Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Comparing like with like in Ontario

I'm not going to point to anyone in particular, but I've been noticing one major tendency among informed opponents to Ontario's proposed new Mixed-Member proportional electoral system (as opposed to the ill-informed ones like Ian Urquhart of the Toronto Star, who aren't even basing their arguments on accurate information): they all seem to be using a faulty thought process to reach their conclusions. Specifically, they seem to be looking at the possible negatives of the proposed system (coalition governments might be unstable, closed lists could end up meaning party hacks negotiating their way into the provincial parliament through backroom deals) and comparing those possibilities with the way the current system actually functions in practice. They then conclude that these possible downsides are too great a risk and decide to vote for the status quo.

Why is this thought process faulty? Because it's not comparing like with like. If Ontarians really want to make an informed decision about this, they have to either compare Mixed-Member Proportional's possible negatives with First Past the Post's possible negatives (whether or not it tends to work that way in practice), or compare the way First Past the Post currently works in practice in Ontario with the way Mixed-Member Proportional actually works in practice in jurisdictions like Germany where it is currently in place.

So, for example, one possible downside to the current way of electing MPPs in Ontario would be that the 905 region could produce a new party (let's call it the "905 party") that would exist for the sole purpose of demanding that the region be given a special status, extra government money, and additional clout. Given the way First Past the Post magnifies the vote of minor region-specific parties, this hypothetical 905 party could very easily take Ontario's provincial parliament by storm and seriously disrupt the regional balance of that body, sowing even more resentment among already disparate groups of MPPs and their constituents.

Does the current system actually work that way in practice? Well, no (although a glimpse at the Bloc Québécois' success on the federal level shows that it's not an entirely farfetched scenario). But Mixed-Member Proportional in Germany doesn't actually produce unstable coalition governments and party hacks negotiating their way into parliament through backroom deals, either.

Further information:

  • democraticSPACE brings us a very simple and elegant explanation of how the proposed system would work.
  • Columnist Andrew Coyne comes out against his own employer and argues cogently in favour of the reform.
  • While the Toronto Star itself has been rabidly anti-reform, when they asked their readers what they thought, apparently they couldn't find anyone to agree with them.
  • Sinister Greg points to a fascinating debate on the issues on a show called "The Agenda with Steve Paiken" (click on the 16th). It's well done, and includes a segment on "lessons from New Zealand," a country that underwent a switch a decade ago to a system very similar to the one proposed for Ontario.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I've always liked puns

From the "you can't make this stuff up" file:

The woman who had been planning to run as a Liberal in Central Nova until Dion decided not to run a candidate there at all? Her name is Susan Green.

If this were a novel, I'd roll my eyes at the implausibility.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Riffing on the SES "best prime minister" data

I already linked to Accidental Deliberations' excellent post over at the update on my last post, but I wanted to single one part out for special attention:

[The Greens deciding not to run a candidate against Dion] would be a bizarre choice at the best of times, but it's all the more so given the party's current supporters' actual preference among possible PMs.

That's right: as the lone party leader who already holds the dubious honour of being her own party's supporters' second choice for PM, May is throwing her support to their fourth choice (or sixth if one counts "none of the above" and "unsure") in an attempt to stop their first choice. Which only seems likely to alienate both a good chunk of current Green supporters, and anybody who might otherwise have flipped from supporting the Cons.
More of a visual person? Well, the poll AD points to summarizes Greens' first choice for prime minister as the following:

Harper in first place, May in second, Layton in third, and Dion in fourth. That's a terribly amusing statistic. Kind of hilarious, really.

Let's not stop there, though! While the data sets for the other parties aren't quite so funny, they're still pretty interesting. Here, for example, is the Liberals' chart:

And here's the Conservatives':

And here's the NDP's:

And here's the Bloc's:

And most of interest to all the parties trying to sway new voters, the undecideds:

Some fun facts about the data:
  • An awful lot of Canadians are planning to vote for parties other than the party with the leader they'd most like to see as PM.
  • The only party leaders to have more than 50% support for PM by their own parties are Harper and Duceppe.
  • More than a quarter of Liberal voters prefer Harper to Dion.
  • The party least likely to think Harper would make the best prime minister is the NDP. And yet even that number is greater than the number of NDP voters who would pick Dion as their first choice.
  • Apart from partisan Greens, the most likely party to name May as best PM is the NDP.
  • Of all the parties' supporters, Green voters are most likely to say "none of the above" as their first choice.
  • The undecideds' first choice for PM is Harper, even over "unsure."
  • A number greater than zero of all of the major parties' voters thinks the best prime minister of Canada would be Gilles Duceppe.
What I'm really curious about is people's second choices for PM. Too bad that question wasn't included.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Strange strategy

From the Globe and Mail, December 23rd, 2006:

The Liberals are planning a "308-seat strategy" for the next federal election in which they will contest all seats in the Commons, including those in regions they have previously written off, such as Alberta.
Now, it wasn't spelled out there exactly how a "308-seat strategy" would differ from campaigns the Liberals have run in the past, but presumably at the bare minimum it would suggest running a candidate in 308 ridings, no?

From the Nova Scotia Chronicle Herald, April 12, 2007:
The Liberals can’t decide whether to run a candidate in Central Nova or step out of the way to improve Elizabeth May’s chances of unseating Peter MacKay.

On one side are most Nova Scotia Liberals, who think the party ought to run a candidate in every riding in Canada. On the other side is federal Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, who would prefer not to run a candidate in Central Nova, perhaps because Ms. May often praises his character and environmental credentials, which helps him in the national media.

"There’s a widespread sentiment that Dion is off his rocker to be considering this," one prominent Liberal said this week. "There’s increasing division within the party in Nova Scotia. If Dion proceeds with this, he will have done himself big damage in Nova Scotia within the Liberal party."
I'm not sure what kind of strategy trying to help the leader of another party counts as, but it's certainly not a "308-seat" one. The Liberals took a respectable 25% in Central Nova in the last election, and have an established local riding association that will be completely demolished if they do this. And for what? The vote totals in Central Nova in the last election looked like this:
Conservatives 41%
NDP 33%
Liberals 25%
Greens 2%
Which means that even if every single person who voted Liberal in the last election were to vote Green in the next one (a dubious assumption given how upset some of them seem), that would still only move the Greens into third place.

May had better have offered Dion an awfully sweet deal for him to even be considering this one.

[Update: It's official--it's happening. Perhaps predictably, some Liberals are trying to spin this to say that the only reason New Democrats might speak out against this is that they see this "progressive coalition" (sic) as a threat. Well, I won't speak for any New Democrats but myself, but that's not my objection at all. I'm not threatened--I'm well and truly baffled, on two different fronts.

The first front has to do with ideals. Like I said over at Woman at Mile 0's blog, I’m an immigrant American who chose Canada. One of the things I value about this country is that there’s real political diversity--a full spectrum of parties that, unlike my country of birth, allows voters to have genuine choices. And what it comes down to is the question of whether the Greens and the Liberals really are two distinct choices. If the two parties aren't sufficiently different to maintain two separate political identities, then they should merge. If they are sufficiently different to maintain two separate political identities--i.e., if the two parties can articulate concrete reasons why people would want to choose their party and not the other--then they should start acting like they know they're separate parties. It's really that simple.

Now, some will inevitably be thinking here: "but IP, I know you, and you LIKE the idea of coalitions!" Well, to that I can only say that this is quite a different animal from a coalition. A coalition happens in GOVERNMENT, AFTER the election. If, for example, the Liberals were to win a minority of the seats and the Greens were to get a few more, enough to make a majority government together, then they could form a coalition and govern side-by side. I would find nothing wrong with that; indeed, it would be the kind of thing I argue for in every third or fourth post in this blog. If the Liberals and the Greens want to stand up and announce their preference for forming the government together after the next election, I will applaud that. Actively banding together before the election, though, is not a coalition; it’s just a very puzzling strategy that disenfranchises Green voters in Saint-Laurent–Cartierville and (much more debilitatingly) Liberal voters in Central Nova. And as someone who thinks real voter choice is one of the best things about this country’s politics, that’s something I can’t support.

The second front is more about pragmatism--i.e., the real short- and long-term effects of this decision on these two parties. Presumably the two parties think there are concrete gains to be made from this deal, but I'm sorry, I'm just not seeing it. I talk about some of the reasons why above; and Accidental Deliberations outlines the rest of them. This is simply not a good idea, no matter how you slice it. Now, neither of these parties is my own, so it's not my place to get all outraged on their supporters' behalf or anything, but I'm certainly going to be sitting over here shaking my head in that aforementioned bafflement.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't note that something is getting lost in the shuffle, here--i.e., the fact that there's a much better solution to the problems that May and Dion are trying to solve. It's even something that both May and Dion are on the record as favouring. And I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd sure like to hear a lot more talk about that option and a lot less about ones that are completely antithetical to real, long-term reform.]

[Upperdate: Green blogger Herbinator sums up my issues with this in much fewer words:
It seems I am the only one who thinks it is wrong to sell votes. Nobody has a problem with thinking the buying of votes is incorrect. People vote, THEN politicians live down to their reputation. Politicians usurping an individuals right to vote for a party of choice is unconscientious.]
[Upper-dupper-date: The National Post wins IP brownie points by not incorrectly referring to this as a "coalition." "Non-aggression pact" is a fun term, too! I like it.]

[Upper-dupper-date-date: More from Herbinator here:
I can understand not being able to field candidates. I cannot understand removing a citizen's right to vote for a party of choice simply for self-serving political expediency. It is wrong to buy a vote; it is wrong to sell a vote.

Voting is an opportunity for the voter to be self-serving and capricious. It is not for the politician to presuppose any voter's intension.

I am stepping down my activities in the Green Party of Canada in protest.
And while Liberal blogger Cerberus says a lot of things in this post that I can't agree with, this is the part where we're on the same page:
Now I like Elizabeth May and think she is an awesomely refreshing addition to federal politics. I think Canadian politics will benefit from having a growing and strong environmental movement getting elected. But if you want to see Elizabeth May in Parliament or more Greens in Parliament or more narrow-focused fringe parties in Parliament, then advocate for proportional representation. Don't mess with the democratic system like it is some plaything.]
[I-promise-this-is-the-last-update: pogge's post is hilarious and worth a read. Though it will undoubtedly tar him as a vicious partisan. *grin*]

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Old-style politics vs. the citizens of Ontario

The verdict from Andrew Coyne on Ontario electoral reform is identical to mine: the details of the system the citizens' assembly picked aren't the exact same things I would have chosen if I'd designed it myself, but the proposed new system is certainly better than how the province elects its MPPs currently. And anybody taking an honest look at the pros and cons of how the proposed system would work in practice alongside a similarly honest look at the pros and cons of how the current system works in practice should come to the same conclusion.

Just as an aside, it's endlessly fascinating to me that the pundits most consistently in favour of electoral reform initiatives are maverick, non-party-line-toeing conservatives like Coyne and old-style Tories like John Ibbitson. While this may make some lefties uncomfortable, I welcome it. If that finally gets it through people's thick skulls that these reforms are
not about promoting particular parties or ideological agendas, but about giving all voters an equal voice in electing their parliaments, then I say bring it on.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sinister Greg renders me superfluous

Greg has written the best post of his life, completely tearing Ian Urquhart from the Toronto Star to shreds over his latest column on the Ontario Citizens' Assembly for Electoral Reform.

For once I have, quite literally, nothing more to add. Go read Greg.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

May's new strategy

Elizabeth May is saying that the Greens may not run candidates in all ridings in the next election, and I'm going to go against the grain and say that it may not be a bad strategy. If it's really about what some bloggers think it is, of course--that she's deliberately undermining her party so as not to harm the Liberals--then yeah, I agree that it's stupid. But if she's admitting that the party has limited resources and consciously deciding to steer those resources into ridings where they can actually have a chance of winning (or at least seriously growing the vote to prepare for next time), then it's at least worth considering.

I mean, I'm coming at this as an immigrant from the U.S., where it's absolutely par for the course for not only the marginal parties, but also the big parties not to run candidates in districts that they'll never be able to win. I'm pretty sure the Republicans haven't run a candidate against fifty-year Congressman John Dingell in my lifetime, for example. So the whole "this party is legitimate because we're running candidates in every riding" thing that the Greens have sometimes touted has always seemed a bit silly to me. If they've done some investigating and figured out that there are a couple of ridings where they have a real chance, and they're saving up so as to make a real push there, then good on them.

The downside to going that route, of course, is that if they don't win any seats next time, then the only thing that's going to raise their profile is a much larger percentage of the vote than they got last time. They can still manage that by sitting out a small handful of ridings, but it really has to be the exception rather than the rule. But if May runs candidates in, say, 300 ridings rather than 308, then it's not going to make a dent.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A little more humility

It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog regularly that the hardest thing for me about being involved in Canadian politics is the wanton, screechy hyperpartisanship. You know: the thing about our political culture that says that if one of your political opponents has a good idea, you'd damn well better pretend you hate it anyway, and if you can't find anything to dislike about them right now, you'd better look a little harder. I find it terribly disappointing, and it makes it harder than just about anything else in this business does to "resist the pull of cynicism."

Well, after hearing Nathan Cullen speak this weekend, this proponent of interparty cooperation, fair play, and coalition governments has a new hero.

Some quotes:

"We exist in a political forum that says that only one can be right at any given time, and that's just ridiculous when it comes to such a complicated issue. I believe we need to have the Greens at the table, we need to have the Conservatives at the table, and the Liberals--and a little more humility in our governments so that they're forced into situations like [the special committee on the Clean Air Act]."

"I'll tell you this: all the way through the Cold War, we always talked to the Russians. You never stop talking to your opponent. Because the eventual solution will involve your opponent. It must."


More here.