Monday, September 24, 2007

Is Coyne correct?

I have to admit that I find this whole MMP issue quite tedious.

I can't imagine the majority of the population even caring enough to educate themselves on what is an extremely complex question. However, several people have asked me to respond to Andrew Coyne's Op-ed in Saturday's National Post (Why Conservatives should support proportional representation), so I will attempt to fulfill that request now. I've also made a few comments at Christian Conservative and Diogenes Borealis.

If I am interpreting it correctly, Coynes' basic argument is that the present system ("First Past the Post" - FPTP), encourages a dull middle ground of policy or McGuintoryism as he refers to it. (Why not TorMcGuintyism?)

Anyway, that is a moot point. At first Tory's ideas seemed very close to McGuinty's, but lately he's been throwing out new ideas at such a rapid rate that the Liberal attack dogs can hardly keep up.

In a nutshell, Coyne is saying that MMP is preferable "because the 'winner take all' dynamic would have been broken -- parties get roughly the share of the seats their proportion of the vote would suggest, rather than the highly leveraged payoffs under FPTP -- all parties would have less fear of taking risks".

I'm not sure that 'taking risks' is going to sell MMP for me.

The supposed advantage of forming coalitions doesn't really do much for me either. As Paul Wilson wisely notes in his letter to the editor in today's Post (Coyne is wrong about MMP):

...So the issue is not stable government but responsible government, which depends on our collective ability, as electors, to toss a government out. In choosing between the existing system or the new proposal, Ontario voters should not think about instant gratification ('The Greens have seats at last!"), or about which end of the political spectrum gets the advantage, but about the long-term consequences of being governed by successions of coalitions over which we, the electors, no longer hold the power of life or death.

Excellent letter!

Now one of my regular readers, Kingston, made an interesting proposal in the previous thread:

Joanne, I think I have come to a reasonable conclusion concerning MMP and if it was implemented as follows I could live with it, say after all the math is done, the Libs end up with 8 extra seats the PC 5, the NDP 4 and the Greens 2 just for example, instead of the parties leaders picking off a list of cronies they have to fill these seats with those members who lost but had the highest voter support. i.e. the Libs 8 highest percentage vote winners that never actually won are appointed, kind of like the wild card position in Major League Baseball, at least that way the members are partial accountable to the voters and have actually stood for election.

This sounds very close to the STV (Single Transferable Vote) system that has been proposed in B.C., would certainly help make the process a bit more democratic, but it still doesn't seem to address the coalition concerns that the Post reader had noted.

I'm sure this debate will rage on between those who are passionately interested in change, and those who are concerned about the ramifications. Lots of good points were made by both sides in a previous post here.

But what will the folks who can hardly be bothered to vote do? Assuming they can even drag themselves out to the ballot box, will they just close their eyes and pick?

I do agree with Coyne's last line: "...start changing minds today".

But do it for the side you truly believe in. Change just for the sake of change is not necessarily a good thing.

In today's Record Geoffrey Stevens reminds us that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".

I'm not sure I totally agree with him. The system may be 'broken' inasmuch as there is a lot of voter apathy out there, which is antithetical to a health democracy.

I'm just not convinced that MMP is the panacea.


Lee said...

Joanne, I live in B.C.
We went through the STV thing here a while ago, and i was interested until I studied the issues in depth.
I have concluded that the only thing wrong with the FPTP electoral system is a lack of accountability.
There are two aspects to my thinking.
1) The penchant of politicians to promise whatever it takes to get elected.
2) Once elected, the Government can do anything it wants and citizens do not have recourse to any remedy until the next election.
In B.C. we have recall legislation. the intent was right, but it is unworkable.
On one hand, we must allow Governments the latitude to respond to world events, or any events of an extraordinary nature.
On the other hand, we want Governments to be true to their statements or beliefs which resulted in their election.
Its a thorny issue. I have no answers, but i dont see that there will be improvements to FPTP with what has been proposed so far.
I believe that the politician who gets the most votes should be in.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Lee, thanks for giving us the benefit of your insight here.

#1 is probably the single biggest reason why people become cynical and disenchanted with politics. I don't think politicians should be even allowed to use the word 'promise' in an election campaign. Tell me your vision. Tell me where you see us four years from now.

But don't make promises. I don't need empty rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps what's wrong with the electoral system isn't the system at all but the education and profile of the voters who elect such poorly accountable governments.

Maybe instead of changing system we need to demand more of our politicians and governments, and demand a better quality politican?

Just because we move to MMP doesn't resolve irresponsible government and unaccountable politicians. It too can be manipulated

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Just because we move to MMP doesn't resolve irresponsible government and unaccountable politicians.

Exactly. In fact, under MMP I think the unaccountability factor increases.

Not just politicians need to become more accountable and responsible though.

Citizens need to become more responsible as well, instead of just shrugging it off. When I canvassed during the last federal election, I was dismayed to run into so many people who said they couldn't be bothered to vote and they didn't care.

We all need to take some collective responsibility or else we deserve the corruption and societal breakdown that will inevitably occur.

Greg said...

I agree we need more personal responsibility in our politicians. MMP will not fix that. But that is not what it is designed to fix. MMP is only designed to create a legislature that matches more closely, the wishes of the voters. Everything else is up to us.

Matt said...

Thanks for rebutting Coyne. I reject his arguments but I've been too lazy the past few days to counter them.

Swift said...

I knew you would start to see the disadvantages of MMP eventually. Supporters say that FPTP means that less than forty percent of the voters can elect a majority govrnment. But with MMP a small party with less than four percent of the votes will get their policies enacted by selling their support to the highest bidder. This means that over 96% of the voters did not want these policies. This is supposed to be an improvement?

If we are sometimes not getting the government we voted for now, because of broken promises, we certainly won't get the goverment we vote for after the backroom deals that will be made in order to form a coalition government with a lot of small parties.

The old, established parties do not have a lock on winning seats with FPTP system as it now stands. Both provincialy and nationally, we have seen parties that were not in existance fifty years ago take seats in some places. However the current system can be improved.

The most important improvement would be a list of guaranteed promises. If a party breaks one of these promises the government automatically falls. The Prime Minister or Premier, and the minister(s) responsible for the department(s) responsible for the broken promise would be barred from running again. A few other penalties, such as not being eligable for any government appointments, would guarantee major promises are kept.

The only voting reform that would improve things, is the preference ballot. You rank the candidates according to your preference. If no candidate gets a majority, the candidate wih the least votes is eliminated, and the votes cast for them are redistributed to the next in line accordng to the voter's preferences. This continues until one candidate has a majority.

This system is simple for the voters, as all you have to do is write 1,2,3... beside the various candidate's names. How may people do not vote for their firt choice because they know that their firs choice cant win? There might be some surprises in store for the major parties under this system. A stronger than expected showing by a minor party will certainly get the attention of the major parties. The first choice vote total may reflect a local, regional, or special interest issue, but more than a few hundred votes for a non mainstream candidate will make the major parties give some serious thought to why they are loosing these votes.

Greg said...

Swift, preferential voting will assure Liberal majorities forever because they are the second choice of both NDP and Conservative voters. Not my idea of a good time.

valiantmauz said...

Greg said...

Swift, preferential voting will assure Liberal majorities forever because they are the second choice of both NDP and Conservative voters. Not my idea of a good time.

That would be poetic justice, wouldn't it? The sad thing is, if we reject this proposal, there will not be another crack at electoral reform in this generation. We will continue to lurch between Liberal and Conservative "majorities" with the occasional Bob Rae or minority thrown in for spice.

At any given time, more than half the electorate will be ticked off, knowing that their vote means diddly squat, watching while the government of the day does things that make their hair curl.

I can only hope that when Howard Hampton or his successor are given a "majority" government down the road, that certain Conservtive bloggers are still at it. I'll be the one pointing and laughing.

Swift said...

Greg, I have knocked on doors, done phone canvassing, and done poll by poll analysis of election results. Your claim that preferential voting will lead to majority liberal governments is not true. How did Bob Rae become Premier of Ontario if the Liberals are everyone elses second choice. A lot of voters switched from conservative to NDP in that election.

Möbius said...

"How did Bob Rae become Premier of Ontario if the Liberals are everyone elses second choice. A lot of voters switched from conservative to NDP in that election."

Let's see, an opportunistic leader (Peterson) calls an election early, for no good reason, other than the opposition is weak, and he thinks he can win. Bob Rae beats him because NDP, Liberal, and PC voters were disgusted with him for it.

Yeah, it worked for Chretien, but Peterson was no Chretien. Worked for Martin once, too. Only for a short time, though.

liberal supporter said...

Rae got in because everyone was angry with Peterson. The Patti Starr scandal was exploding just days before the vote.

Peterson was also hurt by his support of the Meech Lake accord, and by the recession which was being blamed on the Free Trade Agreement. Even though FTA was Mulroney's, Peterson also supported Meech so he was too strongly associated with it.

But I recall it was mainly Patti Starr, as far as I was concerned.

So, just like a couple of years ago, a fund raising scandal of crooked underlings toppled a reasonable government and it was replaced by something far worse.

Möbius said...

"So, just like a couple of years ago, a fund raising scandal of crooked underlings toppled a reasonable government and it was replaced by something far worse."

Darn those crazy voters!

Corruption is only caused by a "few bad apples"! Shouldn't punish the entire party for it.

Swift said...

My point was that the Liberals are not necessarily Conservative or NDP voters second choice.
Conservatives sometimes vote NDP and NDP voters sometimes switch to vote Conservative.

For those of you worried about Liberals forming government after government, you should worry about MMP. There will be no majority government unless the political scene changes radically. What party will spport the Conservatives to form a government? Not the NDP. Not the Green party. There will have to be a party formed that will take votes from the Liberals, NDP, and the Greens before there is ever going to be another Conservative premier of Ontario with MMP. Can you develop a platform that will do that? If so, you had better start a new party the day after MMP passes, if you want to see a Consaervative premier in Ontario again.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Swift, your last comment there pretty much sums up my greatest concerns about MMP.

Gerry said...

I agree with you Jo... I definitely say NO to MMP, and am trying to convince everyone I meet to vote no to it on election day.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Good for you, Gerry. The more I hear, the more I'm convinced this is a bad idea.