Thursday, 13 October 2016

Electoral Reform

  I attended a meeting on Electoral Reform held by my local MP recently. I was very impressed with my fellow citizens comments, the calibre of discussion and the wide range of views represented. The Liberals promised electoral reform and to my great pleasure, they have actually moved on this issue. They created a committee to review electoral reform and decide on a different voting system than the one we currently use. This fills me with gladness, because one of the great frustrations of my life is that my choices are almost never represented and we are in a time when we will very much need a system of representation that really does include everyone, especially those on the fringe
  Opponents of change insist that the system we have 'may have flaws' but we need to be very careful about making changes and so should wait and take our time. Well, firstly, we've been discussing this issue for 70 years and have had at least a dozen commissions, and we take our time, an election happens, a new Party takes power and nothing gets changed. This is how they want to prevent any change because opponents mostly constitute those who will never again hold power under a pluralistic system, because they are too ideological and they have hitherto refused to co-operate with anyone on anything. Moreover, the current system was devised in 13th Century England, long before political parties were even conceived, with the intent to have locally pre-eminent citizens represent approximately 5000 people for every member of Parliament, and it is entirely possible for 5000 people to actually know who they were choosing to send to represent them. Whereas, a typical constituency now has upwards of 50,000 people, so it is virtually impossible for my representative to be known to all of us first hand. So people vote by Party affiliation. It is only reasonable that if people vote by Parties, we should have a new system that reflects that reality. 
  Opponents of change argue that the system functions well and is stable, but this is demonstrably false. It is stable only over the short term, but our current system was never designed with the idea of Parties in mind, and so we keep lurching from one Party to the other back and forth, each Party imposing very different laws and supporting very different policies. This means that governments undo what previous governments put in place which has all the stability of a two-year-old learning to walk. Policies reverse themselves by government and there is only continuity in the tacit agreement that the only way to manage an economy is through the ever-increasing use of fossil fuels and consequent emission of CO2 into the atmosphere when it is long past time to be cutting back. In almost all nations with pluralistic systems designed around Party affiliation as a central premise, government policies are far less variable from election to election and policies and laws change less over time. They are far more stable than our system has been. As for functioning well, we choose individuals to represent us, but choose those individuals by Party affiliation. Once elected, these 'individuals' are, in actuality, submissive to the discipline of the Party leaders. The vagaries of our current system means one party can garner the votes of about one third of the nation, concentrated properly, which leads to a majority of seats in the house and consequently, due to Party discipline, a very small group of people wield 100% of the political power. We have seen the consequences of this in the recent Harper government, which, unlike previous governments who were careful to keep the appearance and form of pluralistic political dialogue, discarded all pretense of consultation or co-operation and imposed their radical ideological fantasies on the nation with almost unprecedented vigour. This is exactly why we need to prevent this sort of abuse of power in the future. Mr. Harper was  a pretty good government, when he was held in the vise of a minority government, but appalling when in majority, i.e. total, power.
   Opponents of change argue that a new ballot is too complex for the average voter, but given the ability of ordinary citizens in so very many other countries to figure out how to work a ballot with proportional representation in various forms,  the argument then is simply a disdainful dismissal of the average citizen and betrays the contempt in which they are held by those who benefit from the current system. Moreover pluralistic voting methods have already been successfully used, at the municipal level in Canada, and were only eliminated by those who benefit from the largest-minority First-Past-The-Post voting system that we have to use now.
   Opponents of change argue that it must be brought in by referendum, which is laughable. The irony of demanding popular support to bring in a voting system to reflect popular support is rich. So is the notion that we need permission from a majority to have a system to encourage and recognize minority viewpoints. Opponents say we must, because they know well that referendums do not work. Most people are not policy wonks and have no interest in exploring the exquisite complexities of voting systems. They are not thoroughly familiar with the potential consequences,  or the need, for any given change and so, when confronted with a choice between known versus and unknown, but not facing a crisis, people invariably choose as all biological creatures do: they choose to stay with the familiar rather than change to the unfamiliar. McGuinty used this non-action masterfully, in Ontario, with the 2007 Referendum. The government assured the referendum would fail by spending less money it total on the entire process, viz., organizing committee meetings, supporting research, developing options, and advertising, than a typical fast-food corporation spends hawking its wares in one evening on prime-time TV. They further assured it would fail by asking a loaded question, designed to lead the ignorant to choose 'no change', thus guaranteeing failure while still pretending to do something. Furthermore, no significant yet necessary change was ever enacted via referendum. Women did not get the vote by referendum, nor did aboriginals. Homosexuality was not made legal, nor was death for murder enacted by referendum. David Milgaard would never have been freed, but been killed for a crime he did not commit.
   If I were to arrange a new system, I would base it on Mixed Member Proportional, that is, a mix of Members elected to represent a particular electoral district, and extra members appointed by Party affiliation to produce a Parliament that is proportional by Party. But for the selection of the Member, I would use Alternate Vote, whereby all candidates are ranked from first choice to last, which assures that, while whoever becomes elected may not be the first choice of more than a minority, which is the case now, the eventual winner will be the second or third choice of the majority, and someone most are comfortable with. Or possibly combine this with larger, multi-member districts via Single Transferable Vote, but still with the option to top up via Party choice. 

   My rationale for this is simply that, given the scale and magnitude of the electorate, people vote by Party, so that must be a component. But the benefit of having a particular person, or very small group of people associated with my locality ensures that there is someone paying attention to how the proposed government policies and laws are going to affect people in my area, and someone whose job is to address government-related issues of immediate concern to me.
   We very much need a system of representation that really does include everyone, especially those on the fringe. We are long past due, being one of only three OECD countries to still use this outmoded system of electing representatives. It is no longer appropriate for the size of the populace, and is no longer appropriate to select leadership we will very much need as we face increasingly difficult predicaments of climate change and energy reduction during 21st Century.

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