Crawl Across the Ocean

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Power vs. Principles

note: cross-posted at the e-group

Our electoral system has many problems. I won't go into all of them here, but one of the most fundamental ones is that it gives parties majority control over our government when less than a majority of voters have supported them. Of course, the power to change this problem lies in the hands of the very people who were elected to a majority because of it. As a result, it takes a government of unusual integrity to introduce the possibility of reform in our electoral system. The B.C. Liberal party, four years after seeing the NDP win a majority government in an election (1996) in which the Liberals got more votes than they did, showed this integrity by setting up a Citizen's Assembly to study electoral reform.

Similarly, governments in P.E.I., New Brunswick and Quebec have all been moving down the path towards electoral reform and away from our archaic First Past the Post system. Ontario is the latest province to look at electoral reform, having introduced legislation which would create a 'Citizen's Assembly', based on the B.C. model, to study possible new electoral methods and make recommendations.

In this context of this general progress, it was disappointing to see that the federal Conservative party has abandoned the old Alliance policy of convening a citizen's assembly to study reform. I guess the Conservatives got too close to the bright lights of unfettered majority rule and their populist principles got left by the wayside. Not too surprising, but sad nonetheless.

Still, whether we look at New Zealand or Australia or Scotland or England or just about anywhere really, the trend around the world remains away from First Past the Post and towards better, fairer voting systems which combine local representation with proportional results. In fact, within the OECD club of the 30 most developed nations in the world, only Canada and the U.S. still use First Past the Post for all elections.

And the U.S. kind of makes sense since they have a pretty strict two-party system (First Past the Post is particularly poor in multi-party systems) and because they are so resistant to change of any kind (still use the Imperial system, still use a dollar bill, unwilling to set up independent organization to run elections, etc. etc.). But Canada has no such reasons for being stuck in the past and it's sad to see that the Conservatives have allowed their desire for absolute power to take precedence over giving Canadian voters the option to choose one of the better electoral systems which voters in so many other countries have chosen.

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  • Did you notice the relevant section of the CBC article you linked to was under the heading "Tories abandon Alliance planks"?

    I agree that their decision is disappointing, but I don't think it had much to do with getting "too close to the bright lights of unfettered majority rule", because the Conservatives really seem hopelessly unlikely to get a majority government. Even if they do (eventually), their odds of getting re-elected probably aren't that good.

    The way this decision and the decisions not to pursue recall or fixed election dates were spun by some journalists made it sound like these were all crazy right-wing nutbar ideas. Maybe you have to live in the weird and wacky province of BC (or be an expat British Columbian living elsewhere) to think they make any sense.

    I don't get it. I would have thought this was something that could appeal to a lot of undecided voters. But what do I know? I'm just a wacky British Columbian.

    By Blogger Shannon, at 8:53 AM  

  • Yeah, I noticed that and I see your point. I considered that maybe voting down consideration of electoral reform was part of the plan to 'move to the Centre' but honestly, I just don't see how that's possible. I mean, with Campbell and McGuinty both bringing in Citizen's Assemblies and getting (in Campbell's case anyway) primarily praise for it, I just don't see how electoral reform could be seen as some fringe idea that would prevent a party from geting elected.

    Besides, even if it was part of just jettisoning the controversial Alliance policies, that act in itself was undertaken in an effort to put aside those principles in order to get elected.

    Finally, I don't think the CPC leaders share your pessimistic view of their chances of winning an election (and neither do I, for the record). Every year the Liberals are in power is like another year stretching an elastic band a little further and sooner or later the elastic is going to snap.

    The Conservatives can try to put it off with their fear mongering about gays destroying the family and the church, their denial of global warming and their abandonment of good policies like electoral reform but sooner or later they'll end up in government in spite of themselves.

    By Blogger Declan, at 9:13 AM  

  • I agree with you that by abandoning Alliance policies they (maybe that should be "we", but I pretty much gave up on the party after our regional policy meeting and didn't even bother going to the delegate selection meeting) seem to be putting aside their principles in order to try and get elected. It just seems bizarre that they would do it on this issue, since I would expect electoral reform to be fairly popular or at least uncontroversial (at least among people not named Norm Spector).

    I mean, they stuck with their principles when it came to something stupid like opposing gay marriage, but then they abandon electoral reform? On the other hand, there may just be lots of old-school Tories who think that Norm is right.

    I am still pretty pessimistic about the Conservatives winning the next election. And if they do, it will only be because they run as the Liberals-lite and because people finally get way too fed up with the Liberals. So those of us who don't want the Liberals-lite don't really have much to gain from the bright lights of unfettered majority rule anyway. And once the Conservatives have been in office for a term and don't deliver the utopian wonderland that swing voters were hoping for, these voters will abandon them for the Liberals, so any changes brought in by the Conservatives will quickly be undone anyway.

    On top of that, the party doesn't really seem to be united on the basis of any belief other than "the Liberals suck", so an electoral system that wouldn't force them (us) to try and make a big-tent party work would actually be helpful.

    The Liberal-lite faction of the party might like FPTP because it encourages parties to take the kind of positions they genuinely prefer, but social conservatives and classical liberals would probably benefit from having their own parties and trying to promote their ideas and change public opinion rather than simply pandering to it. Is the Liberal-lite gang just so dominant that they were able to get what they wanted in spite of opposition on this issue, or did the others go along with them because they genuinely agreed, or were they just trying to seem "moderate"?

    (Or maybe they just got enough votes from hung-over, sleep-deprived Young Tories who had no idea what they were voting on.)

    Like you, I don't understand how this can be seen as some fringe idea that would prevent the party from being elected--except that it seems like it's being reported that way. Which is just weird. But maybe if you're not from wacky BC, it doesn't seem that way.

    By Blogger Shannon, at 11:07 AM  

  • Well said Shannon.

    All I have to add is that I'm born and raised Southern Ontarian (Easterner to you B.C. folks) so I don't know if being from wacky B.C. is the answer.

    Maybe it was the hungover vote after all :)

    By Blogger Declan, at 12:19 PM  

  • Maybe you don't actually have to be from wacky BC. You just have to have lived there for a while.

    By Blogger Shannon, at 3:23 PM  

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