The Trouble With Electoral Reform
The question of electoral reform is one I have been passionate about since the 2007 referendum in Ontario, and a file I have been active on for the entire period. I won't dive into it too deeply unless there is an appetite to discuss it further, as my experience in this matter is that most people who have an opinion on the matter of electoral reform are so entrenched as to make party officials appear to be undecided in a general election.
But there are a few points that I think must be made.
First and most important is that changing voting systems changes voter behaviour. You cannot accurately state the results of an election in a different system based on the votes cast in the current one. If we switch to one of the myriad types of preferential ballots, voters' conscience-vote would be followed by their practical or strategic vote, where today only the latter is generally true with no record of what the conscience vote would have been.
However the fact that the many forms of preferential ballot - Alternative, Borda, Condorcet, etc - can be voted on differently, and indeed produce different results, means that any such system will be the subject of easily sold negative campaigns by their opponents. If you count the same votes under a different abstract name and come up with a different result, you can imagine the cries of fake results and stolen elections that would result in our current political climate.
Mixed Member Proportional is the most widely advocated reform, and is far and away the worst electoral system devised by mankind, solving none of the problems of our existing single-member plurality system, while bringing elements of proportionality aimed at having parties represented to the people, instead of the people represented. Who represents who to who is an often-forgotten question in the debate. That most countries who have implemented MMP have backtracked after discovering it is the easiest of all electoral systems to abuse by simply splitting parties into paired list-parties and seat-parties, and that Germany, the oft-cited model, brought it in to get away from the pure proportional system that existed a century ago, is conveniently ignored.
Electoral reform that aims to implement proportional representation addresses the wrong problem. Our problem is the fundamental and increasing irrelevance of Members of Parliament as party leaderships become ever more powerful and centralized, coupled with an intellectually offensive media approach to elections that treat Canadian elections much as American presidential elections. If we accept that we are merely electing a party leader surrounded by meaningless lackeys with nothing of substance to offer in their own right, then please, by all means, implement proportional representation. Ask list MPs in other countries how many constituent phone calls they return. Let me know if they call you back.
If the purpose instead is to improve our democratic outcomes, to put emphasis on 'representation' instead of 'proportional', then we have to remove the party leader's veto on candidates, weaken (but not eliminate - refer to Sen Joe Manchin in the US for an example of why there needs to be some party discipline) the party whip, bring in some form of preferential balloting that reduces strategic voting and disincentivizes voting strictly on party lines, completely and unequivocally end both the presence of private money in elections and the right of representatives to continue to hold outside jobs while in office, and ban aggregate or multi-riding polling. In many ways it would be better to return to a system where we elect our MPs locally; they go to Ottawa and band loosely together into political parties, and only then does each one select a leader - for that session of Parliament - with whichever leader is able to garner the confidence of the House becoming the Prime Minister until dissolution.
If that sounds like a tall order, we must ask ourselves why. Whose interests prevent each of those aspects from being implemented, and what does leaving each aspect as-is do for the public good? To ask the question is to answer it.
Posted at 04:01 on May 31, 2023
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