Friday, March 31, 2006

Proportional representation —
recommended by 4 out of 5 activists!

Note the most vocal proponents of proportional representation: invariably they are activists or advocates for special interests. Why is this? Ask yourself what special interests have to gain from political representation. But begin with the question of what they have not gained from the current political system — nothing less than their political objectives, of course. Frequently frustrated by their failures to achieve their objectives, or the slow implementation of those objectives, activists for political interests mischievously recast their complaints as failures of a democratic model.

But, as Paul McKeever, leader of the Freedom Party of Ontario, reminded Ontario's select committee on electoral reform in October of last year:

Elections and voting are not, per se, democracy. "Democracy" is a term derived from the Greek word "dēmos," meaning "people," and "kratos," meaning "power," not "rule." History is filled with examples of democracies that differed wildly in terms of who was permitted to vote or how they voted, but all of those systems have something in common. Properly understood, democracy, or "people power," is the belief that government gets its authority from the governed.

[…] Because one frequently finds lawmakers to be chosen by way of elections in alleged democracies, and because candidates win elections only by winning more votes than their competitors, elections and voting widely have been confused as being synonymous with democracy. However, in truth, elections themselves are not democracy; rather, they are a very effective tool for the defence of democracy. Specifically, by removing law-making authority from the lawmakers at regular intervals, and by requiring would-be lawmakers to obtain law-making authority from the people, elections continually and effectively remind everyone that the authority to make laws comes from the people. Put another way, elections remind the people that government answers neither to God nor to itself, but to the people it governs. Elections remind us that we believe in democracy.

The relevance of this to electoral reform should be noted. Different electoral systems may differ in how effectively they "kick the bums out," but it would be utterly false to suggest that one electoral system is itself more or less democratic than any other electoral system. Just as elections are not democracy, electoral systems do not differ in how democratic they are. As this committee drafts its final report, I would urge it to keep one thing in mind: Do not let your endorsement of one electoral system over another be based on the false notion that the electoral reform will lead to "greater democracy" or the elimination of a "democratic deficit." Though it may lead to a better or worse defence of democracy, it will not lead to more or less democracy.
Having dismissed the notion that proportional representation or any variation of it is inherently "more democratic," and noting that proportional representation refers more to an electoral outcome than to a system, McKeever goes on to note that suggested electoral reforms have much more to do with how governments arrive at decisions, and that here "the implications of electoral reform are truly immense."

Indeed, the concerns of special interests in democratic nations such as ours are generally not for democracy itself, but the achievement of their objectives. Their objectives and their methods both being political, their interests are unquestionably better served in arenas where decision-making is entirely political in nature; that is, where decisions are negotiated between competing political interests, where deals are cut between the brokers of political parties and lobby groups, for one thing only: political advantage, It goes without saying that such arenas are further removed from citizens. There exists already, of course, opportunities for such political arenas — what proportional representation will achieve is to make such arenas almost inevitable. They are called minority governments. McKeever continues:
In a majority government, the party in power has the opportunity to govern by doing what it believes is right, even when it's unpopular for it to do so. In a minority or coalition government, the process is almost entirely different. The issue is not one of right and wrong, but of compromise and negotiation. On its face, that sounds very friendly and up-with-people. But in reality, the difference between majority government and minority or coalition government is dramatic. Specifically, when we replace majority governments with minority or coalition governments, we move from a system that accommodates ethical decision-making to a system based on the rejection of ethics and the substitution of whims and numbers -- ballot-counting, or hand-counting, if you're talking about the Legislature. We move from a government guided by reason to one guided by emotion; to one guided not by what's right, but simply by what you want.
Objections can be made, and sustained, that the current electoral system already provides the opportunity for minority governments, and that majority governments as well are arenas in which decisions are made for political advantage. The point is, however, that majority governments at least allow an opportunity for rational, ethics-based decisions without regard to political horse-trading, an opportunity which almost cannot occur in minority governments. With this understanding, it is easy to judge the appeal of proportional representation to special interest groups. What then is the appeal of proportional representation to the average citizen? Simply, there is none except for duplicitous and misdirecting characterizations of democracy from those who have something to gain by it — how democratic is that then?

McKeever's interest in the subject may itself be of interest — as the leader of a party that has never elected a representative, he might be expected to support an electoral system that promises his party at least a chance of putting a chip on the table. Possibly to their political detriment, but to their credit, the Freedom Party is founded on and governed by principles that entirely exceed their pursuit of political advantage. Specifically, McKeever's presentation was incited by the Ontario government's feelers on electoral reform. It appears now that Ontario is moving closer to treading the path of BC. Lawrence Solomon, writing in the Financial Post, provides examples of what we in Ontario could someday look forward:
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced a Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform this week, giving it the task of explaining how a system of proportional representation or other electoral reform might work for Ontarians. Electoral reform bodies in B.C. and P.E.I. last year -- each of which put forward their own vision of voting nirvana -- failed to explain the benefits of the more sophisticated -- some say convoluted -- voting systems preferred by many activists. The provincial populaces voted down both schemes.

Ontario's Citizens Assembly -- 52 women and 51 men chosen randomly from the province's 103 ridings, including one aboriginal of unspecified sex -- have a tall order. They need to become experts in the world's voting systems in a matter of months. The assembly will meet for the first time in September, then come to its decision and issue its report on May 15.

To help the Citizens Assembly educate itself, I've produced a primer on proportional representation, the reform favoured by most activists, using this week's election in Israel as illustration. Israel is a model of proportional representation.

1. Don't think in terms of having a majority government run by a single political party with a coherent governing philosophy; think in terms of minority government comprised of a collection of special interests.

2. Don't think in terms of voting for the candidate of your choice.

3. Don't expect to know who will form the government after the ballots are counted.
Read the rest here, and judge for yourself the benefits of proportional representation.

1 Comment:

Brent Gilliard said...

The method of goverment we have now is really horrible, in theory. In practice it seems to work out decently, but if not for the observance of countless unwritten conventions, there is potential for abuse.

I don't yet have a personal preference for any reform, but it occurred to me that the position of lt. governor could give Ontario a practical edge over other countries in stabilizing a proportionally representative legislature.