Sunday, March 28, 2010

NDP Should Play a Leading Role in Debating Healthcare Reform

When the Liberal Party of Canada recently held a "thinkfest", I wasn't exactly blown away by the experts. Dont get me wrong; philosopher Daniel Weinstock, former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge, former University of British Columbia president Martha Piper and former foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy are all very bright people and important leading citizens of our country. It's just that the big topic of conversation turned out to be the cost of health care, and none of these people is really an expert on health care.

The NDP spends so much of its time and energy fighting defensive rearguard battles that it could do itself a lot of good--and a bit of good for its image--if it held its own thinkfest directly confronting the question of what to do about a health care system in which costs will be rising twice as fast as the rest of the economy for the next couple of decades. It could assemble a more expert and more diverse group of speakers than the Liberals just did: How about Roy Romanow debating Janice MacKinnon on the sustainability of single payer health care? Dr. Bob Evans of UBC and health futurist Jeffrey Bauer on the potential of 'reform from within' public health care? Yale political Scientist Theodore Marmor on comparative perspectives and Dr. Marcia Angell of Harvard on healthcare reform from the perspective of the medical profession in the United States?

David Dodge? Lloyd Axworthy? Give me a break!!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My BC-STV Post-Mortem: Half a Loaf Would have been better than No Loaf--and it would have been better than a Whole Loaf, too.

It is important for both proponents and opponents of BC-STV to recognize that the near-win in 2005 and the decisive loss in 2009 were influenced by party politics and the (un)popularity of governments. BC-STV supporters in 2005 got a bump because there was still a lot of lingering distaste for the Liberals; in 2009 they got a thump as Liberal supporters came to appreciate how the existing electoral system seemed to give their party a firmer grasp on power.

I have finally taken a look at Fred Cutler's data and the debate about it at The Tyee: and it is difficult to argue with a statistic as stark as this: Over 60% of Green and NDP voters supporting STV in both elections, while only 20% of Liberals supporting it in 2009 (down 30% from 2005!).

To be sure, however, the more recent result was also due to the fading of memories about absurd election results in 2001; to the ease with which opponents of BC-STV could make fun of the vote-counting method; and to the size of ballots and constituencies.

I have long felt that the Citizens'Assembly should have been more cognizant of the constraints placed upon it by the Legislature (largely at the behest of the BC Liberal caucus)--namely, the 60% threshold and the 79 seat limit. Specifically, both of those factors indicated that reaching for anything close to pure proportionality would be a mistake. The perfect is often the enemy of the good, and in this case huge interior ridings and long urban ballots proved to be a turn-off for many people who were otherwise interested in electoral reform (remember, Cutler's finding was that, in general, interest in electoral reform went slightly up between 2005 and 2009.)

I think David Schreck may have been right when he said "They (the Citizens Assembly and electoral reformers) lost the opportunity of a lifetime in 2005 by recommending BC-STV rather than some more acceptable form of proportional representation." But 'more acceptable' need only have been a more moderate form of STV--what I have called "STV lite".

Had I been on the Assembly, I likely woud have tried to persuade my colleagues to keep single member constituencies in 10 or 11 of the largest northern ridings, albeit with a preferential ballot--in other words, AV for the North; 3-member constituencies in the large urban and suburban areas; and dual ridings up island and in the interior. (my preferred distribution under 79 seats in 2005 would have been: 10x1 seats for the North; 12X2 seats for the interior and small cities; and 15 X 3-member constituencies in Greater Vancouver and Greater Victoria). This would have significantly improved proportionality, but it would still not have been proportional representation--It could be called either 'semi-proportional' or 'semi-majoritarian'. And it would have had several significant advantages:

  • It would have made Green Party and other third party votes count, without too much risk of giving people who are "green" (in more ways than one) the balance of power in the Legislature. For example, in my home riding of the Cariboo there would have been fierce competition for the second preferences of Green voters---and every reason for Green voters to get out on election day. It would have been the same story in many BC ridings.

  • It would have shaken up the safe ridings, like those of Linda Reid, Adrian Dix, Jenny Kwan, and Colin Hansen, transforming them into competitive multi-party contests.
  • It would have given voters constituencies that correspond more closely to their common sense notions of their regional communites, rather than to artificial political boundaries--districts like "Cariboo", "Richmond", "Kootenay".
  • It would have been a brave political party that ran a slate of three candidates of all the same colour and gender. To do so would have invited a hemorraghing of second and third preferences. As a result, there would have been a more representative legislature.
  • It would have expanded voter choice without the unpalatable consequence of geographically huge ridings or unfathomably long ballots--or the unsavoury aspect of MMP, which is a party list in which candidates are competing for favour of party members, not the preferences of the citizenry as whole.
Having such a semi-proportional option might still not have satisfied partisan Liberals who had come to love First Past the Post, for obvious reasons; or those who had strenuously objected to STV or preferential voting in any form. But it would have removed the two most objectionable features of BC-STV, namely the huge ridings in the interior and the long ballots in the cities.

And that might just have sold, in 2005 if not in 2009.