Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Clearing The Mists: A Response To A David Schreck Essay

David Schreck is the secretary-treasurer for the No Side and has his own website dedicated to criticizing BC-STV. He’s written, and is writing, several esays on the topic; but I’m choosing this one because it’s a good example of the usage of straw man arguments which are "based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To ‘set up a straw man,’ one describes a position that superficially resembles an opponent's actual view, yet is easier to refute." (wiki).

The first example is in the fourth paragraph:
Since WWII BC has elected majority governments. In Ireland, one party, Fianna Fáil, has formed the government in all but 19 years since 1932, as a majority government until 1989 and as the major party in coalition governments since 1989. It is currently government in coalition with the Greens; it's last partner losing 6 of 8 seats in the 2007 election. STV was used as the voting system since 1922, so contrary to what supporters of STV say, it is hard to conclude STV keeps one party from dominating politics.
Mr. Schreck is misrepresenting the purposes of an electoral system. It’s not the job of an electoral system to ensure that certain parties do or don’t get elected; that’s up to the voters. What an electoral system should do is ensure that the results of an election accurately reflect the preferences of the voters, according to the votes they cast. STV does that very well, our current system does this very poorly. If they want one party to form successive governments, like in Ireland, they should get that. If they only want representation from two parties in parliament, like in Malta, they should get that. If they want representation from smaller parties, like in both Ireland and BC, then they should get that too. So contrary to what Mr. Schreck says, STV supporters are not claiming that STV keeps one party from dominating politics; we’re saying that STV gives more accurate and fair election results than our current first-past-the-post (FPTP)system.

Moving on to paragraph seven, Mr. Schreck discusses the number of candidates parties will run:
In the May 17, 2005 provincial election only the NDP and Liberals were successful in electing candidates: NDP 33, Liberals 46; together with the Green Party, they were the only parties to run full slates of 79 candidates. In Ireland the practice is for parties to run no more candidates than they expect to win in each of the areas that elect 3 to 5 members. Contrary to what supporters of STV say, partial slates are not a universal feature of STV; in Malta parties run more candidates than there are positions to fill.
What STV supporters are saying is that the number of candidates that a party runs depends entirely on what election strategy said party wishes to take. But that it is highly likely that parties will put out partial slates since we see that occurring in Ireland, where, like BC, there is a greater level of support for smaller parties which cuts into support for the major ones. In Malta, where politics is dominated by two parties, they’ve chosen to take another strategy toward elections which they are free to do. So contrary to what Mr. Schreck writes, STV supporters don’t claim that partial slates are a universal feature of STV.

Next paragraph:
A claim made by some supporters of BC-STV is that it would be easier for third parties or independents to be elected if the rules were changed to be more like Ireland. In 1991 the BC Reform Party was able to elect members to the BC Legislature under our current system, and in 1996 the Progressive Democratic Alliance was able to do the same. Contrary to what supporters of STV say, those examples suggest that it is NOT how we elect our MLAs that determines whether "third parties" win seats.
The problem is that Mr. Schreck’s examples are flukes. And he’s got his facts wrong. Both flukes occurred in 1996; the Reform party got about 9% of the vote for two seats (under STV they’d have gotten 5-7) and PDA got one seat based on 6% (would have gotten 4-5). Conversely, in the very next election, the Green Party got 12% of the vote and zero votes and that’s been the story ever since, not just in BC but in all of Canada. In Ireland, the record consistently shows that a party’s share of the seats accurately reflects their share of the vote. Under our current system, the record consistently shows that smaller parties get shut out, despite getting sufficient support in the polls. So contrary to what Mr. Schreck claims, his examples are isolated cases and are not typical of how smaller parties win seats under FPTP.

Next paragraph:
STV supporters also claim that the system gives voters greater choice. It is hard to see that from the table above unless one means electing twice as many politicians gives greater choice. By greater choice, STV supporters might mean the illusion that is created by ranking as many candidates as a voter chooses, but the voter still gets just one vote and the rankings are just instructions on how the vote may be broken into fractions and counted. The number of candidates running in the 2005 BC election and the 2007 Irish elections were about the same even though Ireland elected 166 members and BC only 79. In BC 25 of its 45 registered political parties fielded candidates, three parties fielding full slates. Ireland had one dominate party and 13 others. How is that "more choice"?
Uh… actually, being able to rank your candidates isn’t an “illusion” of more choice. It is more choice. Under FPTP, you can only mark an X. And if your candidate doesn’t get elected, then that’s it; you’ve thrown your vote away. Under BC-STV, you can vote for who you want. And if he/she doesn’t get elected, you also have the option of having your vote transferred to an alternate candidate, if you so choose. That’s “more choice”.

Additionally, under our current system, you can only choose from one candidate per party. If you don’t like him/her then tough luck, deal with it. Under BC-STV, you have the option of choosing among multiple candidates of the same party. So if you don’t like a particular candidate but still want to vote for the same party, you have another candidate from the same party to choose from. That’s “more choice”. The fact that a party is able to table a full slate under our current system is irrelevant from a voter’s point of view as you can only choose from one candidate from that party, not several like under BC-STV.

Contrary to what supporters of STV say, it is expensive to campaign. In the 2007 Irish election, Fianna Fáil spent €3,650,240.55, which is $5,485,216 at the 2007 exchange rate. It looks like the price to win in politics is just as high in Ireland as it is under FPTP in BC where, in their central campaigns, the BC Liberals spent $3,670,165 and the NDP spent $3,078,049. It is tricky to compare party spending between Ireland and BC because the figure for Ireland is the total, but the figures for BC are just what the parties spent centrally; campaigns for local candidates could also spend an average of $65,565 (although most don't spend anything close to that much). When actual spending by constituency as reported to Elections BC is added to the central party spending, the total spending in 2005 for the BC Liberals was $7,758,375 and total spending for the NDP was $5,884,001.
Contrary to what Mr. Schreck claims, campaign financing is irrelevant. BC-STV supporters never said it wasn’t expensive to campaign, we’re not the ones bringing the issue up. When the Citizen’s Assembly looked at different electoral systems, they were concerned about doing what was best for British Columbians, not look after the interests of political parties. The fact that Mr. Schreck is even making it an issue shows just where his priorities lie.

It is interesting to note that in Ireland in 2007 the Green Party spent €553,858.70 ($832,283). In 2005 in BC the Green Party spent only $43,901 on their central campaign, when spending in all constituencies is added, the Green Party in BC spent $$281,448. Powell River-Sunshine Coast and West Vancouver-Garibaldi were the only constituencies where the Greens spent over $10,000. Many might think that the Green Party's inability to elect a single MLA is more related to the organization and financing of their campaign than to the electoral system. do we really need to change BC's electoral system to be like Ireland's just because the Green Party can't raise enough money to run a campaign?
Many might think that the Green Party's inability to elect a single MLA is more related to the organization and financing of their campaign than to the electoral system; but those people would be wrong. Looking at the past elections, the Green party have garnered around 10% support in the voting booths. Under STV, either in Ireland or here, that would translate to about 10% of the seats (6-8 in BC). Under FPTP, that translates to zero. So how much they spent is irrelevant to the fact that our current system grossly misrepresents what voters want.

The usage of straw man arguments is a disingenuous and dishonest way of debating. If this is what the No side has to rely on to confuse people into voting "no", what does that tell you about the strength of their position?


Wayne Smith said...

Schreck's barrage of numbers is just designed to confuse and frighten.

There is little merit to the suggestion that the overall cost of campaigning is higher in multi-member ridings.

In any case, any additional cost would be offset by the fact that by-elections are no longer necessary. Cambridge MA just filled a vacant seat on city council by revisiting the results of the 2007 municipal election, conducted under STV.

Spudster said...

I think Schreck's point about financing is important and shouldn't be dismissed. The reality is that STV will create larger ridings that require more money to run and will make it difficult for people of lower income status to run for election.

I'm also interested in knowing at what point "proportionality" becomes demonstratably true under STV. My proposed STV electoral district will have 4 MLAs running while others will see 3 running. I know that STV is proportional for people in cities with 7 MLAs running, but I am skeptical that this would be the case with 3 MLAs. Rather than increasing proportionality, all I see it doing to my rural riding is increase my electoral district's size to incredible sizes (larger than my federal riding in fact) and decrease the power of my individual vote since I still only get one vote.

Granted, these inequalities could be addressed if we had new campaign finance laws, but that is a whole other issue.

Wayne Smith said...

Parties will save money by running fewer candidates. Minor parties (in a region) will run one candidate who has a chance of getting elected instead of four candidates who have no chance at all. Where there are multiple candidates for a party in a riding, they can share resources.

There is zero substance to the financing argument.

canucklehead said...

Good points, Wayne, thanks.