Questions and Answers
What might be the result of such an alliance?
The results of such an alliance are unpredictable, but we estimate that the NDP could win 50 seats and the Green Party about 15 for a total of 65, based on 2019 voting patterns, and increased support generated by the alliance platform, leading to reduced strategic voting for mainstream parties at the expense of the NDP and the Greens.
A combined total of 65 seats is still not as much as what the two parties would win under a proportional system, but it is 2.4 times as much as what FPTP delivered in 2019! Even if the two parties only won 54 seats, that would still be double what they won in 2019.
Would such an alliance be fair to both parties?
Our document Towards a Win-Win Strategy postulates a cooperation model that would reserve an equal number of seats for the Greens and the NDP: 50 ridings in which the NDP would run a candidate unopposed by the Greens and 50 ridings in which the Greens would run unopposed by the NDP. We call this a tit-for-tat approach. As the larger party, the NDP would likely win more seats than the Greens, but the Greens would be able to focus their efforts in 50 of the most Green-winnable seats in the country.
What about ridings where the Greens and the NDP are serious rivals?
Remarkably, there are very few ridings in the country where the Greens and the NDP are serious rivals. There are in fact only three, all of them on Vancouver Island: Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, Victoria, and Nanaimo-Ladysmith. Vancouver Island is the hotbed of Green-NDP rivalry.
However, this should not blind us to the fact that everywhere else in the country there are three types of ridings:
ridings where the NDP has a clear shot of winning (50 ridings);
ridings where the Greens outperformed the NDP in 2019, some of which are winnable (24 ridings); and
ridings where the Greens could run a candidate where the NDP could not hope to win anyway (26 other ridings).
In brief, there is little to lose for either party.
Are the parties willing to do this?
This is obviously a question for the parties themselves to answer. Political parties typically have an inflated image of how many seats they can win on their own, and need to believe that image in order to mobilize their troops. However, neither of the two parties is doing much better in the polls than they did in 2019. Each party has a lot to gain from this type of cooperation and has limited prospects for increasing its seat share any other way. Doubling the seats and a realistic shot at getting proportional representation under the next Parliament combine to form a very attractive proposition for both the NDP and the Greens.
Could supporters of one party be counted on to vote for a candidate from the other party?
We believe they could, provided that these candidates run on a joint platform that is compelling to voters of both parties. We are aware from second preference polls that NDP and Green voters do not always identify the other of these two parties as their second choice.
However this tells us little about how voters would respond if the parties were to run a single NDP or Green candidate on a joint platform. It seems reasonable to assume that voters would be more inclined to support the Alliance candidate under those conditions.
They might also be less inclined to vote strategically for another party. A recent study on the subject estimated that 14.6% of NDP supporters and 33.3% of Green supporters voted strategically in 2019. Many others failed to vote at all. Running candidates on an Alliance platform and focusing attention on a single NDP or Green candidate in key ridings could help reduce the extent of such strategic voting. It could also inspire non-voters, particularly young people, to vote rather than staying home.
It could also inspire a higher turnout rate. Canadians want political parties to work together and would look favourably on this sort of alliance. A recent Leger poll commissioned by Fair Vote Canada found that 97% of Canadians wanted a democratic system which “encourages parties to work together more in the public interest.” This was considered “very important” by 68% of respondents and “somewhat important” by another 29%.
What about the Green Party’s constitutional requirement to run a candidate in every riding?
This constitutional requirement needs to be dealt with. It would require a simple amendment to remove the words "in every riding" from Article 4.1.1 of the Green Party Constitution. A proposal to make this change has been submitted for consideration by members as part of the convention process this coming winter and spring.
Such an amendment would give the Green Party more flexibility to make strategic choices. We were unable to identify any other party that includes a clause compelling the party to run a candidate in every riding.
Are there any legal impediments to this sort of inter-party collaboration?
We have not found anything in the Canada Elections Act that would prevent the formation of a coalition going into an election. Existing restrictions on collusion are found in Part 17 of the Act and are all about collusion involving third parties. This interpretation corresponds to what we received in a written response to our questions from Elections Canada, clarifying that the Canada Elections Act (Act) "does not have the same collusion prohibitions for registered parties, their candidates and riding associations as it does for third parties."
The response from Elections Canada clarified that the Act does not require a registered party to run a candidate in all ridings or prohibit conversations by two parties "where they each agree to stand down in specific ridings or run a certain type of campaign in specific ridings." What the Act does prohibit are contributions in cash or in kind by one party to another. It was pointed out that there are many moving and complex parts to the Act – provisions in addition to political financing such as broadcasting and receiving lists of electors from the Chief Electoral Officer – that might need to be taken into account.
Clearly, the main constraint on inter-party collaboration that needs to be avoided is that one party should not contribute to the campaign expenses of another party in cash or in kind. This means that party staff would not be allowed to support the campaigns of candidates from the other party and party lists could not be used to recruit volunteers or fundraise for candidates of the other party.
However, supporters of each party could still contribute to the campaigns and candidates of their choice and volunteers can volunteer their services for whoever they like, as always.
In further correspondence with Elections Canada, it was further clarified that “there is nothing preventing a party from simply endorsing a candidate from a different party (for example by publicly stating their endorsement). What is prohibited is the giving of goods or services by a party to a candidate from another party.”
Click here for a record of our own research and exchanges with Elections Canada.
Can we realistically expect that the Greens and NDP could force the issue on proportional representation if they win 50-65 seats between them?
We believe they could, assuming the Bloc Québécois also wins from 30-35 seats. This would lead to a split parliament in which serious compromises would have to be made by a minority governing party.
On electoral reform, a lot could be achieved by making this a non-partisan issue. This cannot be achieved so long as electoral reform is in political hands alone. We support Fair Vote Canada’s call for electoral reform issues to be put to an independent, non-partisan citizens’ assembly to speak for what citizens themselves want out of their electoral system. This would be followed by legislation and implementation of the reforms.