
But we're not really back where we started. We allowed the politicians to pull the wool over our eyes and almost down to our ankles.
The biggest issue, especially, was never acknowledged by either of the two main parties.
So now we have a sort-of new government with no real mandate - and thus no base of public support for some very tough decisions ahead.
The Liberals and the NDP both campaigned as if the budget tabled in February was credible. It is not. The deficit, forecast at $495 million, will be substantially over $1 billion.
Just two areas - slower than forecast economic growth and low natural gas prices - means a revenue shortfall of almost $1 billion. The lower GDP, based on the budget documents, will mean $320 million revenue than forecast. The gas prices are far below forecast levels and a $600-million budget shortfall is a likely result.
That's huge, and it should have been at the centre of the campaign. The big issue, for most British Columbians, will be how the government deals with that reality.
The impact is enormous. Finding new revenue to make up the shortfalls - at last in this fiscal year - would be impossible. There is at least the potential for tax increases to address the continuing problems next year and the year after.
And cutting spending to balance the revenue gap would be horrendous. The budget already called for cuts in eight of 19 ministries, just to meet the deficit target of $495 million. A significant chunk of those savings hadn't even been identified at budget time, but cuts to park wardens and campgrounds show the kind of changes that were coming.
Finding another $900 million in cuts - especially if health and education are protected - would mean an eight-per-cent across the board cut in other ministries. (Actually, quite a bit more, since the fiscal year is already well under way.)
Or Campbell could just claim things had changed dramatically since the budget - even though he has denied that up until now - and announce bigger deficits, perhaps lasting more than the forecast two years.
So far, Campbell has insisted that the budget numbers are set. That means deep cuts to services and significant government job cuts.
It's an agenda that will sit well with some Liberals, the ones who really aren't keen on government and would like to see it smaller, even at a considerable cost to services and programs.
But not all Liberal MLAs are going to share that view.
Especially ones who look ahead to their chances of getting re-elected in 2013 if the next two or three years are spent making life more difficult for a lot of people.
Much will depend on what message the Liberals, and Campbell, take from the results.
The Liberal campaign stressed the need for continuity and stability and the risks of an NDP government.
A lurch to the hard right, with major cuts to services, would betray that expectation. The Liberals face a tough challenge to avoid facing their own fudge-it budget accusations when the next budget rolls around.
But alternately, the Liberals have a great chance to work toward a fourth term. A competent, moderate government through a few difficult years will likely continue to have a solid base of support.
The outcome of the 2013 election will be greatly affected by the Liberals'decisions over the next few months.
The party promised stability; Campbell's challenge now is to deliver that at a challenging time.
Footnote: The STV system, sadly, appears to be falling well short of the threshold for approval. British Columbians have lost the chance to reform politics, probably for decades. It is a great blow to chances for a better, more representative system.

Monday, May 11, 2009

An interesting voice for STV

Sean Holman at does a superb job of covering politics and government.
And he has decided that STV is a needed change. Read it here.