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Mulcair takes charge of any talks on electoral cooperation, orders NDP MPs not to respond to Green Leader May’s letter

By Tim Naumetz      

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has taken charge of public statements from his caucus over the possibility of electoral cooperation with other opposition parties in the next federal election and instructed New Democrat MPs not to respond to a letter Green Party Leader Elizabeth May sent to NDP and Liberal MPs last month broaching the politically explosive topic.

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PARLIAMENT HILL—NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has taken charge of public statements from his caucus over the possibility of electoral cooperation with other opposition parties in the next federal election and instructed New Democrat MPs not to respond to a letter Green Party Leader Elizabeth May sent to NDP and Liberal MPs last month broaching the politically explosive topic.

The Hill Times learned of Mr. Mulcair’s (Outremont, Que.) edict on Thursday while asking NDP MPs at a two-day Parliament Hill caucus meeting for their views on the possibility of alliances at local electoral district levels, in light of the prominence the Liberal Party has given to discussions over the issue, placing it separately among seven topics for the first Liberal leadership televised debate in Vancouver on Sunday.

One of the MPs said he could not discuss it, as the subject was outside his critic role in Mr. Mulcair’s shadow cabinet, and mentioned the letter and Mr. Mulcair’s position on it. Two other NDP MPs also confirmed Mr. Mulcair had taken over the issue as his responsibility, and told his caucus he would respond to Ms. May’s letter.

Ms. May confirmed to The Hill Times she sent the letter to other MPs in the opposition in December, out of what she saw as a need to try to begin efforts soon toward electoral cooperation as the 2015 election nears, but she said she did not want to discuss what she said in the letter because it was confidential.

Another NDP MP, former whip Yvon Godin (Acadie-Bathhurst, N.B.) confirmed that Mr. Mulcair had taken charge of the issue under his role as party leader, and questioned why Ms. May had even raised the topic with individual MPs.

Mr. Godin confirmed he did not reply to Ms. May’s letter.

“Since when does a leader send [letters] to the MPs? Usually leaders talk to each other,” Mr. Godin said. “To have a leader start to talk to MPs, I never saw that before. Maybe she likes to do things differently. If she wants to do something, she should talk to the leader, that’s what leaders do.”

Mr. Godin indicated the NDP, with its status as the official opposition, may be more intent on taking on Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) directly to form the next government after the 2015 election.

“We have no time with that. At the last election they have voted us in at 103 Members of Parliament and we’re looking ahead at 2015 to take over,” said Mr. Godin, one of several NDP MPs who supported Mr. Mulcair’s strongest opponent in the NDP leadership last year, Brian Topp, a close adviser to the late, former NDP leader Jack Layton.

Ms. May has championed cooperation between the opposition parties before and for the 2008 election reached an agreement, as the new Green Party leader, with then-Liberal leader Stéphane Dion (Saint Laurent-Cartierville, Que.) stipulating that the Green Party would not field a candidate against him and the Liberals would not field a candidate against Ms. May as she attempted, unsuccessfully it turned out, to defeat Defence Minister MacKay (Central Nova, N.S.) in the riding he has held since 1997.

“I’m trying to establish links of trust with people in other parties and the worst thing to do would be to talk about a confidential letter,” Ms. May said in an interview Thursday.

“What’s clearly public is that the Green Party is the only party that is fully committed to finding ways to cooperate before the next election with any party that’s prepared to work with us to get past the first-past-the post [election system],” Ms. May said.

“Now, that doesn’t preclude working with the Conservatives for that matter,” she said, explaining that Green Party convention policy calls for election cooperation with the goal of replacing the first-past-the post electoral system—where one candidate can win election with less than 50 per cent of the votes but more than any other candidate—with a proportional representation electoral system where legislative seats are won not just by the candidate with the largest plurality, but assigned also according to the percentage of vote.

“That’s really the goal and my public and private views are that if we could find a way, and there’s a big if, in the next election to cooperate with the goal, and we would only cooperate this one time, in order to get rid of first-past-the-post so that in the next election campaign nobody would be worried about, which I think are fairly bogus concerns, about vote splitting,” Ms. May said.

Ms. May said she believes low voter turnout in recent federal elections, particularly among young voters, is of more concern.

Coincidentally, Mr. Mulcair was asked for his views about electoral reform on Thursday during a break from his meeting with NDP MPs and reiterated the longstanding NDP support for proportional representation, which has just as long been resisted by Liberal and Conservatives when they held majority governments.

A reporter asked Mr. Mulcair about a statement by Liberal leadership candidate Marc Garneau (Westmount-Ville Marie, Que.) in support of a preferential ballot system for Canadian federal elections—where voters rank their alternative preferences on the ballot to ensure the candidate who wins must get more than 50 per cent support —and asked Mr. Mulcair for his view on the proposal.

“For 50 years, the NDP has been proposing that we go to a system of proportional representation [and] that’s going to be part of our political offer, but even though it’s not, strictly speaking, constitutional change, it is profound political change in our country and it’s the type of thing that would have to have very broad support. So you would have to do your work of getting support,” Mr. Mulcair replied.

“And as I like to point out to members of our party who talk about that a lot, I always remind them that I have to win our government on the current system,” he said.

George Smith, NDP executive assistant and media assistant, emailed The Hill Times a copy of a letter Mr. Mulcair sent to Ms. May in response to her letter to the New Democrats.

“I agree with you that the main challenge for Parliamentarians and political parties is to encourage the 40 per cent of eligible citizens who do not vote to do so, and especially to push young Canadians to become engaged in political affairs across the country,” Mr. Mulcair wrote, without referring to electoral cooperation.

“As you know, the NDP was the first party to make proportional representation a priority in the 1970s. And that is why, the NDP, with Democratic and Parliamentary Reform Critic Craig Scott (Toronto Danforth, Ont.) leading the way, is pursuing consultations with both voters and experts across the country on reforms needed to achieve more adequate representation of the Canadian population,” Mr. Mulcair wrote.

“In September, we were able to meet and discuss topics of importance to all Canadians, and I look forward to continuing these discussions in the near future,” the letter said.

Liberal leadership candidate Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra, B.C.) launched her campaign to contest the party helm in November with, among other major proposals, a call for targeted opposition cooperation between “progressive” parties to defeat Mr. Harper and the Conservative government in the next election in order to reform Canada’s electoral system.

“We need a system that actually motivates MPs across parties to work together to solve the big problems,” said Ms. Murray, an environment minister in former B.C. Liberal premier Gordon Campbell’s first Cabinet, in an interview with The Hill Times on Thursday.

“I am for electoral reform. In order to do that we need to have a different prime minister,” Ms. Murray said. “With Stephen Harper in the Prime Minister’s seat, that won’t happen. I’m proposing a one-time cooperation and I will work with the Liberals to get agreement on that.”


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