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Dion supports preferential ballot, national referendum

Proof that electoral reform isn’t dead, Part 2. This from Stephane Dion at a Q&A session in Winnipeg is very encouraging:

During a 90-minute question and answer session with the audience at the Gas Station Theatre, Dion was asked to give his thoughts on electoral reform…The Liberal leader mused out loud about how a preferential ballot would be better…Dion finished by saying this would lead to more respectful debate between parties and leaders since “if you’re a Green or NDP voter, I don’t want to insult you so you’ll consider me as your second choice.” Then, he said he wouldn’t want to make this part of an election campaign promise, but would rather put it to a national referendum after taking office.

Very wise of Dion to put such a question to a referendum separate from any election campaign, where it would get drowned out, as we saw what happened in Ontario. As I’ve talked about previously, there is at least 1 recent poll where there is plurality support for holding such a referendum on electoral reform. Where Dion’s views on the electoral system reform may differ from the public is that same poll showed a plurality would support electoral reform that involved using some type of system of proportional representation. Preferential ballot or Instant Runoff Voting is used in the Single-Transferable-Vote setup that BC is again voting on in 2009 (which is a proportional system), or it can be used as stand-alone, where it definitely isn’t proportional… so it will be interesting to see how a hypothetical referendum question is worded, or how Dion and the Liberals would decide what system to propose. Still, it’s encouraging that it has not disappeared from the radar screen.

I do disagree slightly with Dion though, on not wanting to make it a campaign promise. I think that Dion should mention such a proposal/promise in his election campaign, if only to counter Harper’s claims he is the democratic reformer because of his wanting to make the Senate elected. We know the NDP and Greens support electoral reform in the House. It would be a good plank for the Liberal Party to have in their platform too, I think, by publicly promising this referendum on electoral reform.

One point that is well taken however – someone else said that Dion may be in support of this, but how many of the Liberal Party and his advisers are? It’ll be interesting to see how many reformers and how many status quo’ers there are when and if that decision or proposed idea is talked about.

25 comments to Dion supports preferential ballot, national referendum

  • actually, nope, I wasn’t. disregard.

  • Scott – I was agreeing with you. My response was to the comments that followed, not the post.

  • Greg

    <i>and Greg, age has nothing to do with an interest in public policy and our history</i>

    True, but maturity counts for something too.  Your comment about Broadbent was out of order. 

  • Greg, that was really deep. I mean *really* deep.

    IRV is not settling for second best. It’s going for a system that gives voters real options for who represents them. Not what abstract body, but what person. Virtually every party uses IRV or straight run-off voting internally for its own elections and it’s highly hypocrtical of them not to then support it for the general public. Heck, even the pope is elected with IRV.

    Representative democracy is a single-winner/multiple-candidate system and IRV gives the clearest, most honest, and least strategic results for it.

    and Greg, age has nothing to do with an interest in public policy and our history. Have you never taken any interest in the history of our country before you were old enough to vote? Or have you been around since the BNA was passed?

  • Robert Brockway

    > I can understand an Aussie defending the IRV system used there.  🙂

    If I didn’t like it I’d say so.  There are things I’d change in the Australian system and I’ll happily admit to those (eg, territorial Senate seats should be in the Constitution).

    > Responses: The lower house functions like a two-party body.  It is difficult to  say that > people would have voted the same way had they been able to vote differently in
    > another system. At least FPTP allows for those 3 / 4 / many way splits that let "others" > come through the middle. I do not consider independents as equivalent to political

    That is not so.  In a single seat riding only the person with the plurality of votes will get elected.  In addition, voters will avoid voting for minor parties to avoid losing their vote.  It is precisely this latter problem that IRV solves.

    The way to get genuine diversity is through multi-seat ridings.  In Australia the homogenous lower house is counter-balanced by the hetergenous upper house.  The upper house (Senate) uses STV which is the multi-seat equivalent of IRV.

    If you want to see multi-party electorates (and the diversity it results in) taken to extremes read up on the Israeli Knesset.

  • Robert Brockway

    [quote comment="9734"]<i>But truth be told, I can’t come up with a principled argument against it.</i> Other than settling for second best all of the time, of course. And Cdlu, you were 7 years old when Broadbent was leader. You don’t know what the hell you are talking about.  Talk to me when you grow up, son.[/quote]

    Claiming IRV is settling for 2nd best all the time is specious.  For a lot of the voters their first choice will be elected.  For some their 2nd choice will be elected and for others their last choice will be elected.  The difference with plurality voting is that in this system there is no 2nd choice.  The key to IRV you see is (you guessed it….) choice!

    Also, please respond on the basis of logical arguments, don’t bring Cdlu’s age in to this.  People who did not experience an event first hand may have a different view of the event but this does not in itself make their view any less valid – only different.

    Rob

  • Greg

    <i>But truth be told, I can’t come up with a principled argument against it.</i>

    Other than settling for second best all of the time, of course.

    And Cdlu, you were 7 years old when Broadbent was leader. You don’t know what the hell you are talking about.  Talk to me when you grow up, son.

  • IRV is otherwise known as "let’s elect the Liberals forever".

    But truth be told, I can’t come up with a principled argument against it.

  • Steve Withers

    I can understand an Aussie defending the IRV system used there.  🙂

    Responses:

    The lower house functions like a two-party body. 

    It is difficult to  say that people would have voted the same way had they been able to vote differently in another system. At least FPTP allows for those 3 / 4 / many way splits that let "others" come through the middle.

    I do not consider independents as equivalent to political parties with (one assumes) coherent policy platforms shared by many across a country ro state. So IRV allowing a handful of independents to be elected in a  century doesn’t invalidate in any way  the reality that only ONE  non-ALP/LibNat party MP has been elected since WW I. (one).

  • Robert Brockway

    [quote comment="9687"]Dion would love a system that converts NDP and Green preferences into votes for Liberals…..and in all likelihood would mean the effective death of the NDP over time (and throttle the Green baby in its crib). The Austrlians use a single-member preferential voting sysem for their lower houses……and it results in a rigid two-party sytem. I hear some say "But there are 3 parties in the Aussie Lower House!"……..Yes…and two of them (Liberals / National)  have been in permanent coalition for over 90 years. In that 90 year period, only ONE minor party MP was ever elected: Bob Brown – a Green – in a by-election in a safe Labour seat (since 1954)*after* Kim Beazly (then ALP leader in Opposition) backed the invasion of Iraq. Brown lost his seat at the next election…… A preferential system like that would see LESS diversity in Canadian legislatures. Bottom line? <b>I’d prefer FPTP to the system Dion is talking about. </b>[/quote]

    As an Aussie living in Canada I feel I had to reply this.  It is true that the Australian House of Representatives (the lower house) is a 3-party body but this is inspite of rather than because of the use of IRV.  Even a quick mathematical analysis of IRV will show that it is no worse than a plurality system in producing a homogenous house if all else is equal.  The reason that the bulk of the membership of the lower house in Australia is comprised of 3 parties is that the majority of the population use their preferential votes that way.  In fact a high percentage of voter _first preference_ the major parties despite the use of preferential voting.

    I also take issue with your claim that only a single seat has been held by a minor party  in the last 90 years.  While apparently true the statement is misleading. Quite a few independents have held seats during this period – by not mentioning this you seek the claim the House to be more homogenous than is actually the case.  The current parliament has 3 independents (out of 150 seats).

  • Idealistic Pragmatist,

    I have great disdain for any party that puts its electoral fortunes ahead of each and every one of its principles. The NDP hails Ed Broadbent as its greatest ever national leader, but his single accomplishment was to win 44 seats next to a strong tory majority. The NDP more than anyone is pushing for proportional representation and in Ontario Howard Hampton made no secret of his ambition only to hold a balance of power. It disgusts me.

    That said, my motivations for electoral reform are pure and simple and outlined in my earlier comment and very extensively on my own site. I don’t believe SMP is inherently broken, nor do I believe proportionality is a worthwhile goal. Proportionality puts the value of the party ahead of that of the individual representative and that to me is shameful. I know you cannot see anything outside of the prism of black-and-white myway-or-the-highway, but trust me, my objections to PR are entirely philosophical rather than partisan.

    I *want* IRV because it gives me the option to outline my perspective on all the candidates in the riding, not just to put a single mark on my ballot and hope for the best. I believe this is terribly important.

    Matt, I agree with you — mostly. IRV is a terrific improvement over what we have. It gets rid of many of the complaints PR proponents have, as you outlined, without offending those of us who believe individual riding representation should be the supreme consideration. I also agree that IRV is a stepping stone to STV, if that is where the population wants to go, and I agree that STV is far superior to MMP. The only place I disagree is that we ultimately should get to STV. 🙂

    I would, however, be willing to compromise in the future on some IRV/STV hybrid where multi-member ridings are limited to dense urban areas, where the representation issues can be addressed by having however many representatives in the space of a few square miles. As a native of rural Quebec, the idea of my riding being absorbed into that of the neighbouring riding in order to achieve some semblance of proportionality is a little bit absurd.

    Ultimately, the real reforms I want are democratic reforms, not necessarily electoral ones. We can change electoral systems until we’re blue in the face, but if the party leaders still weild more power than the people who elect them, our democracy will still be broken.

  • The referendum in Ontario was just sad, and I still can’t believe the turnout in those elections. I think that in another 10 year, after enough explanation, some sort of STV system will be implemented, considering how perfect it is for a country such as Canada.

  • Voters in Ontario clearly said they don’t want PR at this time.  Many expressed fears about giving small parties disproportionate power and voted against MMP for this very reason.  

    I think all electoral reformers in Canada should seriously consider moving to IRV as an interim measure on the way to PR-STV.  IRV would help eliminate the problem of strategic voting. It would give voters more choice. It would ensure all elected people had over 50% support in their riding.

    Voters in Ontario and PEI have clearly stated they don’t want to move at this point to a more proportional system, even though many don’t like the current system. If voting reform activists ignore this fact and continue to insist that we only move to proportional systems and nothing else, we’ll be stuck with First Past The Post forever.

    As I’ve argued recently, preferential balloting would help get voters used to ranking candidates on their ballots rather than simply marking an ‘X’. This would eliminate one major difference between our current system and the better PR system being considered in BC called STV or Single Transferable Vote. If voters become used to ranking their ballots, moving in the future to PR-STV would be much, much easier.

    This referendum in Ontario was instructive because it showed what voters are willing to accept and what they’re not. Many are uncomfortable moving to PR at this time. Many expressed attachment to our single member riding system. Many expressed no desire for major change, just tinkering. Others said they’d consider going to PR if the proposal seemed like an improvement. Obviously MMP didn’t seem like an improvement to 63% of voters. I do believe that STV would be an improvement, but would face huge hurdles to get approval in Ontario. Obviously if BC approves STV in 2009, it’ll be a huge step forward for fair voting in Canada. I see moving to Instant Runoff voting as an interim measure, an incremental improvement to our voting system that moves the issue forward and lays the groundwork for moving to STV in the future, when voters are ready for that kind of change.

    If you haven’t already noticed, voters don’t seem to care much about the issue of electoral reform.  They’re also in no mood (at least in Ontario or PEI) for major change.  IRV would be modest change and would move us forward.  PR-STV would be less of a leap in the future if voters are already ranking their ballots.  I’m just being a pragmatist. 

    This insistence on PR or nothing will mean we keep First Past The Post forever. 

  • Oh, and Cdlu,

    Your nasty comments about the NDP in contrast with my comments about how the Liberals deserve their (proportional) fair share in Saskatchewan and Manitoba pretty much lay bare the differences between our motives for electoral reform.

  • Aren’t some of you missing the point? The real measure for electoral reform isn’t what it will mean for party A or party B or parties C, D, E, and F, it’s whether or not a government is more or less reflective of the will of the voting population. Elections are for voters first, not for parties.

    Yes.  Yes.  YES.

    It’s about the system that can best translate Canadians’ preferences into votes.  That’s all. Any system that can’t do that doesn’t deserve to be considered.

  • Whooee! I reckon Dion’s got a death wish. I been a big PR supporter fer years but I know a losin’ topic when I see one. Dion’s whole persona is of a studious, over intellectual perfesser. How’s workin’, so far? Alls he does by latchin’ on to electoral reform as an issue is put more people to sleep. The vast majority of Canajun voters really don’t give a rat’s ass about electoral reform. They proved they don’t know diddly an’ don’t wanna know diddly here in Ontariariario on Oct 10.

    Electoral reform is an unsexy issue. Dion is an unsexy guy in dire need of a sexy horse to ride an’ ER ain’t it.  

    If Dion wants to get some traction, he oughta start talkin’ about transparency and accountability an’ hypocrisy. It worked fer Harper.

    JB

  • Mark:

    I’m not sure you read my points accurately  – I said that I agreed with Dion not having the question of electoral reform done at the same time as an election (ie. what Ontario did holding both on the same day), and that I disagreed with him that he wouldn’t campaign on it or make an election promise of it. I don’t disagree at all about the electoral reform being put to a referendum.

  • Aren’t some of you missing the point? The real measure for electoral reform isn’t what it will mean for party A or party B or parties C, D, E, and F, it’s whether or not a government is more or less reflective of the will of the voting population. Elections are for voters first, not for parties. It’s juvenile (and self-interested) to assess the viability of a voting system on the basis of what it will mean for the party you or someone else may support.

    This is a good idea. It would end people fearing a "waste" of their vote, it will mean compromise and consensus-seeking becomes something voters (not only parties or MPs) can engage in at the local level.

    It may indeed favour the centre of the political spectrum, but that doesn’t mean any one political party over another. It means all political parties must seek the reasonable ground to win government, but at the same time does not close the door to strong local candidates from any parties who can foster support in their communities.

    And I agree with Scott – why put this to a referendum? Arguably the changes in Electoral law we have seen in recent years have been at least as dramatic. No referendums were required there.

  • Dion would love a system that converts NDP and Green preferences into votes for Liberals…..and in all likelihood would mean the effective death of the NDP over time (and throttle the Green baby in its crib).

    The Austrlians use a single-member preferential voting sysem for their lower houses……and it results in a rigid two-party sytem. I hear some say "But there are 3 parties in the Aussie Lower House!"……..Yes…and two of them (Liberals / National)  have been in permanent coalition for over 90 years.

    In that 90 year period, only ONE minor party MP was ever elected: Bob Brown – a Green – in a by-election in a safe Labour seat (since 1954)*after* Kim Beazly (then ALP leader in Opposition) backed the invasion of Iraq.

    Brown lost his seat at the next election……

    A preferential system like that would see LESS diversity in Canadian legislatures.

    Bottom line? <b>I’d prefer FPTP to the system Dion is talking about. </b>

  • No misunderstanding.

    Any system that changes the dynamics in the legislature to give more seats to a party under a new system than under its predecessor necessarily benefits that party. Proportional systems would grant both the NDP and the Greens more seats (I won’t call it “representation” because I believe “proportional representation” is an oxy moron) than they are currently capable of earning and thus quite obviously benefits them.

    You are completely wrong about IRV. SMP, what we have, is the system that favours and is designed for a two party system. In a two-choice environment, counting who gets the most votes gets perfect sense. IRV is specifically to break away from a two party system, especially in a country as dynamic as ours, to allow other parties to get in.

    There is no more implication about your motives than you have about mine. I support IRV because I believe being limited to a single vote on my ballot is absurd, whether it be for a party or a candidate. I want to be allowed to express my preferences and to do that I need a preferential form of ballot.

    I disagree with you also on the effect of IRV on the Green party. It is my contention that the Green party would be the biggest beneficiary of IRV in Canada. As the party that is the second choice to nearly everyone it could easily join the major praties, surpassing the disingenuously partisan party we call the NDP. Why? Because people will be able to express their preferences. The Greens are my second choice, with the Tories and the NDP coming in way down the list after the Marijuana party and the Communists. That ability to say that I prefer a Liberal candidate over a Green candidate over the other candidates coupled with others who prefer their candidate over a Green candidate is quite likely to give us Green representatives.

    Single-party majority governments are all but non-existent in proportional systems. Coalition “majorities” where the will of the plurality is usurped by the will of the fringe are quite common, on the other hand.

    The notion that independents are benefitted by PR is so absurd as to not be worth responding to.

  • P.S. Your assumptions about proportional systems aren’t borne out by the facts, by the way.  Majority governments are actually more common than minority governments under PR in most jurisdictions, and under normal circumstances, these governments are anything but "difficult." As for independence in representation being discouraged in PR, either of the systems that have been proposed in Canadian jurisdictions would make it much easier to vote for independent (non-partisan) candidates than the system we have now.

  • Cdlu,

    The position that Liberals support IRV out of crass partisan interest has no more merit as an argument than the NDP and Greens support PR including MMP and STV for that same reason.

    Either you’re labouring under a major misunderstanding, or you’re deliberately confusing things, because there is a huge difference between these two situations.  Proportional systems would NOT favour the NDP and the Greens in Canada–they would give each party exactly the amount of clout the voters voted to give them.  IRV, on the other hand, at least in a Canadian context, would have the effect of massively favouring the big party that is the second choice of both many Conservatives and many New Democrats.  In most jurisdictions, this is clearly the Liberals.

    Why?  Because IRV is designed for circumstances where there is basically a two-party culture, but with the occasional very-small party (less than 5% of the vote) or independent candidate who acts as a "spoiler."  The U.S. comes to mind as a candidate for that system.  Canada, with three institutionalized federal parties that have been around for decades, a regional party rendered stronger that its vote by first-past-the-post, and an emerging force in the Greens, is a five-party system.  You simply cannot fairly translate votes to seats using IRV under our current circumstances.

    As for your not only false, but rather disingenous implication about my motives: but I can tell you that my own support for electoral reform isn’t about favouring my party or anyone else.  If an electoral system were to be proposed that massively favoured my own party, giving them a much larger percentage of the seats than the voters had given them, I would be just as against that as I am against IRV.  I favour proportional systems not just federally, but also in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where my own party unfairly benefits from the status quo.  My efforts for electoral reform is about finding a system that best represents what Canadians vote for.  That’s all.

    Another thing that occurs to me: if Dion really is in favour of IRV, I wonder what happened to his efforts to find common ground with the Greens on the issue of electoral reform?  I ask because while the NDP, as a strong, institutionalized midsize party with significant regional support, could survive a switch to IRV by changing some of its strategies, the rather significant Green support would vanish overnight.  I really can’t imagine Elizabeth May would be too keen on this one…

  • The position that Liberals support IRV out of crass partisan interest has no more merit as an argument than the NDP and Greens support PR including MMP and STV for that same reason.

    IRV does not inherently benefit the Liberal party, it inherently benefits the voter, something that no other system before us does. It gives voters the option to have their cake and eat it too, something that I think is quite valuable. It takes the advantages of SMP – local representation, the possibility – but not obligation – of majority governments, and the clarity of accountability, without the disadvantages of PR systems where majority governments are difficult and independence in representation is discouraged.

  • This is not at all the system that Dion has endorsed previously, and I am very nervous about this. As you point out, he’s also not specifying whether he prefers the Single Transferable Vote, which is a preferential ballot with a proportional system behind it (and which I can applaud his stance on), or Instant Runoff Voting, which in Canada would actually be worse than the current system in terms of actually giving us the parliament Canadians vote for.

    If it’s the latter, I am done with Dion.  I’ve had a lot of respect for him in the past from across the partisan divide–but no more.  Canadian Liberals promoting IRV isn’t a real attempt at finding a system that better supports our political reality, it’s nothing but crass opportunism.

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