The German Election, Public Subsidies, Polls, and Proportional Representation

This past week, Germany had its election, resulting in Merkel’s re-election, albeit with a lower share of the popular vote, and her junior partner, SPD, having their worst showing in over 100 years. The big story is the far right AfD got 13% of the popular vote which is not unusual in most Western European countries for a far right party, but is a shocker in Germany, where there has been a strong desire to ensure Nazism and Nazi like parties never surface again. Nonetheless, there is racism in every country, but with all mainstream parties unwilling to work with the AFD, they won’t have much influence. The difficulty resides in forming a coalition. With the SPD ruling out being a junior partner, the only viable coalition is the market liberal FDP, and Greens, along with the CDU/CSU as the head. This burgeoning group is being referred to in the media as the Jamaica Coalition, as the parties’ colours match Jamaica’s national flag. Merkel’s weaker-than-expected performance will likely benefit Britain’s negotiation of Brexit; a strong win by Merkel along with Macron would likely have led to France and Germany taking a harder line against Britain in Brexit negotiations. This also shows the perils of proportional representation.

In Canada, we know by night’s end who has won an election, and the winner can get to work relatively quickly to form a cabinet to enact their agenda, as we saw in the last federal election. Prolonged, multi-week negotiations to form governments like we saw in BC recently are quite rare in our first past the post system, but in countries that use proportional representation, it’s often the norm. The Netherlands had an election on March 15, 2017, and six months later, still does not have a government in place. In New Zealand, the election resulted in 46% for the National Party, 36% for the Labour Party, 6% for New Zealand First, and 6% for the Greens. In our current (Canadian) system, this would mean a National Party majority, but instead it leaves New Zealand First leader Winston Peters’ to decide who will be the next PM. Whether National continues in government with his party propping them up, or Labour takes over with him backing the Labour + Greens is to be decided by a party leader who has only 6% of the vote. I will have more insight to share as we draw closer to the referendum here in BC, but the facts remain; proportional representation means backroom deals, less stable governments, and small parties having outsized power in choosing the winner. In Canada, I would support moving towards ranked ballots, like Australia, as this would curb strategic voting and problems with vote splitting, but I think proportional representation is a bad idea. it would also produce stable majorities.

Here in BC, changes to fundraising laws for political parties have been introduced, and one of the surprises was the provision of public subsidies to political parties, something Horgan promised not to do. Personally, I don’t have a big problem with this, as anything that gets big money out of politics and makes leaders less beholden to special interests is a good thing. My problem with public subsidies is it gives a financial advantage to the governing party, as the amount a party receives is based on the votes received in the last election. As such, an unpopular government can have a monetary advantage over a party trying to unseat it. I believe a good solution is to move to public funding via annual tax forms; each year, the voter gets to decide which party they want their $2.50 to go to. If a party is arrogant and unpopular, there will be less funding available to them.

Last week, we had two federal polls that suggest not all is well with the federal Liberals, including one showing them trailing the Tories by four points. Another poll showed them six points ahead, but is a four week rolling poll that also showed their lead narrow from 10.9 to 6 points in one week, meaning the Tories may have pulled ahead. I do find the Liberals’ arrogance quite astounding, and it may be taking its toll. Many hardcore Liberal partisans I’ve talked to seem to think they have 2019 in the bag and that the Tories are backwards knuckle draggers, so Liberals aren’t feeling threatened. Certainly, the Tories have plenty of work to do before they are ready to return to office, but just because many Liberals find the Tories too right wing for their liking doesn’t mean the rest of Canada will. As a centre-right voter, I am somewhat concerned about some of the more right wing elements in the Conservative party, but I think the Tories’ desire to win alongside the party’s moderate elements will ensure it doesn’t drift too far to the right. At the same time, I am quite disappointed in the left turn of the federal Liberal Party. Their class warfare rhetoric and big government policies are what we should expect from an NDP government, not a Liberal one. I hope that centrists put more pressure on the Liberals to return towards the centre, because I think this will be to Canada’s greatest benefit.

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