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Voting For, Against and Together

December 1, 2012

Great proposal from Andrew Coyne. I couldn’t have said it better myself, and I’ve tried, and tried and tried.

“The opposition parties would agree on a single candidate to put up against the Conservatives in each riding. Were they to win a majority, they would pledge to govern just long enough to implement electoral reform: a year, two at most. Then fresh elections would be called under the new system, with each party once again running under its own flag, with a full slate of candidates.”

Coyne begins his article talking about how the idea of ‘splitting the left vote’ is a myth we tell ourselves. In fact, he says, all that is happening is that one party has more support than all the others and under our current system they are the ones that win. Thus elections are always unfair in Canada in a way. At the moment this benefits the Conservatives because they can reliably get the largest block, even if it is only 37% or 40% of voters. When someone asks you why our current system is unfair, that shouldn’t the winner win? Ask them if it is fair that 37% of voters can get 100% of the power. It is not.

However, I do disagree a bit with Coyne’s assertion that voters do not vote against anyone, they only vote for someone.  But if you think about, it is much easier to figure out who to vote against than who to vote for. Assume for simplicity that all parties really exist somewhere on an imaginary political line. Four political parties will not be distributed equally along that line, and my opinion on various issues probably doesn’t fit right in the middle of the spectrum either. So there is going to be one party which is furthest from my political beliefs than all the others. If this party is significantly further than the others then it’s simply easier to think about how to vote them out than how to pick amongst the other parties. This is magnified if one of the parties is more extreme on some important issues than parties have been historically and if that party even refers to all the other parties with a single label.

It's not hard to understand why voters might vote against a party.

It’s not hard to understand why voters might vote against a party.

While I don’t agree with all of his reasoning, I do agree wholeheartedly with his conclusion. Electoral reform to create some kind of proportional voting system would end all this discussion forevermore. It is important enough that Canadians of all political stripes should support it. Even conservatives (note the small c) should support it as it removes the current constraint of being the right kind of Conservative to hold power. A clear contract with each other and with the Canadian voters would make this clear and make the next election a referendum on reform vs the status quo and stagnation.

The benefit of such an election would be that the resulting parliament would have the mandate to institute electoral reform without another national referendum. Then in the ensuing election under the new system, the voters could reward and punish as they see fit, including supporting a party which promised to reverse back to first-past-the-post if they wished.

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