Saturday, September 22, 2007

Coyne Writes More About MMP...

And conservatives should give his words due consideration. His argument mirrors my own discussions with Greg Staples and reading Coyne could go a long way to explain why a rock-ribbed conservative like Greg is supporting MMP. Here is a taste:
Living on a knife-edge does strange things to people. On the one hand, it leaves the parties in a perpetual fever of anticipation, convinced they have only to gain a few points in the polls to destroy their opponents. That is one reason the two federal conservative parties, Progressive Conservative and Reform, were so reluctant to merge. It is also the reason why minority governments tend, under our system, to be so unstable.

On the other hand, the consequences of losing a few points makes them excessively, almost neurotically cautious, unwilling to take the slightest risk or advocate the mildest change, but each hugging as close as it can to the median voter, the status quo and each other. Hence the dominance of the two brokerage parties, indistinguishable in philosophy -- alike, that is, in the lack of it.

Put the two together, and you have much of Canadian politics -- viciously partisan, yet unspeakably trivial; much ado about nothing much. McGuintoryism, in short.
So the case for electoral reform, it seems to me, is one that conservatives, if not Conservatives, should find appealing. It is a cause that has tended, historically, to be identified with the left, not least in the current referendum debate; many conservatives have accordingly rejected it. Yet it is not the left that has suffered most under the current system. It’s the right.

By whatever combination of historical circumstances, the left has a party that will advance its ideas, free of the brokerage parties’ grip: the NDP. Though not often in government, outside of the West, it has succeeded in dragging the entire political spectrum to the left, its policies adopted by Liberal and Conservative governments alikes. Nothing like it exists on the right, federally or provincially, nor has since Reform’s demise. Nor is one likely to emerge, so long as “first past the post” remains the rule.

The same is true of parties less easily categorized, like the Green party. Though it is the party of choice for hundreds of thousands of Canadians, it has yet to win a seat, unable to concentrate its support geographically in the way that FPTP requires. How many more votes might it win if potential supporters were not disheartened at the prospect of “wasting” their votes, or worse, “splitting” the vote, as they are forever warned against doing?

But what if there were a system in which no votes were wasted, where vote-splitting ceased to be an issue? There is such a system, and it’s called proportional representation, of which the proposal before Ontarians is a variant. Not only the Greens, but other parties -- libertarian, social-conservative, or other -- might then have a fighting chance. The spectrum of acceptable ideas for debate would noticeably broaden.
Exactly. Conservatives should not look at the short term benefits of MMP for the left, but the longer term potential for them. If we get MMP, then elections will be true battles of ideas. The legislature will become a marketplace of political thought. Coyne and Greg Staples see this potential. I think they are right to do so.

Update: Read Greg Staples' own take on Coyne's column.
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  1. What does rock-ribbed mean anyway?

  2. Absolutely convinced. Straight ahead. The real deal.

  3. Here is what an American rock ribber says is the difference between him and regular Republicans.

    "We're not dealing with traditional conservatism," Baldwin says. "We're dealing with pseudo-conservatism that's very accommodating of big government instead of resisting big government and promoting individual freedom."

    Rock ribbers are classical liberals and are anti-statists.

  4. I thought "rock-ribbed" just referred to the intensity of belief in general... "Rock-ribbed Republicans" might fit said definition.

    Anyway, anti-statists have to weigh up the ideological diversity benefits against the fact that coalition governments are kept together by virtue of spending -- the politics of the pork barrel, in other words. (This is also an issue in systems with weak party discipline, as we see in the States.)

    Further, Downsian equilibria in party systems provide stability -- parties have to appeal to the broad middle rather than to the radical fringes.

    Of course, this sort of thing leads to that which we all hate -- the Liberal Party of Canada.

    I continue to be an agnostic on the issue. (Am not voting in the provincial election, so it's a moot point.)

  5. Goldwater was the original "Rock Ribbed Republican". I think of him as Greg's political Godfather.