Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Conservatives for proportional representation

From the policy document (.pdf) adopted by the Conservative policy convention in March 2005:

10. Electoral Reform

i) A Conservative Government will consider changes to electoral systems, including proportional representation, the single transferable ballot, fixed election dates, and the use of referendums.

ii) In reviewing options for electoral reform, a Conservative Government will not endorse any new electoral system that will weaken the link between Members of Parliament and their constituents, that will create unmanageably large ridings, or that will strengthen the control of the party machinery over individual Members of Parliament. A national referendum will be held prior to implementing any electoral reform proposal."
Glad to hear it, Steve. I'm still not so sure about those fixed election dates and the use of referendums, but I can live with them if we get a fair voting system, too.

How about appointing Scott Reid (i.e. the Tory MP, not the Liberal spindoctor of the same name) as Minister for Democratic Reform? It would be a nice start.


Greg said...

I think IP that was just the proposed policy. I recall it was voted down at the March policy conference.

Anonymous said...

I'd say part ii renders PR a non-starter, at least as I understand PR. I don't see how you can massage a PR system to fit in with those qualifications.

KevinG said...


You didn't find it odd that in point i) they propose looking into proportional representation and in point ii) they specifically exclude any form or proportional representation ?

" that will weaken the link between Members of Parliament and their constituents, that will create unmanageably large ridings, or that will strengthen the control of the party machinery over individual Members of Parliament... "

With those restrictions, one could arguable exclude any proportional rep system.

I think it's just a smoke screen. Now that Harper is in power and hopes to see a majority next time there is no way he'll be backing prop rep.

freshly_squeezed said...

keving is bang-on - no party that benefits from first-past-the-post, which is usually the winning party in any of these 'election' dealies we hear so much about, would want to dilute their power through proportional rep. That's why the change needs to come from below, not above.

Oh, and the best argument yet for proportional? It'll screw over the Bloc, big time. Now THAT's an agenda I can get behind.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Nope, this is from the policy declaration as adopted at the convention. What was turned down as a more specific statement on electoral reform and citizen's assemblies.

Craig and Kevin,

I don't find it at all problematic, actually. What they were clearly trying to say that they find unacceptable is a purely list-based PR system. I'm okay with that, because I'd find it unacceptable, too. If we increased the size of the House of Commons to something more like what Germany has, then either MMP or STV could easily work within those guidelines. (Keep in mind that BC-STV only increased the size of the constituencies because there was a demand from the Powers That Be that they not increase the number of legislators. There's no such restriction in the Conservative proposal.)

We don't know Harper's personal view on PR, but he is on record in a public, televised debate as saying that he would be willing to entertain it in a Conservative government. And at least one of his fellow caucus members, Scott Reid, is a huge PR fan, and he had the Democratic Reform critic portfolio in the last government. I'm not holding my breath, but I'm hopeful.

buckets said...

Hi IP,

Like the others, I'm skeptical. Yes, they say they're interested in PR. But they also effectively exclude multi-member or list systems, which (respectively) require unwieldy ridings and/or strengthen the party whip. What does that leave? STV.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I don't see anything that excludes multi-member systems. Like I said in my comment above, if you increase the number of MPs, you don't have to have unwieldy ridings. That's the solution I'd favour anyway--I'm not crazy about unwieldy ridings, either. And I don't take it as a given that MMP--a partial list system, rather than a total one--would inherently strengthen the party whip, either.

Besides, STV would be fine with me. Not with you?

Greg said...

Thanks for that IP. I really thought they turned thumbs down on all electoral reform.

I am not a big fan of STV. It is quite unwieldy and difficult to explain to people. It would be hard to sell in in a referendum. MMP makes much more sense. Getting that past the Tories will be a test of Layton's powers of persuasion.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Don't get me wrong--I prefer MMP, too. But if it's a choice between STV and the current system, I'd choose STV anytime. The most important concern has to be to get a fair voting system, not to benefit any particular political party. I was incredibly disappointed in the BC NDP when I found out that they had come out against that proposal.

STV really doesn't have to be difficult to explain to people, either. There are two important principles: One, you vote by ranking candidates, and you might have more than one candidate from the same party. Two, your vote goes to electing more than one MP. That's all most people want to know--they don't want to hear about the mathematics of it all, anyway. And if they do, there are a lot of excellent educational resources created for BC-STV that could be adapted for a federal system.

Would MMP be easier to adapt to than STV? We don't know for sure, but probably. It's closer to the system we have already, and would take less adjustment for the voters (if not for the politicians). And another advantage of switching to MMP would be the fact that we could look to New Zealand, a country that already switched from our system to MMP, for what our own transition period might look like. I've been reading a lot about New Zealand's switch lately, and I'll probably have a couple of posts on that soonish.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I can see Harper being persuaded to support PR, but not before he'd had an opportunity to enact some other changes much higher on his priority list that would weaken the effective power of the federal government significantly.

My family is actually fairly involved in Irish politics, where they use STV. It's also often used in riding elections and was used in at least the Conservative leadership race. I think the main thing people need to know about it is that if you don't get your first choice, you then get to indicate your second choice and so forth.

My main objection to STV is that it doesn't do enough to weaken the regional electoral strategies that I feel are poisoning Canadian politics and are really my main motivation for supporting PR.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Yeah, I agree. If Harper is as savvy as I think he might be, he might just promise the NDP PR in exchange for support for a slightly modified version of some of the policies he wants to put through. And if Layton is as savvy as I think he might be, he might be willing to accept the deal. Time will tell.

I'm not pinning all my hopes for implementation of PR on the Conservatives, though, just as I'm not pinning all my hopes on the NDP. Groups like Fair Vote Canada are really going to make the most waves in the long run, and they'll keep the politicians in check when they start trying to rig things in a way that will help their particular fiefdom more than it will help the country. But I really do think we've got a better shot at it under this government than we had under the Liberals, and that can't be a bad thing.

You're right, by the way, that STV doesn't go quite as far toward weakening regionalism as MMP does, but it would do much, much more on that front than the current system would. It wouldn't be ideal, but it would absolutely be good enough. You might want to read Citizenship and Democracy: A Case For Proportional Representation by Nick Loenen if you can get a copy from your local library. That book helped assuage a lot of my fears about STV, and the things he said in it have since been confirmed by other reading I've done.

Hishighness said...

Do you ever miss an oppurtunity to whore for PR? Do you wait for someone to say "Press Release" just because it's initials are also PR and that gives you the oppurtunity to bring it up?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I hardly think writing in one's own blog about issues one is interested in counts as "whoring." If you don't like what I'm writing about, why are you reading what I have to say? It's not as if there aren't hundreds of other blogs to choose from.

I'll let you know right now that I plan to continue writing about the issues that are of interest to me, so you might want to think about tracking some others down. They're not hard to find, honest.

Clearcut Blogging said...

Harper is going to open the topic of electoral reform and democratic renewal, but given his weak government, he's going to have to negotiate on the parts of the deal.

What's great is that there will be discussion on the issue, which would never have been possible under the Liberals. Once the topic is open, I think it will gain a momentum of its own. A lot of ground has already been covered by provincial electoral reform initiatives, which will help form a starting point for the media stories.

It's time. Everyone knows that.

I remain optimistic.

P. said...

Hello IP,

Thanks for posting about this, I was thinking Harper didn't want to touch PR and had basically written it off for this parliament. Layton has a lot of work to do to get the issue on the agenda before the next election, I wonder how high up the priority list it will be for the Dippers.

KevinG said...


I'd love to agree with you ( that they would be OK with STV or similar ) but when they say " that will create unmanageably large ridings " they have laid the ground work to skuttle it. Then again, I'm merely a pragmatist.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Yeah, there's the rub. I'm sympathetic to Layton's dilemma--he did so well in this election on a "getting results for people" pitch, and unfortunately a lot of people would probably regard PR as "getting results for the NDP." So somehow he's got to balance pushing electoral reform and pushing other parts of the NDP's platform. I don't envy him. I wonder if there's a way to make it clear to Canadians just how much the people would benefit from PR, so it would seem less self-serving?

My other fear is that the Conservatives will want to implement some form of PR that the NDP regards as insufficiently perfect. I swear, if Harper and Co. propose a fair voting solution that works well, but the NDP refuses to support it on those grounds, I will tear up my party membership, mark my words.

Declan said...

I'm with Kevin G on this one. Still, that's no reason not to keep pushing and try to force their hand.

Also, federally I think MMP will be an easier sell than STV. The only provinces that I think would prefer STV are B.C. and maybe Alberta.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

The first step? Here's hoping. Though I'll feel more confident of that once we see a headline reading "Tories ready to work with the NDP."