Friday, January 29, 2016

My preferred voting system for Canada.

An Elections Canada sample ballot.  Source.

I'm going to start by saying that this one's for you, Jeff.  It's late, but it's still for you.

Given that there's been a seismic shift in Canadian politics since the last federal election, I'd like to talk about a choice that the governing Liberals will be faced with in the next year or so, if their campaign promises are to be believed.  Justin Trudeau has promised that this will have been the last election under the First Past the Post (FPTP) system, and that a new method will be decided upon after broad consultations.

Now, I'm not going to try and explain the main contenders for voting systems out there, because not only has CGP Grey already done that, he has done it better than I could hope to do with his Politics in the Animal Kingdom series.  While they're all videos worth watching, I'd recommend checking out at the very least the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), Alternative/Instant Runoff (IR), and Single Transferable Vote (STV), videos for the purposes of this discussion.

In the last several elections, the FPTP system has delivered rather wild results.  In fact, the last two majority governments were decided by roughly 40% of the population.  Pundits may endlessly analyse this, looking at voting efficiency numbers (votes cast/seats won), but honestly, it's a consequence of the system.  The biggest weaknesses of FPTP are widely seen to be the spoiler effect and strategic voting in general.

It could be argued that in the Conservative Party's wins of the new millennium, the centre-left parties played spoiler to one another.  Were there just one left-leaning party, the majority of voters would have likely backed said hypothetical party, and that would have been the end of it.  However, the similar yet different platforms which were supported by the majority of the country split the vote and yielded a majority of seats in the House of Commons to the Tories.

Now let's look at the election of 2015 specifically.  It is widely suspected that the majority win by the Grits was the result of strategic voting.  Electors who favoured the NDP (Dippers?) wanted Harper to lose more than they wanted Tom Mulcair to win.  In the end, what we saw in the polls was a spectacular shift of support from the NDP to the Grits, and in the end, many voted not for the person they wanted to win, but rather for someone they kind of, sort of liked such that the person they really didn't like wouldn't win.

That's why I think we need a change in our electoral systems.  That said, I have obvious preferences.  Proportional Representation (PR) would simply tally the votes, and award seats in the House of Commons accordingly.  MMP, similarly, would allow electors to directly send candidates to the House, but would add members ("list members" from lists submitted by the parties), until the seat count more closely resembled the popular vote.  It sounds great, but my problem with these methods (and the reason that I didn't support MMP in the Ontario referendum), is that I do not care for the idea of list members.  Ultimately, I want each Member of Parliament to be responsible to his or her home electorate.  Frankly, having been served by back benchers (read: Parliamentarians who support their Party's motions and do little else), for the majority of my lifetime, I don't think the system needs more MPs who are beholden only to their parties and not their direct electors.

It is due to my loathing of mindless partisan politicians that I support IR and STV in broad strokes.  What I really, desperately want is the ability to rank the options on the ballot rather than simply marking my X (aside: I'd also like the option to rank only those candidates I like and then stop, rather than Australia's model of forcing a ranking of all candidates).

Now, this model has been widely criticized by opposition MPs saying that this model would prefer centrist parties like the governing Liberals.  My obvious rebuttal being to draw attention to the 2011 election, in which the Liberals were so desperately unpopular after a series of scandals and missteps that they were reduced to their lowest seat count in the history of Confederation.  My point being that centrist parties won't always remain a favourable option to the majority of Canadians.

But, digressions aside, I like the IR model quite a lot.  I like the ability to say that I prefer the Greens over the Libertarians, or the Dippers over the Tories, or an Independent over the incumbent.  And I also want to retain the ability to send a message to representatives that I feel have not served the citizens my riding well enough.  And, if one watches the video featuring the mechanics of it all, IR ensures that the majority of the riding's electors will have directly voted for their representative whilst ensuring they also had the ability to vote true to their conscience.

Ultimately, what I like about IR is also what I like about STV.  What I dislike about STV is the matter of the larger ridings, and how it is decided who is elected when multiple members of a single party are declared winners.  I might be mistaken, but when extra votes are allowed to go to support other candidates, I feel like those votes are not treated as equals (unless the total sum of second choices are considered, in which case it seems... less objectionable).  It seems messy, I suppose is my objection.  And, ironically, STV seems more deserving of the title "First Past the Post."

I suppose that this means I would endorse the ranked ballot as my preferred voting system.  And, in other, wilder pipe dreams, I think it would be tremendously entertaining to see the Tories acknowledge the rift within their party and split once again into the Reform and Progressive Conservative parties, and observe an IR election with a total of five national political parties.  I don't know how well it would serve Canadians in terms of the balance of ideas brought to the Lower Chamber, but man would it be fun to watch.


P.S.  Published without proofreading, because I have to go to work.

P.P.S  Proofread, minor changes made.