[EM] Policy Options, Jul-Aug 2001 Election reform articles

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Thu Sep 27 17:52:07 PDT 2001


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Policy Options, Jul-Aug 2001 (Canada politics magazine)

[PDF articles in such issue (summaries below) --- to give EM folks some idea 
about what mere mortals are thinking about various election reforms.  Canada 
has the single member district / plurality winner system for electing the 
Canada House of Commons and the various provincial legislatures.]
"A conservative case for electoral reform" by Richard Johnston
The traditional advantage of a first-past-the-post electoral system is 
that it provides strong and stable government. By discouraging small 
parties it is also supposed to encourage a competitive opposition that 
can credibly replace an unpopular government. At the federal level, 
Canada has not experienced true bi-polar political competition in 
roughly a century. Instead, inherently unstable coalitions patched 
together from widely-dispersed parts of the political spectrum have 
temporarily displaced the Liberal Party, which continues its 
stranglehold on the centre. Given the secular increase in the number of 
political parties, as well as the advantage the current system gives to 
regional protest parties, effective electoral competition seems less and 
less likely. Its absence is a likely explanation for declining voter 
turnout. It may now be time to consider the alternative of proportional 
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"PR can help solve Canada's democracy deficit" by Judy Rebick
Declining voter turnout and rising street protests confirm that Canada’s 
political system faces a democracy deficit. Increasing numbers of 
Canadians feel that elected politicians, whether in government or out, 
no longer reflect their views. There are several reasons for this, but a 
major cause is that our first-past-the-post system distorts voter 
preferences—as it did for instance in the 1988 federal election, when a 
majority of voters opposed free trade but the government that proposed 
it won. PR would lessen this distortion, would reduce the need for 
negative voting, and would lead to greater representation of minorities 
in Parliament.
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"Is talk of electoral reform just whistling in the wind?" by John C. 
An electoral system is only part of a governance system. Canada’s 
governance system, like most countries’, is a complex weave of customs, 
assumptions, laws and constitutional provisions. Changing the electoral 
system may cause unanticipated and undesirable changes in how the rest 
of the system works. For example, a switchover to some measure of 
proportional representation may lead to the disappearance of national 
accommodative parties. A change in the electoral system rests upon 
certain pre-conditions being met. At the moment those are absent from 
Canada. Political elites don’t see the need for a change, the public is 
not strongly motivated, and there is no agreement on which of many 
possible alternative systems would be best.
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"Canadian perspectives on the voting system" by Darrell Bricker and 
Martin Redfern
A recent Ipsos-Reid poll reveals that Canadians are not very well 
informed about their electoral system: Half believe MPs must win more 
than half the votes cast to win their seat, while governments must win a 
majority of seats. But they do know what they want from the system: 
stability and majority government. If forced to choose, however, they 
would prefer a system in which parliamentary representation was 
proportional to votes cast to a system designed to produce strong, 
stable governments. Electoral reform is currently at the bottom of most 
Canadians’ list of priorities, but if priorities changed, PR might have 
widespread support.
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"New Zealand adopts PR: A prime minister's view" by His Excellency Rt. 
Hon. James B. Bolger
As so often in recent years, New Zealand got there first. Canadians may 
slowly be coming round to thinking about possibly considering PR, but in 
1993 New Zealanders actually voted to adopt a mixed member proportional 
(MMP) electoral system, in which part of the parliament is elected by 
constituencies and part from party lists. James Bolger, the man who 
ushered his country through the referendum and was prime minister in the 
first MMP government in 1996—even though he favoured retaining the 
first-past-the-post system— was the keynote speaker at May’s conference.
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"New Zealand adopts PR: A research director's view" by Paul Harris
New Zealand changed its electoral system from first-past-the-post to 
proportional representation for three main reasons: lopsided election 
results in which parties with lots of votes won very few seats; a strong 
and clear recommendation from a Royal Commission; and widespread 
dissatisfaction with politics and politicians. The transition to the new 
system was characterized by prolonged political instability that led to 
a reduction in its popularity. Things seem to be calming down, however, 
and a parliamentary review committee is currently considering whether 
any changes need to be made to the new system and whether there should 
be a further national referendum on the electoral system.
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"The alternative vote" by Tom Flanagan
In theory, no system of voting is best and in practice many are 
consistent with a high standard of living and reasonable degree of 
liberty. In Canada, first-past-thepost seems to encourage regional 
fragmentation that makes the emergence of competitive national parties 
difficult. If Canadians do not want the radical change that proportional 
representation would bring, they should consider the alternative vote. 
AV would not make votes and seats proportional, but it would, as it has 
done in Australia, open up possibilities for cooperation among parties 
that eventually could lead to competitive coalitions.
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"Alternative voting or mixed member/proportional: What can we expect?" 
by Louis Massicotte
In a number of recent elections the first-past-the-post system has 
produced anomalous results. Experience in both Australia and Canada 
shows that the alternative vote usually does not make much of a 
difference in electoral outcomes. The mixed member/proportional system 
used in Germany and New Zealand is sometimes oversold, but a careful 
assessment of its advantages and disadvantages suggests it might well 
help lessen some of the imbalances currently observed in Canada.
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"Trois dimensions de la justice pour évaluer les modes de scrutin" by 
Jean-Pierre Derriennic
The three tests of an electoral system are the extent to which it: 
encourages governments to treat all citizens as equals; requires them to 
take all points of view into account; and makes it possible for citizens 
to rid themselves of governments they do not like. The existing Canadian 
system fails most seriously on the first count by privileging 
constituencies where the vote is close, although it clearly does allow 
for governments to be removed. Whether we stay with single-member 
constituencies or move to some form of proportional representation, the 
alternative vote provides more information about citizens’ preferences, 
obviates the need for strategic voting and therefore allows for a 
greater range of opinion to be heard.
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"Making democracy constitutional" by David Beatty
By adhering to first-past-the-post, the Canada Elections Act denies 
Canadians effective and equal political representation. Supporters of 
small national parties are under-represented and women are present in 
the House of Commons in much smaller numbers than they are in countries 
that use proportional representation. Judicial intervention against 
systemic biases in electoral systems is neither illegitimate nor 
unusual. A proceeding currently underway should be referred directly to 
the Supreme Court of Canada.
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"Getting from here to there: A process for electoral reform in Canada" 
by Matthew Mendelsohn and Andrew Parkin, with Alex Van Kralingen
Because governments generally have profited by the status quo, electoral 
reform is often difficult. But it’s not impossible. Japan, Italy, New 
Zealand and the United Kingdom have all made changes to their electoral 
systems in recent years. To achieve reform it helps to have: a party in 
power that has been victimized by the status quo in the past; a crisis 
in confidence, not just in a party or leader, but in the system as a 
whole; a wider package of democratic reforms of which electoral reform 
is only a part; a genuine public interest in reform; and a mechanism for 
citizeninitiated referenda. If Canada were to try electoral reform it 
should establish a “citizens’ forum” that would review the mandate of an 
independent electoral commission, debate its report and also approve the 
final referendum question—or questions, since more than one referendum 
would be best.
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"Three lenses for judging electoral reform" by Carolyn Bennett
Electoral reform is needed in Canada. We should look seriously at a 
system in which a Parliament made up mainly of constituency 
representatives was topped up from party lists. But electoral reform is 
not enough. We also need: less reliance on executive federalism; more 
extensive involvement of citizens between elections; greater 
participation from MPs, including the Opposition, and a car wash for 
partisan activity.
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"Une réforme nécessaire" by Stéphane Bergeron
Voters would be better served by a Parliament elected with some 
component of proportional representation. But the method of counting 
votes is not the only problem with Canadian democracy. We also need: 
limits on campaign finance; a change in the way returning officers are 
chosen; some means for insuring the greater participation of women in 
elected office, discussion of reducing the voting age to 16, and a 
relaxation of the rules about listing candidates’ party affiliation on 
the ballot.
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"The Progressive Conservative party's perspective" by Peter MacKay
The current system of first-past-the-post creates obvious unfairnesses. 
Perhaps the most extreme example was the PC Party’s result in the 1993 
election: 17 per cent of the vote but just two seats in the House of 
Commons. The Party already supports the idea that MPs should be elected 
with at least 50 per cent of the vote, which could be achieved by a 
preferential ballot. It would also be willing to look at a system that 
mixed PR with constituency-based representations. Electoral reforms are 
not enough, however. The way Parliament operates also needs to be 
changed so as to give ordinary MPs more power.
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"We need a new democracy in this country" by Lorne Nystrom
Canadian democracy is on the verge of a crisis. At the federal level, 
voter participation has fallen sharply, to dangerously low levels. 
Parliament needs to be reformed, with more free votes, less power for 
the PMO and the legitimation or abolition of the Senate. But the 
electoral system also needs to be changed, so that people can vote their 
true preferences and know that Parliament will reflect those 
preferences. The best option would be a mixed member/proportional 
system, with a 50-50 split between constituency and party list members.
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"Developing a coalition for electoral reform" by Scott Reid
The Canadian Alliance is committed to putting possible electoral 
reforms, including PR and the single transferable ballot, before the 
Canadian people in a referendum. In fact, there should be two referenda, 
one to authorize an electoral commission to recommend alternatives and a 
second to choose among the alternatives, including the status quo. In 
deciding which system to support, politicians should set aside 
selfinterest and make their decision as if from behind a Rawlsian veil 
of ignorance.
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"First-past-the-post has got to go" by Chris Bradshaw
Small parties often whine about the unfairness of the electoral system. 
In fact, it is unfair to them, but it’s also bad for the system as a 
whole. It gives rise to strategic behaviour, both by the political 
parties, inside and outside of Parliament, and by voters themselves. 
Votes cast for strategic reasons obscure voters’ true preferences and 
therefore hinder genuine democratic expression. The political parties 
implicitly endorse this view by using serial ballots to elect their 
leaders and candidates. Many substitute systems are possible, but 
first-past-the-post has got to go.
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