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The Parties are Over

The Parties are Over
by Jacqueline Salit


Goodbye two-Party system?  Discontent is building to open up the political process


October 31, 2010

Name a problem — poverty, war, out-of-control spending. The political parties offer themselves as the solution to all of the above, and more. We respond by voting for first one party, then the other, then back again. We want to let the world know we are unhappy, but we haven’t yet developed the creative capacity to rearrange the world around us.
This seemingly eternal passivity is the mother’s milk of political partyism. No wonder the Republicans and Democrats and their auxiliaries — the tea parties, the unions, the media — must whip us into a frenzy. Whether we are Foxites, MSNBCists, bloggers or bored stiff, we’re now implored daily to get out to vote. Why? Not because voting develops our capacity to move the country forward. But because we must put one, or the other, or both, political parties in power — even though separately and together, they brought us to this anxious and crummy place.
This is American politics 101. The cure for whatever ails us is . . . more of the same. Public health advocates tell cautionary tales about diabetics who drink soda, people with high cholesterol who eat burgers and fries, and daughters of breast cancer victims who take hormones. But somehow, no one ever informs us that political parties — and the partisanship they spawn — have clogged our national arteries, fried our national brains and compromised the entire body politic.
But Americans are starting to move beyond the parties, even beyond partyism. That’s the dynamic story unfolding on the edges of the midterm battleground. And if that motion is cultivated by truly nonpartisan innovators, the political parties will have a comeuppance sooner than you might think. Contrary to what some analysts argue — that America is ripe for a third party — the direction Americans are really heading is away from parties altogether.
In June, a little-discussed proposition was passed by California voters with a winning margin of 8 percentage points. Proposition 14 abolished party primaries and unleashed an unpredictable group of voters onto the political playing field: 3.4 million independent voters who’ve declined to state a party allegiance. The result? Political parties will no longer control the first round of voting in that state.
Instead, the voters — all voters — will determine which two contenders, out of an unlimited field of variously aligned (and nonaligned) candidates, proceed to a final round. Denounced as a virtual sin against nature (echoes of the divine right of kings?), Prop 14 was excoriatedby all of California’s political parties, major and minor. But the voters, in their post-partisan wisdom, ignored the warnings. They’d simply had enough of party control.
California isn’t alone. In mid-October a federal court judge in Boise, Idaho, heard testimony in the case Republican Party of Idaho vs. Ysursa, a crucial test of the parties vs. the people. Idaho has an open primary system, where any voter can cast a ballot in all primary and general elections — voters simply register in Idaho, they do not affiliate with a political party.
The Republican Party sued Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa to compel the state to close the primaries and institute partisan registration. There has been a great deal of litigation across the country on open primaries, but in Idaho, for the first time, the judge allowed independent voters (represented by my organization, to intervene in the litigation, bring their own counsel to the table, and argue that closing primaries grants the parties a political supremacy that gravely curtails the participation of nonpartisan voters, now 40 percent of the country.
The decision is expected in January, and the case is being watched by prominent constitutional law and party-rights experts. The implications of the case are potentially historic. It will delineate — even curtail — the power of political parties to exert their will over what should be a fundamentally public, not partisan, process.
On Tuesday, voters in Florida and California will get another bite at the nonpartisan apple. Redistricting-reform ballot initiatives are offering voters the opportunity to rein in the power of the parties when it comes to the all-important task of drawing district lines.
Earlier this year, here in New York — where we have closed primaries and a legislature legendary for its partisanship — there was an effort by the Independence Party of New York City, the government reform group Citizens Union and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to end party primaries in the Big Apple and shift to a nonpartisan election system. But the effort stalled.
Still, the party system in the Empire State is vulnerable. And the underlying trend away from partyism reasonably includes new parties popping up along the way.  The Independence Party of New York City, which styles itself as an “anti-party” party, delivered three successive wins to Bloomberg, including a massive exodus of 47 percent of black voters from the Democratic ticket in 2005. On Tuesday, if a sufficient number of voters back the radical African-American City Councilman Charles Barron, his independent bid for governor could result in the creation of the Freedom Party, since 50,000 votes for governor on a party line establishes ballot status. While to date, white voters have shown more party mobility than black voters, we’re now seeing an increase in black voters drawn to ticket-splitting and other forms of defection from the Democratic Party.
These are strange political times. The pundits say this election is a referendum on President Barack Obama, but that doesn’t truly capture the dynamic. More precisely, Tuesday will be a referendum on Obama’s ability to navigate partisan waters. He was elected to change the political game, and he’s found that impossible to do: The parties won’t allow it. Still, the American people, courted, ignored and manipulated by the political parties, are beginning to identify them as the problem.
The parties are so deeply embedded in government and in the structure and design of America’s electoral process that they never have to justify their existence to voters. But at a moment when there is across-the-board dissatisfaction with partisanship, shouldn’t they have to? Shouldn’t we have the opportunity to create alternatives — nonpartisan (rather than bipartisan) governance, campaigns based on healthy debates about new ideas, unorthodox coalitions and an environment that fosters innovation?
Right now the parties stand in the way of all that. That’s why we’re seeing signs that the people want them to stand down. Look for those signs when the returns are in on Tuesday night. They’ll tell you more about where the country is headed than who controls Congress.

Jacqueline Salit is president of,
a national association of independent voters.

National Conference of Independents – February 12, 2011

Committee for a Unified Independent Party
November 23, 2010
Salit headshotDear ,

I am writing to invite you to the sixth national conference of independents sponsored by for a Unified Independent Party to be held in New York City on February 12, 2011.

Can Independents Reform America?”-the title of the conference-is more than just the name of our conference. It is, I believe, a burning question in the country today.

Recently dubbed “the pendulum of power” in American politics, independents are recognized as having been the driving force for change over the last decade. Independents upended Republican control of Congress in 2006, and then in 2008, energized a new national coalition which elected Barack Obama. This was an historic event, not only because Obama became the country’s first African American president, he also became the first elected with a post-partisan mandate from independent voters. Continue reading

Political parties need to raise their own money

The Conservatives are ready to re-visit the issue of subsidies for political parties, a welcome assertion of the importance of individuals in the political syst

From Monday’s Globe and Mail Published on Sunday, Jun. 20, 2010 10:00PM EDT Last updated on Monday, Jun. 21, 2010 12:28PM EDT

The Conservatives are ready to re-visit the issue of subsidies for political parties, a welcome assertion of the importance of individuals in the political system, and a necessary move given the subsidy’s failure to make politics cleaner or more inclusive.

The subsidy gives political parties that got at least 2 per cent of the vote in the last general election $1.95 per year for every vote they received. Dimitri Soudas, Stephen Harper’s director of communications, told La Presse recently that the elimination of the subsidy would be “written in black and white” in the Conserative Party’s next electoral platform. Continue reading

Party financing: Yes, end the public subsidy, but raise the individual limit

Canadians’ tax dollars are being used legally but quite flagrantly to finance a party that wants to break up the country

Jeffrey Simpson

From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail Published on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010 5:00AM EDT Last updated on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010 1:46PM EDT

The law of unintended consequences can be seen by a quick reference to Elections Canada’s website.

There, details of party financing are revealed. The story of those details shows how the Liberals have been hurt by their own legislation, and how the Bloc Québécois has walked away the big winner from public financing of parties. Continue reading

Coyle: Sounds of silence can stifle independent minds

March 15, 2010

Jim Coyle

“By silencing her caucus, Horwath probably did assert her leadership and avoid potential rifts. But, in the doing, she backpedalled from some of the long-standing, and laudable, traditions of her party.

And she gave the young another reason to roll their eyes at a business where fearless minds and independent voices need not apply.”

There are at least two ways of looking at any issue. And Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was likely getting eyed from a couple of angles for ordering her MPPs not to participate in a forum on whether the province should end public funding of Catholic schools.

On the one hand, Horwath – just a year on the job as leader – demonstrated authority, discipline and a wary eye for what’s historically been an incendiary issue. Continue reading

Last best hope for democracy in Canada: An appointed Senate

“Consider what happens now when you elect someone to go to Ottawa.

No sooner have they spent their first term in office than they’re emailing home to explain why they voted for something their constituents didn’t want.

The reason, of course, is party discipline. They’re “whipped,” i.e., told to vote with their party or else leave caucus. Most stay and do what they’re told. Without the party, it’s very difficult to get re-elected.”

February 22, 2010–last-best-hope-for-democracy-in-canada-an-appointed-senate

See also the British proposal to elect the members of the House of Lords.

Senator Elaine McCoy

{{GA_Article.Images.Alttext$}} Michael De Adder/

Stephen Harper has for several years now claimed that his proposed reforms for the Canadian Senate are about bringing accountability and democracy to the much-maligned second chamber.

With his most recent prorogation of Parliament, however, it is clear that for all his rhetoric, his reforms are less about a thoughtful reinvigoration of our political institutions and more about maintaining political power. Continue reading

Suppose the House lights were never turned back on …

“Today, no voter’s mind is changed by what is said in Parliament, partly because free and informed debate no longer occurs in Parliament and partly because party discipline and the concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s Office precludes members from speaking honestly. Parliament, in short, is little more than an unedifying charade.”

Don’t forget the comments.

What public function does Parliament serve? Give up?

Ian Hunter

From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail Published on Tuesday, Feb. 09, 2010 6:48PM EST Last updated on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010 9:36AM EST

As prorogued parliamentarians twiddle their thumbs, the time is right for voters to ask themselves: Do we need Parliament? Continue reading

Judge overturns Tory nomination of MP Rob Anders

Note the following comment on this article:

“This is fascinating. Not sure what the legal basis of this decision was, but this is a great victory for democracy in Canada. Each of the Conservative, Liberal and NDP parties are (under their constitutions allowed) to appoint who they want as candidates in any riding. This is how Michael Ignatieff won his seat in Parliament.

The parties have forgotten that Parliamentary democracy is not about the Party but about Parliament. Parliament is made up of MPs which are elected to represent their individual ridings. MPs are not elected to “do the bidding” of the party in power. MPs are elected to represent the constituents in the riding.

Many years ago, MPs started out as Independents – they were beholden to their riding. As Scott Brown put it in his recent victory in the Massachusetts Senate Election, when asked how he would feel in Ted Kennedy’s seat, he said:

“With due respect, it’s not the Teddy Kennedy’s seat. It’s not the Democrat’s seat. It’s the people’s seat!”

The seat in Parliament belongs to the people in that riding. It does not belong to the member and it does not belong to the party. There is a disturbing trend of MPs “crossing the floor”. MPs who “cross the floor” seem to thing that, the seat belongs to them. Wrong. “It’s the people’s seat.”

A party that comes in and overrides the wishes of local riding associations is exhibiting a contempt for the people in the riding.

If parties are allowed to swoop in and decree who is the candidate in the riding, there is no point in having a Parliament at all.

As it stands now, MPs are required to vote the party line. If they don’t they will thrown out of the party. Remember Bill Casey!

Next election – vote for an independent.

Independents are the only candidates who represent the interests of the riding!”


CALGARY Canadian Press Published on Friday, Mar. 16, 2007 2:15PM EDT Last updated on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2009 10:20PM EDT

An Alberta judge has overturned the controversial Tory acclamation of Calgary MP Rob Anders and ordered a new nomination meeting.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Jed Hawco issued a court order instructing the Conservative Party of Canada to restart the nomination process in Calgary West.

Eleven disgruntled Tories have been fighting Anders’ unchallenged nomination since last summer, claiming the party did not widely advertise important dates or adequately search for qualified candidates.

Robert Hawkes, lawyer for the anti-Anders group, says the ruling is a “good thing” for all Conservative party members.

But because of a potentially imminent federal election, it’s unclear whether there will be enough time for the Calgary constituency to hold another 30-day nomination process.

Mr. Anders has won the Calgary seat four times in a row — each with large majorities — but his time in office has been dogged by controversy. He once made headlines by dismissing former South African president Nelson Mandela as a terrorist and a communist.

Scott Brown – Winning the independent vote

Massachusetts – Where Independents Outnumber Republicans and Democrats

Paul Cellucci

GOP’s Scott Brown rode a wave of voter discontent

No Republican can win in Massachusetts without building a broad coalition of Democrats and Independents

As a Republican who also defied the pundits’ expectations by winning the governor’s seat in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, I was pleased, but not surprised, by Tuesday’s election results.

U.S. senator-elect Scott Brown may have driven his pickup truck around the state to campaign, but it was a wave of voter discontent that he skillfully rode all the way in on election day like a champion surfer.

No Republican can win statewide in Massachusetts without building a broad coalition of Democratic and independent voters. By travelling the state and listening to those voters, in their kitchens and storefronts, and yes, in front of Fenway Park on a frosty winter day – as his opponent Martha Coakley famously scoffed about – Mr. Brown heard the deep concern the citizens of Massachusetts are feeling about the direction of both the federal and state governments.

“I can stop it.” Think about those four words echoing across a debate stage and you know Scott Brown was listening to voters when he said them. Voters were deeply concerned about the national health care reform bill. It would have harmed Massachusetts’ vibrant health-care industry, cut Medicare for seniors and undermined the quality of care. And voters knew Massachusetts didn’t need it because the legislature had already passed a reform bill that brought insurance coverage to almost every citizen in the state, a reform Mr. Brown voted for when he served in the State House. Mr. Brown had, well, let’s call it the “audacity of hope,” to sign his name followed by a #41 – in other words, the GOP’s 41st vote – for enthusiastic crowds in the campaign’s closing days because voters wanted to send a message to Washington on health care: “Not so far, not so fast.”

I also think the state’s voters wanted to send two other messages to leaders in Washington and Boston: “Focus on jobs” and “stop spending.”

While they worried about keeping their paycheques, or worse, when their unemployment cheques would run out with no jobs in sight, Washington was engaged in partisan posturing and a massive expansion of government. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton won in 1992 by famously sticking with one campaign theme: “It’s the economy, stupid.” It still is.

Finally, America is a country at war. Voters were freshly reminded of that reality after a Christmas Day attempt to bomb an airliner over Detroit. Mr. Brown, a long-time member of the National Guard, didn’t mince words when he sided with many Americans in asserting that suspected terrorists do not deserve the same rights as American citizens. His opponent, however, was rightly admonished in the media for asserting there were no more terrorists in Afghanistan.

That was just one mistake in Ms. Coakley’s campaign. There were others, including the tactical error of bringing President Barack Obama to campaign with her last weekend. Generally, voters in special elections are active Democrats and Republicans. Given that Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one in Massachusetts, that was a huge advantage for Ms. Coakley. But the President’s visit and resulting media attention was like shining a huge spotlight on a sign for unenrolled voters, who make up just over 50 per cent of the state electorate: “Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday!” And vote they did, in record numbers, for Scott Brown.

However, campaigns aren’t won because an opponent runs a bad one. Campaigns are won because the winning candidate runs a great one.

As Americans, and our Canadian neighbours, begin to see Mr. Brown on the national stage, they will see a strong, compassionate, effective and relentless leader. A great applause line on the campaign was this simple: “I’m Scott Brown. I live in Wrentham. And I drive a truck.” Voters understood that he knew exactly who he was and exactly what he believed. Even more simply put – they liked him.

So what does this mean for Congress, the Obama administration and incumbent politicians elsewhere in the United States? It’s a wake up call. The country’s voters are angry. They want change. They want non-partisan solutions to big problems facing America. They want government to live within its means. They want leaders focused on jobs. They want leaders willing to make tough decisions.

In short, they want the promise of “Yes we can” delivered upon. No matter the political affiliation, the election of Mr. Brown meant this: If elected officials show they “can’t,” or worse, “won’t,” the voters will.

Paul Cellucci is former U.S. ambassador to Canada.

Don’t forget the comments.

Vote Independent – Save Your Money!

Did you know  that the separatists in Quebec are funded through your hard earned money? A tax free democracy is possible  only by voting for an independent candidate.

Political parties dependent on public handouts: study

Kevin Libin,  National Post

January 23, 2010 Chris Wattie/Reuters

Calgary — The tax handouts for political parties created by former prime minister Jean Chrétien have relieved taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars, relieved the Bloc Québécois of having to fundraise, and cursed Canadians to a life of never-ending election campaigns — but getting rid of them, as the Conservatives want to do, is likely unrealistic, says a new study co-authored by a former Tory campaign manager.

The report by Tom Flanagan and David Coletto, to be released today by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, concludes that while the Conservatives continue to promise to eliminate the $1.95-per-vote allowance Elections Canada doles out to federal parties every quarter, any attempt to end the program is bound to leave party organizations financially “crippled,” without the ability to make up the lost funds through fundraising.

“Given all the difficulties, this may not be the time to try and replace the system,” says Mr. Flanagan, a political science professor who formerly served as Stephen Harper’s chief-of-staff and national campaign manager for the Conservatives. (Mr. Coletto is his PhD student.)

Although the Conservatives would suffer least were the subsidy cancelled (they earn the largest portion of their revenue from small, individual donations) – suggesting that their motive could have been partly animated by a beggar-thy-neighbour instinct – history shows Conservative fundraising support won’t always be so strong, Mr. Flanagan warns.

See FUNDING on Page A8

“Things change. You shouldn’t really design systems around temporary conditions,” he says.

One of Mr. Chrétien’s final policy flourishes in 2003 was to drain corporate and union donations from party politics, as well as tightly cap individual donations, replacing the money with public funds tied to each party’s vote-count in the previous election. “More public contribution to meet the requirements of every party is a very small price to pay in order to have a very substantial reform of political financing,” Mr. Chrétien said, arguing that his reforms – pushed through amid opposition from within his own caucus and little consultation with other parties – would “make all the political parties less dependent on contributions from the industrial sector” and avoid American-scale election spending.

Mr. Harper, once elected, added yet more donation restrictions under 2006’s Accountability Act. But the Tories remain opposed to the public allowance.

“We believe that political parties should support themselves with people who voluntarily donate to whichever party they wish to support,” Steven Fletcher, Minister of State for Democratic Reform, said in August. A Conservative proposal to cut the funding in November 2008 galvanized opposition leaders into a coalition aimed at unseating the minority government.

While Mr. Chrétien’s policy advisor, Eddie Goldenberg, had promised that public subsidies under Bill C-24 would be revenue neutral when held up against the donations that parties would be forfeiting, in reality, all parties are collecting far more today from their Elections Canada cheques, even after inflation adjustments, than they ever did before.

Parties now collect, on average, roughly 50% more from public funds than they gave up under the new limits on corporate, union and large personal donations, the study calculates: The Bloc Québécois raised less than $1-million in corporate donations in the four years prior to C-24, but collected more than $12-million in public funds in the four years after.

“The Bloc has all this dough; they never have to fundraise again,” says Stephen LeDrew, a Toronto radio host who, as president of the Liberal Party of Canada in 2003, publicly battled Mr. Chrétien over the reforms he called as “dumb as a bag of hammers.”

Though the study examined potential alternatives to the quarterly allowance – a return to capped corporate and union donations, more generous tax write-offs for individual donations, and an American-style “check-off” system, allowing tax filers to indicate on their return whether they want to direct some public money to their favourite party – they all would fall considerably short of replacing the subsidies upon which political organizations now rely, the authors calculated.

It’s little wonder parties have become hooked on the subsidies to the point where removing them now could be devastating, Mr. LeDrew says. “Money is the mother’s milk of politics. Taxpayers’ money is the mother’s milk with a drop of scotch in it.”

As it happens, one unforeseen result of party organizations enjoying such a steady, lucrative cash flow, Mr. Flanagan says, is the emergence of a “permanent campaign” model, with party organizations now keeping their war-rooms open, keeping up voter identification campaigns, and increasingly running ads targeting opponents between election periods: a “campaign virtually all the time.”

Still, Duff Conacher, co-ordinator of the Ottawa-based advocacy group Democracy Watch, says that, compared to all other models, the taxpayer allowance is the best system for keeping moneyed influence out of politics. “There isn’t a more democratic way to do it,” he says.

And with no ready alternative, the Tories might be better to stick merely with adjusting levers in the existing system, Mr. Flanagan suggests: they could look at reducing the $1.95 per vote allowance, allowing small businesses to contribute, or readjusting tax credits for individual donations. “Changing it now is going to be harder than passing it.” But he’s firm that whatever alterations they have in mind should not be undertaken without a consensus among the major federal parties. “I think it’s bad policy to do any of these changes unilaterally. This is where the Liberals got us on the wrong track; the Liberals pushed through their changes.” The Conservatives have only followed suit. And while gaming the election system in their own favour may be any party’s natural instinct, Mr. Flanagan says, it’s no way to run a democracy.

National Post