Friday, September 22, 2017

Parliaments and PR

At the Canada page of a professorial blog called The Conversation, political scientist David MacDonald presents a lot of dubious information about Canada, about New Zealand, and about parliamentary democracy. Near the start:
All Westminster systems are, by default, based on a prime ministerial dictatorship, and we as voters are beholden to their version of noblesse oblige.
Well, no.  Working parliamentary democracies make leaders and prime ministers constantly accountable to the people's elected representatives, the MPs. It's only when MPs abdicate that responsibility to parties and leaders that accountability can break down. In other words, Professor MacDonald universalizes a (fixable) Canadian problem into a rigid and misleading universal definition.

MacDonald's aim, oddly, is to promote an electoral reform that would exacerbate the friendly dictator problem He recommends New Zealand's proportional representation system, MMP, under which you have one vote you exercise for yourself and one you give to a political party -- so it can appoint its loyalists to Parliament.

There is a simple arithmetical appeal of proportional representation. But surely in Canadian political culture, PR can only ensure that the friendly dictatorship is permanently entrenched in law. In New Zealand since MMP, an MP appointed by a party cannot actually represent his or her constituents, rather than the party that put him there. An New Zealand MP who disagrees with his party over policy is obliged to resign, not from the party, but from the House, because MMP reinforce the control of party over backbencher. That's its point: MMP is proportional for parties, not for citizens.

The lesson we ought to be taking from New Zealand is how that country's political culture continues the parliamentary tradition of holding party leaders accountable to the caucus of elected members. The Labour Party currently has a shot at winning the New Zealand election, not because of MMP, but because the party caucus took the bold decision a couple of weeks ago to change leaders -- and they picked a winner. MPs who can hire and fire leaders can also review and change policy. That kind of leadership accountability, not PR, is the only serious way to ensure the permanent accountability that makes parliaments work.

MacDonald also proposes that MMP is good for indigenous peoples.  But his evidence is sketchy here too.  He points out that
Since the latest [New Zealand] elections in 2014, 21 per cent of MPs are Māori.
whereas only 10, or less than three percent, of Canadian MPs, are indigenous.

But seven of the 20 or so Maori-held New Zealand seats come from seats permanently reserved for Maori, not from PR. Maori also have more than triple the proportion of NZ population that First Nations do in Canada. And, given the much larger amount of assimilation in New Zealand,  many NZ MPs who can report Maori ancestry are "not connected to the Maori language or community." MacDonald himself acknowledges that Maori status and prosperity have not improved since MMP was introduced.

What Canadian First Nations have emphasized in Reconciliation is not a handful of seats in Canada's Parliament. First Nations emphasize a treaty-based nation-to-nation relationship between their governments and Canada's. Over the years, many First Nations leaders have declined even to vote in Canadian elections, arguing their true representation comes from their own governments in treaty with Canada.,

Meanwhile, here is a recent viewpoint on how on how coalition government is working out in British Columbia.

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