Why you should read “Should we change how we vote?”

Last summer, a lot of us expected that roundabout now the Liberal government would be either introducing legislation to change the electoral system, or making preparations for a national referendum on a proposal to change the electoral system. That’s because Justin Trudeau promised, during the 2015 campaign, that the upcoming election would be that last one held under the “first past the post” electoral system, and by summer 2016, it was clear that time was running out on the government’s ability to make good on that pledge.

Hoping to both intervene in the government’s decision-making process and contribute to the public debate, Daniel Weinstock, Peter Loewen, and I organized a pair of conferences last fall, one in Ottawa and Montreal. We also arranged for MQUP to publish a “quickie” book out of the conference, one that would do a shortcut on the usual academic press publishing timelines and get something out in time to contribute to the anticipated debate we would be having this spring.… Continue reading

A question for PR supporters

If the next federal election were being held under a proportional representation system, would the Conservative Party care if their leader spoke French?

That’s the question. My answer is “no.” That is, of course, speculative, but here is my thinking.

Right now what the Conservative Party is aiming for is a majority government. If that is the objective, then you can’t afford not to compete for the 70-odd Quebec seats that have a francophone majority electorate. If there’s one thing everyone can agree upon, it’s that first-past-the-post electoral systems create enormous pressure to create very broad-based political parties, that appeal to the maximum number of voters. That is the precisely the pressure that the Conservative party is experiencing now.

Proportional representation (PR) takes majority government off the table, even with the current party configuration. PR would also generate new parties over time, further increasing the difficulty of obtaining a majority. So all political parties, including the Conservative, will be looking at forming coalition governments.… Continue reading

Is Brexit a crisis for the Parliamentary system?

Everyone knows American democracy is a gong show. As Joe Heath argues a few posts below, it’s so bad that Americans have given up even thinking about how to reform their institutions. Francis Fukuyama says the country is suffering remorseless institutional decay. And surely Trumpism is the final proof, if any is needed, of how messed up things are down south.

Then there’s Tyler Cowen, who had this thought about Brexit (I bolded a few things worth emphasizing)

4. More generally, might the Parliamentary system be worse than many people think?  I’ve seen it praised so many times in the blogosphere for its clean, swift, up or down properties.  But when there is a leadership void, it hits the legislative and executive branches together, and either before or after the void it is possible to shift very badly off course very rapidly.  There are fewer intermediate institutions or checks and balances to set things right, and as Martin Wolf noted: “36 per cent of eligible voters have been allowed to decide “without any appropriate checks and balances””. 

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In praise of status quo-ism, or, 10 theses arising from the Brexit fiasco

1. Citizens of reasonably free and reasonably democratic societies tend to underweight the value of stability. This is particularly the case when that society has been stable for a couple of decades or more, and so memories of previous instability are either foggy or non-existent.

2. The leader of a reasonably free and democratic society should overweight the value of stability. That is, in the absence of an overwhelming or unavoidable reason to do otherwise, he or she should strive to maintain the status quo at almost all cost. Put a bit crudely: A prime minister’s prime directive should be to defend the constitution.

3. The leader of a reasonably free and democratic society should never confuse intramural instability for national instability. That is, just because there are deep and existentially threatening cleavages within a political party, it does not mean there are similar cleavages within the nation that need attending to.… Continue reading

Intergenerational dimension of Brexit

One of the most striking features of yesterday’s referendum in the UK to leave the European Union is the significant generational split, with young people strongly favouring remaining. (This chart seems to be poll-based, but suggests that the only voters over the age of 55 favored leaving. Other polls suggest as much as 75% of 18-24 year olds wanted to remain.) This is a case where people at different ages clearly are in different interest positions. The quid pro quo on accepting EU immigrants to the UK is that UK citizens, in turn, have the right to live and work in other EU countries. This is a benefit that young people are much more likely to take advantage of than old people. (In fact, old people drawing pensions can continue to live pretty much wherever they like in Europe, the way Canadians live in Florida. It is young people who will feel the mobility restriction, because they will be unable to work.)

One might think that this raises a significant issue of fairness.… Continue reading

Trump and electoral reform: connecting the dots

I did two media pieces this week, the first an article opposing electoral reform for Policy Options, the second a panel discussion on Donald Trump on TVO’s The Agenda. There is actually a connection between the two, but I didn’t have enough time on the TV show to explain it. And so let me do so here.

First, electoral reform. The point I’m always trying to make in this debate, which is very difficult to get across without being misinterpreted, is that there is a family of recognizably “democratic” voting systems, all of which have advantages and disadvantages, but none of which is more inherently democratic, or fair, than the others. This is why most academic experts, when they debate the merits of the various systems, tend to talk about extremely pragmatic and consequential considerations, not fundamental democratic principles. In other words, the type of discourse engaged in by Fairvote Canada is, in my view, rank demagoguery.… Continue reading

Don’t settle for shallow narratives to explain NDP loss

I published an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen explaining why I don’t think we should be satisfied with the analyses of the NDP’s underachievement in the last election. Among other things, I think that the view that one of the reasons explaining the NPD’s loss is that it was “outflanked from the left” by the LPC deserves more scrutiny. I realize that an electoral campaign is not a political philosophy seminar, but this doesn’t entail that hasty judgments should remain unchallenged. More importantly, the lessons that we will draw from the results will influence how we think about social-democracy’s prospects in Canada.… Continue reading

Newspaper editors receiving offers they can’t refuse

An extraordinary spectacle is being played out across the land, as newspaper editorial boards are forced by their owners to endorse the Conservative Party. (As Paula Simmons put it, with regard to the Edmonton Journal’s endorsement of Harper: “And yes. Before you ask, this was a decision made by the owners of the paper. As is their traditional prerogative.”) The result has been the most tepid series of endorsements and backhanded compliments I can recall. Here is the Globe and Mail’s, which so far has attracted the most derision. Here is the Ottawa Citizen. The National Post has not released its own yet, but it looks as though they’re having to directly censor Andrew Coyne. So hard to get good help these days! You can make them say what you want, but it’s so hard to get them to sound enthusiastic when saying it.

Update: Andrew Coyne has resigned from his position as National Post opinion page editor… Continue reading

Telling women what they can wear is a sign of weakness

Just when the niqab issue was starting to fade, Stephen Harper brought it up again, with his rather surprising announcement that a Conservative government would consider banning them in the public service (a position that was, not that long ago, ruled out by Tony Clement). So apparently this represents a concerted strategy, of ensuring that the election debate remain focused on the pressing issue of women wearing niqabs.

Globally, I’m not very impressed with this strategy. I think that encouraging hatred and distrust towards minority groups is not an acceptable electoral strategy. Imagine if a principal decided to promote school spirit by picking out a few kids and encouraging everyone in the school to bully them. Harper is basically doing the same thing, at the level of the entire country. As far as I am concerned, it shows him to be unfit for public office. (But hey, so does smoking crack, yet 30% of Torontonians were willing to vote for Rob Ford…) Anyhow, I’ve explained my views on that elsewhere.… Continue reading