Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Elizabeth May on electoral reform

I have an electoral reformer's fondness for the Green Party. Although I disagree with many of their stances, the thought appeals to me that a group of Canadians can perceive a lack among all of the current parties, start an entirely new one, and grow that party into a mainstream force that regularly polls between eight and ten percent across the country. It reminds me that no matter how broken our current system is, it's still better than the system I was born into. Even under first-past-the-post, a Canadian's options really do span the spectrum, and that's incredibly exciting to someone who grew up in the land of the bad choice and the worse choice and that's all she wrote.

The fondness I have for the party, however, does not tend to extend to its current leader. More inter-party cooperation is absolutely necessary in this political climate, but only after the voters in every riding across the country have had a chance to vote for whichever party's policies they feel most aligned with. Any "non-aggression pact" that deprives voters of that full spectrum of choice flies in the face of democracy, and that's something I can't condone.

So keep that in mind when I tell you that Ms. May was just plain terrific on Rex Murphy's "Cross-Country Checkup" yesterday. Again, I couldn't agree with a lot of what she said about other topics, but when she talks about electoral reform, she's definitely worth listening to. I probably won't have much chance to say this again, but today, Elizabeth, I salute you.


Tyrone said...

I still don't agree with your view that non-aggression pacts are undemocratic.

There is a large slice of the Canadian electorate - perhaps as much as 25-30 percent - that would love to see a spot on the ballot marked "Anybody But Conservative". Their primary goal in voting is to prevent a Conservative victory. These voters are stuck trying to guess which party is the 'best rival' to the Conservatives and vote for it.

It is impossible for this to work without local polling data, which is rare. Thus, we have anomalies, such as NDP ridings going Liberal when there is no Conservative in striking distance. Or NDP ridings even go Conservative because enough voters switch to the third-place Liberals, mistakenly thinking they're more viable.

The smaller parties, in particular, get overwhelmed by this, while the Liberals benefit. I suspect that strategic voting may account for as much as half of their support right now.

It is true that electoral reform, either a transferable vote or proportional representation, is the best long-term solution. But that will not help the voter here and now.

When I explain Canadian politics to Americans, they scratch their heads, and say something like..."so the Conservatives only get 40 percent of the vote? Why are they in power then? We'd die to get the Republicans down to 40, you don't know how lucky you are...why don't the four centre-left parties form an alliance?"

I'd be willing to wager that a majority of Canadians supporting these four parties (except, perhaps, the Bloc) would support such a thing. It is true that some voters who want to vote Liberal-only, or NDP-only etc. would lose their first preference. But I strongly suspect they would be outnumbered by those who would be getting the option they really want - ABC.

saskboy said...

Are you going to participate in an online vote swap?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


We're never going to agree on this, I'm afraid. After growing up in a country where the dearth of choice was painful, I'm always going to believe that there's precious little more important than giving each Canadian the right to vote their conscience.

Whether they choose to vote that way, of course, is another matter. If individuals want to use their one vote in their riding to vote for the candidate who can prevent that riding's "worst possible outcome," I think that's a valid choice. And if riding-level candidates want to encourage them to vote that way, that's fine, too. But that choice has to be left up to each individual voter, not made for the voters by political parties.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Tell me more?

Deanna said...

I caught part of the radio show as well - I have never been more impressed by May. Very eloquent, very articulate, and did not come across as evasive.

On the other hand, for the time I was listening, it seemed she got tossed some pretty soft questions - nothing that made her defend her stance on a contentious issue (for example, if they talked about supporting the Libs at election time, I missed that). I'll hand it to her; when it comes to the environment and electoral reform, she knows her stuff.

But she'd have to - that's the Green core. If you can't talk that, you don't belong as the leader of that party.

Lonecrow said...

Please correct me if I am wrong but isn't ONLY May's and Dion's own riding's where they are not running candidates against each others as leaders?

I think the idea is that as national leaders they should be able to focus on national affairs. By not running against each other in their own riding they can knock on doors across the country instead of just down the street.

Regardless of your views on "non-aggression pacts" this is definitely a molehill.

Still puzzled about why the Conservatives are working this angle so hard.

Lonecrow said...

Oh ya and did you hear her on Cross Country Check Up?

No wonder they didn't want her in the debates! While they are going to be fumbling for the talking points their PR firms handed them she will just speak honestly.

LOL Will that be a first for the national leaders debates?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Oh ya and did you hear her on Cross Country Check Up?

Did I hear her?

Umm...why else do you think I wrote a post about it? Which you just responded to?

Man. Some people's reading comprehension.

Harlequin said...

IP - Saskboy is talking about stuff like this, or this.

I'm onboard, personally; yes, there are good counterarguments, and I wish it weren't so dependent on local polling and guesswork... but it's a positive step that we can take to simultaneously work around the limitations of FPTP and agitate for something better.

Given your riding and leanings, obviously for you it's not an immediate and personal need - but I'd still be interested to know how you stand on it.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Ah, okay. Yeah, I'm fine with that--it's a decision that's made on the individual level rather than on the party level, so people can choose whether or not to participate. I won't be doing it myself, for obvious reasons, but I have no ethical issue with it.

Kevin said...

What is the "non-aggression pact" you're speaking of?

Tyrone said...

Vote pairing is the best we have now, but it still relies essentially on guesswork. Canadian elections just aren't as predictable as American ones, and you really don't know in advance which ridings will be close and which won't.

A slightly more democratic version of a non-aggression pact would be for parties to hold joint nomination meetings. Candidates would sign up members to their party the way they do now, but a single nomination vote would be held, open to members of all three parties, would determine the alliance's candidate. This would effectively leave the decision in the hands of local voters.

A safe Liberal seats would tend to attract multiple Liberal and at most one NDP or Green candidate; a genuine swing riding might get more than one candidate from each party.

Such an alliance would be virtually invincible, winning as much as 50 percent of the populate vote and a solid majority - which, being split between three parties, could result in the first coalition government since the First World War. Voters might not get as much "choice" on the ballot, but wouldn't most of them rather see actual NDP or Green cabinet ministers?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


There's a link there that you can read that explains all.


I wouldn't be in favour of the joint nomination meeting, either, unless every progressive member of the riding agreed to it. And that would never happen.

Take my riding as an example. It's a riding where the Conservative wins only by vote-splitting, and the New Democrat has a chance to upset him if she can convince enough Liberal and Green voters to swing her way. Would this be much easier if the Liberals and Greens didn't have their own candidates here? Of course--it would be a cakewalk. But it wouldn't be fair to those Liberal voters who really just want to vote for a Liberal, and those Green voters who really just want to vote for a Green. And it's their right to be able to do that in a democracy. Instead, it's up to the New Democrat and her team to try to convince those people to vote her way, with arguments about vote-splitting and by convincing them that she'd be the best person for the job anyway. Much harder, yes, but much more democratic, and it doesn't leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Like it or not, Tyrone, there are different kinds of progressive voters, and while some are all about knocking out a Tory, some really just want the option to vote for the party they like best. And that's got to be okay with you.

Louise Mallory said...

One drawback to tyrone's "invincible alliance" is that I'd be afraid it would lead to more of the arrogant ends-justify-the-means shortcuts that Liberal governments of recent decades are already accused of.

Anonymous said...

I hope we can all agree that PR is what Canada needs, not strategic voting, not vote swapping or pairing.

Won't anyone think of the poor orphan voters?