Coyne IMHO is one of the better commentators at the National Post and on TV although I often don't agree with him. Here I do but here is his view!
Coyne: Why PR works
-- Andrew Coyne, National Post
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
To recap from previous columns: Our present, plurality voting system greatly exaggerates the support of the first-place finisher, handing a minority of the voters a majority of the seats --and all of the power. It favours established parties over new, regional over broadly based, with corresponding inequities between voters.
Indeed, it leaves most voters effectively disenfranchised -- their votes elect no one -- even as it sends the parties chasing after a tiny sliver of swing voters, suppressing meaningful differences of ideology in favour of a few overhyped wedge issues. The result: long stretches of centrist monotony, broken by wild, almost accidental lurches to the left or right.
Proportional representation, on the other hand, makes every vote count, and every vote equal. As such it ensures majority governments really do represent a majority, whether under one party's banner or in coalitions. It opens up the political market to new competitors, and encourages parties to compete in healthier ways: by the earned increments of persuasion, rather than winner-take-all bets on split votes and other vagaries of the current system.
So in principle the case for PR has been made, notwithstanding the alarmist fears of its opponents -- of paralysis and instability, of parties "breeding like rabbits" and extremists holding parliament to ransom -- fears notably unsupported by actual experience in the scores of democratic countries around the world that use PR.
But what of the specific model of PR before the voters in next week's referendum in Ontario? In an effort to assuage fears of the unknown, the Citizens' Assembly -- the body of ordinary folks who spent months sifting through the alternatives --proposed a hybrid system known as mixed-member proportional, grafting elements of PR onto a traditional first-past-the-post base. That preserved the familiar single-member ridings of old, but at the cost of raising other objections.
What about the other members, elected from party lists according to the parties' share of the vote? To whom would they be accountable? Wouldn't they just be appointed by party leaders, beholden only to them? And whom would the leaders appoint, but the sort of timeserving hacks willing to be so beholden? At the very least, would we not be creating two tiers of members?
Let's deal with the last concern first. You could as well say we had two tiers of members now, of course: those appointed to Cabinet -- by the party leader! -- with all the responsibilities of office, and those who remain mere "private" members. Yet each gets the same vote when it comes to legislation, and no one seems to have a problem with that.
But in fact, both list and riding members would be elected on largely the same basis: by party affiliation. Local representation is all very well, but it's not clear how significant it is even now. That's not how members are elected -- every study shows party is overwhelmingly the most important factor --and it's certainly not how they vote.
In any event, experience inPRcountries suggests that even list members wind up cultivating a local constituency; as often as not, they appear both as riding and as list candidates. That's in the party's interest, first of all: Since every vote counts equally, it pays to cast the net as widely as possible. But it's also in the candidate's interest, to better their chances of re-election.
Recall that list members are elected as a residual of riding elections: A party gets as many list members as are needed to make up any discrepancy between the number it elects in the ridings and the number it is entitled to based on the party vote. So a party might be allotted 12 list members this election, but with a better showing in the ridings, it might get only four next time.
Yes, but wouldn't these lists be made up of party hacks, chosen on the basis of loyalty to the leader? First response: Have you had a look at how candidates are chosen now? Where they are not appointed by the leader, they are typically chosen by busloads of instant members.
Second response: Why would the parties do this? Why would they commit electoral suicide? Why would their members let them? It's one thing to impose your hand-picked lackey on some poor riding association somewhere, amid the hurly-burly of a general election. It's quite another to post an entire slate of ward-heelers and log-rollers to represent the party --in the shop window, as it were, where everyone could have a good look at them.
Again, the experience in other PR countries is that list members tend to be chosen democratically, by internal party elections. Notably, that is true of the two countries with systems similar to that proposed for Ontario: New Zealand, where it's required by law, but also Germany, where it's left up to the parties to decide. As one would expect -- if competition between parties were not enough to ensure a more open process, agitation from the membership almost certainly would.
Indeed, one result of electoral reform might well be to force the parties to adopt more democratic nominating processes generally. After all, if they are going to have "clean" lists, they can hardly avoid the ridings. That alone would make the experiment worthwhile.