electoral reform: maybe people just don't care

Yesterday, the Toronto Star had this fun story about the upcoming referendum on electoral reform. My favourite part was the beginning:

To find out what people think about the Ontario referendum being held a month from today, the Toronto Star stopped some 50 people at Yonge and Bloor Sts.

Just one person knew about it.

Only three others were interested enough to listen to what was being proposed.

Clearly this issue represents a burning platform for the electorate… Or not.

And let’s be fair – it is not like Canadians can’t get passionate about issues: The Charlotte Town Accord, Meech Lake, Free Trade, all caught voters attentions. If electoral reform hasn’t, maybe that means something…

Of course, proponents of Electoral Reform will claim this is because of a lack of press coverage and/or awareness on the part of the public. But then, this is the same bitter claim of any group whose issue isn’t dominating the news agenda.

Problematically, they’ll keep making that claim until their issue makes the news agenda and pierces the public’s consciousness. The basic precept being – everybody would care about this as much as I do – if only they were as well informed as I am.

Perhaps, or perhaps there is a simpler explanation. Maybe electoral reform is not a pressing issue to most people. Certainly a system the strengthens the power of the parties and the backroom boys isn’t easily going to inspire people I know…

20 thoughts on “electoral reform: maybe people just don't care

  1. Scott Tribe

    You have no basis on which to claim that MMP will “strengthen”” the power of the parties and backroom boys. Is that the case in New Zealand and Germany? No, it is not… and there is no reason to think it wouldn’t be the same here.

    The parties will choose what method to pick these list members willl be. If they go on precedent from those other countries , it will bre through nomination meetings not dissimilar to what we currently use to pick our candidates for ridings.

    An individual party COULD choose to not do that, but they’d get ripped apart for it in them edia and by the other parties.

    ..but to say that this is what WOULD happen is false, David.

    Reply
  2. Scott Tribe

    You have no basis on which to claim that MMP will “strengthen”” the power of the parties and backroom boys. Is that the case in New Zealand and Germany? No, it is not… and there is no reason to think it wouldn’t be the same here. The parties will choose what method to pick these list members willl be. If they go on precedent from those other countries , it will bre through nomination meetings not dissimilar to what we currently use to pick our candidates for ridings.An individual party COULD choose to not do that, but they’d get ripped apart for it in them edia and by the other parties…but to say that this is what WOULD happen is false, David.

    Reply
  3. David Eaves Post author

    Scott,
    Thank you for your post. I actually do have a strong basis to make this claim (and apologize for not fleshing it out). I was fortunate enough to have a beer with one of the citizen assembly’s researchers and he confirmed for me that one of the objectives of MMP was to strengthen the power of the parties. This was an intent of the assembly.

    This is what, in part, the PR seats in the MMP system accomplish. Yes the party determines how they are nominated (leaving the process open to shenanigans and under more direct control of the party leader/bosses than current nomination processes) but more importantly, these MPs – by design! – will be more compelled to vote along party lines and tow their leaders line. Normal MPs who buck the party can at least rely on their constituency support to counter the party’s influence. PR MPs have no such protection – this makes them puppets of the party even more so than current MPs.

    Reply
  4. Taylor

    to add to david’s comment. Do we really want to be replicating the riding nomination process as a model for democratic reform? I’ve always thought that this, as opposed to, or perhaps in addition to, the provincial and federal election process, is exactly where substantial reform needs to take place!

    Reply
  5. David Eaves

    Scott,Thank you for your post. I actually do have a strong basis to make this claim (and apologize for not fleshing it out). I was fortunate enough to have a beer with one of the citizen assembly’s researchers and he confirmed for me that one of the objectives of MMP was to strengthen the power of the parties. This was an intent of the assembly.This is what, in part, the PR seats in the MMP system accomplish. Yes the party determines how they are nominated (leaving the process open to shenanigans and under more direct control of the party leader/bosses than current nomination processes) but more importantly, these MPs – by design! – will be more compelled to vote along party lines and tow their leaders line. Normal MPs who buck the party can at least rely on their constituency support to counter the party’s influence. PR MPs have no such protection – this makes them puppets of the party even more so than current MPs.

    Reply
  6. Taylor

    to add to david’s comment. Do we really want to be replicating the riding nomination process as a model for democratic reform? I’ve always thought that this, as opposed to, or perhaps in addition to, the provincial and federal election process, is exactly where substantial reform needs to take place!

    Reply
  7. Scott Tribe

    I’m sorry David, but the claim that these MP’s will “toe the party line” is also a supposition on your part without fact. Again, check New Zealand and Germany, and tell me again where the evidence is that this happens in those systems.

    As an aside, you’re inferring that somehow we have legislators who buck the party trend all the time in our current system. That simply isn’t the case.

    I just love how you anti-MMP folks who pull all these arguments out of a hat how MMP will somehow introduce this evil and that evil – when the supposed ills mentioned are already prevalent in the current system!

    Reply
  8. David Eaves Post author

    It’s not supposition without fact. MP’s with an independent power base – their constituency – are better positioned to challenge the party leadership then MPs whose election is directly dependent on that leadership. More importantly, this independence doesn’t always manifest itself in MPs voting against their party, it occurs in caucus, before any votes.

    In addition, why is the burden of proof on those who support the current system? My feeling is that those in favour of MMP need to demonstrate that it is not only superior to what is exists, but that it is overwhelmingly better so as to a) be worthy of transition costs and b) overcome any unanticipated negative consequences.

    Are Germany and New Zealand better governed than Canada? Have voter turn-out rates experienced less of a decline? No and no. I agree that their are “evils” in both systems, I just fail to see the benefits of MMP, but I do see a number of risks.

    Reply
  9. Kim Feraday

    I’m one of those who is not familiar with the nuances of MMP but if the process involves selecting members through party nomination meetings then it sounds as if it’s ripe for abuse by party insiders.

    Maybe people generally feel there are more pressing issues that need to be solved before we worry about fiddling with the electoral system. Certainly voters opinion of politicians seems to reflect this.

    Rather than focusing on electoral reform how about focusing on engaging citizens more directly in the political process on an ongoing basis? Certainly the technology exists to enable this but not much interest on the part of any political party from what I’ve experienced.

    Reply
  10. Scott Tribe

    I’m sorry David, but the claim that these MP’s will “toe the party line” is also a supposition on your part without fact. Again, check New Zealand and Germany, and tell me again where the evidence is that this happens in those systems. As an aside, you’re inferring that somehow we have legislators who buck the party trend all the time in our current system. That simply isn’t the case. I just love how you anti-MMP folks who pull all these arguments out of a hat how MMP will somehow introduce this evil and that evil – when the supposed ills mentioned are already prevalent in the current system!

    Reply
  11. David Eaves

    It’s not supposition without fact. MP’s with an independent power base – their constituency – are better positioned to challenge the party leadership then MPs whose election is directly dependent on that leadership. More importantly, this independence doesn’t always manifest itself in MPs voting against their party, it occurs in caucus, before any votes.In addition, why is the burden of proof on those who support the current system? My feeling is that those in favour of MMP need to demonstrate that it is not only superior to what is exists, but that it is overwhelmingly better so as to a) be worthy of transition costs and b) overcome any unanticipated negative consequences.Are Germany and New Zealand better governed than Canada? Have voter turn-out rates experienced less of a decline? No and no. I agree that their are “evils” in both systems, I just fail to see the benefits of MMP, but I do see a number of risks.

    Reply
  12. Kim Feraday

    I’m one of those who is not familiar with the nuances of MMP but if the process involves selecting members through party nomination meetings then it sounds as if it’s ripe for abuse by party insiders. Maybe people generally feel there are more pressing issues that need to be solved before we worry about fiddling with the electoral system. Certainly voters opinion of politicians seems to reflect this. Rather than focusing on electoral reform how about focusing on engaging citizens more directly in the political process on an ongoing basis? Certainly the technology exists to enable this but not much interest on the part of any political party from what I’ve experienced.

    Reply
  13. Scott Tribe

    Kim, that process would be no different then how nominees are picked through candidate nominations now in the ridings by the party members. Those candidates are then presented to the voting public in that riding for them to choose.

    It’s a bit ironic that people would complain about the MMP process might be. open to abuse, when we already have our current system open to abuse by leaders who pick candidates against the local party’s will and takes the voting process out of their hands. That would include the Liberals – the party I now support – when Dion had to appoint candidates to get his goal of so many women candidates running. It was altrustic, but an “abuse” as you define it nevertheless. I simply don’t believe that problem would replicate itself in reigonal nomination meetings for MMP list candidates, particularly if we go on precedent from the other countries who use it.

    For a more detailed posting on how we might choose list candidates in Canada, check out Mark Greenan’s column from Fair Vote Canada on his blog here

    Reply
  14. Scott Tribe

    David: again, you’re stating an opinion on whether you think New Zealand or Germany are governed better or not.

    As for the onus on us, there are plenty of statistics out there and there have been plenty of blogposts out there that show that MMP is a better setup then FPTP; the reasons vary from a lot better election turnout in those countries who use it (due to them probably knowing their votes will count for something and not be wasted) to preventing an elected tyranny for 4 years without any opposition to what they would dictate to the majority of voters who didn’t vote for them.

    I’ve posted my reasons why I think it should be used here.

    Reply
  15. Scott Tribe

    Kim, that process would be no different then how nominees are picked through candidate nominations now in the ridings by the party members. Those candidates are then presented to the voting public in that riding for them to choose. It’s a bit ironic that people would complain about the MMP process might be. open to abuse, when we already have our current system open to abuse by leaders who pick candidates against the local party’s will and takes the voting process out of their hands. That would include the Liberals – the party I now support – when Dion had to appoint candidates to get his goal of so many women candidates running. It was altrustic, but an “abuse” as you define it nevertheless. I simply don’t believe that problem would replicate itself in reigonal nomination meetings for MMP list candidates, particularly if we go on precedent from the other countries who use it. For a more detailed posting on how we might choose list candidates in Canada, check out Mark Greenan’s column from Fair Vote Canada on his blog here

    Reply
  16. David Eaves Post author

    The notion that Canada is as well governed as Germany and New Zealand is an opinion… but where is the conclusive evidence demonstrating that they are better governed? The challenge for MMP supporters is that the burden of proof is on them. They need to demonstrate that the benefits to governance – in tangible outcomes – are real and significant. If not, then why should Ontarians adopt MMP? If it doesn’t change anything, why change the process?

    As for voter turn out, MMP has had no impact. I’m deeply concerned about the decline in Voter turnout and wish MMP helped. But the evidence shows that it doesn’t. Indeed, in New Zealand, which moved from FPTP to MMP in 1993 (and so is a great case study for us) the decline in voting rates accelerated after the adoption of MMP.

    The following stats are from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
    Remember, New Zealand adopted MMP in 1993. Readers should note that MMP generated a bump in voter turn out for one election, after which voter turnout declined faster than before. There is no evidence to suggest that MMP creates higher vote turn out rates. In fact, the stat show that voter turnout rates were higher under FPTP than MMP.

    Year Vote / VAP

    1960 85.6%
    1963 83.3%
    1966 79.3%
    1969 85.6%
    1972 85.3%
    1975 81.7%
    1978 82.3%
    1981 88.9%
    1984 87.4%
    1987 81.4%
    1990 78.6%
    1993 79.6% (MMP adopted)
    1996 83.0% (first MMP election)
    1999 76.1%
    2002 72.5%
    2005 n/a

    Reply
  17. Scott Tribe

    David: again, you’re stating an opinion on whether you think New Zealand or Germany are governed better or not.As for the onus on us, there are plenty of statistics out there and there have been plenty of blogposts out there that show that MMP is a better setup then FPTP; the reasons vary from a lot better election turnout in those countries who use it (due to them probably knowing their votes will count for something and not be wasted) to preventing an elected tyranny for 4 years without any opposition to what they would dictate to the majority of voters who didn’t vote for them. I’ve posted my reasons why I think it should be used here.

    Reply
  18. David Eaves

    The notion that Canada is as well governed as Germany and New Zealand is an opinion… but where is the conclusive evidence demonstrating that they are better governed? The challenge for MMP supporters is that the burden of proof is on them. They need to demonstrate that the benefits to governance – in tangible outcomes – are real and significant. If not, then why should Ontarians adopt MMP? If it doesn’t change anything, why change the process?As for voter turn out, MMP has had no impact. I’m deeply concerned about the decline in Voter turnout and wish MMP helped. But the evidence shows that it doesn’t. Indeed, in New Zealand, which moved from FPTP to MMP in 1993 (and so is a great case study for us) the decline in voting rates accelerated after the adoption of MMP.The following stats are from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Remember, New Zealand adopted MMP in 1993. Readers should note that MMP generated a bump in voter turn out for one election, after which voter turnout declined faster than before. There is no evidence to suggest that MMP creates higher vote turn out rates. In fact, the stat show that voter turnout rates were higher under FPTP than MMP.Year Vote / VAP1960 85.6% 1963 83.3% 1966 79.3% 1969 85.6% 1972 85.3% 1975 81.7% 1978 82.3% 1981 88.9% 1984 87.4% 1987 81.4% 1990 78.6% 1993 79.6% (MMP adopted)1996 83.0% (first MMP election)1999 76.1% 2002 72.5% 2005 n/a

    Reply
  19. Peter MacLeod

    Bottom line: Voter turnout is a poor argument for endorsing any electoral system.

    There is a very negligible correlation between system and turnout — a fact which was pointed out repeatedly to the Citizens’ Assembly and which was printed boldface in all the relevant CAER materials.

    It was also never used by the Assembly to justify their recommendation — a point which MMP proponents would do well to absorb.

    Nevertheless, while we’re at this game, it might be useful to round out the picture will all available data and include the 2005 stat for NZ which was 77%.

    Then, if you take the average turnout of the four MMP elections you get 77.15% with a standing decline over those four elections of 2% since MMP was adopted.

    The average turnout of the last four FPTP elections was 81.75% with a standing decline over those four elections of 8.8%.

    It’s interesting to note that when you include 2005 data the rate of decline has actually slowed under MMP and has not accelerated, a point recently confirmed for me by the good people at Elections New Zealand.

    All we can say is that the switch to MMP did not arrest the trend, though it may have softened it.

    That said, numbers, numbers. Voter turnout really doesn’t have much room in this debate no matter how much we might wish otherwise. As Dave rightly points out — it’s almost everything but the electoral system which determines how many people show up at the polls.

    Of course, for now it seems we can count on words like ‘accelerate’ and ‘slowed’ to retain their special power as every asterisk goes ignored.

    Reply
  20. Peter MacLeod

    Bottom line: Voter turnout is a poor argument for endorsing any electoral system. There is a very negligible correlation between system and turnout — a fact which was pointed out repeatedly to the Citizens’ Assembly and which was printed boldface in all the relevant CAER materials. It was also never used by the Assembly to justify their recommendation — a point which MMP proponents would do well to absorb.Nevertheless, while we’re at this game, it might be useful to round out the picture will all available data and include the 2005 stat for NZ which was 77%.Then, if you take the average turnout of the four MMP elections you get 77.15% with a standing decline over those four elections of 2% since MMP was adopted.The average turnout of the last four FPTP elections was 81.75% with a standing decline over those four elections of 8.8%.It’s interesting to note that when you include 2005 data the rate of decline has actually slowed under MMP and has not accelerated, a point recently confirmed for me by the good people at Elections New Zealand. All we can say is that the switch to MMP did not arrest the trend, though it may have softened it.That said, numbers, numbers. Voter turnout really doesn’t have much room in this debate no matter how much we might wish otherwise. As Dave rightly points out — it’s almost everything but the electoral system which determines how many people show up at the polls.Of course, for now it seems we can count on words like ‘accelerate’ and ‘slowed’ to retain their special power as every asterisk goes ignored.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s