Crawl Across the Ocean

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Another reason to support STV... the truly weak arguments that No supporters make when they try to argue their case.

For today's lesson, let's take Norman Spector's column in the globe from Monday:

Here's how it starts:

"Single transferable nonsense
10 January 2005
The Globe and Mail

The proposal that British Columbia adopt the single transferable vote (STV) in provincial elections is such a dumb idea, one hardly knows where to begin."

He's already said it's dumb AND nonsense and he hasn't even begun yet - sounds like a balanced piece coming up. He continues...

"Have I mentioned that STV supporters are asking us to try on for size the voting system used by only one of the Commonwealth's 53 countries? Now, it's possible that 400,000 Maltese know something the other 1.8 billion inheritors of British political traditions haven't yet grasped, but I wonder."

It turns out that the place to begin was with misleading statistics, bordering on outright lies. Last time I checked, Northern Ireland was part of the commonwealth, as are Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory (of course Norman might argue that sub-national jurisdictions don't count as a valid comparison because we are talking about B.C., which is a - oh, never mind.)

At the national level, Australia uses a form of STV for its Senate. Not to mention the fact that while Ireland (which has used STV since 1922) isn't part of the Commonwealth, to say that they haven't had a chance to be exposed to the great British system of government and all its wonders might be a bit misleading.

He then continues a bit further down (Note: I'm not going to quote every single line in his piece, every now and then I've skipped a few, you should probably start by reading his piece, in its entirety)...

"Proponents of this Rube Goldberg voting system say it's as simple as 1-2-3, but they're unable to explain how STV would work in practice."

Another random insult to raise the tone, and another misleading statement bordering on a lie. A visit to the Citizens Assembly will give anyone a pretty clear idea of how STV would work.

"STV advocates contend that only one country uses the system because it transfers power from politicians and parties to the people. I smell other interests at play."

Actually, only Norman talks about only one country using the system, because as we have noted, he is the only one who has randomly decided to pretend that all the jurisdictions besides Malta which use STV don't exist.

Norman's going to go on to explain how he thinks that it is just fringe elements who want STV because it would help them get elected, but if you ask me, the reason STV isn't more widespread is because it is a more complicated electoral system than first-past-the-post. And that's pretty much how everything in the world works, things start simple, but over time you learn the limitations of the way you do things and you decide to make things better, which generally means making them more complex as well. It's like the history of organized sport (with the gradual addition of fouls, lines, referees, offside rules etc.), organized religion, politics, pretty much everything. Of course if nobody is willing to improve their system until everybody else already has, well, you can see how progress might be a little slow.

"Like all proportional voting systems, STV produces minority governments"

This is true - do you know why? Because one party almost never gets over half the votes. Shocking, isn't it. Unlike first past the post which skews the vote results to artificially create a majority, proportional systems simply reflect the actual vote, and people usually vote for a minority.

"The second largest group of voters are disenfranchised, while fringe groups are empowered. And they multiply. In British Columbia's fruitful climate, that's a recipe for disaster."

God forbid the second largest group of voters are disenfranchised. That's what ALWAYS happened under a majority government - the kind that first past the post almost always produces. And does he even remember the 1996 election, when under first past the post, it was the largest group of voters who were disenfranchised?

As for fringe groups, to get a seat under STV, a party likely needs to get at least 15% if not 20-25% of the total vote in any one riding. Just how fringe is a group that gets that level of support. And what disaster does Spector foresee if a fringe-group like the Green Party (which got 12% of the vote in the last election) gets a few seats? That they might end up in a coalition and have a chance to push for part of their agenda to be implemented? What a disaster.

The rest of the article is pretty much a personal attack on Nick Loenen which attempts to show that since he supports STV and he is opposed to Abortion, STV is an inferior system to First Past the Post (I'm not making this up, that takes up about half the article).

I like it when he says that,

"he [Loenen] and other proponents of STV are proposing to destroy the finest political system in the world, British parliamentary democracy."

Before arbitrarily deciding that British parliamentary democracy is the finest political system in the world, Spector might want to compare the results over the last 40 years of two neighbours, England and Ireland - a comparison in which we see that Ireland (under STV) has emerged from hundreds of years of British oppression to exceed England in just about any measure of societal progress (including economic growth) while England has continued to struggle despite possessing the system which Spector likes so much.

Ireland's success is no proof of anything of course, but it suggests to me that B.C. isn't headed for disaster by 'destroying the finest political system in the world'.

Anyway, here's the big finish:

"Of proposals like Mr. Loenen's, leftie activist Judy Rebick has said, “This may be the only issue where you can have a left-right alliance.” Need I say any more?"

Do you see how after demonizing Loenen for half the article, he now attributes the entire STV decision to him, as if the whole Citizen's Assembly thing had never happened? And of course, all that Judy Rebick's comment means is that electoral reform isn't really a left-right issue, which of course I agree with. For example, I, a centrist, am firmly in favour, as I suspect noted conservative Andrew Coyne would be, as are any number of left wing voices.

So does Spector need to say more? I would say yes. He needs to talk about what the purpose of an electoral system is, he needs to talk about the problems with strategic voting, he needs to address the ethical problems with designing an electoral system to achieve policy objectives (strong government, marginalization of non mainstream voices) instead of simply reflecting the votes cast, and most of all he needs to address the failings of the current system which have led us to this referendum.

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  • I'm enjoying your coverage of STV. You should pitch an op-ed to the Globe to counter that one.

    By Blogger J. Kelly, at 9:59 PM  

  • Thanks Kelly, I'll have to look into the whole op-ed writing/submitting thing.

    By Blogger Declan, at 3:34 PM  

  • Interesting post Declan. I confess I haven't been quite as up on the STV movement as you, but I definitely plan to vote yes in May. After all, we could hardly do worse than FPTP.

    By Blogger Ginna, at 9:23 PM  

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