Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Another Day Another MMP Hatchett Job

The Toronto Star has made it its mission to defeat electoral reform. It is now commissioning articles by various writers to "explore" (read trash) electoral reform. The latest is by Pierre Martin, a professor at the University of Montreal. His tone is rather puzzling. He takes the approach of a world-weary, sophisticated, older brother, shaking his head at the stupidity of an immature younger brother. His main message is "go ahead", reform your electoral system. You'll be sorry and Quebec will laugh at you. That's about it. There are the usual non-arguments and suppositions advanced as conclusions I have come to expect from opponents of reform, but in essence, mocking sarcasm is what his "exploration" comes down to.

Mr. Martin begins his supposition as conclusion festival with this passage:
The current near-perfect match between votes and seats, advocates of electoral reform observe, is a fluke. For several decades, imbalance between votes and seats has been the norm, which, reformers argue, calls into question the democratic nature of our system.

Yes, most Quebec elections have yielded an imbalance between votes and seats, but changes of government, on the whole, have adequately reflected shifts in the prevailing winds of public opinion, with the added bonus – until now – of stable majority governments alternating between distinct alternatives. (emphasis mine)

Does he offer any proof that "changes of government, on the whole, have adequately reflected shifts in the prevailing winds of public opinion"? Nope, not necessary because, in Mr. Martin's world, no one would doubt his conclusion. Also, note his delight with the "added bonus" of majority government. That this "added bonus" occurs without the benefit of a majority of votes, is of no consequence to Mr. Martin. That's because it is "stable".

So, Mr. Martin's biases are already clear. He prefers false majorities over democratic house building and equates "stability" with a monopoly of power by the ruling party. That MMP also produces stable coalition governments will never be presented as alternative. It just doesn't seem to cross his mind, because Mr. Martin seems to prefer one party monopolies.

Of course, Mr. Martin needs to deal with the abuses that false majority governments have perpetrated on the majority of the population. No problem. He dismisses it as inconsequential:
It is also true that governments in the past have taken advantage of their majority in the National Assembly to invoke closure and eschew debate, but when a majority party is perceived to govern with arrogance it tends to pay the price at the polls, as Jean Charest's Liberals recently learned the hard way.
Yes and the Harris government was eventually tossed out as well, but not before doing a lot of damage to the province. Saying that a government can be changed (eventually, after years of abuse because the ruling party has absolute control of the levers of power) is a pretty feeble defense of the status quo. Never mind. You don't like that "argument", Mr. Martin has more.

This next section is probably my favorite. I call it Mr. Martin's grade 10 civics class argument:
Another argument of reformers is that the current system is inadequate because it leads to a majority of "lost votes": In their view, any vote for a party that doesn't win a riding is "lost," and any vote for the winning party in excess of what is strictly needed to win is also "lost."

Similarly, reform advocates claim that all votes for minor parties that cannot succeed in electing a member are "lost," and that those voters are not represented in the National Assembly.

The notion that an elected official can only adequately represent those who expressly chose him or her is troubling. Are legislators not supposed to represent all their constituents, not just their partisans?
I particularly love the fact he is "troubled" that anyone would suggest that politicians play to their base. Quebec must be the only jurisdiction in the world where this does not happen. No wonder Mr. Martin does not want electoral reform. He lives in paradise.

Next comes what I call Mr. Martin's Liberal Party defense. In this next section he takes a theoretical party modelled obviously on the federal Liberal Party and holds it up as the ideal, against which all other parties should be judged. He also takes a bunch of half-baked, worst-case scenarios and presents them as "that's the way it will be" conclusions:
Of course, a mixed system, such as the one preferred by the Ontario citizens' assembly (mixed member proportional, or MMP) allows for individual members to serve their respective riding as they do in the current system, while opening the door to more diversity.

By encouraging the multiplication of small parties, however, this system could have other perverse effects besides the virtual disappearance of stable majority governments.

One effect of party proliferation might be to make each party more closed to dissent, not more open. In a system of broad coalition parties, it is the voters and militants themselves who have to accept the concessions imposed by political realism, not just the party hacks.

At the risk of oversimplifying the debate, do we want stable governments guided by coherent programs that are the result of open debates within broad-coalition pragmatic parties, or unstable governments guided by improvised backroom compromises among the ideologues?
Again, the last paragraph is priceless. "At the risk of oversimplifying the debate", too late I'm afraid. Do you want the perfection of FPTP or the utter devastation of MMP? Gee, Mr. Martin when you put it that way....Do you think he even bothered to look at any working examples of MMP? Let's just say I have my doubts. He never mentions New Zealand or Germany and never ever "explores" how those jurisdictions are actually being run under MMP. In other words, Mr. Martin's "exploration" is a joke.

Then Mr. Martin writes something with which I can finally agree:
Fortunately, foreign experience can teach us a fair amount, which is why Ontarians need to open their eyes to how MMP works – or doesn't work – abroad and what it would mean in their own context. And why Quebecers should pause and look west before making their own move.
I have no argument with this statement. It is just a shame that Mr. Martin did not take his own advice before pounding out this piece of "exploration".

That's about it really. Mr. Martin ends his "exploration" with a final sneer at the process and that's that. What can we take away from this "exploration"? False majorities are good and only they produce "stabilty". The Liberal Party should be the model for all parties. Small parties should be ignored because they are composed of "ideologues". Yes that sounds ideal system to me, if one is a member of the monopoly party. For everyone else in society, it falls somewhat short of the mark.
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