Wednesday, July 07, 2004

How do you like your democracy?

Proportional, three creams, three sugars, whatever. Anyway, there's a good discussion going on at Andrew Coyne's blog regarding the merits of Proportional Representation, spurred by his column today in the National Post.

He's a supporter; I'm not convinced. His arguments are logical enough, but the one that's not made is exactly why having the overall composition of Parliament reflect the popular vote is an intrinsically valuable thing. I agree wholeheartedly with his opening paragraph, that MPs need to have more individual freedom, and it's hard to find anyone who disagrees. What I fail to see why PR is the best, or even a plausible, way to promote this. Frankly, if enough MPs across all parties got some guts and just started doing it, the issue would be settled. Gilles Duceppe might expel one or two BQ members from caucus if they declined to toe the party line, but if 20 did, "free voting" would instantly become BQ party policy. Same goes for the other parties.

Any advancement of PR would necessarily weaken Direct Representation, where each riding has one MP that they can re-elect or, crucially, not. The common argument that most people vote for the party, not the candidate, is more or less true, but again, that is not a function of the First-Past-The-Post system. It is a function of traditional party discipline - Canadian voters are well-trained to rightfully assume that their MP will robotically vote with their party.

I like the riding system. I like the fact that, if I am sufficiently motivated and organized, I may be able to defeat my local MP, without concern that he may end up in Parliament anyway thanks to his party leader or voters in the rest of the country. My MP had better listen to the concerns of the people in my riding. As Coyne notes, this is already progressing. Many rural Liberal candidates ran opposing the gun registry. Many Atlantic Conservatives ran opposing the EI reforms proposed by the party.

I also do not accept that "small parties" are permanently shut out of Parliament. N/A, 0, 52 - this is the seat count for the Reform Party in the '84, '88, and '93 elections. They spoke to voters and were thusly rewarded. To argue that the Green Party will never be fairly represented in Parliament without PR is to excuse their failure to appeal to enough voters, and imply that they will never be capable of doing so. Patronizing hogwash.

I can only conclude that proportional representation would be less democratic than the riding system. If MPs are too restricted by party discpline right now, when they run in their hometowns under their own names, isn't it ridiculous to imagine that MPs elected off of a party list would improve the situation?

We are truly in dire need of some democratic reforms in Parliament. Proportional representation should not be one of them.

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