Crawl Across the Ocean

Friday, February 18, 2005

Time to Pack it In

After reading Norman Spector's latest comments on STV in the Vancouver Sun, I have come to the conclusion that it is (past) time for him to depart from the column writing business.

Let's start with the outright lie with which he concludes his column, saying that STV is "a voting system used by only one Commonwealth country"

The Sun should really publish a correction on this one, since clearly Australia and New Zealand are members of the Commonwealth and equally clearly both use STV for some elections (not to mention Scotland and Northern Ireland). I'm not sure why Spector feels that, on top of his pathetically transparent attempt to exclude Ireland (which uses STV) from discussion, he needs to lie outright as well.

But that's far from the only laughable part of this column. Now when you read the following line, "Proponents of STV claim that only politicians and political hacks favour the existing system", what do you expect is coming next?

I think you'd expect to be given an example of someone who favours the existing system, but isn't a politician or a political hack. But no, here's what comes next, "As I look at prominent names in the debate, however, I see the Bob Williams faction of the NDP -- represented by former cabinet minister Andrew Petter -- supporting STV. I see Moe Sihota -- representing the less ideological Dave Barrett wing -- opposing it. And I see a similar radical/moderate split on the right."

So you see, it isn't just politicians and political hacks who support the existing system, Moe Sihota, representing the less ideological Dave Barrett wing of the NDP, supports it too. And it's the same on the right!

It gets better. Spector's main point seems to be that, under STV, the Liberals wouldn't have decided to spend more money in the budget in the hopes of getting elected. He posits that, "STV would fragment our two big-tent, centrist parties and force politicians to compete for votes on the ends of the political spectrum." and that, "B.C. politics are not polarized. It's our society that's polarized -- along multiple fault lines. In fact, our political system is one of the few institutions that keep it all together." So you've got the argument right, having more than two parties would cause polarization - I don't agree, but at least it's a coherent point.

But further down, Norman backs his point up by saying that we don't want to become like Malta (which uses STV), since Malta is, "a country that's infamous for polarized politics." The thing is, Malta is also famous as the only jurisdiction which uses STV and which still has a two-party structure. So the infamously polarized Malta has a two party system, just like we do now, and Spector is basically contradicting his argument that a two-party system is the recipe for non-polarization.

There's more. Spector also claims that, "To date, proponents of the new voting system have been unwilling or unable to explain clearly where my vote and your votes would go after we mark our ballots."

Now the unwilling part is absurd. It is the Yes side which has a strong interest in explaining the STV system as well and as clearly as possible and a visit to any Yes-vote supporting site will reveal a strong emphasis on doing exactly that. For Yes supporters, ignorance (like Spector's) is our enemy.

As for the unable part, I doubt that Spector has conducted a poll, so one of two things must be true:

Either a) Spector has failed to understand how the vote counting will work - which makes the fact that he has written a number of columns criticizing the impact of the new system seem a little premature to say the least or

b) Spector understands it himself, but he is concerned for the little people in B.C. who don't have his intelligence to figure out this complicated system (which the Irish have been using since before WWII).

There's other nutty stuff as well, such as insinuating that STV will lead to a ban on abortion in one paragraph and then calling STV supporters an 'unholy alliance' (he seems to miss the irony) only a couple of paragraphs later.

Aside from all this, if Spector is going to comment on electoral reform, shouldn't he at least make a token effort to address all the flaws such as the lack of fairness and lack of power for voters which have driven us to consider dropping our current system? Or does he feel that if he keeps repeating his lie that 'only one country in the Commonwealth uses STV' like a mantra, then that is argument enough?

You put it all together and what you get is one of the most poorly written columns I've ever read, and one which the editors of the Sun should be embarrassed to have printed in their paper.

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  • Did you email him?

    By Blogger Simon, at 4:11 PM  

  • I hadn't, but your comment made me realize that, given the critical tone of my post, it was only fair to email him and give him a chance to respond, so I did so.

    By Blogger Declan, at 4:46 PM  

  • This is a link for a Malta case study:

    For other links on STV/Malta go to:

    By Blogger Robert Micallef, at 7:08 AM  

  • Thanks for the link Robert, it's an interesting read.

    After looking at how (differently) STV works in practice in Ireland, Malta and Australia, I have to agree with the authors when they say that "We should be wary of deriving general conclusions from the study of a single jurisdiction all too readily."

    It certainly seems like STV provides the flexibility for voters to implement whatever type of system (two party / multi-party / lots of independents / no independents etc.) they want to vote for, which in my view is a good thing.

    So, I can't help but be curious - if Malta held a referendum on switching from STV to First Past the Post, which way would you vote?

    Interesting blog as well, makes me realize just how little I know about Malta (and how if I wanted to learn more, a blog like yours would be a good place to start). General in fo sites like Wikipedia and such can provide facts and figures but reading a blog gives much more of a feel for a place, I find.


    BTW: Thanks Ginna for the connection.

    By Blogger Declan, at 11:49 AM  

  • I would vote to keep STV. But such a referendum is unlikely in the forseeable future because there is a general consensus across the political spectrum that STV is a fair system. However, there could be proposals for some amendments in future particulary in relation to ensuring better representation of minority parties. (ex intro of thresholds)

    By Blogger Robert Micallef, at 2:10 PM  

  • Thanks for indulging my curiosity Robert. Now if only I had the budget to bring you over here for some April speaking engagements... :)

    By Blogger Declan, at 7:29 PM  

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