Crawl Across the Ocean

Monday, November 22, 2004

OK, back to PR

First of all, even though I disagree with his conclusions I have to say that in his article, STV will be very very bad for Canada Jeffrey Simpson from the Globe shows himself to be a cut above the other fearful columnists who are so scared of changing the electoral system.

He makes pretty much the strongest case you can against electoral reform, avoids (mostly) the deceptive arguments and misrepresentations of many of the other columnists, makes reference to actual experience with other systems and even manages a few valid points (valid points being defined as those I agree with).

Nonetheless, there is lots I disagree with and I could do the same point by point rebuttal I did with the last couple of articles, but I saw the way my girlfriend's eyes glazed over when she saw the length of those posts, so I'm going to try something a little different this time, and focus on a more theoretical discussion of electoral reform.

(I know what you're thinking, sounds exciting)

As I see it, before choosing an electoral system we have to answer a fundamental question: is the electoral system solely a means to an end, or is it actually an end in itself?

Put another way, if we were assured (by some verifiably omnipotent being, say) that we would receive better government under a dictatorship than under a democracy, would we switch, or would we stick with the democracy.

If one system is more democratic than another but less effective, how do we trade these two things off against each other?

Take, for example, the last Federal election. At a rough estimate, I'd say that the average MP elected received about 50% of the vote (probably less), meaning that about half of all voters have someone in parliament representing them.

Under a Single-Transferrable-Vote system, that number would likely rise to at least 80%. Now say, (only for the sake of argument), that STV would lead to poorer decisions (for whatever reason). Does that mean we should stick to the current system which is 50% democratic, vs. one which is 80% democratic? If yes, then what if we had an option in which only 25% of the votes counted, but we figured it would provide even better government? 10%, 5%? Is there a line somewhere?

So where do our columnists stand in this debate? Murray Campbell quotes Churchill as saying,
"the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
in his argument that we don't want the system to be too democratic. Simpson, in his argument that we don't want the system to be too democratic, says that,
"PR systems can make hard decisions if they absolutely have to, as in a crisis. But they don't instinctively put a premium on long-term thinking or provide the smack of strong government."

Ian Urquhart, in his argument that we don't want the system to be too democratic, says that,
"If we end up with the B.C. model [STV], that delay [in implementing it] will be a blessing"

From what I've seen, the only major columnist who has put the principle of democracy ahead of the goal of good (strong in their view) government is Andrew Coyne, for which I give him credit.

(Note: Richard Gwyn didn't really seem to take a side, he was focussed on his odd digression into the urban/rural split).

Darn it, every time I talk about PR it turns into another long post, I think my next one will simply say,
"PR is better - go study it for yourself, and don't believe everything you read in the paper."

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