Objectives of Proportional Representation

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    Mark Henschel

    Again… curious response.

    So are you arguing that these “effects of PR” are good? Then why include features that work against the good in designs that — and let’s be honest here — Fair Vote promotes overwhelmingly. Aka MMP.

    This topic is about the objectives of PR. If countering the centralization of power in the party and the House (and the one leads to the other) is a good thing then a) that should held up as an objective and b) the system designs promoted shouldn’t undermine that objective.


    And I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck and land in this discussion, OK? I have argued for STV — in no small measure to empower our individual representation and voters — for over a decade. I gave my two-minute presentation to the ERRE in Toronto arguing for a Charter-based reform… right after Wilf Day made his pitch. And my brother was on the BC-CA.

    Insofar as list construction matters I argue for list constrictions for STV too — chiefly randomized order ballots and no over-the-line voting. The rest are artifacts of mixed designs which are self inflicted and unnecessary “own goals”.

    Robert Jarman

    The individual chapters are autonomous to a large degree, but it is true that MMP is a common refrain. It already is used in a number of English speaking countries, like New Zealand, London, Wales, and Scotland’s parliament, with STV being more esoteric.

    Still, both are major improvements over FPTP.

    Baden Wuerttemberg’s method of list apportionment is also fairly esoteric and is not typically the promoted option. It’s usually open lists. Open lists gives you the choice between a number of candidates from the party, along with more parties to pick from, so options, for those seats at least, is possible.

    In PR, it’s fairly easy for new parties to form if the existing ones are insufficient for people, so existing parties know that if they fail to appeal to voters, they will be replaced more easily, and even if they aren’t totally replaced, they’ll be forced into coalitions that force ever more power away from them, or may become part of the opposition.

    The executive power, which cannot legally unilaterally amend, introduce, or repeal a law or raise or lower taxes or spend money, and can be defeated by a majority vote at any time, in Canada has been de facto very closely tied with the parliament, but if power sharing is forced, such as say the NDP and Liberals form a coalition, to get say 155 seats, with the Greens giving a confidence agreement to the coalition giving them a majority of 180 out of 338, then the power is shared more and the executive cannot rely on tight party discipline to get what they want, giving more power to individual MPs. The decisions of the respective parties are each separate, and so to the degree that each party’s caucus has influence in the will of the party, this will be repeated for each party which must agree for a decision to be taken.

    Executive power also has a cabinet made up of MPs in Canada, and most statutes actually grant almost no power to the prime minister himself but to the cabinet collectively or to the ministers of each department. But because the PM has near exclusive power over the cabinet and the parliamentary majority, this power sharing is broken and the roughly 20-30 MPs who are cabinet members cannot participate, nor can the majority of MPs who have the power to, in theory, dismiss a cabinet member. In a proportional system, with a coalition, there will be many cabinet ministers who won’t be chosen by the PM but will instead have loyalty to another party, and the PM may not have a majority in the cabinet, and even a strong minority in the cabinet can block decisions if it would violate the coalition terms. Ergo, the PM can’t get a minister to introduce a regulation in many departments of their own accord, and can’t get cabinet votes to always go their way. Thus, the cabinet ministers, who are caucus members, and the MPs who must support a cabinet member for them to retain their positions, will have more power.

    Elections also can take place whenever they are needed to break deadlocks in power sharing or when a government has become fundamentally unpopular or has a serious blow to their confidence, like the SNC Lavalin scandal, so the MPs who withdraw from the confidence in the cabinet can force out such a PM, and also give a vote of confidence to themselves in a proportional system.

    Via all these measures, a party is less able to control things in the parliament and more must be taken among many more groups of people, from factions within a party to the backbenchers and committees, and the cabinet collectively, even party conventions, constituency associations, and the like.

    Mark Henschel

    You are still deflecting… and lecturing.

    The subject matter is electoral reform, not all the other aspects of our democratic dysfunction. When Ontario voters cast their referendum ballots in 2007 they looked at MMP and said no… in part because of the undue influence of design features like dual candidacy and the closed lists.

    Open lists — as still described by FV of all flavours — are mostly closed because without added countermeasures, dual candidacy and the hybrid option (as well as the included conditional tabulation) robs voters of their “fully open” choice. And FV is disingenuous about that.

    Again. This topic is about “objectives of PR” (though it should be “objectives of ER”) and it seems clear to me that if empowering MPs and voters c/w curtailing the centripetal tendencies of power is a good thing generally, then FV should acknowledge that — if only to catch the wave of popular sentiment — and formally add that to its list of objectives and design criteria.

    And you never answered my questions. You need to remember that very few Canadians are party members who participate in these processes. For the rest of us party-centric party-functioned designs are an anathema to representative democracy. What we want is a more productive vote that delivers our voice into the deliberations and decisions that matter — those in our parliaments — and for those to be commensurate and accountable to us.

    Robert Jarman

    FVC tends to promote citizen’s assemblies. The one in BC promoted single transferable vote and was approved by voters but not by a supermajority of 60%.

    Open lists do indeed come in different flavours, but FVC is not a single person and there are different factions. Open lists in their purest form resemble Finland or Switzerland, most closed require candidates to get a full quota in their own name, which is unlikely, to jump the list ordering.

    Parties can be distant to many of us because of our current electoral system. You don’t need to cooperate much with other groups, and they can feel like they betray their promises early on and for no reason. There is more trust in parties where good forms of PR, like Sweden or Finland, are used. When that happens, more people join parties, and there are more to pick from that more precisely aligns with your views. Social liberals but fiscal conservatives are driven away from the UCP in Alberta, but the UCP benefits from being able to be a single party because the last time Albertan centre right to right wing parties weren’t, the NDP won with a minority of the votes. In a proportional system, the two parties could remain separate but in a coalition to prevent a minority NDP.

    This increase in the number of parties that are seen as feasible also helps to make it worthwhile to participate in nomination contests and party leadership elections, which are often fairly easy to do without paying much, if anything depending on the party, and is a thing you can do with little commitment, so you can pick your races from a broader set.

    Mark Henschel

    And you continue to talk past me. That’s pretty disrespectful.

    I don’t know who it is you’re having a conversation with but it ain’t me. That said, thanks for doing this “in public”.

    And by the way, a truly “fully open” list wouldn’t be ordered. That quota you’re talking about is simply another barrier to voters getting their true and full say in who represents them. Your “pure” open list isn’t much better than a closed list… is it?

    David Nash

    STV has its advantages. In an ideal world it would result in Legislatures that are a true reflection of public opinion. But it also has a drawback, namely its requirement that a relatively uneducated electorate is forced to make complex choices about the ordering of candidates, not all of whom are necessarily fully forthcoming about there actual beliefs. It places the purveyors of suggested rankings in an unofficial (even possibly in an official, depending on how the system is devised) position of soothsayers. I fear such individuals more than I do party bosses, who would, of course, be involved, anyway, along with journalists, clergy etc.

    I much prefer a truly open list, two-ballot MMP system. On the second ballot, probably most people would simply repeat their vote from the first ballot, of course, leaving those of us who are more profoundly concerned (and/or aware) to determine any deviation from the results of a one-vote ballot one.

    I’ve had this argument with you before Mark and I hesitate to respond to your insistent claims for STV; it will not disrupt party influences any more than MMP, just make them less evident. I hope you don’t think that I am ignoring your point and talking past you. In fact I have great respect for your idealism, and only wish that my less sanguine view of society was unjustified.

    Mark Henschel

    Hi David. Long time.

    Respectfully… of course you’re talking past me.

    I haven’t been selling STV here. Indeed, I’ve been trying really, really hard to have a discussion about general principles and objectives from a bird’s eye perspective. This has always been true.

    People generally don’t like the toxic leader-centric style of politics we’ve been sliding towards. People want our individual reps to be more courageous, more representative of us (rather than to us from the party centre). It was one of the only useful bits of data generated by the 2007 referendum and the survey during the ERRE.

    And research by Samara has made it clear that the politicians themselves feel this way.

    The connection to how we choose our representatives is undeniable if a trifle less obvious. Frankly, to me it’s a no-brainer to include empowering individual reps (and voters) in ER advocacy — or at least not dis-empowering them and us — particularly when every indication is that it will add to the number of people who might say “yes”. You want to win ER don’t you? Why deliberately exclude potential supporters?? It’s almost like y’all want to lose.

    The thing, too, is you’ve got to honest about what you’re selling. No mixed system list is truly or fully open when combined with dual candidacy or above-the-line voting. (Note I’m talking about these because they are a part of MMP so… I’m not talking about STV, right?) When Ontarians said they were against “appointed MPPs”, they weren’t just talking about closed lists. They saw the other active ingredients — dual candidacy, party-ordered lists (and hybrid options if they thought about it) — too. Fair Vote only paid lip service to this then. And it is only paying lip service now.

    The irony here — and I think I’ve pointed this out to you before — is that modifying your advocacy as I suggest works against my interests… if I’m such an STV acolyte: It might push MMP past the tipping point and see it adopted when I still think it would be a big mistake on a number of different criteria.

    But rather than being “insistent” on STV I almost always actually push more for the principles that I see are important. If we have to have MMP, at least it should be an acceptable design not one that has us take a giant step backwards in certain self-evident aspects… like I’ve been talking about here.

    To sum up: Samara has done really useful research on topics undeniably tied to electoral system reform and it behooves FV to pay actual close attention.

    David, take care.

    David Nash

    I should have placed “talking past” in inverted commas in my comment, since I really don’t know what you mean by the phrase. I do feel that it might apply to you in your discussions with Robert Jarman and with me. B no matter. The bright light in your latest note was your implication that some kind of MMP would satisfy your criteria. Do you think you could specify exactly what that would be, and how it would satisfy my criterion that the system be relatively simple.

    Honestly, I did take important messages from our earlier communications, but my response is that we need to strip party hierarchies of the right to interfere in the selection of local candidates. If the local party membership cannot be trusted to come up with acceptable candidates then the whole principle democracy is under a shadow. In the free-flowing form of democracy that I envision, the dissenting voice of a legitimately elected representative should be welcomed, even if it comes from an individual nominally associated with a party label.

    Mark Henschel

    Let’s see… talking past…

    Well, I asked who would be ordering lists, choosing who got to become candidates in more than one riding (which, by the way is prohibited in the Parliament of Canada Act) and didn’t get an answer. I asked twice and Robert ignored me and talked about something else. That’s talking past.

    I tried to stay on topic… both yours — “objectives of PR” and mine — a proposed objective. Again, I find myself struggling to bring my correspondents back on topic.

    You misread and misunderstand me. I would continue to fight MMP because it still does a lot that makes no sense to me. What I said, in effect, was that in the realm of MMP there could be a design that was less objectionable… if it absolutely had to be MMP… and I have articulated that it is in both our interests to find common ground under that big tent.

    I’ve been arguing that some of the things — principles, objectives, features etc. — that I find attractive in an electoral system could be incorporated into MMP and that these would make the system more attractive to Canadians… to the extent that you might actually get sufficient buy-in to win.

    Frankly, I’ve been watching FV advocacy in amazement that patently obvious enhancements languish outside the dogma… along with the fortunes of electoral reform seemingly because the suggestions come from outside the “church”. It’s a feature and a failure of the organization.

    Your final paragraph is ironic. You and I actually want fairly similar things.

    Mark Henschel

    Sheesh, David. The silent treatment… again. It always seems to come to this, eh. Not just with you.

    Please tell me that at least something of what I said registers. Or point out where and why it doesn’t.

    Robert Jarman

    As for your comment about open list vs closed list, I am simply stating the reality of different countries. Finland doesn’t use a rank ordered list, they are presented on the ballotpaper in a neutral order and the number of votes they get is the sole way they are ordered for the purpose of the party list and the order in which they fill any seats they have been assigned.

    Some countries do it differently, like in the Netherlands, only those who get at least 1/4 of the threshold, which is 1/n, where n is the number of seats in the legislative body that is being elected (the Netherlands does not use constituencies) of the total valid votes, jump the ran order their party gets. Typically, a party will not have all their seats able to be filled by candidates who do this so they do need to use the list order prepared by the party to at least some degree.

    Mark Henschel

    Again, Robert, I have no idea to whom or to what you re responding… but it isn’t me.

    Maybe preface your comments with a name?

    If you are talking to me you’re talking past me once again. Yours is an unresponsive reply.

    Robert Jarman

    Changing the system to a proportional system would inherently be amending the statutory law, so any conflicts with the law would be amended in whatever statute introduced it.

    As for who selects candidates, a constituency association will normally nominate candidates, typically those who are interested submit an application, and their history is viewed for conflicts like a criminal record likely to be an embarrassment. The party disallows these candidates, but the others go onto the nomination contest. If there is more than one, there is a vote by secret ballot, and the candidates in the contest have an incentive to go around door knocking in their constituency to sign people up to be members of the party so that they can get extra votes. Of course some parties sidestep this process, some protecting incumbents to at least some degree, some appointing candidates, usually obstensively to create diversity or to appoint candidates in as many ridings as possible where a local association might be weak or non existent, and there is a lot of opaqueness in the process, even poorly understood by people who won the contests and became MPs or MLAs, with the final vote counts not released, expenditures poorly understood, and the reasons for disallowance also rarely provided. Many nomination contests also only have one candidate, or one candidate looks so likely to win, especially if they have a war chest, that the others drop out.

    These are serious problems, but although uncommon, some good examples of fair nomination contests do exist and these can be used as inspiration. Samara Canada has a document outlining what some good ideas would be and some of the few contests that felt better.

    So onto the lists. Being a candidate in multiple ridings wouldn’t be in the sense that you would stand in multiple single member ridings, you would stand in the region and the local riding under MMP. Open lists mean that you would be voted on by all the voters in the riding. Dual membership on the open lists and ridings has different effects, but it isn’t necessarily bad, as a candidate has a reason to promote the party and not themselves like a demagogue, which if parties were internally democratic, would be useful, and it gives them a focus beyond just a narrow slice of Canada. It can also provide a reason to campaign even if you cannot win the plurality or majority of votes in a riding. Dual candidacy is not necessarily a bad thing.

    Mark Henschel

    Robert: This is like pulling teeth.

    I don’t need the lecture on how things work or even how “PR” works.

    From my opening post I have been trying to discuss a particular aspect of lists in mixed designs that you’ve not quite managed to approach or address.

    But maybe now you can consider the possibility of answering the three questions I asked.

    Who will order the lists if they won’t be randomized (Robson Rotation)?

    Who decides who gets to run in both local and regional ridings.

    Who will the successive candidate feel more beholden to; the voter or the party that assured his election via dual candidacy and a high placement on the list. And why care about the voters when you can suck up to the party bosses and get your seat?

    This is in addition to all the potential problems extant under the current system and so represents a step backwards if the advice Samara offers is deemed valuable and actionable. Why load up on things we don’t want?

    Note that the prohibition on dual candidacy under the Parliament of Canada Act wasn’t/isn’t just a fashion statement. It serves a good purpose that is still valid even if the design conceit of MMP makes it an attractive option to make it generally more palatable.

    Just calling a list “open” doesn’t mean it represents an effective or powerful lever for the voter.

    David Nash

    Mark, I never gave you the silent treatment. Since I last wrote I have been doing physiotherapists exercises, sleeping, repeating the excercises, bathing watching a soccer game, chequing my bank account and reading my e-mail, which brought me to here. If you want a constructive discussion of electoral reform, start by giving clearly and without invective a list of your personal objectives for it.

    Yes, we have very close objectives, largely thanks to your previous writings to me and others. I would like a simple list of your background thinking without its being hamstrung by giving the impression of inflexibility with respect to the means by which they should be achieved.

    Now back to reality. Half time must be over, then I have a date with a bridge game.

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