Updated to include reference to the party platforms and to another blog (18 Sept.)
Polls in advance of New Brunswick’s provincial legislative election for 18 September show a dead heat between the incumbent Conservatives and their main challenger, the Liberals.
As noted here previously, this election was called early on account of the retirement of a Conservative member. The June, 2003 election likewise was a virtual dead heat (45%-44%), such that the member’s impending retirement would cost the government its 28-26 seat majority.
This election will be held under a new electoral map, in which the boundaries of almost every one of the 55 single-seat ridings have been altered. Canada East reports:
A poll-by-poll breakdown of results from the 2003 election indicates that, had the new ridings been in effect, the Liberals would have won the election with a one-seat majority, switching the results that gave Premier Bernard Lord and his Progressive Conservatives the same slim edge.
When routine alterations of constituency boundaries* potentially can affect who holds power, a jurisdiction is a prime candidate for an entirely new electoral system. And, of course, the incumbent government, upon the recommendation of an independent Commission on Legislative Democracy that it appointed in December, 2003, has set a referendum for next spring on exactly that. However, if the Liberals win on Monday, it is uncertain whether the referendum on MMP (among other reforms) will go ahead.
The governing Conservatives just released their full platform on 13 September, which includes a promise of an 8% personal income tax cut, a 30% cut in the gas tax, and other tax breaks. The leaders of the two large parties and the NDP held a “rancorous” debate yesterday, with insurance rates and a failed deal to secure cheap fuel from Venezuela among the issues they sparred over.
The electoral system and the referendum are not mentioned in news accounts of the campaign (despite multiple attempts on my part to search for stories including these themes). Nor does the major nationwide proportional-representation advocay organization, Fair Vote Canada, have any recent updates about New Brunswick on its web site.
While the Conservative Party’s platform book (available at the party’s website) includes a plank on “Democratic Renewal and Accountability Plan” (p. 20) it does not mention the commission, the electoral reform, or the referendum. The opposition Liberal party has a section of its platform devoted to “An Accountable and Responsible Government” (pp. 31-3). However, none of the points within it contains any reference to PR, the referendum, or any of the other institutional reforms proposed by the Commission on Legislative Democracy.
Theoretically, when major electoral reform is being proposed, one might expect the issue to be raised in an election campaign–especially in a close election, in which even if the percentage of voters who could be swayed by the issue of “reform” is small, it could be decisive. Given that the government responded to the Commission’s recommendations–favorably–only three months ago, the fact that it is not an issue in this campaign can’t be exactly good news for the prospects that the referendum will go forward (especially if the incumbent party loses), or that it will pass if held.
(The NDP, on the other hand, takes the government to task on its decision to call a general election before introducing any of the Commission’s recommendations. Of course, the NDP is the one party that has the most to gain from the direct consequences of the introduction of PR. (See the final page of their platform.))
Is electoral reform in Canada, which looked so promising just over a year ago, now stalled?
* Not to say that all of the redisrticting was minor, as reported by the above-linked Canada East story:
in Fredericton, Liberal candidate T. J. Burke, the first-ever aboriginal member of the New Brunswick legislature, lost the St. Mary’s First Nation from his riding in redistribution.
The riding altered most significantly is in northwestern New Brunswick where voters will have to choose between two incumbents battling it out in one large new constituency.
Some blogospheric discussion: At least I found someone who agrees with me that the high stakes of the NB election are being overlooked by those who don’t notice the PR debate. Alas, Liberal for Life has views on the matter more like Urquhart‘s, if not worse (though, unfortunately, common): The view that small parties in coalitions “rule” the resulting coalition. Such a stubbornly held view, such a wrong view.