Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Friday, October 12, 2007


The Ontario referendum result was a major downer for us electoral reformers, there's no doubt about it. But cheer up--you only need to look south of the border for a reminder of how much worse the state of our democracy could be. No, we don't have a system that makes every vote count, but at least we still have campaign spending limits and our candidates haven't been totally Hollywoodized yet.

And after you're done with the schadenfreude, how about joining me in Vancouver for the next big step in fighting the good fight for electoral reform? Fair Voting BC is launching their 2009 referendum campaign for BC-STV with a November 10th conference and strategizing session, and the pretty darn cheap Early Bird rate expires on Sunday. And if you're actually in BC, there's even more than you can do. Ontario had only a few months for their campaign, but BC has almost two years--let's do this one right.


Greg said...

At least STV is completely riding based. However your opponents will claim (until you want to hang yourself) that the system is much to difficult for the average voter to understand and that you need a degree in statistics to figure out the results.

My advice to you (for what it's worth) is to hold public workshops in every corner of the province on the mechanics of the new system. Make sure that every last British Columbian knows how to vote. People are so afraid of looking foolish that they will vote no just to avoid having to ask someone how to mark their ballot. Hold mock elections using STV. Show people there is nothing to be afraid of. Fear is your biggest enemy and as you have just seen in Ontario, it will be exploited to the fullest.

My other piece of advice is to get the politicians to shit or get off the pot. The Liberals did a really smart thing. They set up the process to fail and then stood back and claimed "neutrality". Meanwhile, the biggest voices against reform were Liberal, but not directly affiliated with the government. That way the government had plausible deniability. I am sure the BC Liberals took note. Don't let them get away with that kind of crap there.

Anonymous said...

You may be pleased to know that the issue isn't dead in PEI either, if this story is anything to go by.

Anonymous said...

The biggest lesson from this election is there is no point in "get out and vote" campaigns, because you still haven't convinced people why they should care. The job of educating and motivating people to vote should be the responsibility of Yes/No committees, not the electoral agency.

Anonymous said...

A Canadian Press story carried in my local Ontario paper today talked all about how MMP had been rejected by referenda in BC and PEI as well as Ontario. Arrgh.

Ryan said...

In Calgary there are no spending, donation or disclosure limits in municipal elections. Is that the case in Edmonton?

Greg said...

Andrew Coyne has some thoughts too:

One, it matters which model of reform you choose. In British Columbia, a similar citizens assembly recommended the single transferable vote, as used in Ireland and Australia. They got 58% of the vote, and carried 77 of 79 ridings. So if the premise was that MMP was an easier “sell” than STV, that premise has been exploded.

And two, it matters how you argue for reform. The case for proportional representation has traditionally been presented as a matter of fairness at election time: making every vote count and all that. But as a very wise person put it to me, “people aren’t upset about how politicians are elected, they’re upset about what they do when they’re in power.”

To which the answer is: yes, but what they do in power is intimately connected to how they are elected -- to the incentives built into first past the post, with its absurdly leveraged outcomes, a two percent swing in the vote translating into 50 seats: the mindless partisanship, the obsession with swing voters and wedge issues, the utter absence of serious policy debates, everything that people hate about the present system when they’re not being told it’s all that stands between them and the Nazis.

That has to be the emphasis now -- not on what happens on election day every four or five years, but on what happens every day in between.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I'm honestly not sure--it's a good question. I was talking about federal elections, though.


Of course Coyne is going to think the system you choose is a factor--he was always a bit of an STV bigot (I say this lovingly as a former MMP bigot myself), and a rather late convert to MMP for Ontario. But MSS from Fruits and Votes is arguing that the problem isn't with MMP, but well, with Ontario:

Ontario was never a case I considered ripe for electoral reform of the PR variety. In fact, in my paper on the topic of reform in FPTP systems (forthcoming in an Oxford volume edited by André Blais), I state that Ontario is a surprising case of an electoral reform process. Unlike British Columbia (where an STV proposal won 58% in 2005, though it likewise needed 60%) and New Zealand (where voters adopted MMP in a 1993 referendum)–or even PEI and New Brunswick –Ontario had no record of significant anomalies to put electoral reform on the policy agenda in the first place. There is none of the “inherently” bad performance that we can expect from FPTP systems, whereby they may seriously under-represent the party that gets the second most votes such that the opposition is decimated, or over-represent it such that it, rather than the leading vote-winner, gets to form the government.

The only “contingent” factor, among those I identify in my academic work on reform in FPTP systems, that was present in Ontario was the coming to power of a party that had long been out of power. Before 2003, the Liberals had spent decades out of power, aside from 1985-90. In 1985 they formed a minority government despite having the second highest seat total, which in turn they had despite having the most votes (in the only somewhat anomalous election in the province). In 1987 they won a very large majority, only to be voted out after one full term. So, it is not surprising that such a party might come to power (as it did in 2003) with a program of “Democratic Renewal” and that it might even want to open up the question of whether to change an electoral system that, if not systematically biased, had not let the party exercise even a share of power (aside from 1985-90) despite its being a party that regularly won 30% or more of the vote.

In other words, the systemic factors predicting a reform process in Ontario were always weak.

...on the other hand, from a purely strategic point of view, if the movement in BC can spin it as the problem really being with MMP, that might shut up a lot of the "we would vote for this if only it were MMP" people (mostly New Democrats and Greens) that were so frustrating last time. So that might actually end up being a really good thing, if people believe that the problem is with MMP, and STV is just different.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


A link to the Coyne piece that Greg is quoting from, in case anyone's not seen it.

Anonymous said...

I hope the BC NDP and Greens have learned their lesson after 2005 and will stop campaigning against PR because they prefer MMP over STV.

Guys, we were stuck with FPTP because you needed to squabble over PR flavours. We lost the super-majority by 2%. It makes me want to scream.

I understand why the NDP were dragging their feet - they've benefitted from FPTP in BC before. Despicable, but I recognize the political expediency. But the Greens didn't even have that excuse.


Ryan said...

I understand that you were talking about federal elections. From what I understand, both Edmonton & Calgary's municipal elections are coming up, and was wondering if Edmonton was the same case.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


The more I think about this, the more I think that the role of NDP (and Green) partisan electoral reformers has to be to convince their fellow partisans that STV is not some undefinably right-wing and infinitely inferior version of electoral reform that they have to put aside to wait for MMP. I think they could very well listen to us--but we have to start combating their doubts now before they get out there and gain traction.


I'm honestly not sure, but like I said, it's a good question.

Anonymous said...


The Greens may be onside to any flavour of PR now. My Green party member friends say that Adrienne Carr lost a lot of internal support when they dragged their feet over STV. (and look, now she's gone)

But I'm still pissed at the BC NDP and they show no signs (so far) of backing STV. In fact, our provincial NDP party has left me unimpressed in many ways - I'm thinking of switching my prov vote to Green, not the least because I think we need to get at least 3 parties into the legislature.

But yes, you're right, we need to hammer the benefits home now, and not wait for 2009.

Which reminds me - did anyone else see Rick Mercer rip PR apart on his show before the Ontario election? I've never wanted to strangle him before.

Someone needs to do a YouTube parody rebuttal. Maybe a combination of his speech, but with the TV screen rebutting his points, like Colbert's The Word segment.

(why can I never do the word verification correctly the first time?)

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Well, can I implore you to stay a New Democrat at least long enough to be one of the New Democrats who tries to convince the B.C. wing that they really need STV? :-)

And no, I didn't see Rick Mercer--say it isn't so! What a disappointment.

Greg said...

I just watched Rick Mercer's piece. It is on his site. Pretty sad. He seems to have swallowed the Kool aid. Electoral reform is boring, will help the Taliban, etc.