Monday, November 16, 2015

Dear "Fair Vote Canada" - Back the Hell Off

Fair Vote Canada has launched a campaign seeking volunteers to circulate petitions demanding the Liberal government implement proportional representation. They're piggybacking their preferred option, proportional rep., on the back of Justin Trudeau's promise to introduce some sort of electoral reform.

I'm more than a bit leery of Fair Vote Canada and their campaign for pro-rep. Part of that is because I don't know enough about proportional representation or any of the other options such as the single, transferable ballots and all of their permutations. I have read that the option FVC is pushing would favour the NDP while the weighted ballot might favour the Libs.  I don't know but I'd sure like to understand the ramifications of all the options before I throw in with any one of them despite Fair Vote Canada's strident urgings.

At the end of the day I want Canadians to have their say and I'll live with that. We should all get a democratic voice something we won't have if we give in to the squeaky wheels.

First past the post is a deeply flawed system in any multi-party Parliament. Convincing voters of the obvious failures of FPTP shouldn't be difficult. Giving them full information and a suitable slate of alternatives also should not be difficult. If you can't sell that at this point you never will but if Canadians choose FPTP then that's their will and you can't further democracy by defying their democratic choice.

My difficulty with proportional representation is that it provides for political parties to appoint MPs who have never faced the electorate. To whom are these people accountable. How can we have a Parliament with two classes of members, those chosen by voters and others chosen by party hacks in backrooms? By what moral right are these unelected place holders to vote on issues affecting my life and my children's? There's something unsavory to that.

I take the new prime minister at his word that he will deal with this during his term of office. The squeaky wheels of Fair Vote Canada can get by squeaking a little longer.


Bill Longstaff said...

Mound, your comments are extremely unfair, not like you at all.

This "squeaky wheel" has worked long and hard to bring a fair voting system to our country. The need for change is overwhelmingly obvious. Being ruled for nine years by a political party that was consistently opposed by over 60 per cent of the electorate in ample evidence of that.

The voting system you describe which results in "two classes of members" is called mixed member proportional and is only one of many PR systems. As a long-time member of Fair Vote, I can assure you we have never supported one system over another. I can assure you further that we believe change should take place only in accord with democratic process.

As for squeaky wheels backing off? Really? Should, for example, environmental groups back off? They do a lot of squeaking. Without squeaky wheels nothing would change. I say thank God for them.

Rural said...

Mound, I share your concern, the rhetoric about electoral reform is ripe with calls for proportional representation as if this is the only solution. Having looked at all the possibilities and their various ramifications several times over the past 5 years or more I can say its far from that clear cut. I will be once again writing about some of the options and problems at Democracy Under Fire in the very near future. For now lets just say that ALL options must be carefully studied from a perspective of both practicality and desired outcomes.

Anyong said...

One change that needs to be overwhelmingly considered is the length of time a Prime Minister ought to remain in power. A one five year term is all a PM ought to have. The country would see with such a length of time, things would get done if a ON wanted their name entered into history books for having accomplished something worth while.

Kirby Evans said...

Every system of representation has its flaws. This is obvious. However, it is only a one dimensional notion of democracy which imagines that any vote (whether for electoral reform or anything else) is a simple expression of the people's will. Furthermore, you can rail against the supposed lack of "accountability" under PR, but accountability under FPTP is dubious at best, a total fantasy at worst. The notion that a representative is "accountable" simply because he or she has individually faced an electorate is not only deeply problematical in theoretical terms, it is also flawed in practical terms. The problems here are numerous. First, evidence is clear that people overwhelmingly vote for the party and when asked to name their representative (even when they voted for him or her) they very often can't. Second, those individual candidates are very often the expression of local party hacks anyway, so themselves rarely rise above the level of party hack. Third, the so-called "moral" right of any representative is problematic in itself. They are very rarely elected with a majority for a start. Perhaps more importantly, the agendas to which any party representative adheres is overwhelmingly devised and orchestrated by a group of party hacks to begin with. In fact, having been an election observer in other countries, I would say that given how political agenda are formed, no elected representative (as an individual) has any more "moral" legitimacy than any other one. I would say that PR has a stronger claim to "moral" legitimacy in the long run because whoever decides on the individual representatives, at least the votes of the majority aren't meaningless as they are in FPTP.

Anyway, all of this is academic. But given the clear power that I am sure the Liberasl will bring to bear against any notion of PR, I have no problem with Fair Vote stridently advocating for it. You can be sure that everyone else will be advocating against it, someone might as well work for it in the meantime.

Sixth Estate said...

If the polls are to be believed, Liberals were the second choice of a lot of voters, so STV would probably have magnified Liberal victory.

However, under STV, a majority of people would have voted for that victory.

The reality is that political parties attempt to game whatever system they're in. We didn't have a referendum to create FPTP, and political parties try to game that too. If parties fear for their future under STV they would have to adapt. Same is true of proportional representation or any other reform proposal for that matter.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Anyong - first, term limits, is a distinct issue unrelated to voting reform. Second, why should I or any other Canadian be unable to retain a prime minister beyond a single term. Think it through. If we'd had your system or even a two-term limit, we would never have had the Charter of Rights and Harper would have trampled our constitutional freedoms. A single term limit that you suggest is beyond arbitrary, it's undemocratic.

The Mound of Sound said...

And to Bill and Kirby I want to say that there is absolutely no reason why this should be a priority in this government's first year in power. There are many things that need correcting, recession, and restoration that surely deserve the government's immediate priority, not this. The idea that we must hammer the government with petitions as soon as Parliament opens is ridiculous and makes me leery of the proponent's agenda.

Gyor said...

Both the NDP and the Liberals have a large poor of second choice voters, it'd be the Tories that would be totally fubarred, they have a solid base, but they're have horroribly low rate of being the second choice of voters, so the Tories are the real losers in transferable ballot, not the NDP.

But MMPR is the more moral choice. It would benifit the NDP no more then the Liberals at this point.

Ben Burd said...

I think the whole subject is academic as the "old-style Libs" will obviously game the system and move to STV, which has been proven to manufacture 'super-majorities' (and which winner wouldn't want one of those?) after all this promise was a throwaway for the Libs but the progressives jumped all over it as though it was the number one in the book. The fact that it became the second major issue in the campaign, after the major issue of getting rid of Harper was incidental and caught the Libs by surprise.

Watch for an ineffective consultation and a failed referendum, after all the same people who conducted the PR government farce in Ontario are in charge in Ottawa - come on down Gerald Butts.

Steve said...

Ranked ballot makes most sense to me.

AniO said...

I an relieved to see some deeper discussion about this, at last. Up till now the prevailing opinion has been that PR (as if it were one thing) will solve all our ills. But Sixth Estate is right that any system can (and will ) be gamed. We could restore a lot to FPTP by reimpowering ordinary MPs by allowing them to pick their leader and returning that leader to the role of First Among Equals instead of President. Part of our problem is that we have overlaid a West Minster Parliamentary System with elements and values of American political culture. The left rejoices in the prospect of a system that will empower smaller parties, because they have long been small. But that aspect of PR systems is non-partisan. What if we elected a progressive government but adopted a system that empowered the far right to prevent any progressive policies from being adopted, ever?

Sixth Estate said...

Anio -- At Confederation, there were only one or two thousand people voting for each MP.

If we went back to those proportions, party organizations would be weaker and constituency relations would be stronger.

Of course, we would need an awfully big chamber for the Commons...

Anonymous said...

@6-th estate
One CANNOT game "true proportional representation."

BTW, I will be signing as Lib party member to oversee the transition from FPTP system from within...

Mark said...

There's a lot here that I could respond to (in both the original post, and in the comments,) but I will stick to a couple of key points.

1) It's not about one party versus the other.

Sure, there are those who frame the question of electoral reform in terms of which political party will have the advantage of some proposed reform, but you'll find that this is not the case for the more steadfast proponents of electoral reform.

I've been a supporter of PR for roughly around 25 years. I've been a supporter no matter which party was in power, and no matter which parties would gain or lose seats under PR. It's the principle behind PR that I support, not partisan advantage.

Fair Vote Canada, as an organization, has been around a fair bit longer than that. You'll find that many of the stalwarts there can also claim that they have remained steadfast in their support of PR, regardless of the political circumstances in Ottawa.

2) It's a criteria.

Opponents of PR often talk about PR as if it is one specific system. This is so they can pick out one specific thing to criticize (or misrepresent,) and hold it out as a general criticism of PR. Advocates of PR respond to this by pointing out that there are several systems that are described as PR.

I prefer to describe PR as a criteria to be met. The reason I prefer this description is that when one considers the definition of representational democracy, and considers the definition of proportional representation, it becomes clear that the desirability of meeting the criteria of proportionality follows naturally from the definition of representational democracy.

Presuming there is agreement on the desirability of meeting the criteria, one can then have a discussion of the various systems designed to do so - keeping in mind that even for any given system, there is also endless variation in terms of the specific details.

Having said all that, there is a a lot of good information out there about PR, but also a lot of bullshit. It's been my experience, (though obviously, I'm a tad biased,) that opponents of PR tend to rely heavily on bullshit.

A good place to start is the Wikipedia page:

I could quibble with some of what's on that page, but overall, it's fairly objective, and it gives a good overview.

Hope this helps.