Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The strongest argument against proportional representation I've ever seen: Faith Goldy's 3.4% vote for Toronto mayor

Toronto mayor final voting results

Yesterday, Torontonians voted in their municipal election and re-elected John Tory by a wide margin with 63.5% of the vote.  Second place finisher Jennifer Keesmaat finished way back but with the still substantial 23.6%.

But Faith Goldy, a far-right propagandist who works through a white supremacist lens and has talked about an upcoming racial civil war in North America, took a disturbing 25,667 votes across the city, or 3.4% of the vote.

Faith Goldy and supporters with Ford at Ford Fest last month
Goldy got a bit famous in neo-conservative circles thanks to her work for Ezra Levant's Rebel Media, a website on which many "mainstream" conservatives like Andrew Scheer have appeared in the past.  Her notoriety increased last year when she "reported" on the Charlottesville white supremacist riot and "appeared on a podcast affiliated with neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer."

For that, she was fired from Rebel.  It's sad to realize that despite that at least one of her videos still appears on the Rebel's YouTube channel. 

Goldy recently made an appearance at Doug Ford's 2018 Ford Fest and got photographed with the premier.  When questioned about this, Doug Ford first found it difficult to disassociate himself from her. 

Goldy's mayoral candidacy got little mainstream media attention.  In the few mayoral debates that took place, she wasn't invited (although she did try to force herself into at least one of them.)  In fact, John Tory explicitly said he would not stand on the same debate platform with a white supremacist.

But Goldy's signs were all over the city and she had enough money to launch robo-calls and other outreach to voters.   And in the end, she garnered 3.4% or 25,667 votes.

This is the kind of thing that opponents of proportional representation have been warning us about and I must say today I am deeply alarmed.

Yes it was a mayoral race, but if this dubiously qualified candidate can win this much support in a mayoral race in Toronto, imagine what she or similar racists in a political party could win in a general election.

I've argued before that proportional representation is a better voting system than our current First-Past-The-Post system.

But today, I'm not so sure.  As we know, in the Ontario model of proportional representation that was defeated in 2007, three per cent of the vote province-wide was the threshold for winning seats in the House.  That party would then be able to use that representation to influence the larger parties.  Winning that toehold in one election would likely mean its support could grow as potential voters realize they're not wasting their votes on them.

Yet, our current system tends to shut out extremists like this.  It's not enough to win 3 or 5 per cent of the vote, one has to win a wider amount of support enough to carry the most votes in at least one seat to earn representation.

This reality has shut out extremists like Faith Goldy from gaining representation and more power in our legislatures with which they could do great harm.

Of course, First-Past-The-Post also has its many flaws.  It hands parties with a mere plurality of support majority power.   Sometimes it even hands the losing party the most seats, as it did recently in New Brunswick.

A friend of mine on social media recently commented in support of First-Past-The-Post, stating "there is no question that FPTP ensures that political parties are only successful if they avoid extremes and extremists."

In some ways, that's true.  Parties will usually aim toward the mainstream in order to win enough broad support to win seats and government.  Parties that only aim toward the tiny minority that are white supremacists and ignore the rest of us cannot usually win seats under FPTP.

In the United Kingdom, the xenophobic UK Independence Party won an incredible 12.6% support in the 2015 election, but that only translated into one single seat out of 650.  In the next election, its support fell way back to 1.8% and zero seats.

Yet extreme parties like that would win seats under proportional representation.  I'd personally favour a five percent cutoff for representation under PR, but even that total could be exceeded by some upstart white supremacist party, as Goldy's 3.4% total yesterday makes clear.

I equate white supremacists with homophobic bigots on the religious right.  And there's no doubt that the shrinking proportion of religious fundamentalists who would destroy the lives of all LGBTQ people have been frustrated of late as their influence also recedes in Canada.

They've responded to this reality by continuing to stay active in the Conservative parties across the country.  But even in those parties, their influence is diminishing.  The Conservatives no longer explicitly oppose same sex marriage, for example.

Yet, far right activists still have had some success in Conservative parties.  Loser candidates with almost zero qualifications for leadership - like 19-year-old home schooled Ontario MPP Sam Oosterhoff, or Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost - seem to regularly win big amounts of support in that party. 

Earlier this year, right wing extremist Tanya Granic Allen ran a one-note campaign in the Ontario PC leadership race against Ontario's inclusive school curriculum (brought in by Kathleen Wynne, it actually acknowledged the existence of LGBTQ kids in our schools.)  Granic Allen garnered an incredible 15% of the vote, almost as much as Caroline Mulroney.  In the end, that 15% of the vote was crucial to "electing" Doug Ford as PC leader, who's now gone on to become premier and cancel that inclusive curriculum (while still ditching the horrid Granic Allen from his candidate roster after some more homophobic comments of hers were revealed.)

So while no far right fringe party has representation in the Ontario legislature, its influence in determining the outcome of the Conservative leadership shows that the big tent parties under First-Past-The-Post are still vulnerable. 

Yet I have to say that I prefer the status quo over seeing a contingent of bigots winning representation under some possible proportional representation system.  While the influence of the far right on the Conservatives remains real but not overwhelming (and they have virtually no influence in the Liberal Party, the NDP or the Greens,) there's no doubt that influence would grow substantially were they to win a foothold of actual seats in our legislatures.

The far right extreme is not going away.  It's true that certain conservatives like Doug Ford or Donald Trump have been able to appeal to them in order to win power under Winner Take All or First Past the Post.   But those same conservatives under these voting systems must still appeal to the much bigger mainstream, and thus that influence is diminished, it seems.  I'd hate to see what a Conservative Party coalition with Faith Goldy's far right fringe party might accomplish under proportional representation.

Suddenly, I find myself questioning my whole support for PR.  Most PR proponents tend to be well-meaning left-wing activists or environmentalists.  But as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Perhaps progressive folks like me who want to stop the flaws of First-Past-The-Post should look to other systems to fix it.

Perhaps ranked balloting - the kind that Justin Trudeau wanted to implement federally and which now exists municipally in London, Ontario - is the better alternative than a system that might give an amplified voice to the far right extremes of our society. 


UPDATE: After some good debate and thought, I've re-thought this and still support Proportional Representation over our current broken First-Past-The-Post system.  Click here for my update. 


The Mound of Sound said...

What rubbish! FPTP will probably give JT another majority government, defeating the will of three out of five voters. That's not democracy. And, in due time, it will deliver majority power to the other side with the same margin. Arguing against electoral reform based on a strawman, Faith Goldy, is sophistry.

Matt Guerin said...

Why do you PR types only think FPTP is the only alternative? If you read my blog, you'd know I'm not fan of FPTP. I want electoral reform. But now I see that Ranked Balloting may be the more preferable alternative as it would fix much of what I see wrong with FPTP. Until yesterday, I would've said that PR is better than Ranked Balloting as PR would more accurately reflect voters' first choices, rather than their second or third. But now seeing a radical right wing racist garner that much support has disturbed me. It's harder to now argue that we should open the floodgates and hope calmer, more reasonable heads always prevail. Some PR advocates point to Europe where similar racist parties under PR don't hold much legislative influence even though they have seats. But that hardly assuages my fears - racists will always be with us - but having racists legislative representation legitimates them even further, I'd say sadly.

Unknown said...

I disagree. Yes, with PR, Fringe movements will probably get Fringe representation. But that's all they'll ever get. There won't be any such this as a mainstream party held hostage to its extremist wing anymore, since parties will be free to split up. Maybe the Conservative party will team up with Goldy's Old Stock Party in Parliament, but it won't have to.

Gyor said...

Because MMPR IS the only alternative too FPTP. Ranked Ballot is just as undemocractic as FPTP, it gives people the illusion of choice, but does not achieve proportional numbers of people elected and homogenizes the voices of electorate.