Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Why won't electoral reform work, Richard?

It's hard to return to work after a glorious and relaxing long weekend.

It's even harder to open the Toronto Star and read drivel like this.

Richard Gwyn never explains why electoral reform won't work. He also never explains why he's chosen to reject Dalton McGuinty's Liberals in this fall's provincial election in Ontario. He's not voting for the Tories or the NDP either.

If this article represents the best the anti-electoral reform naysayers can come up with, then we're in good shape for real change come this October's referendum.

5 comments:

KC said...

Richard Gwyn never explains why electoral reform won't work.

Sure he does: "Our members and MPs don't represent their electors; they represent their parties. They do and say just about whatever their party tells them to."

He also explains some of the criticisms of the PR system (i.e. members will be appointed by their party which isnt particularly democratic, and it still will not be representative of disadvantaged groups).

Its not the most compelling argument against the proposals but its hardly "drivel". His points are there and you have done nothing to rebutt them.

Matt said...

I'm sorry, but Gwyn's article was rehashed arguments that don't offer anything really new in terms of criticism.

"Our members and MPs don't represent their electors; they represent their parties. They do and say just about whatever their party tells them to."

This would characterize how things currently work in our legislatures. Exactly how does this line criticize the proposed change?

He doesn't explain why he doesn't like list MPPs, except to say they'd all be puppets of party managers. Isn't that how MPPs elected through the first past the post system we currently have behave?

Gwyn discounts the improvements to having more women and minority groups represented in the legislature as simply 'identity groups'. Then drops the issue completely.

This was weak and empty criticism. He phoned this one in. I think it most certainly qualifies as drivel.

KC said...

I disagree

This would characterize how things currently work in our legislatures. Exactly how does this line criticize the proposed change?

Because it doesn't address the main problem with our electoral system. If our representatives are puppets then what difference does it make how they are selected? A puppet elected by a FPTP system is still a puppet under a PR or mixed PR system. Gwyn isn't saying that the proposals make things worse (well actually he does implicitly, but not in this line of attack) only that they don't make it better.

He doesn't explain why he doesn't like list MPPs

Does he have to? If you ask me it is self-evident. Under a list system a person is chosen by the party and if the party is a major party they are virtually guaranteed a seat. Voters have little way to get rid of them without getting rid of the party as a whole. Sounds problematic to me.

Gwyn discounts the improvements to having more women and minority groups represented in the legislature as simply 'identity groups'. Then drops the issue completely.

I don't think he "discounts the improvements". He call it a "fair point" albeit a "minor" one. His main criticism is that these "improvements" don't "improve" the respresentation of many who need it just as much ("the poor, the homeless, the undereducated, the mentally disabled")

Like I said. Its not the best argument that could be made but its hardly "drivel". Now given that its my opinion that those who advocate for change in the status quo bear the burden of justifying the change I'd like to hear from you 1) what the proposals do to address the real problem with our democratic institutions ("voting machines") or alternatively why change our method of electing "puppets" 2) how a system where party insiders choose who is automatically entitled to those seats chosen by PR and 3) what you propose to do about all those other "identity groups" whose representation is not improved under the new system.

Matt said...

Parties are accountable to the public for the lists they put forth, including the order in which they place the candidates. If parties put up unpopular and unqualified individuals on their lists, they could suffer electorally during the campaign. If a list MPP misbehaves or does a poor job, it's highly unlikely a party will put that person up again.

I agree the list MPP system isn't perfect, but it's the only way to effectively get a more proportional legislature, which is my main goal. (The STV system that was proposed in BC is simply too complicated a proposal to sell - although it would be the best as it would provide for proportional representation, and 100% local representation with no lists.)

I don't agree that so-called puppet MPPs are the real cause of our problems. That is a separate issue that isn't being dealt with under our current system, and may not be dealt with under MMP either.

Except perhaps like this:

The problem is a FPTP system that frequently distorts the wishes of the electorate and regularly produces undemocratic majority governments.

Quebec in 1998: PQ gets 43%, Liberals get 44% and the PQ wins a majority.

Ontario in 1990: NDP gets 38% and wins 57% of the seats.

Ontario in 1995: PCs get 45% and win 63% of seats, and so on.

Our current political system has evolved away from rule by MPP to rule by special backroom advisers in the Premier's/PM's office. PM's and Premiers with majority governments govern without any major checks on their power for five years straight. Under the current system, our puppet MPPs aren't in any position to challenge this centralization of power and they never will. Any attempts to strengthen the power of MPPs have proven shallow as there is no impetus for really forcing power to shift out of the backrooms of the legislatures where it now most certainly resides.

My main focus has always been a party that wins 40% of the vote should not win 60% of the seats. My main question to you is: how can you justify a system that so frequently distorts the intentions of the electorate in favour of BACKROOM PARTY ADVISERS and leaders who run the premiers' offices of the country?

We've had to live under majority governments elected with minority support for decades.

We have the least unaccountable electoral system in the world. At least the US, which also has a FPTP system, has additional checks on the executive - with mid-term elections and a division between executive and legislative.

It seems to me the only way to pry the overwhelming centralization of power away from the backrooms of the winning leader is to bring in MMP.

Sure the backrooms will continue to be powerful, with Premiers and the PM continuing to run the show.

But the winning party would no longer win a majority of legislative support with only a minority of support.

Once the system produces a legislature that resembles the wishes of the electorate and the winning party is forced to compromise and work with their adversaries in order to ensure good government, we will have a greatly improved system of government in Ontario.

For me, the issue of improving representation for certain segments of the population traditionally underrepresented is secondary, although that too is an important side benefit of this new proposed system.

KC said...

Thats better. I actually agree think the proposal is reasonable and would probably vote for it if I lived in Ontario in spite of the fact that I LOATHE the thought of the kind of schmuck's the NDP or Conservatives would put at the top of their list (thereby making them virtually impossible to remove). I would never support a pure PR system though as I like the idea of having a local representative who can be held accountable.

I just thought that you were unfairly dismissive of Gwyn's arguments (and still do). \.

Carry on.