Thursday, November 1, 2018

What's scarier? A tiny of rump of ignored extremists, or an extremist majority government? Canada needs Proportional Representation!

Last week, I expressed alarm about the fact that 25,000 people voted for a known white nationalist in the Toronto mayoral election, representing 3.4% of the overall Toronto vote.

If a no-hope fringe candidate with a bit of money and media savvy could win that much support in Toronto, it was conceivable that similar percentages of voters in Canada could support white nationalist or other extremist parties in provincial or federal elections as well. 

Under our current First-Past-the-Post voting system, 3.4% wouldn't likely translate into any seats.  But under proportional representation (PR), they conceivably could.

Suddenly the idea of white supremacists gaining a foothold in Canadian legislatures became real to me and it scared me.

I've since recovered. Let me explain.

First, it's unlikely any proportional representation system we'd adopt in Canada would have a threshold as low as three per cent for representation.  Currently, British Columbia residents are voting on some PR proposals that would set 5.0% as that minimum threshold for seats. 

My post last week inspired a spirited debate with a progressive acquaintance who supports the Green Party who took issue with many of my points.  He reminded me that, while extremists have been able to gain footholds in some European parliaments from time to time, they have not been able to win much if any influence.  The bigger, mainstream parties have tended to shun the extremists.   It's likely our mainstream parties in Canada would do the same and instead form coalitions with more moderate parties.  The backlash against any mainstream party for jumping in bed with bigots would be too damaging to be worth it, as it is now.

One could easily expect that, even if extremists won a foothold with 5% of the vote in one election, they could easily slip below that threshold in subsequent elections.

Could such a tiny foothold one day grow much bigger as a result?  It's possible. But under PR, they'd only ever win the representation their votes deserve. 

But under First-Past-The-Post, the rise of an extremist party could be far more horrifying. 

Today, an extremist party could jump into the teens or even 20 percentage point range under First-Past-The-Post and win a lot of seats, particularly if it were mostly located in one region. 

Even more horrifying to conceive, if an extremist party got into the 30% vote range, they'd be capable of winning a majority government under First-Past-The-Post.  

I've found most First-Past-The-Post apologists to be fairly smug and arrogant about how stable things are under it.

We just saw a conservative party in Quebec, with an anti-immigrant agenda, win a big majority with only 37% of the vote, after all.  There, the Liberals, Parti Quebecois and Quebec Solidaire, all more friendly to immigrants, took a combined 58% support from Quebecers.   Yet that translated into only 40% of the seats. 

While I am disgusted by the idea of extremists winning toeholds in our legislatures under PR, I am more disgusted by the constant reality of parties with only minority support winning majority governments under First-Past-The-Post.

What's more scary?  Small parties winning rumps in the corner of our legislatures, exposing their members to scrutiny and possible scandal, all the while the mainstream parties shun them?  Or a far-right mainstream party, like the one headed today by Doug Ford, taking full control of our province now with only 40% of the vote?

Today, we have an idiot drunk on conservative ideology in charge of Ontario, claiming he's got a mandate to stop carbon taxes despite winning only 40% of the vote. 

Today, 54% of Ontarians say they're in favour of Justin Trudeau's carbon tax plan.  Yet, Dougie remains convinced he's got Ontario's support as he tries to undermine the best way to combat climate change and transform our economy for the modern era.

First-Past-The-Post distorts the wishes of all voters every time.

PR reflects those wishes, warts and all.

I'm prepared to live with the occasional wart as long as the giant mess that is First-Past-the-Post goes away.

If one party wins 40% of the vote, it should not win 60% of the seats.  It shouldn't win 55% of the seats.  It should win 40% of the seats.

Any system that would hand Donald Trump the presidency with three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton is broken.   And First-Past-The-Post / Winner-Take-All frequently hands power to the vote loser. 

We are a democracy.   It's time our voting system actually reflect that.

As I mentioned, B.C. is holding its own mail-in referendum this month.   First-Past-The-Post is once again up against Proportional Representation. Voters are also being asked to select which PR system they'd like to move to should PR be supported by over 50%.

On that front, I hope that Dual Member Proportional wins.  

1 comment:

Gyor said...

I don't support thresholds, none one should be silenced at the polls, not even racist idiots. If democracy requires someone to believe in only the things I believe in, then it stops being democracy. I consider many feminists (not all) bigots, but I would try to block their votes from being counted.

And First Past the Post got Ontario Doug Ford with a Majority government and while he isn't racist, that is almost the only good thing I can say about him. Seriously he's been a bull in a China shop. If Ontario had PR Doug Ford would never have been Premier of Ontario.