Why I Oppose Proportional Representation

October 27, 2017

I wrote this soon after the last Federal election. Given current discussions in Victoria, I think it a good idea to republish it.

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Pressure to change our electoral system from first-past-the-post to proportional representation grows immediately after each election. And it easy to see why those with a hierarchical bent complain.

  • In the last Federal election, the Liberals scored 40% of the vote but gained 54% of the seats, while the Greens took 3.4% of the vote and were rewarded with just 0.3% of the seats;
  • In 2011, the Tories achieved 40% of the vote and they too took 54% of the seats.  The Liberals, with 19% of the vote, received only 11% of the seats. In that year, though, the NDP got 30% of the vote but 33% of the seats.

Those in favour of proportional representation argue that the number of seats in the Federal parliament should be, more or less, equal to the proportion of votes received. The results under such a system would have been as follows:

  • 2015 (338 total seats):
    • LPC 135 seats (184 taken):
    • CPC 108 seats (99):
    • NDP 67 seats (44):
    • GPC  11 seats (1)

So long as one is not opposed to coalitions (which I certainly am not), these results — which could be repeated for all the elections  we have had — seem to cry out for proportional representation to make the system “fair”.  But wait. There is no such thing as a free lunch, so what are giving up to create “fairness” in a Federal parliament?

What we give up — and the key reason I oppose PR — is the right to choose our own local representative. And here’s why.  Under a Federal PR system, each party (party not electors) creates a list of 338 candidates (one for each available seat), numbered from 1 to 338.  When the votes are cast as in 2015, the top 40% of the Liberal list are declared elected, along with the top 32% of the Tory list, the top 20% of the NDP list, and the top 3.4% of the Green list.  Note that none — repeat NONE — of these candidates is attached to a riding.

It is probable that regional (or provincial) lists would be part of any PR system chosen. In other words, my vote in Vancouver East would be combined with all similar votes in the region or province, and seats are then allocated on the basis of the parties’ regional or provincial lists.  Still, once again, there is no local representation.

This is OK only if you believe the abstract Federal level is the most important. However, if you believe like me that true democracy is being able to choose the actual person you want to represent your neighbourhood, then your rights are stripped completely away by PR. Thus I oppose it.

The creation of party lists takes power away from the individual voter and puts it ALL into the hands of party executives; their friends and cronies will always appear at the top of the lists, and the risk of corruption (say, getting a high number on the list due to one’s wealth rather than one’s desire for public service or ability) will always be just around the corner. Thus I oppose it.

I believe that the first-past-the-post system (with all its faults) more closely matches local opinion to representation. I also believe that many of the issues with the current system would be resolved or mitigated by introducing a preferential voting system. In other words, no-one can be elected without achieving 50% of the vote in the riding. This would be achieved by allowing voters to label candidates with first and second preferences.  If a majority is not reached on a first ballot, the lowest vote getter is eliminated and his/her second choices are distributed. This continues until one candidate reached 50%+1.

So, let’s amend the current system to fix errors, but keep the fully local basis of election,

Vancouver’s Uncivil Civics

October 27, 2017

In my recent review of the Vancouver by-election, I happened to congratulate Watermelon on the 1,700+ votes she achieved. It was a single phrase in a much longer piece, but I got hammered for it on Twitter. From what I can gather from the ensuing pile-on, some people think it is not proper to run a campaign in Vancouver except on an issue that that those same complainers feel is of primary importance.

“Campaigning on a pot platform in the midst of poverty, eviction, unaffordability, homelessness.. it wasn’t impressive,” was the main complaint.

I have spent years and years writing and campaigning and speaking on housing and development issues in this City and I don’t have to justify my position or bend the knee to anyone in that regard. I am as aware as anyone that housing is the most direct crisis we face here — but it is not the only one of importance. We have to determine the kind of transportation system we have in the City, future plans for infrastructure enhancement and renewal, the kind of economy we should be encouraging here, fixing the opiod epidemic, and how to hold on to and enhance our personal freedoms. And that list does not include the important issues that fall under the purview of the Parks Board or School Board.

If we campaign on a single issue, we stand a good chance of letting the other issues fall by the wayside. And if we happen to pick a single issue that does not resonate with the majority of voters enough to bring them to the polls, we will always be losers.

The other leg of the complaint was that Sensible Vancouver was running on a non-civic issue, which is a completely nonsensical position to take. A solution to our housing crisis — under the taxation constraints of the woeful Vancouver Charter — is just as much a provincial and federal issue as is marijuana.  It is all very well and good to suggest mansion taxes, foreign buyer taxes, and support for co-ops, but they are not municipal jurisdiction when push comes to shove. The best we can hope for in Vancouver (under the present constraints) is a civic majority that will say no to developers building for greed rather than need, and opening up city-owned land for non-commercial development.

I don’t want to speculate on motives but it does seem like the losers this time are looking for excuses as to why they lost to the NPA.  To me the answer is simple, as I wrote earlier: Vision used Judy Graves to snatch DTES votes away from Jean Swanson. They didn’t care if the NPA won because their backers are essentially the same crew. There is no need to blame Watermelon when Vision’s politicking is all the answer you need.

Image: 54 Stories of Old Ireland

October 27, 2017