Thursday, July 08, 2004

Update: More on P.R.

It turns out I'm even less in favour of PR than I realized. My comments at Coyne's blog are here, here, here, here, and here.

Colby Cosh defends himself and the anti-PR side effectively here. And if you only want to read one thing about the whole issue, I would recommend the post by SD he links. Clear, sensible, and comprehensive.


At 6:23 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...


Ok, I’ll bite.

All of the talk of PR has come about because of the universally recognized peculiarity of the FPTP electoral system that can (and has) produce National governments that are not representative of the views of the Nation as a whole. We can debate whether ‘more representative’ equals ‘more democratic’ if you like (as per your 01:30 post), but I hope that we can both agree that one of the products of the FPTP has been an artificial over-emphasis of regional differences. Regionalization has, in my opinion, extremely serious and ultimately detrimental consequences for Canada as has recently been highlighted by all of the Western Alienation, Alberta Separation rhetoric, never mind the ongoing battles with Quebec. Please note, that I am not arguing that the country is or should be homogenous, only that our electoral system should not be a major cause of regional tensions. Both Martin and Harper were guilty in the campaign of using this regionalization to their ‘advantage’, and the country as a whole’s disadvantage (PM – “Blame the West”, SH – “The West wants in”).

Given that I believe this artificial regionalization to be so destructive it is my opinion that we need some electoral reform to prevent it.

PR seems to be a decent way to solve some of the problems identified above; however, as you and numerous others have very correctly noted, it brings with it a suite of other problems. The question is, then, is it worth it?

Some Potential Problems with PR (there are more, increased cost, etc.).

First, it is necessary to define what I mean by PR, since there are so many competing versions. I am talking about something close to the MMPR of New Zealand where voters elect an MP in their riding using a FPTP and then throw a vote to a party to determine the proportion of MPs each party should get. I will assume for now that each party has a list of potential ‘at-large’ MPs already prepared, and I will assume that the ‘at-large’ list is determined by Party members (through internal elections in the same way as they now have Leadership conventions).

One of your arguments is that the existence of ‘at-large’ MP’s would 1) weaken the overall power of ‘normal’ MPs. Another argument is that because these ‘at-large’ MP’s would not be accountable to a particular set of voters: 2) it would be impossible to kick them out; and 3) these MPs would just be robotic party votes.

1) Weaken overall power of ‘normal’ MPs

This is absolutely true, but I believe it has been overstated. First, each riding would still have their own MP who can vote according to his/her constituent’s wishes. Second, the proportion of ‘at-large’ MPs would be very small compared to the ‘original’ MPs, and could even be capped at a certain proportion as has been done in a number of PR systems.

2) Impossible to kick them out

I think this is also overstated. Since lists are prepared before hand, if you don’t like the people on the list, don’t vote for that party. Also, keep in mind that because the lists are elected in internal Party elections, then these members should be more reflective of party values than is currently the case. Now, if the Party in question keeps putting ‘noxious’ candidates on their list it means that the Party has noxious values and don’t deserve your vote anyway. If the noxious candidates keep getting elected it must mean that a majority of people like them. What could be more democratic than that? Speaking of undemocratic, it should also be remembered that Cabinet Ministers under the current system do not even need to be elected – but that is another discussion.

3) MPs as robotic party votes

Probably true, but I would say it is definitely NOT true that they would not be accountable to any set of voters. In fact, these ‘at-large’ MPs would be accountable to a much larger set of voters than the ‘original’ voters. If they strayed too far from their Party’s values then they would be booted in the next election. Finally, robotic party voting is not an inherent part of PR anymore than it is of FPTP. As we are seeing in the current system, it is ridiculously rigid. PR is not structurally worse in this regard.

On a slight tangent, I also think that the idea of ‘free-votes’ is also a little overstated and SH’s emphasis on it has the potential to bite him in the ass. On the one hand SH correctly states that the CPC can and should not be defined on the basis of moral issues such as abortion, SSM, etc., and that these should be matters of free votes. On the other hand, however, in order for this to work, all of his MP’s will either have to let their views be known before they get elected, or they will have to have referenda in their constituency in order to get a mandate to vote. How many times have I had an MP come to my door to actually ask my opinion on some issue – zero. In the current system where parties generally ‘enforce’ viewpoints on such issues I know that my vote for Mr. Aldini will lead to a certain vote (whether Mr. Aldini believes in it or not) since I know the party policy on that issue. A reassuring notion in many ways. If the CPC has no party policy on any of these issues, AND, if they prevent their MP’s from expressing their views during elections, then how do I know which way Mr. Billings will vote if I help elect him, and how will Mr. Billings know if he has a mandate to vote a certain way if he never told us what he believes. Trouble.

In any case, on balance, I believe that correcting the highly destructive artificial regionalization is worth a slight decrease in power of ‘original’ MPs. I also think that this decrease in power would be overcome if more free votes were allowed (and MP’s told us their positions). But I fully understand the opposing viewpoint.

Yeeeesh. That is enough for me.

At 7:14 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thinking about it overnight, I'm now more convinced.

I think MMPR can actually increase the ability to toss MPs and increase their accountability to local voters.

By allowing voters to split tickets. Think of it this way, if I love the Donair Party, but hate the local consituent, I would be able to toss him without worrying that I am hurting the party as a whole. Likewise, if I hate a party, but think that their local constituent is the cats pajamas, I can elect them, without worrying that I am giving their party a majority.

Bad MPs will no longer be able to hide behind their party.


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