Monday, December 11, 2006

Electoral reforzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

I know, nothing more exciting than weighing the pros and cons of various balloting methods. Are you a pure list PR partisan? An IRV man? Favour the German system?

Democratic space has submitted a proposal to the Ontario Citizen's Assembly for a mixed-member PR reform. I'm very impressed, and only partially because it closely mirrors my own thinking.

That said, it's very, very important to remember that proportionality is not, in and of itself, a virtue. Rather, we want PR because it adds democratic legitimacy to our governments that usually lack it. (Bizarrely, Canada's last two governments may be the most "legitimate" we've had in a while.) The other way to add legitimacy to a government is some kind of ranked ballot.

In the simplest system, IRV, voters rank their choices. The lowest ranked candidates are removed, the votes are re-tallied based on that candidates' voters second choices, until a candidate comes out on top with 50%+1 of the vote. If we had this today in Parliament, I can honestly say I have no idea of how many seats any party would have. The point is that each and every one of our 308 MPs would have more than 50% of the vote in their ridings.

I actually think that IRV might be more realistic in the short term for Canadian politics, in that it requires the least change to the makeup of Parliament - no Province needs to lose a seat, and I suspect you might be able to bring it in without any kind of constitutional change, if you were smart about it.


Technetium said...

I am pumped for BC-STV to be introduced in BC. It's too bad they couldn't get it done before the next provincial election.

Gregory D. Morrow said...

A ranked ballot would be a fine alternative to first-past-the-post, but it does not result it more legitimacy overall; in fact, if the data we have on second and third choices is any indication, it would tend to produce a two-party system and squeeze out third parties even further. I hardly think you can claim legitimacy if, for example, 20% of people's first choice is Party 3, but they receive only 5% of the seats in a ranked ballot-only system (which is likely to happen). A ranked ballot works for leadership races or in two-party states, but not in parliamentary systems with third parties.

john said...

"Legitimacy" is problematic and eludes easy definition. Is Dion the "legitimate" choice for the Liberal Party - he was neither the first nor second choice for most of the ballots. Yet I think almost all liberals accept the result.

Similarly, if we had a Parliament where no MP won an election by a 1-5% margin above their competitor, but every MP had 51% or more, I think that most Canadians would accept that, and more importantly I think the resulting layout would tend to be something closer to what Canadians would want. (The Australian experience, I've read, is that parties tend to reach across the aisle more.)

Nevertheless, I'm still on record preferring mixed-member PR to IRV, if possible. If it's not possible, than IRV.

Mark Greenan said...

As Greg explains, IRV is NOT a proportional electoral system.

And as much as our current crop of politicians would like people to think otherwise, changing the electoral system DOES NOT require a constitutional amendment. We could have any electoral system imaginable tomorrow if the House of Commons would vote for one (well, I guess the Senate would have to approve it too).

If you wanted to change the number of House seats each province has, that would require a constituional amendment. But no electoral reformer in Canada I've talked to is proposing that.

john said...

I didn't say IRV was proportional. Indeed, I said in the post that IRV was directly contrasted with PR methods. What I'm arguing is that proportionality is not necessary for legitimacy. That IRV can still produce a "legitimate" government, even if it doesn't produce a proportional one.

As you say, the constitution guarantees many of the Provinces a basic minimum of seats in the Commons (through the Senate) and any kind of electoral change is going to need to take that in to account. You could not, I think, create a pure List PR system in Canada - it would strip the maritimes and territories of their guaranteed seats. In order to make a genuinely proportional top-up system in the commons, we'd need to add 120-150 seats. What do you think the odds of that are?

To repeat myself, over and over: I do not prefer IRV. If it were up to me, it would not be what we used. I would prefer Greg's proposal for Ontario on a national basis - it was very impressive.

BUT. I think the honest chance of Canada adopting a PR system that is actually proportional are slim. I also think - as Greg does in his comment above - that IRV is superior to the status quo. Therefore, IF we can't have some kind of PR, I'd still support IRV as an alternative to the status quo.

I don't see why that should be at all controversial.