When reforming the electoral system goes partisan

by Aaron Wherry

Andrew Young objects to the idea of a one-time pact to reform the electoral system on different grounds.

I can think of nothing worse than changing the rules of a game with the express intention of handicapping one participant. The subject of electoral reform has attracted many intelligent, thoughtful people to discuss its merits; perverting it into another partisan ploy will undo all of that effort if, as we’re claiming to improve the system, we are seen to be penalizing the Tories. If electoral reform comes to Canada it must be at the insistence of Canadians, through a referendum, or with the cooperation of all parties. The idea of explicitly excluding the Conservatives from the process of reform cannot be condemned in harsh enough terms; that we might even consider at all it is a damning indictment of our political conversation.




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When reforming the electoral system goes partisan

  1. thing is – if anyone takes this idea seriously they will invariably have the exact opposite result from what they want to achieve. Imagine this just for one minute – here I am a Liberal in a riding and some Dipper comes to me and says we all agree that we hate harper so your party and mine are going to ‘ just this once we promise cross our hearts ‘ that we will sideline your choice as representative in the House and instead we are all going to support this left wing nut who we disagree with even more than the Torie in this riding. We are doing this not because we believe in anything or we believe he can do a better job BUT instead we only care about getting rid of somene else – were someone to try pulling something like on my electoral choice I would immediately resign from my party and then sign up for the party they are teaming up against!!!! It is quite simply absurd and would have unintended consequences the like of which can hardly be determined. Then again as a Tory I think the idea is BRILLIANT go for it !! Harper would eat alive the leaders at the debate and rather than only getting rid of one opposition leader at a time he would have 2 for breakfast rather than kittens. Our process is about ‘ competing ‘ ideas and values and the moment you forget that is the very moment you set yourself up for failure – there is only one option and only one – either collapse one of the parties and combine the remnants hopefully earning some votes or at the least keep up the good fight! Anyone with any experience and knowledge of our political history knows this – take it to the bank !!!

    • You hit the nail on the head. This is just another spin on “Harper is Evil”, or the ABC vote in 2008. It didn’t work then, it’ll work even less now. The funniest part about all this contemplating is that nobody has actually come up with a concrete plan as to what type of system would replace our current one. So they’d in effect be proposing a solution that doesn’t exist to a problem not everybody is convinced exists.

      And as I stated somewhere here earlier, if one looks at recent referendums on electoral reform, they’ve all failed. This could very well give Harper 60+% of the vote, and give him the strongest mandate in Canadian history. Which, I’d be willing to bet, would be a strong signal to the remaining 40% that we need “electoral reform” more than ever.

      I don’t see this idea ever getting off the ground further than pundits pontificating on its merits/demerits, but it should would be fun to see both opposition parties shoot both of their feet with the same bullet.

      • “This is just another spin on ‘Harper is Evil’”

        Nonsense. Harper said he wants to change Canada beyond all recognition. A super-majority is opposed to his version of Canada. In a democracy, the will of the vast majority trumps a minority. So, like Harper said in opposition, we need a voting system that ensures a majority of voters is represented in government.

        • Okay, so we never have a government until 60% of people vote for the same party. Good, I’m cool with anarchy.

          • No doubt, hard-right conservatives are economic anarchists.

            But in a democracy, a minority party needs to work with opposition parties in order to pass legislation (by 50% + 1, not 60%.) Canada and the UK are the only developed countries that dole out absolute power to minority parties.

          • Your definition of democracy is wrong: “A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.”

            Says nothing about “majority”.

          • As far as Ron is concerned, any jurisdiction that has a right-of-centre government in power is not a democracy.

          • What ridiculous nonsense. Ever notice how cons can’t debate the issues; they have to spew muck and filth at their opponents? I agree with Harper. He said FPTP produces a “benign dictatorship.” Of course he’s a hypocrite because he’s Ok with the system as long has he is the “dictator.”

            Democracy means a majority of voters being represented in government. That’s how democracy is interpreted in the developed world (with the exception of Canada and the UK. which hold onto slipshod and antiquated institutions, including the monarchy….)

          • Although that definition does indeed say nothing about “majority”, it does mention “by the whole population…”

          • The will of the people has to be decided by a majority. In Canada the will of the people is often decided by a minority party which we *say* has the authority of a “majority” and carries out the wishes of the people. In Canada and the UK, their interpretation of democracy is clearly a sham, because it often ignores the will of the majority doling out absolute power to minority parties.

          • Yes, and the whole population is able to vote. Democracy doesn’t mean the whole population gets to win.

          • Voting is not governing.

            The definition talks about governing, and only tacks on the observation that typically democracy involves elected representatives – clearly elected representatives (and the election process that goes with them) are not a prerequisite for a democracy by that definition.

          • Now you’re being absurd. The will of the people is decided by a majority. How else is it going to be decided? Why do you think the power Harper has is called a “majority” even though he only got a 40% minority of the vote?

          • The CPC holds the majority of seats in the house. Each of those seats represents people, hence the CPC represents the majority of people. Just because someone didn’t vote CPC doesn’t mean they’re not represented by the CPC. I know you only think “democracy” means when your party wins, but most people would disagree with you.

          • The Harper government only represents 40% of the electorate. If all Conservative MPs had won with a majority of the local vote, you’d have a point. That’s why we need to upgrade our existing system to Preferential Ballot Voting. (Which the Liberal party supports by 73%.) This ensures that all MPs earn their seats with a majority of the local vote. (It’s how all federal parties elect their leaders.) If Harper, or any other leader, won a majority under those conditions he or she would have full democratic authority (even thought the vote would not be fully proportional.)

        • “In a democracy, the will of the vast majority trumps a minority.”
          Gee Ron, you must really hate the Charter, and Human Rights Commissions, and all that sort of stuff — I mean, those things are chock full of protections for various minorities, and via the Charter and HRCs, there are all kinds of times when minority rights have trumped majority preferences.
          Or maybe it’s just that your pet definition of what “a democracy” is is incredibly reductionist, simplistic and completely coloured by partisan bias.

          • Give me a break. Yes in a constitutional democracy the wishes of the people is carried out by a majority vote (legislation is passed by a majority,) but minorities are protected from the “tyranny of the majority.”

            Here in Canada (and the UK) we often dole out absolute corrupt power to minority parties and the will of the super-majority is crushed under the tyranny of a minority. It’s time to ensure a majority of voters are represented in government (we already have the constitutional part handled exceptionally well.)

      • For conservatives, it’s a feature, not a bug.

      • And the BC referendum got a strong majority of support, but not enough to get it over the comically high bar to be adopted.

        • It got a majority of support the FIRST time around. The second time, after the public had been informed about what the system actually entailed, it didn’t reach 40%.

          • I don’t think that’s a fair characterization. If I’m not mistaken, there were much more resources dedicated to public information for the first referendum than the second.

          • From Wikipedia: “Because of the strong majority support for BC-STV, the government elected to stage a second referendum in 2009,[2] but with increased public funding for information campaigns to better inform the electorate about the differences between the existing and proposed systems. In the second vote, the proposal was rejected.”

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BC-STV

    • Would you prefer if they permanently took away your choice by merging?

  2. It still amazes me that all of this chit chat about “democratic reform” never occurred when the Liberals were in power.

    • Ah but it did. But it was some different people. The Venn diagram of the groups helps tell the story.

    • Either you’re really really young, or you weren’t paying attention then.
      It’s all we ever heard for years on end for pete’s sake. Where the heck were you?

    • When the Chretien Liberals were in power, Harper co-wrote a paper saying First-Past-the-Post produced a “benign dictatorship.” Of course, he’s perfectly fine with it as long as he’s the “dictator.”

      The fact is, almost all developed countries abandoned slipshod FPTP decades ago because it arbitrarily awards absolute power to minority parties in multi-party states. They have governments that represent a majority of voters: that is, the literal interpretation of democracy.

  3. I would have reached a conclusion directly opposite to Young’s. To me, an opposition that directs its entire campaign to the single issue of electoral reform is abandoning the field entirely to the Cons, who would be fee to shape the election around the myriad other issues of concern to voters.

    You can’t win an election if you’re a one-trick pony.

      • I’ve commented on Coyne’s piece elsewhere and, FWIW, I don’t think he (or Murray) have made any case at all. To me, the whole scheme is hopelessly freighted with insurmountable logistical, political, and (potentially) legal issues. IMO, in fact, it’s half-baked.

        The opposition parties will have more success if they simply run their own campaigns. If they deprive the Cons of a majority, then they could negotiate a coalition to form the next government. If, at that point, they are still determined to engineer electoral reform, then an all-party committee could do the heavy lifting and report to Parliament.

        • I don’t think it’s half baked, but I don’t think it’ll work anyway. The risks of a guy like Harper turning it into him versus the demon left are ones that will scare off the other parties in any case. Perhaps you’re right. First you secure your minority then you push it if you’re serious.
          Of course you realize Harper will try to have it both ways. Even if they run on separate platforms he will be screaming coalition …”these guys are going to get together and try and steal your electoral heritage!”Maybe it’s just better to deal with that head on as Coyne suggests? My objection would be that’s a mighty big gamble to merely limit one man.

          • I think the idea of center-left party cooperation is dead. Only Elizabeth May and Joyce Murray support it. It makes the opposition parties look desperate, when they need to project an image they have what it takes to beat Harper. It also has the potential of backfiring.

            The reality is that after 9 years in power (think Mulroney,) Canadians will be utterly sick of Harper and will be begging for change. Since it took Harper 4 tries — and the threat of a “socialist” government — to win a thread-bare fake majority, he likely won’t win another one in 2015.

            So the best shot we have is for an alternative government to simply upgrade our existing system with Preferential Ballot Voting to ensure MPs earn their seats with a majority of the vote. This will stop the vote-spitting problem, once and for all (which has plagued all voters across the political spectrum sometime in the past.) Then build support for a PR/PBV referendum, cutting corrupt FPTP out of the picture.

          • Well i think it isn’t popular among liberal and probably dipper partisans that’s for sure…only the dreamers and Coyne are pushing it.
            The more i find out about PV or AV the more i dislike it. But it may be a good first step toward PR.

          • What don’t you like about PV? Although the system is not fully proportional it is a huge improvement over our existing system.

            I support PR all the way. The unfortunate reality is that it’s having a hard time gaining traction. It lost 4 provincial referendums and the corporate media hates it — including the Toronto Star.

            So I would prefer to legislate PV first, then build support for a PR/PV referendum. Once people gain experience with ranked ballots and electoral reform they will likely be more receptive to PR (most people appear to be uninformed on the issue.)

          • I’m not dead against it. Seems to work well for politcal parties. I’m still slowly researching it but if you check out fair vote[?] you’ll find all kinds of arguments against it. They argue it may even over time come to narrow down the range of options for radical pov, by favouring the compromise candidate. I’ll try and post some relevant links later if you’re really interested. I was actually disappointed to find this stuff out. I had high hopes for PV.

          • I read the Fair Vote thing against AV. In the document they admit their position is political: “the opportunity for electoral reform only comes around once in a generation.” So they attack AV because they feel it’s a threat to PR’s chances. (A position their UK counterpart, the Electoral Reform Society, which supports AV, doesn’t take.)

            But what they are really doing is trying to trick Canadians into accepting PR as the only acceptable version of voting reform. But this is clearly not working, given PR is failing to gain momentum in Canada. It’s better to give people all the options and let them decide which version they prefer. This will get more people talking about the issue, which will be a good thing for the PR cause.

            PV is definitely much better for the Greens and NDP than FPTP. In 2011, the Green vote dropped from 6.8% to 3.9% because voters were afraid vote-splitting would lead to a Harper majority. With PV, the Green vote will increase because vote-splitting will no longer be an issue. The same is true of NDP supporters. They don’t have to worry about voters abandoning them for the Liberal party to stop a polarizing Conservative party. PV will allow them to become a viable alternative to the Liberals.

          • I’m still not sure. They did have some very interesting arguments against PV as eventually narrowing the electoral options down to a two party option[ admittedly two pretty centrist options]
            Do you have a link for that UK org? I’ve been looking everywhere for a decent site. Everything here seems to advocate just PR.

          • AV has no stronger and certainly weaker propensity to two party system than FPTP. Game theoretically, we should only have two parties, but the propensity is overwhelmed by other factors, which is why we have multiple parties. Preserving FPTP does not preserve multi-party political environment.

          • Fair vote disagrees with you then. They claim that PV/AV will eventually lead to a two party system, marginalizing more radical pov over time. On the face of it this seems to be the case in Australia.

          • The effect is as strong or stronger in FPTP. AV may not be perfect, but it is better than FPTP. It might be a good stepping stone to a system like STV, which is more proportional, and still uses ranked ballots of individuals rather than party rankings.

          • Maybe. I voted for stv in BC, but it got rejected twice.
            My unscientific feeling was that people thought it was too complicated. That’s the beauty of PV, it isn’t that hard to understand for the average voter.

          • They may understand it, but many don’t like it. People like specific local representatives accountable to them. I think parties already play too central a role in our politics. PR would merely cement that reality.

          • “Fair vote disagrees with you then. They claim that PV/AV will eventually lead to a two party system”

            Like I pointed out, FVC has an agenda. The want PR to be the sole choice of electoral reform. They believe that if AV is implemented it will lessen the chances of a PR referendum. Take this article on the Liberals choosing to support PV/AV. One delegate who voted against it said “she was concerned this it would stop efforts to adopt proportional voting in their tracks.”

            I think it’s better to take the democratic approach to voting reform in Canada, and let Canadians choose which system they like best. Fact is many think PR goes too far (rightly or wrongly.) By denying them the option, we are preventing Canadians from getting engaged in the issue.

            Liberal Convention 2012: Party Votes In Favour Of Preferential Ballots
            http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/15/liberal-convention-ottawa-2012-preferential-ballot_n_1207701.html

          • Is it a fact that they have an agenda? Are the an advocacy org for PR, or are they a non partisan org that explores electoral options? There’s an important dif, right?

          • They claim they are non-partisan. But who really makes up the the inner members with voting rights? Chances are they are mostly NDP and Green supporters, who would traditionally benefit the most from PR. The Liberals held a convention vote and 73% supported PV.

            So if they want to represent Canadians, they should stop campaigning against PV. Nothing wrong in saying PR is the best system. But if we had PV in 2011, we’d have a NDP-Liberal government right now, which is what 50% of the electorate voted for. According to the G&M the results would’ve been (IRV/FPTP):

            Con 142/166
            NDP 118/103
            Lib 46/34
            Grn 1/1

            (118 + 46 = 164 / 308 = 53%)

            G&M: How would Harper fare in a French-style run-off election?
            http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/how-would-harper-fare-in-a-french-style-run-off-election/article2424783/

            BTW, the Wiki article says that PV cuts down on the number of fake majorities: ” IRV is more likely to result in legislatures where no single party has an absolute majority of seats”

          • “Fair vote disagrees with you then. They claim that PV/AV will eventually lead to a two party system”

            According to the Wiki article:

            “A simulation of IRV in the 2010 UK general election by the Electoral Reform Society concluded that the election would have altered the balance of seats between the *three* main parties, but the number of seats won by minor parties would have remained unchanged”

            “Medium-sized parties, such as the National Party of Australia, can co-exist with coalition partners such as the Liberal Party of Australia, and can compete against it without fear of losing seats to other parties due to vote splitting.”

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant-runoff_voting#Proportionality

            So PV is definitely a huge improvement for both the Green and NDP parties. A supporter will have no fear voting for their party because they can hedge their bets with their alternative choices. That will allow the Greens to build momentum (in 2011, they were polling as high as 10% but dropped to 3.9% for fear of a Harper majority.) Centrist voters can also vote NDP without fear that vote-splitting will allow someone like Hudak or Harper to win.

          • That’s really interesting. I’ll follow this up and try and get a better handle on PV thanks.

        • What happens when the committee comes back without Conservative support? Meekly accept it?

          • The recommendations of an all-party committee don’t require unanimity, only the support of a majority of its members. The Con committee members could dissent as a bloc but, unless they numerically dominated the committee membership, such a stance wouldn’t matter.

            In any event, in the scenario I described, the Cons would be a minority in the House (and sitting in opposition). If a majority of the members of the House supported electoral reform, the Cons’ opposition would be unfortunate but irrelevant.

            And anyway, in that scenario, why assume the Cons would oppose electoral reform? They’d have no power to preserve by protecting the status quo. (And Harper, the alleged bogey-man in the whole piece, having lost government would probably have resigned by then).

          • Then why involve them? If their support is not needed and not likely to be forthcoming (as the status quo is stacked in their favour), I would skip them and go to the electorate via a referendum.

            After all, the Tories did not consult on political party funding reform. They just axed the one that would maximize the disadvantage to their opponents, sans consultation or referendum.

          • Who would authorize this referendum and what options would it put to the people?

            It would take a bill before the House to legislate such a referendum and it would be a better bill if all parties had input into crafting it.

          • All parties agree on one thing: nothing. The Conservatives will never agree to any form of voting reform because full conservative support in Canada is 38% and a fake majority is 39%. They are the party of self interest, and it is clearly not in their self interest to do so.

          • And all the other parties are good and pure as the driven snow.

      • Not one of Coyne’s more convincing pieces, IMO.

        I’m basically in favour of moving to some type of system that would result in Parliaments that are more reflective of the “will of the people” than the current system, but not in favour of a pure PR/party list system. Happily there are at least a few options that would give the best of both PR and FPTP.

        In terms of process, ndog’s suggestion, below(/above?), makes the most sense to me – the opp parties shoud just run on their own platforms, making electoral reform a major, major plank, but not the only plank. They should still put effort into campaigning on the basis of jobs, crime, environment or whatever.

        Then if one of them forms a majority government they could proceed with electoral reform “on their own”. In a minority led by one of the current opp parties, they could proceed, but obviously with the support of some other MPs. And if the CPC were to get a minority then those opp parties would presumably ask the CPC to support electoral reform in exchange for support of the next budget or whatever.

        In the longer view, I wonder if Canada will still have FPTP in 50 years, or will we have moved to some type of PR?

        • I think the jist of Coyne’s argument lies in that if we wait for reform until after an opposition party get in it will never happen. I think he’s right as far as majority goes. I don’t think you will get the CPC to support reform even if they win just a minority – not unless Harper bows out…and Kenney, forget it.
          Here’s why i think AC’s analysis hold up. Unlike the right, the centre/left cannot be united or merged in this country for the reasons he cited. So they have no real hope of emulating the tories that way, even if it is the more honest way. It can’t be done. The public might think it can or should but the partisans of the two principle parties will never stand for it. What options do they realistically have then? They can’t defeat a united right [unless it falters] even though they represent the majority opinion in the country. They can’t merge and outside of a whole new centrist party [ with some support from disaffected Conservatives. And even here lib/ndp partisans will not go for it] they are left with cooperation in order to bring in electoral reform.
          There are other plausible scenarios of course. The LPC could die and we wind up with a two party system that is always going to favour the right[not my first choice] or the libs could come roaring back and push the NDP out.[ unlikely put possible if JT is the real thing]
          So, a divided centre/left can’t beat Harper [ it has shown little sign of doing so in 7 years] and we carry on, or they cooperate before the election, which has its own perils. I can at least follow Coyne’s logic.

          • “I think the jist of Coyne’s argument lies in that if we wait for reform until after an opposition party get in it will never happen.”

            I agree that now’s the time to build support for voting reform. But given the fact that PR has lost 4 provincial referendums, another referendum gamble is a bad bet. I believe the best road map to voting reform is to get Preferential Voting put in place, which stops vote splitting once and for all. Then work towards a PR referendum.

          • I certainly agree that betting all the farm on getting a united centr/left party into power to implement electoral reform alone is hugely disproportionate to the risk of a voter backlash.

          • I wonder how many right leaning folks felt the same way in the darkness of the Chretien years, which is to say a lot can happen over a 5 to 10 to 15 year time span.

            Eg:
            - at some point Harper will decide to move on
            - at some point other CPC contenders will start to get antsy
            - at some point enough folks might tire of the CPC ways

            - perhaps Justin will win the LPC leadership and do OK in the 2015 election
            - perhaps he’ll then stay on, mature and become unstoppable
            - perhaps NDP will shed some of their most troubling beliefs

            As some other commenter occasionally says “All in the fullness of time.” But admittedly, for some folks, all/any/some combination of that will seem to take an eternity to unfold.

          • Sure…after all no one predicted the orange wave in QC, or the fact that it would stay around a while.

  4. Electoral reform is the pipe dream of those out of power. I know more than most this because I supported the PC’s in the Chretien years. The fallacy is that they imagine people would vote the same way as they do now. The reality is that under PR (or any other change) you would radically change the party system.

    There are some fiscally conservative folks that vote Liberal because of social issues. Under PR or MMP they could form their own political party. There are some gun-toting socially conservative folks that vote NDP because of economic issues (or northern issues). They could also form their own party. You could also see opportunistic regional parties formed in order to control the balance of power (in fact, that is very likely because Canadian politics are highly regionalized).

    • Would you say that all variations of PR would have the same tendency to create these smaller splinter parties?

      And what do you see as the major drawback of FPTP?

      • The number of parties in PR (or MMP) are a function of:
        -the number of cleavages
        -the threshold for parties

        So in a country like Israel with low thresholds and lots of cleavages (settler-non-settler, rich-poor, hawk-dove, right-left, orthodox-secular, Arab-Jew, Ashkenazi-Sephardic) you get a lot of parties.

        As Canada has both regional and ideological cleavages, you could get a fair number of parties (though fewer than Israel, and it would depend on the rules).

        The main drawback of FPTP is that the distribution of seats among the parties does not necessarily reflect the popular vote. However, because PR means eternal minority/coalition government, voters don’t get to vote on actual programmes of government and it is hard to governments to account.

        I think the Australian model is the best compromise out there.

        • Sorry but this is a myth. Informed voter in a PR system like the Germans have are perfectly aware of where their vote will likely end up in a coalition partnership. And if that party should badly disappoint its voters it will be hearing about next election. What’s more programmes are discussed before and during elections. It is absurd to claim that everybody is voting with their fingers more or less crossed.

          • A. Germany has fewer parties than we likely would.

            B. An informed voter sure… but voters are rationally ignorant. When asked to place the parties on a right left scale, plenty of Canadians think the NDP is to the right of the Tories.

            C. Everything always happens in a predictable way until it doesn’t. In Germany you have sometimes gotten grand coalitions, sometimes FDP-CDU, SPD-Green, FDP-SPD etc. And while nobody wants to team up with the Left party, surely there is the possible temptation. And in any respect, the specific outcome of the election is going to determine which coalition, and which set of deals happen.

          • My point was that voters adjust. Germans have become sophisticated at working their system. Are Canadians any dumber?

        • How do systems such as STV and P3 measure up in comparison to FPTP and the Australian model?

          I suppose the criteria that I keep coming back to myself, is the fundamental idea of democracy, that the people should govern themselves. If, amongst those people there is a range of opinions, those opinions need to be represented and considered, and if that happens to mean eternal minorities, necessitating coalitions, then so be it.

          There are at least a few good role model countries that show that such systems can indeed work.

    • That presumes any of those regional or special interests could make it under or over the threshold of 5%[?] of the vote that is customary. Besides have you not heard of coalitions? This way you at least get your pov proportionately represented, or at least the opportunity is there. It is possible that some particular provision or check/balance will be needed in a country this diverse, but it isn’t as if we would be inventing the wheel. PR works perfectly reasonably in a large part of the developed world. In fact it we who are the exceptions.

      • Yes, PR is the norm among developed countries, which abandoned FPTP decades ago. The fact is FPTP is only meant to work in two-party states. When you add more parties into the mix, the political spectrum gets divided arbitrarily which produces arbitrary results.

        For example, when the right-wing vote was split, Chretien won three easy fake majorities. Now that the center-left vote is split among three parties and the right-wing vote is united, the Conservatives are positioned to win easy fake majorities (especially if they get a likable leader…)

        So it’s time to dispense with the nonsense and ensure that a majority of voters is represented in government. It’s absolutely absurd to dole out absolute corrupt power to an arbitrary minority party.

        • Lots of developed countries do not have PR systems. Australia, Japan (at some levels), Britain, and the US come to mind immediately. And some with PR systems have protocols to encourage stronger majority governments, such as Greece and Italy.

          I agree that the Chretien fake majorities were problematic from a representational standpoint. But PR is not the right answer, given Canada’s many cleavages. Something like the Australian system makes more sense. Let voters rank preferences on their ballot, so that if their first choice doesn’t win, their vote goes to the next down the line.

          The Australian system allows for the retention of ridings (regional representation matters in a country with regional divides) and strongly favours parties able to appeal to a wide swathe of voters. Moreover, it does not have the problems of in-accountability that occur in PR. Under PR the programme of government is negotiated after the election, and coalition members can blame one another for the country’s problems.

          Countries have different needs, and there is no perfect system. PR is a bad system for states with perpetual regional divisions, on top of ideological ones because it produces a fragmented pizza parliament where coalitions become hostage to extremists (e.g. look at the impact of settler parties in Israel, or at times, the communists or Mussolini apologists in Italy).

          • Israel is an outlier as you well know. And Australia may well be an case in point for those who argue that PV limits choices even more than FPTP[ PR advocates claim this point]
            When you consider it, it is odd that a system that ranks parties actually ends up consistenly choosing only one of two parties. Those with more radical views may get their pov considered by the different candidates in order to placate voters, but in the end they are as disenfranchised as under FPTP. More so, as they haven’t a hope in hell of electing even one green style candidate.[ i must admit my info is ancient now. Perhaps even Austraila is electing more marginal party members these days?]

      • I am not arguing that PR would be bad. I am arguing that the parties we would get would be difficult to predict in advance. That is why people that want to institute PR to get rid of Harper should think more carefully.

        As for whether those parties could get 5% of the vote, well yes, I think they could.
        -The Bloc routinely wins over 5%
        -Reform, a western regional party got 19% in two elections, so there’s room for western nationalism.
        -The greens would probably get knocked over the 5% threshold as liberals and dippers stopped having to play coy
        -In the latest abortion poll I’ve seen, 27% of the country is pro-life
        -Even at its lowest ebb, the old PC party would have exceeded 5% of the vote
        -I’m not 100% sure if there is a sufficient constituency for a moderate libertarian party.
        -You’ve long had a split in the NDP between those that want a hardcore party of the left, and those that want a moderate one. They could go their own way.
        -Throw in the Tories, NDP and Liberals – each reduced in stature – and you’ve got a very different ball-game.

        I dislike PR personally, but that’s a different debate.

        • The way i see it all those 5% ers will have to learn to compromise after the formation of the winning coalition not try to form often unwieldy and creaky coaltions before the fact. Under our present system many of those junior or fringe partner groups find that promise offered during elections are more honoured in the breach than in the moments of actual power/governance. I tend not to see one system as being perfect anyway, mostly they’re just different. Simplicity is definitely a big upside of FPTP – not so much PR.
          So not being able to predict in advance is six of the one half a dozen of the other imo. Besides you can make coalition choices in advance if you know what you are doing. In the German system for instance many people choose a party they know has no chance of forming the govt, but they know who that party is likely to throw their support behind in order to be king maker in the govt to be. Isn’t that something many Canadians can only dream about – casting their vote exactly as they intended, knowing they may be a part of the winning coalition anyway?

  5. Young is out to lunch on this. The object of reforming the system would be to ensure no more false majorities, whether they be liberal, Conservative or NDP [bad luck guys, you have never had the thrill of unlimited power have you?] The object is not to just handicap the CPC. Under a reformed system[especially PR] they would have as much a crack of being the lead party as anyone. He further misses the point by insisting there should be a referendum BEFORE an election and with the cooperation of all the parties. He’s dreaming if he thinks any of the parties would go for that, regardless of who held power at the time – even the NDP’s enthusiasm for reform will melt away should they get in.
    If it can or should be done at all, then Coyne’s suggestion of a one election, single candidate opposition platform is the way to go. It is not as if the CPC couldn’t mount an effective counter argument to this during the election. If Canadians think it is such a bad or unfair proposal all they have to do is put the tories back in with a bigger majority or oppose the subsequent referendum. Missed the point by a mile Mr Young.

    • Correction: The NDP have had the thrill of unlimited power. E.g., in BC in the 1990s. And they steered the province into the toilet. Same goes for Bob Rae in Ontario.

      • Reason enough for conservatives to fear the day when they are removed from office by the NDP.

      • I was referencing federal elections. But if you are going that route you really should credit the NDP govts that have been good – in SK and Manitoba. Barett’s govt in BC wasn’t that bad either – we still have ICBC and the ALR today. You really ought to list a couple of bad Conservative govts too. Such as the the Devine SK one and Kleins first govt ran up big deficits in AB which was quite an accomplishment. I’m sure there have some bad liberal ones out there too – Daltons record was spotty at best.

  6. Frankly I don’t care which party is in power in a general sense. You can say what you want about the differences we’ve seen between Liberals and Conservatives, but honestly they don’t add up to much over the long term.

    What bothers me really is the dictatorial nature of any particular majority government at the time it is in power. I simply don’t think it’s right for any party with less than majority support to have unquestioned majority power.

    The easiest way to ensure that our MPs do in fact represent the majority in their ridings, and therefore deserve the power they have, is to allow voters to rate parties in terms of preference, otherwise known as Instant-runoff voting (IRV), alternative vote (AV), transferable voting, or preferential voting.
    It seems obvious to me that any majority government should be able to demonstrate that it has an actual majority mandate, and the current system simply doesn’t do that. Additionally, my bet is that with alternative voting you’d see an end to strategic voting and therefore the end to some of the more base fear tactics as a motivator of party strategy.
    Anything that improves the democratic representation we have in our system would be welcome, even more so if it causes party’s to be leery of backing small unrepresentative blocks of voters in an effort to split the electorate and total gain power.

    • I agree 100%. MPs should be elected with a majority of the vote (Preferential Voting, aka Alternative Vote, aka Instant Runoff Voting.) Democracy is founded on majority rule. It makes absolutely no sense doling out absolute power to minority representatives and minority parties. It’s time MPs earned their seats and actually represent their constituents.

  7. The Liberals have the right idea supporting Preferential Ballot Voting. This is the same system used by all federal parties to select their leaders. Voter ranks candidates instead of selecting one. This ensures they have a vote on runoff ballots.

    This reform would make our existing system democratic by simply requiring that MPs earn their seats with a majority of the vote. Like fixed election dates, it is only an upgrade of our current system and can be legislated without the need for a referendum.

    If shoddy First-Past-the-Post isn’t good enough for political parties to elect their leaders with, it sure isn’t good enough to found our entire democracy on. There’s no reason voters should get saddled with politicians and governments they don’t want and didn’t vote for.

    • This is actually a very strong argument that lends itself well to tv ads. It’d be hard for any party to counter, given that they use the same system themselves.

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