I am running around like that proverbial chicken, so there's no time either to post about the dozen and one exciting things happening in politics these days, or to reply to some very thoughtful comments people have made on various posts. But I wanted to be sure nobody missed Andrew Coyne's column for this week, called "Fair voting is as easy as 1, 2, 3." Here are the first three paragraphs, click-free:
I don't want to alarm you, but there is a small bomb about to go off under the Ontario legislature. All but unnoticed by the media, a group of seemingly ordinary citizens from across the province have been meeting since the summer, planning, learning, steeling themselves for the task ahead. Their name: the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. Their mission, should they choose to accept it: overthrow Ontario's political system.I am delighted by Coyne's endorsement of reform, but I do have one concern. Among the available choices for giving Canada a fair voting system, he clearly favours STV. This is a familiar issue among reformers--everybody's got their pet system. On the one hand, that's fine--I've got mine, too. But it becomes a problem when, say, the proponents of MMP say they'll take their marbles and go home if the people pick STV (as the British Columbia NDP did during that province's voting reform referendum), and proponents of STV say they'll take their marbles and go home if the people pick MMP.
Well, give it a good shake at any rate. One of the few election promises Dalton McGuinty kept, the assembly has been handed the remarkable assignment of investigating what, if any, reforms should be made to the way Ontarians are represented in their legislature: whether the province should stick with the old plurality or "first-past-the-post" system it has used since its founding, or whether it should adopt some other system, typically one form or another of "proportional representation." Whatever changes they propose will be put to a referendum at the next provincial election, Oct. 4, 2007.
I say "remarkable," for good reason: That any government elected under the old system of counting the votes would be willing to consider another is one thing, but that it would be willing to entrust this task to a group of plain folks is just astonishing. Like the British Columbia Citizens Assembly on which it is modelled, the assembly is not made up of the usual assortment of interest group axe-grinders and condescending experts that tend to show up at these things. Indeed, it is almost entirely free of politically correct jury-rigging: just one man and one woman drawn at random from each of Ontario's 103 ridings. And if the B.C. experience is any guide, their recommendations will be taken all the more seriously because of it.
What it comes down to is this: every system has its flaws, and either of those two possible systems would be lightyears better than what we have now. For reformers, that needs to mean that if our pet system doesn't get picked by the Ontario citizens' assembly (who, it should be said, are a very diverse group that's doing very good work), we need to suck it up and let it go. And that goes for Andrew Coyne just as it does for me.