Seat swapping: a solution to vote splitting in Canadian politics?
June 6, 2014 9:54 AM   Subscribe

The Canadian Conservative Party is currently at 30.2% in nationwide polls but, due to factors such as vote splitting and regionalized support, is currently projected to form a minority government with 131 out of 308 seats in Parliament. That's undemocratic. Idea: what if opposition parties agreed not to run candidates in specific ridings so as to create two party races (Conservative-Liberal in some ridings, Conservative-NDP in others). Would that be lawful?

I'm not proposing merging parties - there's too little trust for that.

I'm aware that the party leaderships might be strongly opposed to a swap, especially now that the Liberals have a realistic chance of forming a government. Could this be done not through the central party leadership but locally if riding associations in two ridings formed an agreement with each other?

I'm not proposing to do this nationwide. An agreement by one party not to run candidates in 30 ridings in exchange for the other doing the same in 30 other ridings would change 60 seats from closely contested to non-Conservative blowouts, and that would be enough to ensure that the Conservatives would be nowhere close to forming a government.

Something that might make a seat swap more palatable: look for mutually acceptable candidates. I have a hard-left Liberal incumbent in my riding who would be a plausible NDP candidate if she chose to jump ship. Likewise, Liberal voters wouldn't have to hold their noses voting for centrist NDP candidates. The parties are far enough apart that mutually acceptable candidates might not exist in many ridings, but, if the number of seats being swapped is relatively small, that might not be a problem.

Why yes, it would be nice to extend this to a three way arrangement with the Greens (currently polling at 8%). Some sort of weighting might be required (a 3:1 ratio?) Even at an unequal split, a Green party running candidates in 100 ridings and winning thirty seats would be far more powerful than a Green party running candidates in every riding and winning two seats (the current projection).

What would the consequences be for party funding? My understanding is that coming in first or second in a small group of ridings brings in more money than coming in second or third in a larger group. Is that correct? That would make a swap make financial sense. I'm fairly sure that an NDP riding association would be prohibited from endorsing a Liberal candidate or vice versa, correct?

If you're familiar with the Canadian system (or other Westminster parliamentary systems) I'd like to get a sense of whether this might be feasible.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow to Law & Government (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Non-compete agreements have happened in British elections, on a national level and for individual constituencies, and it's very much not a new idea in Canadian politics, although having it done as a kind of ad hoc pairing would be novel.

The question in Canada would be the logistics. Voters are generally supportive of such deals for the scenario where other parties don't field candidates in a particular constituency / riding, but not when it's their own party standing down. (More discussion here.)

There's also the uncertainty of politics to consider: suppose the NDP chooses not to field a candidate in a particular riding, and a video of the Liberal candidate hanging out with Rob Ford comes out during the campaign? There's nowhere to jump on election day.

Finally, any kind of arrangement like that provides the government with a heap of talking points about the weakness of the opposition, and even though Canadians understand the way their system can deliver seats on 30% of the vote, that's still the system that's elected their governments.
posted by holgate at 10:17 AM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Of course if would be lawful. But it would go against the culture. Some groups have attempted to convince voters in the last election, to no avail.

Note that the same argument could have been made from the right (and probably was) prior to the merger of the Reform with the Progressive Conservatives.

As for the party funding comment you made, I think you are referring to the soon-to-be-inexistant per vote funding that had been introduced by Chretien.
posted by aroberge at 10:56 AM on June 6, 2014

People were pushing for the NDP to do this in 2011, the election where they unexpectedly became the opposition. If there was ever a real chance this was going to happen on a large scale, that election has destroyed it for a generation. The NDP wouldn't be in the position they are today if they had left people in "unwinnable" ridings without an NDP candidate to vote for.

It was, for the record, done in 2007. The Green Party and the Liberal Party agreed not to run candidates in the ridings that the leader of the other party was running in.
posted by Jairus at 12:53 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

No law against it, but neither the NDP nor the Liberals would go for it on a federal level. If certain EDAs were to attempt this, it is very likely that their party would use the tools at their disposal (direct appointment of a candidate if there was no candidate, EDA decertification) to put in a party faithful candidate regardless.

The Greens have tried for many years to arrange something like this, but no other parties are interested (aside from the one two-riding instance mentioned above).

I don't think this really make sense if the context is defeat the Conservatives, but it does make sense if the context is a coalition win that enables significant electoral reform so that this sort of thing isn't necessary in the future. Unfortunately, the Liberals are fairly mealy-mouthed on this issue and I doubt they would come out with a strong position pre-election. The NDP has lately taken a stronger position towards mixed-member proportional representation.
posted by ssg at 8:46 PM on June 6, 2014

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