Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I Honestly Don't Get It

Greg links to an editorial in the Star about electoral reform.

Now, I could easily spend a couple of thousand words explaining how the editorial is a piece of transparently biased, poorly argued rubbish, but really, what is the point. Surely even the authors, who must be intelligent people to be writing editorials for the country's highest circulation newspaper, know that what they have written is drivel.

What I wonder is why? Why do newspapers feel the need to write such dishonest pieces on this topic? What are they afraid of? What are their real reasons for opposing electoral reform, that they are too ashamed of to admit in print? This sounds like a snarky post, but my point here is not just to mock, I honestly don't get it. Could someone let me in on the big, literally unspeakable danger of reforming the electoral system that so terrorizes the establishment.

You think I'm exaggerating, but the Star's editorial concludes by hoping that the citizens assembly will avoid having a referendum on electoral reform. It is so dangerous that not only do they not want it implemented, it is too risky to even to allow the people of the province to vote on it.

So come on, you can whisper if you have to, you can refer to it as 'the problem which must not be named' if you like, but fill me in - what is the big terrifying secret? I won't tell, I promise.


  • I don't know for sure, but I have a guess. There are two things that make proportional representation scary to people like the folks behind the Toronto Star: the fact that it would make transparent the fact that the Liberals actually aren't the "natural governing party" of this country (and even though it would be beneficial to western Liberals, most still see this as too high a price to pay), and the fact that under a system of proportional representation, our politicians would have to learn how to do their jobs entirely differently.

    On the other hand, it's quite possible that the man is just that ill-informed. Though why he'd choose to write an editorial about electoral reform without informing himself is beyond me.

    By Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist, at 12:15 PM  

  • I like how people twist things to mean whatever they want, case in point, Andrew Potter over at his blog The Rebel Sell.

    BC didn't "reject" proportional representation, as though it was a stupid idea. The majority of voters (in every sense of the word) thought it was a good idea. But we can't let the truth get in the way of a good sound(blog?)bite, now can we?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:34 PM  

  • My guess is that either the paper, or the columnist himself have close ties to a particular political party (any one, it doesn't matter which).

    Electoral reform terrifies party hacks because it means the end of solid majority governments, and a new era of coalitions. Electoral reform, then, would eliminate the possibility of one's chosen party ever REALLY holding the reins of power again. STV, here, was even more terrifying to partisans, because it would have given even more power to voters, and eliminated the power of party executives to push their preferred candidates.

    Remember when Bill Tielman showed his stripes while still writing for the straight? Every two weeks it was another column bashing the citizens assembly, or STV, or what have you. Of course, he was an old NDP insider and now works for Glen Clark at 24 hours. Something vaguely similar might just be at work at the Star.

    By Blogger one-dimensional man, at 2:01 PM  

  • Perhaps it’s inconceivable to an editor of a major newspaper that the establishment is deserving of any kind of serious criticism.

    By Blogger Simon, at 3:58 PM  

  • IP - keep your voice down, people might hear!

    Seriously though, I don't think ill-informed is the answer.

    Philip - Thanks for the thought and link, see my new post on the topic which expands on your thought.

    1D-man - Your guesses are pretty close to mine, although even at that, the level of fear seems awfully high - as if there were something more primordial at work.

    Simon - you have a point, but on the other hand, they (sometimes)manage to talk about Senate Reform without turning into partisan hacks, so there msut be something extra at work here.

    By Blogger Declan, at 4:55 PM  

  • I should also add that the Globe and Mail has had some (relatively) good coverage of electoral reform in the past.

    It will be interesting to see how they react now that it is inching closer to becoming a reality in their home province.

    By Blogger Declan, at 5:06 PM  

  • The answer does not have to do with partisan preference but with an inability to make a good argument. Status quo supporters are convinced that the current system is quite good since it has generally produced good results - isn't Canada a great place to live? But they can't explain why - they know in their hearts that the current system is better than it would be with the commonly-requested reforms (e.g., PR), but aren't sure why they believe that. Hence the need for muddle and confusion - they don't know the good arguments, so they use bad arguments.

    It is compounded by the fact that PR-supporters have reasonable-sounding arguments: "the representation of each party in the House of Commons should be proportional to the number of voters who voted for that party" - who can argue against that? I don't think there is a good counter claim in favour of the status quo - e.g., "voters should be represented by the individual chosen by their community" - because people generally vote based on party affiliation.

    So the pro-reform side can make seemingly reasonable arguments while the status quo side relies on the intuitive feeling that the current system is better. But status quo supporters cannot argue that "it just feels right" - which is why they cling to the current system - because that isn't a reasonable argument.

    I believe this because I support the status quo, yet I cannot explain what is wrong with the theory behind PR. I would say that each system should be judged on its results (efficient society vs. perfectionist society and all that), but since there are no Canadian examples of PR we don't have a basis for comparison. So we are left with theoretical, not practical, arguments which the pro-PR side dominates.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:10 PM  

  • Good point Don. In fact I praised a Jeffrey Simpson column on PR a while back because, while he was against electoral reform, he had the honesty to put it like you did, in terms of a small-c conservative gut feeling that couldn't be rationally explained, rather than relying on arguments he knew were not valid. Plus he made a few good points.

    As for your concerns, some form of proportional representation has been used on occasion in Canada, but not really over a very sustained basis.

    But I don't think Canada is so different from places like New Zealand (which switched away from our system in the 1990's), Australia
    (which has used a mix of our current system and STV type systems for quite a while now), Ireland (which has used STV for almost a century, during which time it has gone from oppressed British colony to having a much higher GDP/capita and generally better social indicators than Britain), or Britain itself, which has moved away from our current system for European and Regional (Scotland and Wales) elections.

    There just isn't much in the experience of other countries with proportional representation which scares me. Sure if you scour the globe you might be able to come up with some scary examples, but even countries like Italy which are held up as cautionary tales seem to be doing just fine, all things considered.

    By Blogger Declan, at 6:38 PM  

  • Oh Declan, you're so reasonable and courteous (not to mention quick) in responding to comments. Thanks.

    To clarify I'm opposed to PR but not necessarily STV. STV, at least as I understand it, would fit in better with the Canadian tradition of one representative for any given voter. I don't understand why the BC proposal was so complicated (why did ridings need to be expanded?) but I admit I barely noticed the proposal.

    As far as the examples go.. well, I wouldn't compare Ireland and New Zealand to Canada since those countries are much smaller and (I think) less culturally diverse (i.e. regionalistic) than Canada. But perhaps a comparison could be made between these countries and some provinces.

    But it occurred to me that there is a Canadian example of PR, albeit on a smaller scale - the elections of Vancouver city council, unlike most other Canadian cities, does not use the ward system. I have no experience with Vancouver, so I don't know the effects this system has had or how it compares to other Canadian cities. I presume you know more about that than me.

    Thanks again for the response!


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:59 PM  

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