October 22, 2018

“For the People” Extremist Politics vs Proportional Representation

Ready for another protracted saga of political gutter-sniping? Step back, YIMBY-NIMBY housing types, you just had your fun.

It’s time to fix the way votes are cast and counted in this province. (And no, you don’t have time to chug a Red Bull.)

Although the campaign period for the 2018 Referendum on Electoral Reform began way back on Canada Day — and the online debate has been both fulsome and animated — it was also largely outshouted by the municipal election campaigns.

No more. Today, Elections BC is mailing ballots to all BC residents of voting age and six months’ residency, with a closing date of November 30th on the question of preference — stick to First Past the Post as our voting system, or switch to one of three models of Proportional Representation?

The Elections BC voting guide is here; if you live near Judi Tyabji, or for some other reason don’t get your ballot in the mail in the next week or two, you can visit a Referendum Service office to get a paper ballot.

Our take? Others have done their homework, so we won’t rewrite the wheel just yet.

Case in point: this article by self-described Sightline Institute wonk Kristin Eberhard on the benefits of one PR model in particular, Mixed Member Proportional, spotted in the wild by Price Tags contributor Tom Durning:

In BC, ten of its past twelve elections under the FPTP system resulted in a party taking the lion’s share of power in the Legislative Assembly with less than a majority of votes. FPTP is vulnerable to extremist takeovers. Switching to MMP would protect the province against extremists taking charge.

Read the rest here.

The article is one of 73 in her series “Archaic Election Methods Cripple Democracy”. Yes, you read that right — 73 articles, all by Eberhard in the last three-plus years, on getting screwed at the ballot box and how to avoid it.

The best way? Vote PR.

Here are some cartoons.

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  1. “FPTP is vulnerable to extremist takeovers. Switching to MMP would protect the province against extremists taking charge”

    It is not like whether extremists were holding the balance of power be in Italy, Hungary, Poland,…even Israel…

    1. Furthermore, these tiny parties can hold the government to ransom simply by withdrawing their support.

      Like the Greens in the present BC Government.

      1. The Greens got 17% of the vote, and have only 3% of the seats. 17% isn’t tiny IMO.

        The Greens did not support the NDP’s speculation tax. The two parties had to sit down and come up with a mutually acceptable compromise. That isn’t ransom, it is cooperation. It would be nice to see more of it, not less.

      2. The Greens have signed an agreement to support the NDP in supply and financing votes, which are votes of confidence. The Greens and NDP negotiated hard with each other to achieve that and it cannot be abandoned at whim.

        Is there something wrong with that?

        1. Everything is wrong with that. Not one BC citizen was informed and agreed to that prior to vote. It was not even conceived. Post election, back-room dealing has zero transparency. Archaic decide, then inform.

          1. Everything is wrong with that.

            Then evidently you may think there is something wrong with our existing parliamentary democracy. That’s kinda strange for a guy who is opposed to Pro Rep. The NDP-Green agreement is an old, tried and true model that reflected almost 60% electoral support and has the confidence of the legislature.

            I suspect you just don’t like the fact your favourite party will no longer be able to obtain false majorities with a minority of votes under Pro Rep. Oh, and they will be forced to learn the art of consensus building and can the confrontational attitude. That’s not good for party partisanship, but is very good for the people.

  2. So, according to Kristin Eberhardt, 10 of the last 12 governments in BC were extremist? Doesn’t matter which side of the aisle you might be on, and how much you might dislike any of our last number of premiers, it’s nonsense to suggest that any of the governments in BC in the last 50 years were “extremist”.

    In fact, using that argument actually supports the case that FPTP produces governments that don’t stray all that far from the middle. And BC history suggests that when they do, they get tossed out of power and forced to re-think their policies. Exactly the opposite of what Eberhardt suggests.

    1. I don’t have to look back any more than 17 years to see which party could have largely protected BC from a world class housing affordability crisis and a reputation for turning a blind eye to world class money laundering.

      1. Ok, so the Liberals sucked in many policy areas and didn’t act on many things they should have (and let’s face it, neither did Vision on the other side of the spectrum). My point still stands – you can be on either side of the fence, and dislike any of the party’s policies, but it’s extremist to call any of the last several governments “extremist”.

        It’s plainly nonsense to suggest that FPTP leads to extremist governments. Regardless of which side of the FPTP/PR debate you stand.

        1. I recall very well three extremists who wreaked deep enough economic damage based on ideology alone to last decades, even to today. They were Bill Bennet and his widely discredited Restraint program where severe cuts to schools and hospitals were made while concurrent shiploads of public money underpinned mega-projects like NE coal and the Coquihalla. Education, urban infrastructure and healthcare have not fully recovered.

          Mike Harris and Ralph Klein are the other two, and as the result urban planning and local government democracy have been set back a half-century in Ontario, and Alberta has one of the most undiversified economies on the continent.

          All were elected under FPTP.

          1. I have to say that accountability was also trashed by all three of these men. Bennett lied about the billion dollar debt incurred on the Coq highway project until an audit uncovered it after the fact. Klein invited Big Oil into cabinet and environmental regulatory agencies in Alberta, and acted like the oil companies owned the people’s resource. They may not own the resource, but they do own the government, its agencies, and many educational institutions. Harris stepped on the necks of cities to the point of strangulation, only because the constitution allowed him to do it. That means he cut funding for infrastructure, ignored the critic’s on the costs and negative effects of amalgamation in the GTA, and downloaded the maintenance of provincial assets to the city.

            Why does all that sound so familiar?

          2. So you don’t like Bennet, Harris and Klein. Or Notley apparently. All fair enough, that’s what democracies are about. Bear in mind the Klein, at least, was elected twice with absolute majorities, so the electoral system wouldn’t have changed much about his period government.

            Nonetheless, your definition of extremism is then somewhat different from mine. While the govts you mention might not have had the policies or the ethics you approve of, it’s somewhat of a stretch to call them extremist. Governments in Poland and Hungary in recent times are good examples of what I’d call extremist, and they were elected under PR. You could argue the same for various other governments in Europe and elsewhere, all using PR.

            My point remains. FPTP is no more vulnerable to extremism than PR, that’s just a straw man, red-herring argument. And not only that, it’s far easier to get rid of an extremist government under FPTP than it is under PR.

            My personal definition of the most democratic system is one that facilitates the easy, peaceful transfer of power from one party/grouping to another, especially if they’re opposed to each other. I’d much rather have a system that gives us an NDP govt elected with 39% of the vote, followed by a Liberal govt with 40% of the vote, followed by NDP, etc, than a perpetual NDP/Green (or PC/Wild Rose or whatever example) coalition that rules with 55% of the vote. YMMV.

          3. Foobar, Under FPTP the extreme flip-flops of government ideology from small shifts in the whims of the electorate is wasteful and frustrating for all. Governments spend much of their mandate undoing the work of the previous administration. That fuels extremism in the first place as each side digs in with often absurd rhetoric that the overly emotional, under-educated and/or powerless grasp on to with the exaggerated zeal of their emoting leaders. Undoing things gets people more wound up than progressing more slowly and thoughtfully – but progressing.

            If extremists gain a foothold it’s because they feel unheard and powerless which is more likely under FPTP than under PR. It often just gets embedded within an apparently more moderate government when it isn’t embedded in a flagrantly extremist government. “Enemy of the people” anyone? If extremist’s rare, short bursts of power become embedded under PR the society has a much deeper problem than its system of elections.

            FPTP worked well in simpler times when right represented the rich and the left represented the poor. For a long time the world has been much more complicated and nuanced and we need electoral systems that reflect that. Progressive countries recognize that. Conservatives, by their very nature, just like to do things they way they always have. That’s not a winning strategy. Let’s not let them hold us back.

    2. I dunno about that, Foo. Where you around in 1983? I won’t go into details here, but one of the extreme measures the Socred government at the time instituted was the right to evict tenants without cause.

      1. No I wasn’t. So I won’t argue about what the Socreds did or didn’t do, because I have no idea. But that’s a pretty mild extremism, and there’s no saying a right of centre coalition government wouldn’t enact a similar policy. In fact, a coalition consisting of a broad centre-right party allied with a tiny single-issue “evict tenants without cause” party would most likely do exactly the same thing.

        There’s plenty of reasons to argue for or against any of the electoral systems. But saying FPTP leads to extremist governments is not a very good one, because the history of countries that have those systems indicates otherwise. Governments are no more extremist than in any other democratic system.

      2. Ok, so the Liberals sucked in many policy areas and didn’t act on many things they should have (and let’s face it, neither did Vision on the other side of the spectrum). My point still stands – you can be on either side of the fence, and dislike any of the party’s policies, but it’s extremist to call any of the last several governments “extremist”.

        It’s plainly nonsense to suggest that FPTP leads to extremist governments. Regardless of which side of the FPTP/PR debate you stand.

    3. That isn’t what the article said, you are misrepresenting it. That seems like a strawman argument that you are setting up, perhaps so that you can then refute it, and thereby cast doubt on the original article.

      What she actually said was that FPTP is vulnerable to extremist governments, not that 10 out of 12 in BC were extremist. Her example was from Ontario, not from BC. Might be worth reviewing the article.

      1. Sorry if you believe I’m setting up a strawman. Or trying to misrepresent the article. I strongly believe that it’s wrong to say that FPTP leads to, or is vulnerable to, extremist governments, because the history of FPTP governments around the world refutes that. FPTP govts are no more extremist than govts elected under any other electoral system. IMHO.

        And if you ask me, the argument that 10 of 12 BC govts were elected without majorities is sign of the vulnerability is a straw man in itself. Those 10 govts behaved themselves pretty well, and power transferred from one to the next without any issues, and by and large every govt governed within a broad spectrum of what’s acceptable to the overwhelming majority of people in BC.

        As I’ve said in other comments, there are plenty of reasons to argue pro PR (or con FPTP), but the spectre of extremism isn’t one of them.

  3. In order to have a reasonable chance of governing, a party needs around 40% of the vote.

    In FPTP the coalition building to gain that kind of support occurs before the election. In fact, it’s an ongoing exercise.

    In PR this coalition building would occur after an election.

    Which to prefer?

    1. Coalition building rarely if ever occurs before an election under FPTP. You can’t pin that on the BC NDP or Greens given their prior antipathy, even though they had a few platform similarities. All their negotiations occurred after the vote.

      Moreover, minority governments can be quite loose and subject to the whims of personalities triumphing over joined-up thinking under FPTP. Look at Jack Layton’s support for Paul Martin’s federal Liberals back in the oughts. They could have done great things, but Jack saw a tiny change in the polls and yanked his support thinking he actually had a shot of being prime minister after he triggered a snap election. That was a colossal mistake that ensured the rise of the Harper Conservatives for a decade, topped by a full term with a false majority government where 61% of the people voted against them. Steve should have sent Jack a box of chocolates for being such a pal.

      Looking back, if Jack was in the inner cabinet in a coalition government with the Libs under Pro Rep — a place the NDP have never been — he would likely have already been well-fed on power and doing great things and less hungry for more, knowing that Pro Rep would have limited his power anyway to a minority party 99% of the time.

      1. Layton? Theorize all you want, but his track record was a menace to Canada. He completely betrayed the coalition (and did so embarrasingly by attacking affordable national daycare), and in 2006 caused an inexpensive, uneccesary national election (about $1/3 billion dollars wasted).

        Failing to learn from that mistake (and belying any remorse), attempts the same 5 yrs later – the 4th election in 7 years – which enraged Canadians. Layton swore on his grave that the New Dinosaurs were the “only alternative to the Conservatives”, and the “only party capable of defeating them coast to coast to coast,” then dies a few weeks later.

        Harper leads Conservatives to 3rd consecutive victory, with majority govt.

        1. It’s very telling how you anecdotally outlined all the flaws in the current electoral system with those examples. Note also how Harper handily lost the 2015 election by letting loose the anti-immigrant radicals who are perpetually dwelling in the backrooms in pretty well every conservative-minded party. And these are the anti-Pro Rep activists who ironically have released propaganda vids with goose-stepping soldiers while shushing their own Soldiers of Odin apologists.

          1. I think it is interesting that we have all these new-to-Pricetags posters, apparently brought out by this electoral reform issue. Broad participation is great. But it would be worth knowing how many of these posters are real people, given that their display names don’t show up in web searches. Is it bot season again?

          2. Is it bot season again?

            Apparently so! Or at least messages from the armies of “online identities” working in basement cubicle farms.

          3. Well Jeff, on the other look how many long term pricetaggers didn’t bother to comment on anything about the election. Not enough bike stuff I guess.

      2. Strange that you interpret ‘coalition building’ as only occurring between political parties, not within.

        Every party itself is a coalition of various people and interests, so coalition building ALWAYS occurs before an election. In fact it is continual, as people build a party, set it’s policies and goals, make compromises, and try to keep it together. These skills in bringing people together, respecting opposing views and finding common ground are important in nation-building.

        The federal Liberals have referred to themselves as the ‘big tent’ party. Reform and PC folks had to forge a coalition, after splitting apart. Provincially, liberals and conservatives have forged a coalition for decades (Socreds, BC Liberals)

        So it does happen before elections. And, in the case of PR or minority governments it can happen after.

        Question is – which way is best? No answer – just a good question.

        W;ve seen parties splt aprt and com togetehr.

  4. In the last federal election the Green Party received ~500,000 votes across the nation. The number of seats they received? One.

    500,000 / 1.

    Under Pro Rep they would likely had gotten around 10 seats and would have at least achieved official party status. And if their support holds, they could one day hold the balance of power and force the big boys to stop the carbon train and develop 21st Century green businesses and jobs.

  5. Canada’s most treasured social programs (e.g. public healthcare, CPP …) were enacted under minority governments.

    In other words, two political parties actually co-operated and negotiated to create highly beneficial programs for the people that last for generations. There is no reason to believe that great things cannot be done under Pro Rep coalition governments, knowing that negotiation and consensus-building takes time.

    1. You make the accurate point that these things were accomplished under FPTP, and great things will continue to be accomplished made under FPTP. If we had a PR system in place in the past, these treasured social programs might never have been created because of far more fractured governments.

      1. Highly doubtful.

        The radicals may have their own small slice of seats, but that accurately reflects the small unfortunate bits of society that holds radical views. That is not an electoral system problem. It’s a social problem that needs to be countered. What better way than by democratic institutions?

        Canadians are by and large middle-of-the-road and I am confident that Pro Rep will result in middle-of-the-road governments that are better attuned to Canada’s heartbeat and needs. The radicals will probably always be barking at the edges.

        1. From the Sightline article linked below in Tom Durning’s post:

          Some fearmongers claim that ProRep will empower extremists, particularly the white nationalists of the Far Right. Their reasoning is that smaller parties can win seats under ProRep, whereas two major parties usually dominate politics with FPTP. But experience shows that Far Right elements can gain traction inside big umbrella parties, while mainstream voters and officials can easily exclude the Far Right from power when they are contained in a clearly labeled party.

          1. We need to thank our lucky stars that even conservative parties in Canada officially reject extremists — even while individual members may support these views. Kellie Leitch didn’t get far with her dogwhistle bid for federal CPC leadership, and was relegated to the farthest bench in government after. And Alberta’s UCP recently ejected a candidate / member who welcomed and befriended white power individuals.

            Again, these are parties that exist in the current FPTP system. Extremists currently hiding behind online curtains may obtain some seats and support under Pro Rep, but then their odious platforms will be uncloaked and party membership and donation lists exposed to full scrutiny and criticism. That will be a good thing, like exposing that little man behind the curtain.

  6. One of the beauties of FPTP is when a govt screws up, they can get well and truly kicked to the curb. Not going to happen in a PR system.

    Just bear in mind that if Alberta had PR, the PCs would still be the government, and the NDP would never have come to power. For all the war that’s been going on between BC and Alberta over the pipeline, both Alberta and Canada are better off for the NDP having the chance to implement their policies in Alberta…

    1. Unfortunately, the Alberta NDP have also been bought by the oil industry. Realizing Notley’s oil sands policy to allow emissions to increase to 100 million tonnes CO2 a hear means that the rest of the nation in its entirely has to bring its emissions down to zero to allow Alberta to keep polluting, if in fact Canada really believes in the Paris Accord its leader signed. Obviously it doesn’t.

      Alberta has been advised for the last 40 years by some very smart people, starting with ex-premier Peter Lougheed, to diversify its economy or face the consequences. Those consequences turn up with every downward step in international oil prices. Now it faces the distinct possibility that world demand for oil will decrease as big consuming nations like China continue to build renewables. Meanwhile, wind power in Alberta is growing very fact and is outcompeting coal-fired power in price.

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