Saturday, May 28, 2005

Jeffrey Simpson misses the point

The Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson, who often writes good sense, misses the point in his column today on electoral reform. He notes, probably correctly, that most of the 57% of voters who favoured STV in British Columbia's referendum were voting for change rather than from any great love or understanding of STV. He then goes on to suggest that the movement for electoral reform that is sweeping the country--P.E.I, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario are up next--is essentially a misconceived attempt to check executive authority: misconceived because minority and coalition governments are less effective than majority ones, and majority governments are the "virtue" of the current "first-past-the-post" system. Majority governments, says Simpson, "can get things done, even in the face of public opposition." If we must have PR, he says, let it be of the MMP (mixed-member, proportional) type, which is on the table in P.E.I and New Brunswick. MMP is likely to do less harm than STV or some other form of PR.

Simpson doesn't have much use for the claim that just about any reform would be for the better. I think he's wrong on that score. Just about any change would indeed be for the better, and that alone was reason enough for British Columbians to endorse STV, whether or not they understood the intricacies of vote-counting under the system. (By contrast, casting a vote under STV is easy as 1, 2, 3 and something that a six-year-old could understand.) In arguing, as many opponents of PR do, that--heaven forbid--we may wind up with more minority or coalition governments, Simpson forgets that this is supposed to be a democracy. If you want a government that "can get things done, even in the face of public opposition", let's have a one-party state, or something approaching that. Let's call in the Chinese government to reform our system. We'd wind up with strong government and, in all likelihood, strong economic growth. On the other hand, most proponents of PR object to the present system for the prime reason that it's hideously unfair--read, undemocratic. If no one party can command a majority, so be it: the people have spoken. MMP has much to recommend it, but not because it does "the least harm". It's the present system that does the harm; just about any conceivable form of PR would be a good.

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