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Author Topic: Doubts about Pro Rep
V. Jara
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posted 29 July 2005 08:42 AM      Profile for V. Jara     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I admit I am not a Pro Rep expert, so I can only speak from what I have observed in other countries. I am no longer sure about my position on pro rep, having doubts about how democratic it ultimately can be.

In some ways pro rep concentrates power more, rather than nominating candidates locally at the constituency level, central parties get to develop lists that cherry pick the candidates they want to get elected. Often the most exciting or populist new candidates are shoved near the end of voter lists to motivate party activists and voters to vote in greater numbers for the straight party ticket. Often the result is that these candidates do not get elected. This favours party insiders.

The ability of central offices to determine candidate lists also creates great job security for people near the top of lists. Your party can go from 42% of the vote to 15% of the vote and the top listed candidates are still elected. It is very difficult to dislodge members from the top of the list as they tend to be powerful party insiders. In Belgium, this has resulted in several ministers/top listed politicians that are repeatedly caught red-handed in various scandals but have not been removed from lists because of their inside the party power. Parties can claim to punish them by demoting them a couple spots on a list but they still get re-elected. It's not as simple as a constituency where you can just "fire" one individual. The best you can do is de-select them on your voter's list. These people sometimes become arrogant and only get thrown out if the electorate really turns against the party or the individuals do something quite atrocious.

Pro rep also leads to weird situations where a party might recieve a plurality of the vote (say 42%) but be caught in a parliamentary situation where it has no natural coalition partners. In these situations fringe parties (sometimes the far left or right) end up becoming coalition partners and often exact a high price (like several key cabinet posts) for their loyalty. It can also be more complex in situations where multiple parties must form pacts to form governments. In these cases the party with the most votes (say 29% + 18% coaliton partner 1 + 15% coalition partner 2) can end up reduced to a political rump in cabinet. People complain that the party they voted for (i.e. more of them voted for) doesn't end up governing.

Coalition governments are also more unstable. We could imagine our minority government dramas on a more regular basis.

One argument that gets cited in Jack Layton's 2004 book in favour of pro rep is that it boosts voter turnout. One of the examples he uses is Belgium where 95% + of eligible voters vote. Unfortunately, Jack forgets to note that in Belgium you are legally required to vote. Violators pay a fine.

I think Jack hopes that pro rep would decrease voter disillusionment, by letting people vote for the party of choice and not strategically. This is not always the case. Many Belgians used to vote empty ballots until the recent full switchover to electronic ballots. Disillusionment with the political system runs high in Belgium and the number of people prefering to pay fines is increasing. Another increasing element in Belgium is the vote recieved by the far right, who are occasional coalition partners in Flanders (where they recieved 30% of the popular vote). This is considered a symptom of such voter disillusionment.

Finally, people complain that under pro rep systems you have no local accountability. In the first pass the post constituency system, everyone knows who their MP is and that MP is considered responsible to his constituency. In pro rep, MPs are equally responsible to the nation or collectively responsible for a region and can easily pass the buck on constituency responsibilities from one MP to another. "I'm not responsible for Toronto Centre, they don't vote for my party there anyways, I only care about Etobicoke-Lakeshore," could be a typical response from a Toronto area MP. This can result in unaccountable MPs and public frustration over which MP to go to when you have problems.

Perhaps there are benefits to the first past the post system that we do not even realise. Perhaps it is even important for a party to pass a certain threshold in the popular vote before it is allowed to govern. Perhaps it is even important that the local voter base of a party can determine its chances at government. Or perhaps I'm wrong and it really is time to end Liberal majorities elected by minorities, harmful strategic voting, 19 member NDP caucuses (or equally small former PC caucuses), no representation for the small parties, and bring pro rep to Canada. Right now, I'm on the fence.

Edited for clarity

[ 29 July 2005: Message edited by: V. Jara ]


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quelar
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posted 29 July 2005 09:38 AM      Profile for quelar     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Hi V. Jara.

You do bring up some legitimate concerns, and ones that have been adressed before.

However before going into great detail about this, I get the feeling that you've listened to recent press about PR and some of the issues and possibly don't know a lot of direct details about how it works.

I will suggest looking Here and reading up on some of the different flavours of PR which all address the situation in different ways.

Personally I lean heavily towards the Mixed-Member system, but I'll let you read up and let me know what you think.

In the meantime, I do agree PR has some serious flaws, but on the other hand, is it any worse than what we just dealt with in the 90's with a HUGE majority government that far less than half of us voted for?

Edited for Spelling and to Add that after reading this I potentially sound condecending, and apologise if it is taken that way, definitely not meant.

[ 29 July 2005: Message edited by: quelar ]


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V. Jara
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posted 29 July 2005 10:19 AM      Profile for V. Jara     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Thanks quelar. I should have mentioned that I was assuming the system of pro rep that Canada would adopt is Mixed Member Proportional Representation.

I've seen the Mt. Holyoke website, but haven't had the time to wade my way through it yet. I'll be sure to do so.

I agree with your criticism of the 1990's Liberal government. It was sorely undemocratic and I'm glad a minority government has somewhat shifted the scales of power. If you have time to respond to any of my criticisms that might not be answered by the Mt. Holyoke website, that would much appreciated.


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quelar
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posted 29 July 2005 11:33 AM      Profile for quelar     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
In some ways pro rep concentrates power more, This favours party insiders.

- In the Mixed-Member Proportional Representation (MMPR) you have two options for local members and for the party. This opens up room for non-party candidates that people like, and although the party picks their candidates, it leaves a lot of room for the local voters to choose local candidates with little or no party affiliation. It does strengthen the party's choices as to who gets to be on the list, but there isn't anything undemocratic about that, it could engage more people to be involved on the 'party' level to help nominate those cadidates that you want to see on the list.


quote:
The ability of central offices to determine candidate lists also creates great job security for people near the top of lists.

- Agreed, but this happens anyway. Take a look at the last election and the battle between Tony Valeri and Sheila Copps. The 'In' people got in and the old Chretienites got the boot. In FPTP and PR this can again be solved by more people getting engaged on the party level before elections.

quote:
Pro rep also leads to weird situations where a party might recieve a plurality of the vote (say 42%) but be caught in a parliamentary situation where it has no natural coalition partners. People complain that the party they voted for (i.e. more of them voted for) doesn't end up governing.

- The majority of voters never voted for the Liberals, yet they've been governing for 14 years now. I agree this can happen with two slightly more extreme parties link up, but history has shown that a coalition with the extreme fringe rarely lasts long, and it pushes policies to the center. I call out Israel as an example, Sharon's Lukid party initially made a coalition with some extreme right groups so he didn't have to deal with the more moderate parties, but when they demanded too much and refused to work with him on the Gaza Pullout, he found common ground in the middle and the policies have become more centrist.

quote:
Coalition governments are also more unstable. We could imagine our minority government dramas on a more regular basis.

- And within this last government, with the massive instability of it, the NDP were able to get the Liberals to agree to their budget proposals, pass SSM, and stay out of Missile Defense. If this is the future we have to look forward to with PR, I say bring it on.

quote:
One argument that gets cited in Jack Layton's 2004 book in favour of pro rep is that it boosts voter turnout.


- Belgium isn't a good example, look at the German example where voters generally turnout in the high 70's. A big difference from our 60% from last election.


quote:
I think Jack hopes that pro rep would decrease voter disillusionment, by letting people vote for the party of choice and not strategically. This is not always the case.

- Agreed, it's not always the case, but I would ask you to walk outside and ask 10 random people about the political process we have now. I'm guessing the chances are good that 10 out of 10 people think it's relatively aweful. Any improvements would be appreciated.

quote:
Finally, people complain that under pro rep systems you have no local accountability.

- Under MMPR you group together a number of constituencies (say 10) and out of those ten everyone votes for 5 people directly and then 5 more party picks. Those people can be assigned to certain areas (not perfect but you still have a rep for your area), which makes those people responsible for the direct local and the slighly larger area.

quote:
Perhaps it is even important for a party to pass a certain threshold in the vote before it is allowed to govern.

- MMPR also allows for a minimum clip level for parties to take seats (say 5%) which in the last election would have still left the Green Party out in the cold, but may give people more reason to vote for them next time so they hit that number and get a few seats.


Overall I do agree, there are concerns with PR, but I believe it would clear up more problems than it would create. And at that point with a more representational government if we don't like the system, and something better comes along, the voters will have the power to change the system, instead of just lying back and hoping the fourth largest seat party can pull out another miracle and get this passed.

Let me know if you see any gaping holes or have any other comments


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RP.
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posted 29 July 2005 11:45 AM      Profile for RP.     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by V. Jara:
In some ways pro rep concentrates power more, rather than nominating candidates locally at the constituency level, central parties get to develop lists that cherry pick the candidates they want to get elected.

This is the line that's being circulated on PEI right now, by the opponents (read: Liberals) of MMP.

"If MMP comes through, the parties will just fill the list with party hacks from Charlottetown."

I have two answers to that:
(1) There's nothing to stop parties from doing that now, anyway. They could suspend nomination meetings, and fill all the local riding candidacies with their people from Charlottetown.

But they don't do that, do they? Or if they do, they are rightly criticized and often punished for sending a "parachute" candidate in.

This leads me to my next,

(2) There's nothing to say that the top-up list
has to be decided behind closed doors without popular input. There's nothing to say that prospective candidates couldn't put up a vigourous campaign to get a top-rung position on the list. There could be a provincial or regional nominating convention. In fact, it would be in a party's interest to have such a contest.

If a party filled its top-slate with otherwise unviable candidates who just happened to have done the party some favours in the past (you know, like senators), then why would anyone vote for that list?

[ 29 July 2005: Message edited by: RP. ]


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BleedingHeart
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posted 29 July 2005 02:13 PM      Profile for BleedingHeart   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
central parties get to develop lists that cherry pick the candidates they want to get elected.

As opposed to the current practice of giving the nomination to whoever can bus in the most Sikhs/evangelicals/skid row bums?


From: Kickin' and a gougin' in the mud and the blood and the beer | Registered: Nov 2002  |  IP: Logged
Wilf Day
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posted 29 July 2005 02:29 PM      Profile for Wilf Day     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by V. Jara:
In some ways pro rep concentrates power more, rather than nominating candidates locally at the constituency level, central parties get to develop lists that cherry pick the candidates they want to get elected. Often the most exciting or populist new candidates are shoved near the end of voter lists to motivate party activists and voters to vote in greater numbers for the straight party ticket. Often the result is that these candidates do not get elected. This favours party insiders.

The ability of central offices to determine candidate lists also creates great job security for people near the top of lists. Your party can go from 42% of the vote to 15% of the vote and the top listed candidates are still elected. It is very difficult to dislodge members from the top of the list as they tend to be powerful party insiders. In Belgium, this has resulted in several ministers/top listed politicians that are repeatedly caught red-handed in various scandals but have not been removed from lists because of their inside the party power. Parties can claim to punish them by demoting them a couple spots on a list but they still get re-elected. It's not as simple as a constituency where you can just "fire" one individual. The best you can do is de-select them on your voter's list. These people sometimes become arrogant and only get thrown out if the electorate really turns against the party or the individuals do something quite atrocious.



What you describe can be true in Belgium with their pure list system (although Belgium recently improved their system by giving double weight to individual rankings to help cure the very problem you describe, and make it easier to "break the slate.")

However, with all MMP systems there is no security in being on the list. If the party does well and wins enough single-member seats, they get no "top-up" list seats. In one German state election an opposition party leader decided he was too busy to run in a local seat so he just put himself at the top of the list. The party did so well that he became premier -- without a seat, since the party won no "top-up" list seats! No one ever makes that mistake again. The great bulk of "list candidates" are those who also won local nominations.

Furthermore, with regional lists like Scotland's and Wales', which the New Brunswick and Quebec proposals copy (although Quebec's current proposal has too-tiny regions), the lists are chosen in local regions rather than centrally.

You can learn more from two useful Canadian sites: the Law Commission of Canada's Report on Electoral Reform and the Fair Vote Canada website.

quote:
Originally posted by V. Jara:
Pro rep also leads to weird situations where a party might recieve a plurality of the vote (say 42%) but be caught in a parliamentary situation where it has no natural coalition partners. In these situations fringe parties (sometimes the far left or right) end up becoming coalition partners and often exact a high price (like several key cabinet posts) for their loyalty. It can also be more complex in situations where multiple parties must form pacts to form governments. In these cases the party with the most votes (say 29% + 18% coaliton partner 1 + 15% coalition partner 2) can end up reduced to a political rump in cabinet. People complain that the party they voted for (i.e. more of them voted for) doesn't end up governing.

If a country develops six parties, of course you get some interesting situations. But certainly there should be no rule that the largest single party must run the government -- that would defeat the whole purpose of making every vote count equally. If 60% of Swedes vote against the conservatives, then a coalition of parties representing that 60% would usually be a good thing, even if the conservatives were the largest single party. If fringe parties overplay their hand they will lose: the governing coalition will overrule them, and dare them to quit the coalition and bring down the government, suggesting correctly that the voters will punish them for this. Conversely, a governing coalition that yields to blackmail will also be subject to punishment by the voters. The result is more dialogue and compromise in public rather than behind the closed caucus doors of a big-tent party.

quote:
Originally posted by V. Jara:
Coalition governments are also more unstable. We could imagine our minority government dramas on a more regular basis.
Once people accept that the government should represent more than 50% of the voters, coalitions or accords become normal. Scotland and Germany have stable coalitions. New Zealand has a stable Labour minority government with an accord with a centre party. Wales has, despite PR, a majority Labour government. Stable undemocratic governments are a bad thing, not a good thing.
quote:
Originally posted by V. Jara:
One argument that gets cited in Jack Layton's 2004 book in favour of pro rep is that it boosts voter turnout. I think Jack hopes that pro rep would decrease voter disillusionment, by letting people vote for the party of choice and not strategically. This is not always the case.

No, but it is a significant trend although not universal.
quote:
Originally posted by V. Jara:
Perhaps there are benefits to the first past the post system that we do not even realise. Perhaps it is even important for a party to pass a certain threshold in the popular vote before it is allowed to govern. Perhaps it is even important that the local voter base of a party can determine its chances at government. Or perhaps I'm wrong and it really is time to end Liberal majorities elected by minorities, harmful strategic voting, 19 member NDP caucuses (or equally small former PC caucuses), no representation for the small parties, and bring pro rep to Canada. Right now, I'm on the fence.


A threshold in the popular vote before a party gets seats is normal. In Sweden, Norway and many other countries it is 4%. In Germany and New Zealand it is either 5% or winning a local seat (in German federal elections 3 local seats). In Scotland and Wales the threshold is a regional one, so the local voter base of a party does indeed determine its chances.

From: Port Hope, Ontario | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged
V. Jara
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posted 31 July 2005 12:12 PM      Profile for V. Jara     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Thanks babblers.
From: - | Registered: May 2005  |  IP: Logged
retread
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posted 31 July 2005 12:56 PM      Profile for retread     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I was under the impression that there are types of MMPR that have both local representatives (like the current system) and party assigned seats (a top up list). You end up with a system which isn't purely FPTP or MMPR, but which gives reasonable proportional representation while still having a local candidate responsible for the riding, and making it harder to extreme fringe parties (the nightmare scenario is Israel I believe) to get a say way out of proportion to their votes.

Was there a reason they decided against that system in BC?


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Wilf Day
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posted 31 July 2005 01:35 PM      Profile for Wilf Day     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by retread:
I was under the impression that there are types of MMPR that have both local representatives (like the current system) and party assigned seats (a top up list). You end up with a system . . which gives reasonable proportional representation while still having a local candidate responsible for the riding, and making it harder to extreme fringe parties (the nightmare scenario is Israel I believe) to get a say way out of proportion to their votes.

You are describing the Mixed Member Proportional system created in Germany by the British occupation authorities in 1946 and since copied by Hungary, New Zealand, Scotland, Wales, and four or five other places.
quote:
Originally posted by retread:
Was there a reason they decided against that system in BC?

For many reasons they chose instead the PR system used in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, called PR-STV. It is also a good system. With larger districts (the six-seaters used in Northern Ireland, and the seven-seaters used until recently in Tasmania) it is more proportional than with districts of five MLAs or smaller. However, the Law Commission of Canada, the Quebec government, the New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy, and the PEI Electoral Reform Commission all chose MMP.

From: Port Hope, Ontario | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged

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