Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dr. Dennis Pilon: Putting FPTP On Trial and Countering STV Myths

Dr. Dennis Pilon is a professor at the University of Victoria and author of the book, “The Politics of Voting”. His speech, as one would guess, had to do with the myths that are put forth by the BC-STV critics.

He started off by saying that he thought it would actually harder for the Yes side to achieve the 58% majority that we got last time. His reasoning was that the No side was caught by surprise the first time around, they thought that nobody would pay attention to the referendum and that it would eventually just fade away. That it almost passed means that they won’t be taking the Yes side for granted this time around. Combine that with the fact that they will be taking lessons from the Ontario referendum to go more negative and that they will also be better funded means that we’re going to have a nasty fight on our hands. I would agree.

So his proposed strategy involved a two pronged approach. One, was have reasonable but strong responses to the (many) negative distortions that are forthcoming. Two, and this makes a lot of sense to me, is to go on the offensive and turn this into a referendum on first-past-the-post (FPTP). Most of our energy has involved responding to the negative attacks and putting out the fires that keep popping up. Instead, include our own criticisms of FPTP, force the No side to justify sticking with the status quo and try to put them on the back foot.

Dr. Pilon then got into the myths that are being thrown out by the No side. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of his responses because, to be honest, I don’t really have the time; but also because I already have written, or will write, about these myths in my Criticisms section. But here’s a list of the myths that he addressed:
  • BC-STV is too complicated (done that)

  • BC-STV is anti-party (who cares, this is supposed to be about voters, not parties)

  • BC-STV will lead to less accountability ( done that)

  • BC-STV swill mean less diversity in our elected officials (sort of addressed this in my “BC-STV and Women” post

  • BC-STV is not proportionally representative (or not PR enough) (post to come)
He then went on to outline the (many) problems with FPTP:
  • Election results don’t reflect the actual vote

  • The winner-take-all nature of results oversimplifies the political views of a riding

  • The same all-or-nothing nature of FPTP suppresses diversity

  • FPTP gives artificial majorities

  • Creates situations of strategic voting
Dr. Pilon concluded by re-iterating the point that we have an uphill battle to climb. We have to convince people to make a change from the status quo (always more difficult), the population don’t know what they don’t know, and we have to achieve a supermajority as opposed to just a simple majority. These factors will make our goal much more difficult to achieve. So it’s going to take all of our collective efforts if we’re going to be at all successful in meeting the challenge.

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