By All Accounts Transparently Fair

Andrew Coyne reports about the British Columbia electoral reform committee's decision to recommend the single transferable vote to a referendum occuring on the same day as the provincial election: “the “committee” was made up, not of politicians or lawyers, but common citizens, with almost none of the jiggery-pokery that signals to folks the fix is in: other than a requirement of gender parity (one man and one woman from each riding) and the last-minute addition of two aboriginal members, the principle of random selection was in general respected, in keeping with another bedrock democratic assumption -- that people of good faith are capable of representing the interests of others besides themselves. Their deliberations were by all accounts transparently fair, with due weight given to competing systems, including the status quo. Moreover, both the government and the assembly were bound by a like constraint: that whatever was proposed would be put to the people in a referendum, coincident with the next provincial election. So the government could not bury the assembly’s recommendations, and the assembly could not run amok.”

I'm a political opponent of the B.C. Liberal Party, but they did absolutely the right thing by first setting a date on which the election would be held and by creating the electoral system reform committee and by not, as Coyne notes, meddling in the process. The established political forces—both business and unions and even the parties—are unenthusiastic to say the least of the new system. I'm unenthusiastic about single transferable vote (due mostly to ignorance of the implementation details), but I do agree that proportionality needs to be introduced into the political system in Canada. I'm a fan of Germany's electoral system, which mixes local representation with ideological representation—which gives everybody two votes. Yes, proportional systems sometimes give small parties more power than they should have, such as when they hold the balance of power. But the critics over-estimate the power such small parties hold, because even they need to compromise their values if they want to form the government.

Proportional representation introduces negotiation into the mix, and since the British Parliamentary system is set up as an adversarial process (even in physical terms, since the members of the Opposition sit on the other side of the governing party). The current system has the advantage of efficiency: bills the government wants passed will more than likely be passed. The very fact that the words "poison pill" and "rider" and "block" aren't in the Canadian political lexicon should be evidence enough of that. With efficiency comes danger, however, that the governing party governs only for the people that elected them, which is more often than not less than half of the population, and while efficiency is a worthwhile goal, it is not when the legislation is wrong-headed.

(Originally written on the bus.)