Saturday, March 16, 2013

Justin Trudeau on Proportional Representation

I am afraid that this may be the most significant result of the Liberal leadership contest: a leader who is not committed to changing the electoral system. As a young man, he may well be content to just be Leader of the Opposition after the next election and then win a big majority-by-default when Conservative support is finally exhausted in 2017-2019.

This implies a comfort level with a whole established style of government, a different set of policies but played according to the same basic political rules of the game.


It may be that Trudeau and other Liberals are leaning toward the Alternative Vote because of the failure of  PR-List  (MMP) in the Ontario referendum, so they latched onto this idea in order to have a democratic reform idea to talk about.  But the Alternative Vote simply doesn't speak to the kind of national unity problems inherent to Canada's single-member plurality system.  Diffused preferences are still discriminated against under the AV.  It also doesn't speak to the principle of making every vote count equally.  Here's a quote from the Fair Vote website:

 "Our organization has been distracted lately by a conflict within our Toronto Chapter. Some of our members are also principals in a campaign promoting a preferential ballot in the current single-member wards for election of Toronto city council.

This would not be a proportional voting system, and would be an example of the system called Alternative Vote or Instant Runoff Voting, a winner-take-all system like our current first-past-the-post voting system.

Fair Vote Canada has always taken the position that this type of system, while appropriate for electing a single-holder office like mayor or party leader, is a false reform and unsuitable for electing any sort of deliberative assembly, where the purpose is not to pick winners and losers, but to ensure that every vote counts and all voters have a voice."


Skinny Dipper said...

I have commented this elsewhere. I will state again that Justin Trudeau is the veneer of political rejuvenation. He is a youthful looking politician who seeks to maintain the old status-quo.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Trudeau is committed to changing the electoral system, but it sounds like not in the way you want it changed. As part of his package of democratic reforms which aim to decentralize power and encourage better political debate, Trudeau supports changing over to preferential ballot. This is something that could garner majority support (unlike PR which only got 1/3 to 2/5 support in Ontario) and which could be implemented fairly easily.

Some support it outright for its advantages, some support it as a step toward further reforms. Some don't support it at all, but within the Liberal membership. Liberals voted 3/4 in favour of including PV in future elections in LPC policy platforms.

Since it should enhance useful and civil political debate, it would be a good step for those who want further electoral reform. I've never understood why fairvote canada is so opposed to taking this step. Are they worried that Canadians might like it too much and not want further reforms down the road? That is a possibility, but, if so, I would think that would be good.

Mark Crawford said...
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Mark Crawford said...

Thanks for your comment---which is a fair one.

"Preferential vote" is an ambiguous term. Apparently, Justin rejects the "single transferrable vote", which is a proportional version of preferential system, but does mean alternative vote, which is a majoritarian version -- i.e. what Tom Flanagan proposed until the Progressive Conservatives and Reform parties merged when he dropped it, just as the Socreds dropped it after 1953.

Mark Crawford said...

Trudeau and some other Liberals appear to have gravitated to the AV majoritarian system in part because of the failure of Mixed -Member Plurailty in Ontario.

But the arguments in favour of MMP, STV and AV have a different weight at the federal level, where it is imperative for the sake of national unity that diffuse preferences be given expression so that parties are not encouraged to exacerbate regional cleavages.

Av solves the splitting of the progressive vote ( an important virtue) but I am not sure how much it will help national unity.

Skinny Dipper said...

To Anonymous,

Thanks for your comment. However, Justin Trudeau knows very well that the Alternative Vote would not lead to decentralization. In fact the vote-to-seat distortions would likely remain the same. Power would remain centralized in the Prime Minister's Office. He knows that. If he espouses that AV will lead to decentralization, he will be deliberately distorting the truth.

Anonymous said...

You are correct, it is AV. And thank you for your thoughtful responses - I'm used to supporters of PR responding rudely when anyone mentions AV. No it doesn't address national unity, and would only decrease regional parties if they are not a second choice due to a divisive, uncivil nature or some other reason.

I suspect Trudeau would want to address national unity in other ways. But, I understand your point, that you want a electoral system which addresses this, so it is more independent of who is governing.

Mark Crawford said...

The main other institutional response to national unity would be an elected Senate (intra-state federalism). If Trudeau were to couple his proposal for a majoritarian House of Commons with a proportional Senate, it might be more appealing, because minorities could still feel that their votes count.

It has a certain elegance about it: there is a rationale for majoritarian in the House if it lends executive stability to the Government, whereas the Senate is not a House of Confidence or a seat of Government, so the same rationales for not having PR would not apply. At the same time, governments would be forced to pay attention to a wider swathe of the electorate if legislation had to be passed by a PR House that better reflects under-represented dispersed minorities as well as reflecting regional equality.

I would still prefer a MMP House of COmmons, but an AV House of Commons when coupled with a PR list Senate might still be a step forward according to most electoral reformers' criteria.

Mark Crawford said...

P.S. I would love to see a study that carefully compares AV with a deux tours--i.e. instant runoff versus non-instant runoff. You would really see the impact of deliberation and focused debate.

Anonymous said...

Skinny, the Trudeau proposals I recall for decentralization are free votes on everything but confidence matters and open nominations in all ridings. I'm not sure that Trudeau has ever mentioned AV as connected to giving more power to local reps, but I see it as consistent with giving candidates a stronger connection to the riding and giving MPs a stronger voice as individuals. By contrast, with have party lists, this would get diluted. Also MPs trying to ensure they are second if not first choices, if they plan to try to run for reelection, further connects them to their constituents.

Mark, there are different weightings and ways the ranked ballots can be counted to try to get closer to try to optimize the input in various ways - such as the Condorcet method. But I agree to see a study that compares instant and non-instant would be interesting. Clearly the "instant" loses something.

I have some concerns about an elected Senate, but I have many concerns about our current Senate too. If Senate were to be elected, I think it would be a good place for PR since Senators are only tied to provinces, with multiple Senators from the same riding.

Thanks for the good discussion here.