Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Do We Get a Say?

It's not hard to figure out how parties willing an election thereafter claim the legitimacy of a "public mandate." It's one thing in a two-party system but quite another in a multi-party milieu which allows a party to win a powerful majority of seats with considerably less than a majority of voter support.

And then there are matters of party platforms, strategic voting and such. If I vote for Party A instead of my preferred choice, Party B, but only because I think A has the best chance of defeating Party C, I do it knowing that Party A will add my vote to its supposed mandate.  And even if I stick to my guns and vote for Party B, that hardly means I endorse that party's entire platform. There might be positions I like and dislike in each party's platform. I might not trust a party to meet its promises. I might distrust them all to varying degrees.

Unless you voted Conservative in the last runoff your party of choice was committed to some sort of electoral reform. Various types of voting are said to favour particular parties. Preferential ballots, it is claimed, are particularly advantageous to the Liberals. Proportional voting is said to favour the NDP. Each system is said to have several variations. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Both, we're told, will ensure there'll never be another tyranny such as we endured with the Harper regime.

Now there are some camps that want a new system imposed without further consulting the voting public. You made your bed in the last election, they seem to suggest, now lay in it. In that case I guess it would have to be the preferential ballot option. The Liberals, after all, did lay waste to the Mulcair New Democrats by any measure.  The problem is, I don't like that idea.

I want a referendum. That said, I know that a referendum is a horribly flawed process to decide this issue. It's an issue that is exceptionally vulnerable to manipulation aimed at, well, confusing the issue. Voters don't like confusion, having to weigh this versus that over and over again.

As a result the voting public may not like FPTP, 'first past the post,' but they may be wary about the options and reluctant to change direction.  Previous referenda show this to be the case.

Perhaps the only way to break this deadlock is to put the principles behind the options to the public, not the specific options. Test the public will and, from those responses, craft the system. One way or the other we have to do something.


The Tory Pirate said...

One would hope the Liberals would realize that holding a referendum is in their interests. The rules by which we choose our elected representatives is one of those things where you want a lot of 'buy in' by all sides. To not do so risks rendering the new system illegitimate before it is even used.

Perhaps more importantly referendums set a high standard if anyone wants to tinker further with the system. Without it the next government in office can simply change the system themselves by claiming they are doing nothing different than their predecessors.

With the Broadbent Institute's release of a poll showing that over 50% of Canadians either want no changes or only minor ones to the electoral system politicians should be cautious about claiming a mandate.

ps. What do you think of Single Member-Proportional Vote (SM-PV)?

rumleyfips said...

I want to see how the commission is cast and how it works. They may suggest a referendum, or not.

The issue was front and centre during the campaign ( all 114 weeks ). Wasn't this a referendum where change was chosen ? We may need to vote on the type of change, but a good process may lead to an obvious solution.

Anonymous said...

First, I believed we must have a referendum on anything that is as important as changes to our Constitution, in general, or our electoral process in particular. These issues are too important to be left to politicians whose main concern is garnering as many votes as they can by promising everything to everyone, then having to break half of their "promises". That's how we ended up with the Constitutional ammending formula/screwup as it is. Politicians decided that they were the only ones with the wisdom to do the right thing.


On the face of it I prefer prefertential balloting. As was said here all of the Parties have some good ideas and usually it comes to a choice of the best of a bad lot. If not that then it's a beauty contest - who puts on the best show. We only have to look at the last PMO behaviour with non-elected political appointees telling not only our elected officials how to perform but our senators as well.

Since each Patry has some desirable policies, a voter can look at the policies of all parties and decide which I like best. That's how I have voted every time so far. Preferential Balloting, however, allows me to say that if my A party gets less than some minimum of seats then my B or even C preference will be considered. Thus only one candidate is elected to represent a riidinng and none of the MPs or MPPs is appointed otherwise. So the candidate's main allegiance is to their constituents. This would be especially true if we also had "recall" (which shoulld apply only after a given period following the election and require 60% written support locally to reecall a member).

But whatever process is used its proponents should be required to convince the rest of us that theirs is the best way, and YES the status quo should be one of the options. That is the only truly democratic way.

One safety measure we can put in place is an automatic review referendum with the second election after the change, if any.

But, the decision of the voters has to be binding on all parties and the referendum and electoral process should both be enshrined in our Constitution.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Pirate - I don't know what single-member, proportional vote means. I've looked but can't find much information. Please expound.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Rumley - I'm with Anon (comment immediately following yours). The status quo has to be an option no matter the flaws and perils of FPTP. Sadly that might, for the reasons I gave, mean we'll remain forever shy of the support needed for electoral reform but, as Anon points out, this is a democracy.

The best thing I got from the Frost/Nixon interviews was when Nixon described real political leadership as a president's ability to persuade the electorate to accept and support an unpleasant, inconvenient or unwelcome policy. A true leader, said Nixon, was the person who could change the public mind.

That form of leadership is far harder and yet far more democratic than simply exploiting a false majority to ram through omnibus bills.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the biggest problem with first past the post is that whatever the margin the winner announces that he or she has a mandate to enable his/her election platform!
At; say 51% to 49% the elected party could be just like Steven Harper.
That is to say someone with complete disregard for the 49%.
At the end of the day most people are middle of the road( depending upon the influence of the media)
Exceptions arise such as the USA; which I consider a military influence upon an unsuspecting world; driven by extremists that would not be tolerated elsewhere.
BTW; I realise the Harper comment is way off.
Majority Governments rule/dictate with minority votes on a regular basis.
Given that the average voter is influenced more by the choice of Coke vs Pepsi ; the we are in deep shit.....
Sorry to ramble..My choice of Scotch is much better than my choice appetite for politicians.

The Tory Pirate said...

Single Member-Proportional Vote (SM-PV):

The focus on the math makes the idea seem somewhat more complicated than it is. At its heart it is a FPTP system where each MPs votes once elected are adjusted in strength to make the voting power of MPs reflect the popular vote of each party. I've expanded on the concept in a few places:

It is my own idea and a type of weighted voting. Direct Party and Representative Voting (DPR) is a similar system that has been advocated for in Britain.

Hope that helps.

Rural said...

I suspect that this issue will be one of the most divisive if not handled very carefully, Mound. Feelings run strongly amongst those who want a "proportional" system and the choices (for the 'committee') both within that description and outside of it are many and varied. The very size of our country and number of riding's make the manner of implementation of such choices in a PRACTICAL manner a major part of the consideration. I am not sure that the majority of folks understand the possible impact of the various systems but do not believe that any one system favors one party more than any other except to say that most would give better representation to smaller partys.

crf said...

I'm in favour of a change in the electoral system, in principle.

But I'm not in favour of a referendum to change it. (Of course, I appreciate all the good arguments for holding a referendum as well: this is a very major decision.) Referendums, in general, are often cop-outs: they are excuses for not making decisions, and are even quite often sabotaged by governments themselves. Even on important questions (like the last Quebec referendum) the question was a cop-out. (Chretien knew this, and Layton and Mulcair and the NDP still don't understand this.)

In principle, we elect governments to make decisions. This is just one more decision a government should be able to make. An electoral system change is a major change, but it is reversible, modifiable and tweakable: all something legislatures should be able to cope with. (And it isn't at all like potential Quebec sovereignty, where the consequences are not reversible: for those kind of questions, referendums do make sense.)

Having said all that, I believe there are major constitutional problems with most proposals for electoral reform. This problem is elided away in much discussion about the topic. For better or for worse, tinkering with the constitution, since the Meech Lake days, is politically taboo. That taboo will need to be broken before electoral reform succeeds.