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Yes, Change is Hard and Requires Math, That is Why We Elected You

December 3, 2016

So it seems that the response about the electoral reform committee (EMME) process is that there are lots of committed, organized, focused, passionate people who want to make this country better, speaking for the importance of changing our voting system to one that assigns seats in proportion to the total votes. But…that most Canadians just aren’t interested, or excited. Well, I guess if no one is interested it must mean everything is fine.

The committee report did not choose a specific proportional system that Canada should switch to, but it did put constraints on what that system should be. MonsefWhen criticizing the report of that committee Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef used the fact that one of those constraints was a formula called the Gallagher Index. She didn’t critique the index itself or what it meant for different possible systems. She critiqued the fact that it was a complicated looking formula. Complicated? Is that the Liberal Party saying something is too complicated for the Canadian public to understand?

No, you know what’s complicated?

Climate change is complicated.

But that didn’t stop you.

Impossible Economic/Environmental Tradeoffs are complicated.

But you make a choice and expect us to understand.

Quantum physics is complicated but…


Important choices are sometimes complicated.

Sometimes, almost always actually, these choices require mathematical formulas in some form. The pipeline decision involves a lot of math. The climate change discussion is based on huge mathematical simulations run worldwide and supercomputers. Canadians know these things. This is literally one of the reasons they elected the Liberals over the anti-science, anti-knowledge policies the Conservatives were offering and the vague opportunistic policies the NDP were offering in the last election.

So why on Earth should our voting system be so dead simple that in any given election it doesn’t give two thirds of the country a voice?  So simple that almost a third of the country (urban Conservatives, Libs in Alberta, NDP all over, Greens everywhere) never, ever get the representative they want?

It is possible for something to be too simple you know.

Being complicated is not an argument against change. Even the committee’s response of a general type of system rather than a specific system isn’t an argument against change.

A Way Out

If the Liberals really want a way out, here’s an idea, you can do what New Zealand did and have a referendum to decide whether we should decide. What could be more Liberal than that? (sorry, but it’s kind of true).

The question would essentially be :

No seriously though, do you want to change the voting system to something proportional? – If so, answer Yes. 
Or do you want to keep the current first past the post system? – If so, answer No.
— The Question

At least then we’d know there really is permission to do this properly. Then you could examine the choices before us, use the Gallagher Index and get down to it.  Or as NDP democratic reform critic Nathan Cullen so eloquently put it this week in the house:

“Stop it. People aren’t stupid,” Cullen said. “Let’s get to work.”

— Nathan Cullen, NDP

It would also allow the Liberals wiggle room to half fulfill their campaign promise to make a change before the next election. If the referendum goes “yes” then they could campaign on their particular choice in the following election and implement that system without and additional referendum. The NDP could campaign on their favourite choice. And the Conservatives could campaign on referendums being an inappropriate way to make large scale national decisions about policy…oh wait.

Got it? Great. I’m sure you’ll make the right choice.

Actually, I’m really not. I’m getting worried. But so should the Liberals. If they get this wrong, they’re going to lose a lot of those committed, organized, focused people who want to make this country better that kept nagging them at the committee hearings.

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