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A Math Lesson for Political Opposition Parties

Posted: 02/27/2013 5:12 pm

The longer you immerse yourself in politics, the more your idealism is frozen solid by the cold realities of political math.

Right now in Canada, we need to get real about the math.

That is of course, if you're one of the more than 60 per cent that voted for anyone other than Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party in the last federal election.

I think we can all agree that the NDP, Liberals, Greens and Bloc Quebecois all want to beat Stephen Harper. All four party leaders, in their own ideological way, passionately talk about how Harper and his party are headed high-speed down the George W. Bush Memorial Highway and that the Prime Minister needs to be pulled over for a time-out.

But there's one, big, giant catch in all this, that no amount of shirtlessness and good hair can overcome -- the political math makes it virtually impossible for any of the opposition parties to beat Harper in the next election.

Here's the math: in the last election and the one previous Harper and the Conservative Party took around 38 per cent of the vote, leaving 62 per cent of the vote up for grabs for the other four parties.

So let's say, the Green Party and the Bloc, take 5 per cent each of the vote in the next election (and I think that is a low estimate for the Green party). That now leaves 52 per cent remaining for the Liberals and the NDP to scrap over -- one of them must get at least 38 per cent to beat the Conservatives, leaving the other with only 14 per cent. With a strong NDP, a resurgent Liberal party and a scrappy Green Party leader who continues to impress the electorate, this scenario is likely impossible.

So unless something changes, the math says Harper will win another term, maybe even a majority again. But there is a caveat, this math only holds true barring any major serious political meltdowns or disruption. Meltdowns are for the most part unpredictable, but I propose that with enough public demand a disruption in the political math could occur in the form of... *gasp*...cooperation between the four opposition parties.

To reverse the math, the opposition party leaders need to cooperate and agree to run the candidate with the best chance to win in a few key ridings. A recent byelection in Calgary-Centre is a great example of how cooperation could have worked, where the Conservative Party won by a hair due to vote splitting amongst the NDP, Liberals and the Greens. [Full disclosure: I used to work for a Liberal Party cabinet member]

If either the NDP or the Green party had agreed to not run a candidate, the Conservatives would have lost the riding. But that didn't happen and instead the Liberal candidate lost by just over 1,000 votes. Thirty-six per cent of the vote went to the Conservative candidate, 32 per cent to the Liberals, 25 per cent to the Green Party and 3 per cent to the NDP.

Now byelections are a little strange and voter turnout is a lot lower, but I think the outcome in Calgary-Centre illustrates the idea of cooperation well. And to be clear, the math would have worked here for a Liberal win, but there are many other ridings that cooperation will work for the NDP and, to a proportionately lesser extent, the Green Party. This cooperation strategy is not pro any one party, it is instead pro-not-Stephen-Harper!

So if Harper wins again, we can only blame ourselves. We can Blame Canada, or at least so says this new video by a group of eager beavers pushing for renewed cooperation among party leaders:

 

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