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    Alan E. Dunne

    I am hoping to start a series of people posting their worst fears about how a reformed, more proportional, electoral system might turn out. By this we can learn not only the arguments our opponents ought to be making but what may be qualms keeping back potential supporters, or making supporters less than whole-hearted. Here in the relative shelter of our forum we can work out arguments.

    Alan E. Dunne

    Worst Fear #1: Liberation of the Legislature

    The worst consequence I fear as a likely result of a more proportional electoral system is:

    That any more proportional Parliament or legislature will weaken the executive’s control of the legislature and thereby unleash on us the floods of petty, venal, legislation, the permanent incumbency, and the (still more? more blatantly?) money politics and corruption of the United States and Italy.

    The loss I fear is not of party cohesion or party discipline -the Italian First Republic had plenty of those- but of specific control of the legislature by the executive.

    The revival of the idea of a representative assembly of hundreds after the French and American Revolutions may have been a mistake, or even if it worked in the nineteenth century may be outdated in times of mass, meaning mostly national, media, when constituents have little oversight of their particular representative.

    Everyone wants to cut wasteful government spending but each person, or at least each five or ten percent of poll respondents, has a different idea of which government spending is wasteful. Everyone wants to close tax loopholes, except for their loophole. Everyone is against corporate welfare, except for the corporation they hope will rain a golden shower on their town, union or c.. These conflicts between the general and the particular may be better dealt with by arbitration by one or a few, who are watched by the general population at least a little than by bargaining among hundreds, though I have read quoted a contemporary account of the French Revolution that argued the opposite. Of course the point of such an assembly is that the rights and opinions of no large group be ignored but in fact those seem to be less expressed or defended than their (or subgroups or individuals among them’s) parasitic, dexter, interests.

    There are of course better ways to elect a Leader than using a vestige of Parliament as an electoral college

    Or perhaps we should elect a Council of Ten, using the whole country (or each of two halves) as an STV riding.


    My worst fear is a closed-list MMP system. I find closed list undemocratic in that some MP’s will not have to publicly campaign and they won’t see public scrutiny. They won’t be voted on by public and so they have no accountability to the public, only the party. While as a minority myself, I appreciate that it can result in greater diversity of candidates, however, I do not trust parties in list selection. I share the worry of permanent incumbency with a closed-list system. If we want diversity in our parliament we should support diversities better so that they feel welcome and invited to participation in primary party politics. We shouldn’t shoo in people behind closed doors.

    If we adopt an MMP system my top preference is for the biggest losers to be selected to regional seats

    I am definitely not alone with these concerns. John Horgan was forced to come out and say that the MMP proposed in the referendum was an open list. Sadly he did this really late and only after mounting criticism. To me, that was suspicious and definitely makes me feel like the NDP are untrustworthy for implementing a PR that would be best for democracy rather than their own interests. If MMP is to be proposed, it needs to be extremely detailed and blatantly clear that closed list is not an option. Otherwise, there will be public animosity as demonstrated previously in BC.

    Mark Henschel


    Thanks for this.

    It takes me back to 2007 in Ontario when I felt I had to campaign (in a small way) for those of us who felt the same way and organized a “neither MMP nor FPTP” choice in the referendum.

    And it also takes me back all the way to last week and a discussion I had about incrementalism and the historical FVC dogma: “any system so long as it’s PR”.

    Since this past February I’ve been working at getting two rival groups — FV and RaBIT (Toronto electoral reform) — to play nice and work together where possible here in Toronto. In a jurisdiction where there are no parties and STV — preferential ballots in multi-member wards — is one of the preferred solutions, sharing the burden between the ballot and the district magnitude where the other established group has virtually accomplished “their” half — Toronto is poised to adopt IRV for the next election — would seem… politic.

    One observation that dropped out of the discussion was the issue of incrementalism. The Fair Voters were adamant that incrementalism wouldn’t lead to PR, that adopting IRV was a mistake on that count (at least). Remembering 2007, I felt that was the kettle calling the pot black. People who argued against the closed list offering of the OCA were hushed — and the irony is heavy and dripping here — by the assurance that the form of the list could be changed… later.

    Implicit in the “any system” mantra is a notion of minimal sufficiency — a drawing of a line at the lowest common denominator. The thing about drawing a line — defining a floor — is that you have to get the line right on a number of metrics. That the “any system” isn’t the right line is demonstrated by the evidence:
    1) Voters in Ontario rejected closed list MMP with the advice that they didn’t want to see MPPs “appointed” (an accurate assessment of a system that included closed lists and dual candidacy)
    2) FV subsequently changed their advocacy to reject closed lists but only in a superficial, half-hearted way.
    3) Canadians are alarmed by the increasing concentration of power in the person of the leaders of parties (and therefore, government) as research from Samara over the years has shown not to mention the clearest strongest conclusion of the ERRE survey; that voters want their representatives to represent them to (and in) the legislature rather than represent their parties to the voters.

    Dislodging one’s nose from the tree bark and stepping back to view the forest, it is clear that herein lies one reason for the perennial failure of electoral reformers who preach PR. Where the voters want more — particularly the emancipation of their reps from the dominance of party leaders and backroom boys — they find “PR” lacking… and they reject it. PR is not enough. It’s not enough to offer and not enough to “settle” for… and not enough to win. It’s simply not sufficient… on its own.

    Fair Vote has been stubbornly reluctant to consider representative autonomy and the (obvious) personal responsibility of the elected individual to those who elected them*. It has been blind to the evident causal connection between the electoral system and the centripetal concentration of power at the top and the disenfranchisement of the represented where growing inequality goes hand in hand with it. It’s naive to believe that this is coincidental.

    And no less importantly it should be obvious that if you further privilege parties by enacting a party-centric, party-functioned system like MMP and expect to incrementalize your way to a candidate-centric voter empowering design… you’ve got another think coming. The parties will fight tooth and nail to protect their privilege. It’s not as if this would be new. They’re doing it now with less to lose. From the Canadian-on-the-street’s perspective, Fair Vote looks to be on the wrong side of this “Magna Carta” skirmish.


    The truth is that no representative system is perfect. There is an ideal of representation — a bull’s eye on the target — that every voter gets a rep of their choosing and every rep represents the same number of voters (inclusivity and equality both together at the same time necessarily) to which we can aspire. And FVC philosophy must include this or continue to struggle.

    But neither are the various possible paths away from where we are at any given moment truly improvements or stepping stones that will take us eventually towards the bull’s eye. From my chair, MMP is a dead end, an improvement that makes things worse.

    Ironically, IRV is less problematic as it is the first step on the path defined by the Droop equation that more typically describes STV over various district magnitudes. All you need to move forward are boundary reviews underpinned by the principle of inclusivity to move in the right direction.

    Hope this helps.

    * One impediment is the mistaken equation of “local” representation to DM=1. What delivers true and effective local representation is not the DM but rather the election of an individual to be that representative. In other words “local” representation as commonly espoused is a myth — one that is holding back FV, and Canadians from obtaining a productive and inclusive electoral democracy.


    Mark you are very eloquent. Your line about stepping back to view the forest was particularly funny, yet appropriate. There are some abbreviations you use which I do not know, namely, OCA and DM=1. Can you clarify these?

    I agree with you that individual accountability for elected MPs should be a value more strongly adopted by Fair Vote. The aim of Fair Vote is to advocate for any PR system, however, this becomes problematic when issues of different PR systems are brought forward. I get the impression that these issues are sometimes “swept under the rug”.

    If we were to sum up all the problems for a national or provincial scale, one could essentially say that voting for PR means:
    1. Loss of electoral accountability and increase of party influence (MMP)
    2. Huge district sizes in rural areas (STV)
    3. Loss of transparency for selecting the winner of a seat. (DMP)
    4. Complexity. Different ballot and system for urban vs rural. (RUP)
    5. Unfamiliar new system (DMP & RUP)

    So, how do you sell PR to voters when even one of these is a deal-breaker? Even for myself, 1, 2 and 3 make me uncomfortable. From a surface level view, however, none of these issues are inherently tied to the idea of proportional representation. It’s only in the details of the systems where these issues become apparent.

    Mark Henschel

    Hi George

    The OCA was the Ontario Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform.

    DM is short for “district magnitude” and DM=1 equates to single member districts or ridings.

    I wouldn’t try to sell PR because it’s an inherently limited and flawed paradigm. And a large part of the pathology is that looking through a PR lens obscures truly important considerations other than Gallagher. Fair Vote doesn’t examine critical matters of electoral design because it simply cannot see them or their importance. The BC-CA (British Columbia Citizens Assembly) took a good hard look at the material differences between MMP and STV in their investigations and deliberations. Fair Vote never has.

    The first measure of an electoral system (and a democracy) is productivity –how many voters got a rep of their choice — and the second is equality — that every rep has a large equal mandate as the foundation for an equal voice and vote where it matters most… in our legislative assemblies.

    If we approach the ideal we can have good representation and, incidentally, the parties will be treated fairly… or proportionately. PR is an incidental, not an objective. Certainly it’s not important enough to further subjugate voters and their reps with party-functioned systems.

    Of course there’s lots more to say but I’ll leave it there for tonight.

    • This reply was modified 4 months, 4 weeks ago by Mark Henschel.
    Mark Henschel


    Just to say that I hoped that you’d respond to my last post to keep this a dialogue rather than turn it into a lecture.

    That said, I wanted to comment on some items on your list of “all” problems.

    As I assume you know the last two are true across all systems. Most people who use SMP/FPTP have little or no idea of the actual nature of that system. For them FPTP is for all intents and purposes “new”. But worse, from my discussions with electoral reformers over the decades few of them truly understand the systems they promote… especially MMP. It’s a system that is deceptively simple on the surface and a true (and unavoidable) can of vipers beneath that glossy veneer. Indeed, there are any number of dealbreaker aspects of MMP.

    This isn’t to ignore the issues attendant with a vast country with its commensurate regional diversity and demographic disparity. That doesn’t excuse ignoring the necessary condition of delivering better more inclusive representation: multi-member districts… all of them.

    The thing of it is that there is no district small enough to satisfy the personal electoral intentions of every voter… to satisfy the requirement that every voter gets a rep of their choice.

    I live in the middle of a short, dead end street; 22 homes. And I’m a pretty “middle of the road” guy too. I’m not a member of any party or group. But on one side of me there is a neighbour who is staunchly conservative and on the other is a “progressive”. It’s like living between Avi Lewis and Ezra Levant. There is no single candidate who could satisfactorily serve as a local voice for the three of us, let alone the remaining 19 residents.

    The quality and efficacy of local representation increases with increasing district magnitude just like it does for representation generally. Indeed, the key is this: there is only representation.

    And while it would be ideal for all DMs to be much greater than 1 — and equal — the pragmatics of Canada dictate a graded system of appropriate DMs in the same way that boundary commissions have addressed this self-same question historically.

    George, the ball is in your court.


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