Friday, July 8, 2016

Claims that Alternate-Vote exaggerates false majorities not plausible

As part of the discussion of how electoral modernization is hard, but worth it, I want to discuss the claims that alternate-vote exaggerates false majorities.

As mentioned, there are individuals that are most concerned about geographic representation and others demographic representation.  Of those focused on demographic representation, most believe that political parties are an appropriate proxy for demographic representation.

In short there are two groups who believe:

  • MPs should represent riding constituents, and they may be a member of a party for convenience (subject to change)
  • MPs should represent political parties, and they may be assigned a geographic constituency for convenience or because of a historical requirement of how parliament is structured
I've found a number of interesting ideas that come from those focused on political parties.

A belief that after electoral reform the parties we see today will likely remain intact.

This appears to be the basis of this "exaggerated false majorities" claim : It you take a snapshot in time of our current political parties with a recently created coalition Conservative party (that doesn't have all conservatives supporting them) and big-tent Liberal party, the big-tent Liberals would be so many people's "second choice" that they would remain in power forever.

I don't consider this remotely plausible.

Whether it is the "unite the right", "unite the left" or other such movements, the vote-splitting feature of First Past The Post (FPTP) has caused the attempted merging of otherwise dissimilar groups.  This has had the effect of stifling many (most) political views as these "coalition parties" have to maintain fear and strong party discipline in order to keep these different representatives "united".

Uber-partisanship has been growing under FPTP, and I believe the inevitable outcome will be what we see in the United States with a (barely) 2-party system where how the parties are presented are a caricature that is distant from the views of the elected representatives.

Any type of electoral modernisation, whether it is focused on political parties, individual representatives, or some hybrid, will over time radically change what types of political parties exist in Canada and be represented in the House of Commons.

While most of us will consider this a great thing, there will be those who disagree.  There are a lot of back-room manipulators in political parties who have been able to manipulate the "big tent"/"coalition" parties into doing things which a more representative political structure wouldn't allow.  Those people have an obvious bias towards the current less-representative system.  I believe that much of the "we need a referendum" rhetoric we hear from the Conservative party is this type of back-room manipulation.  If they actually wanted citizens to have direct input into critical harder-to-fix issues they would start with treaties and trade agreements, not easy to fix electoral reform.

With the inevitable proliferation of parties that represent the diversity of political views that Canadians have will come into parliament some "fringe" representatives.  These will be people on the far-right, the far-left, or that have other controversial or even divisive views.  The closest we have seen of this in Canada was the Bloc that was first formed by some existing MPs crossing the floor, with MPs later elected under that party. This type of expression of diversity will become more common.   I consider this to be a good thing: the reality is that there are political views that only a minority of Canadians share, and it is simply a matter of a healthy democracy that these views be represented in the HoC.  There will be other people who consider this to be a bad thing, and would prefer that Canadians they are uncomfortable with don't have representation in parliament.


In any parliament that represents Canadians there will be coalition governments made up of representatives of the wider spectrum of political views that Canadians hold.  In my mind the forming of a majority government is an indication of failure of the democratic process as Canadians have far wider political views than can be adequately represented within a single political party.  Some would prefer a strong, decisive government to a representative government, and consider representative coalitions to be a bad thing.

A belief that floor-crossing is undemocratic, and should be outlawed


You will mostly hear this from NDP supporters in the context of our current electoral system, but it is something that comes up in discussion of any type of PR where people are voting for parties (Like MMP) compared to non-PR (AV) or PR where people are voting for individual representatives (Like STV).   Along with voting for parties always comes the suggestion that floor-crossing should be outlawed, and that the only way an MP can change party is to win in a by-election.

For those of us who believe it is individuals that represent us rather than parties, any diminishing of this critical check on the power of political parties will be seen as harmful to democracy.  In our mind MPs are elected by constituents and that if our representative no longer feels that being aligned with a specific political party serves their constituents interests then they should cross the floor.  It is based on the idea that political parties are a convenience and that we need to be electing the right *people* to represent us -- and that it is these people, not their temporary political allegiances, that represent us.

That political parties can be seen to "represent" constituents

As discussed in the previous article, I arrived at my focus on individual representatives from  meeting many sitting MPs.  I recognise that many of the people in this debate haven't done that, or have only met with MPs and candidates from a specific party.  I highly recommend all Canadians take any opportunity they can to meet with a wider variety of candidates and MPs and form your own opinions, rather than repeat talking points being pushed out by the political parties.

I've met with great MPs from every party that could represent the diversity of views in their ridings, as well as poor ones that were loyal only to their parties and not to their constituents (a lot of "I represent only those who voted for me", and parroting party talking points).   The great MPs I met from all the major parties had more in common with each other than any of them did to the caricatures that are presented of them as representatives of political parties. They are the ones able to work together across partisanship to get the real work of parliament done.

There really were MPs who represented constituents and MPs that only attempted to represent political parties, and in my view the ones that represented parties were the poorest performers.

One of the fortunate things I have seen in the debate in Canada is that a pure-PR system has never been up for consideration.  This would fill all seats up with partisan people who only represent their party and have no motivation to understand and represent a diversity of Canadians.  I don't consider this to be healthy for our democracy, and creates incentives for the type of tunnel-vision and divisiveness that most electoral reform advocates want to move us away from.

Unfortunately there are what I consider to be "partisans" when it comes to PR that act just like political parties.  They claim their view is the only one that is right, and anyone with different views are wrong.   While they may claim they want a parliament where "every vote counts", they only mean the votes of people who agree with them and are voting for parties.  They don't want to even consider people who want to vote for individual representatives (despite, not because of, their ephemeral party affiliations).

If these partisans were interested in the type of diversity they claim they want represented in the house they would be looking for compromise with all reformers who agree that FPTP is harmful.  In my mind STV is the obvious alternative as it passes the criteria for both groups of reformers just as FPTP fails.  The problem will come with what to do about sparse populations and if they are represented by single-member districts (as proposed with BC-STV), merged into multi-member districts, or handled with a hybrid (AV+MMP).

It is hard to remain unbiased.. the more I see false claims about AV the harder it is for me to remain supportive of PR (IMHO the lesser of the evils when compared to FPTP).  As the uber-partisanship of the PR supporters grows, will I eventually be driven to the "no" camp?

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