Friday, March 04, 2016

History of Voting

It's striking how debate on the merits and failings of proportional representation seems to be increasing, even though Canada probably will not have a referendum on the electoral system, and even though changing the voting system begins to seems like a promise the Trudeau government will be too busy elsewhere to keep.

Meanwhile Dale Smith goes to town demolishing (erroneous link has been corrected -- thx WH) the Broadbent Institute's case for PR. A lot of what he says hits the usual platitudes hard:
The highlights consist of “OMG First-Past-the-Post is old!” and a bunch of charts that show how terrible “false majorities” are, except that there is no such thing as a “false majority” ...It talks about “wasted votes” as if they were a Thing as opposed to an expression by sore losers for whom votes only count if the person they voted for wins. It makes a bunch of bullshit platitudes about how PR will magically increase voter turnout (not true) and ignores that declining voter turnout is a widespread problem across all democracies regardless of electoral system.
But Smith goes out on a limb, attacking the Broadbent Institute's claim that "FPTP limits accountability in its own way. Under FPTP in Canada, individual MPs are beholden to their party.... And those in government rarely stray from the party line."

In its report, the Broadbent Institute appends a footnote to this claim, actually admitting that PR works pretty much the same.  But Smith responds by denying that accountability is really a problem, because in Canada we have this lively citizen engagement through which MPs respond to our concerns:
You see, our system starts with joining a party, where you then participate in policy discussion leading up to resolutions at biennial policy conventions, and in participating in nomination races for candidates. Riding associations act as liaisons with caucus members to relay concerns, even if your riding is not represented by your party of choice, and one actively participates in the system.
What Canada is this?  Surely if "you start with joining a party," it will hit you up for money forever and ask you to pound signs or man a phone bank during the next election.  And someone will want your support in the next leadership lollapalooza.  But does anyone who gives a party $10 get to participate in this policy-making nirvana Smith imagines?  Or get to influence their MP on policy questions, so that constituent policy concerns are actually addressed by the political system.

Smith is right enough that the Broadbent is crazy to propose PR as a way to make MPs less captive to their parties   -- PR is proportional for the parties, for pity's sake, not for voters; that is what it is for. It is not First Past The Post that makes MPs useless and citizen engagement meaningless, it is the lack of accountability of leaders and parties to the elected caucuses. That is a parliamentary problem, not a voting-system problem.  PR won't fix it.  But FPTP legislatures have not fixed it either, and Smith's cloud-cuckooland of a perfectly functioning Canadian parliamentary system where everything works just fine does little to assuage the frustrations of voters who know it does not and are looking for something, anything, to change that situation.

Follow @CmedMoore