Sunday, December 14, 2008

Another Andrew Coyne blog post on proportional representation

I better be careful about posting too many Andrew Coyne articles. People will start thinking that I’m in love with him or something. Either that or he decides to sue me for copyright infringement. But he is a strong supporter of electoral reform, proportional representation more specifically. And almost all of his thoughts on electoral reform make sense and mirror a lot of mine.

This time, Mr. Coyne is writing about how the current fiasco that we’re seeing in parliament is not indicative of what politics would be like under proportional representation (and BC-STV by extension). Politics would be more inclusive, civil and conciliatory compared to the childish mud-slinging that is actually encouraged under our first-past-the-post system which I talked a bit about in my "Why change to BC-STV?" post.

Different electoral system, different coalition

Andrew Coyne - Wed, Dec 10 2008

Against the notion, often found in the comments here, that the the last two weeks is just a preview of life under proportional representation, the folks at Fair Vote Canada offer a timely rebuttal. Recalculating the party standings as they would obtain under PR, they suggest a very different coalition would have emerged:
Most likely, the three people sitting at the front of the room at the recent coalition press conference would have been the Liberal leader representing an 81-member Liberal caucus, the NDP leader representing a 57-member NDP caucus and the Green Party leader representing a 23-member caucus. Assuming a proportionate assignment of portfolios, the resulting coalition cabinet might have been 13 Liberals, 8 NDP and 4 Greens.

The regional composition of the coalition would have been dramatically different. The coalition would have boasted about 43 MPs in the west, rather than just 21, and in Quebec 30 MPs rather than 14.

What about Mr. Duceppe? He would have been sitting on the opposition benches with just 28 Bloc MPs, rather than the 49 he has today that give him the power to pull the plug on a federal government.

Of course, even this is misleading, since elections held under PR would not just spit out the same parties with different seat-counts, but more and different parties, with different electoral bases — less regional, more ideological — and different incentives. For example, Green voters today go to the polls in the certain knowledge that they will elect no one. How many more people would vote Green if they knew their votes would actually count?

In other words, the present instability and division is not a reflection of what would obtain under PR, but is rather a direct consequence of the anomalies of first past the post:
A fair voting system would also have provided a more stable and effective government. The expiry date on the proposed coalition is three years at best and more likely less than two years. Because first-past-the-post voting allows a relatively small shift in support to produce a windfall of seats for one party or another, the current system subverts stable and effective government.

“Today the parties’ spin-meisters are working hard to divide voters into warring camps and pit entire regions against one another,” said Larry Gordon, Executive Director of Fair Vote Canada. “When careers in Ottawa are on the line, country be damned. Will Canadians turn on one another rather than the real culprits? Or are we finally fed up with this madness and the old-guard party leaders who defend an electoral system that serves their own interests but not those of the voters?”

Fair Vote Canada is calling on Liberal, Conservative, NDP and Green voters to stand together – call it a people’s coalition – to demand equal and effective votes for all and legitimate majority rule for Canada.

Pie in the sky? An Angus Reid poll released today suggests not:
Following two weeks of political turmoil in Ottawa, Canadians are taking a second look at their existing electoral regulations, and almost half of them believe the implementation of a proportional representation system would be good for the country, a new Angus Reid Strategies poll has found.

In the online survey of a representative national sample, 33 per cent of respondents believe the current first-past-the-post system, where candidates win seats by getting more votes than any other rival in a specific constituency, is the best one for Canada. However, 47 per cent of Canadians would be open to trying different guidelines.

Almost three-in-ten (28%) would switch to a proportional representation system, where parties win seats in accordance with their share of the national vote, and one-in-five (19%) prefer a mixed- member proportional voting system, which would allocate some seats on a constituency basis, and others by proportional representation.

1 comment:

Wilf Day said...

Excellent Coyne piece.

It should be noted that it applies to any proportional voting system, whether BC-STV or others.

I mention this because there are still a few people in BC who argue against STV on the grounds that they prefer MMP. These people fail to see how very similar the two systems are, if you look at open-regional-list MMP as described by the Quebec Director-General of Elections, the only MMP model currently on the table anywhere in Canada.

BC-STV is candidate-centred, since voters rank candidates of all parties, and major parties will have more than one candidate per district competing against each other. So is open-list MMP: the local 60% of MLAs are elected on their own merits, since only the regional ballot counts as the party vote. The 40% of regional MLAs are elected in competition with the party's other candidates on the regional ballot. Even more competition than STV, if we are looking at a group of 15 MLAs -- nine local, six regional -- where even the Green Party will have more than one candidate on the regional ballot.

The difference is geography. STV districts are smaller, maybe five MLAs. MMP regions have local MLAs too, so the regions themselves are bigger. And STV lets voters for smaller parties elect their second preference, unlike MMP where a 15-MLA district may not give a 5% party a seat, and its votes will be wasted.

That's why BC had a Citizens' Assembly: to choose which system fit BC's geography better. That's why they chose BC-STV. That's why MMP is not on the table in BC. That's why all electoral reformers in BC should eagerly campaign for BC-STV, and not waste time arguing about what's right or wrong with MMP.