Joint nominations and electoral reform: defending Canadian values

In this guest editorial, Project Democracy welcomes Nathan Cullen, the Member of Parliament from Skeena-Bulkley Valley, BC, and a candidate for leadership of the New Democratic Party. Below is Nathan's guest editorial for Project Democracy: Joint nominations and electoral reform: defending Canadian values.

In 2008 Project Democracy (then known as Vote For Environment) came into being with two principle objectives: a) to stop vote splitting amongst progressive voters that was allowing the Harper Conservatives -- supported by a minority of the population -- to win repeated electoral victories; and b) press the case for electoral and political reform to take us beyond the undemocratic outcomes of the first-past-the-post electoral system which resulted in electoral outcomes -- and hence governmental policies -- that a large majority of Canadians did not support. Something was broken: we wanted it fixed.

At a time when urgent environmental, economic, and social issues call for a nimble and responsive government in tune and in touch with the Canadian population -- we have anything but -- a lumbering behemoth poised to spend fortunes on stealth fight jets, constructing prisons and imprisoning Canadians for paltry offences, and supporting the development of fossil fuel deposits that threaten the future of our planet, yet unwilling to fund social programs, take meaningful action on climate change, implement equitable taxation for corporations and the wealthy, or provide a decent standard of housing and living for Canada's native people.

Our call for a reasoned and constructive discussion amongst progressive voters and political parties has been taken up by Nathan Cullen. It is a welcome contribution to discussion of how we ensure that in the next election the democratic will of the majority of Canadians is realized. Of how we move towards a system of governance that is democratic, inclusive, effective, and actually expresses the will of Canadians as they face the many challenging circumstances of the 21st century.

Christopher Majka: for Project Democracy


Joint nominations and electoral reform: defending Canadian values

by Nathan Cullen

Stephen Harper's majority government is attacking Canadian values.  But Mr. Harper's government was elected with less than 40 per cent support, raising the obvious question of what the other 60 per cent should do now?

I am running to lead the federal NDP because I believe there are both short- and long-term solutions.  I am also running because there is a moment of opportunity in federal politics unlike any other seen for a long time and we must seize it together.

In the short-term, we need to find ways to do politics differently with an aim of defeating as many Conservative MPs as we can.  In the long-term, we need to embrace voting reform so we can regularly elect governments responsive to and reflective of our country's values.

One of these values is co-operation.  When citizens and parties have put our differences aside and worked together, we've achieved some remarkable things.  In politics, these include universal health care and public pensions, which both came from New Democrats taking a risk and co-operating with another party.

If New Democrats can co-operate with other parties after elections - as we've done regularly, and to our credit -- why can't we find ways to co-operate with them before?

We can, which is why I've proposed holding joint nominations in Conservative-held seats.  These would work much like a primary, with progressive, federalist members -- the NDP, Liberals and Greens -- electing a candidate as we currently do, with the winners facing off to present one candidate, running under one banner (I hope the NDP's), against the Conservative.

Because local democracy counts, whether to hold such a nomination should ultimately be made by our members on the ground.

It isn't a merger.  Indeed, it fosters competition among parties.  But it does so before an election.  It also recognizes that there is growing overlap in the values of progressive voters of many political stripes.

Quebecers' recent openness to progressive federalism helped put New Democrats in an ideal position to lead a conversation about getting better politics.  I invite all of you to participate in that process to make your views heard -- so together, we can elect a progressive government that reflects Canada's values.

One of the priorities for that new government should be enacting electoral reform.  I recently released my ideas on this, which can be found on my website  Chief among them is holding a referendum, asking Canadians if it's time to change our voting system - and, if so, to what.

We're in a small minority of countries that do not use proportional representation already. More than 75 democracies do in some form, including Australia, New Zealand and Scotland, all of which use Parliamentary systems like ours.

Ideally, we would move to a mixed-member system like those used in Germany and New Zealand. These keep the benefits of directly elected local MPs, while ensuring that Parliament accurately reflects the votes of its citizens. Mr. Harper would not win a majority with less than 40 per cent in New Zealand; indeed, in the Kiwi election in late November, the winning party didn't win a majority with 48 per cent.

Done right, proportional representation produces stable, productive governments -- which, crucially, reflect, not fight, their citizens' beliefs.

And that's the key at this point in federal politics.

How can we make sure the majority sees our hopes for the future reflected in our federal government? We must recognize the dire situation we are in, and then work together to change our politics.

We can do so by being a little more generous, creative and strategic in our politics. We can make up for lost time on issues like climate change and economic inequality, but we need to do it together.


Nathan Cullen is a four-term NDP MP from Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C., and a candidate to lead Canada's NDP. You can find out more about him at