Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The other PR

PR can mean public relations or proportional representation. I suggest that we reserve PR for the latter, and abandon the term "public relations" in favour of the more honest descriptor propaganda. (Incidentally, I'm planning to go the Canadian War Museum tomorrow to see an exhibit called "Weapons of Mass Dissemination: The Propaganda of War". It was developed by the Wolfsonian-Florida International University and they have a virtual exhibition you can visit. Update 9Jan2006: As part of the exhibition, the Canadian War Museum also has a really good section on their website about Canadian Wartime Propaganda.)

Now, back to proportional representation, which is getting lots of media play these days. John Ibbitson recently wrote an interesting piece in the Globe & Mail titled "PR: Democracy you can really trust". (I would link to the online copy, but it's only available to subscribers.) He writes:
"The argument most often put forward by detractors of PR is that it will lead to unstable Parliaments in which larger parties are held hostage to the agendas of smaller, special-interest parties, leading to repeated political crises and frequent elections."
But ironically, Ibbitson points out, the opposite is true (at least currently in Canada):
"Moving from first-past-the-post to proportional representation would actually make the House of Commons more stable."
Based roughly on recent polls, he shows that a likely outcome under PR would be "a stable coalition of the Liberals and the NDP." And he argues that "a PR-based House would also be far more regionally representative." Finally he suggests, as I have, that PR "tends to improve voter turnout, and it more closely represents the popular will."

Today's Globe & Mail online poll asked readers
"If the Green Party, for example, received 5 per cent of the popular vote in the federal election should it also receive 5 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons?"
Now I'm pretty skeptical about polls like this that aren't based on random samples. For what it's worth, 57% of the 21075 responses were "Yes". (Confession: one of those responses was mine.)

Joe Dawson pointed me to a Canadian Press piece that raises the spectre of strategic voting:
"Stakes are high as polling suggests Martin and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper are in a statistical dead heat, leading observers to warn an ugly fight for dominance lies just ahead. And that means NDP supporters who fear a Conservative win could become crucial in the Jan. 23 vote as some consider shifting alliances to tip the balance in the Liberals' favour, says the latest Decima Research survey."
Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent recently discussed specific proposals for proportional representation in an Edmonton Journal article titled "A democratic idea whose time has come". Definitely worth reading.

Finally, Ray Deonandan pointed me to an interesting website whose mission is
"to protect and improve Canadian sovereignties and democracy through education, dialogue, and advocacy, especially using existing and emerging communications tools."
They go on to say:
"We believe that Canada should maintain a position as a responsible and involved global citizen, and we support the continued development of a socially progressive Canadian society. We remain committed to the value of democratic decision-making, the value of citizen's rights over those of corporations, the value of reciprocal solidarity with other self-determination movements and/or organizations around the world, and the value of cultural diversity."
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Anonymous Joe Dawson said...

Hi Nick:

I am not debating if we should or shouldn’t have proportional representation at some point. The concept has some merit to be sure. The issue is that today we don’t have such a system, and as long as we don’t have such a system our current system almost requires us to vote more strategically.

In any election there is often a number of different outcomes that you would desire.

Lets say you support the green party, then obviously your first choice is to have a green party government elected, and as a minimum to have the person in your riding elected from the green party. Your second best choice based on your ideology would likely be NDP. Your third choice would likely be Liberal, and your worst case would likely be a Stephen Harper government.

I know you personally live in a riding with such an overwhelming strong Liberal history that any vote other then a Liberal one is really unlikely to affect anything. It may change some national numbers a little but likely nothing will defeat the Liberal’s in that riding.

In my riding, many people say it will be quite close again. The real race is between the PC’s who always tend to win and the Liberal’s who are often very close. The number of votes for the Green Party and NDP in this riding would more then make the difference for who wins in this riding.

In such a case should people vote for the party that most closely represents their ideology that has a really good chance to win? Or should they vote for the party they like and risk having the party that is most distant from their own personal ideology win?

If proportional representation is in place, we can then vote based on more pure ideology based grounds, and know that every vote counts. For now with the current system it is more important that we each find the way to vote that will try to make our vote affect the most positive change we can. For each of us in each riding that is different.

10:08 AM, January 08, 2006  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

Joe, I agree with your final assessment. But it just shows how irrational the present system is.

Regarding the Green Party, I'm not so sure about the ordering of alternative choices you gave. As I understand it, fiscally the Green Party is rather conservative.

4:45 PM, January 10, 2006  

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