Yay for Democracy Part II

Below, for your reading pleasure, is the statement I submitted today to the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform on behalf of the Green Party of Canada. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, the Citizens’ Assembly is a group of randomly selected Ontario voters who are currently deciding whether or not to change our voting system, and if so, what we should change it to. Ontarians will then get a chance to vote on their proposal at the same time as the next provincial election, October 4th 2007. For more information on what they’re up to, or about the “principals” I talk about below, their website is a good place to start.

Official Written Submission by the Green Party of Canada to the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform

In writing this statement to the Citizens’ Assembly, we are struck with a dilemma. Fundamentally, the Green Party of Canada believes that reforms to our democratic and electoral systems must, by definition, be made by citizens, not just politicians. Therefore, we must begin by endorsing the process you are following, and acknowledging that our views are no more valuable than those of any other group of people.

That being said, we, as a party, have a membership of 10,000 Canadians, a large number of whom are from Ontario. In the last federal election we received the support of 665,940 Canadians, and our two highest ridings (as measured by percentage and total votes) were both in Ontario. Our lack of representation in parliament, as you know, is often used as a textbook example of what is wrong with our current electoral system. These facts provide us with a unique perspective, as well as with a significant amount of credibility on the subject.

We also feel it’s important for us to share our opinions with you, a provincial group, even though we are a national party. That’s because the decision you make will almost certainly have national implications. You therefore have a unique opportunity to improve democracy not only in Ontario, but in Canada.

What We Value

The Green Party understands that no electoral system is perfect. Therefore, while none of the principals you’ve listed should be sneezed at, some must be prioritized above others. Of the nine, Voter Choice and Fairness of Representation stand out, as they are fundamental to the health of our democracy. If voters do not feel like they have a political choice that reflects their views, or if our government does not represent its population, we may want to question whether the transliteration of democracy — rule by the people — truly applies. Accountability and Strong Voter Participation are also principals that we value highly.

Stable and Effective Government and Effective Parliament are also laudable goals, though the use of the word “effective” in both makes these principals more likely to be influenced by the eye of the beholder. Your documentation suggests that government and parliament are more stable and effective when comprised of majority governments with one, strong party in opposition. We would suggest you consider the possibility that this definition contains a bias towards the current system that is not necessarily founded in fact. Instead, we would submit that the argument that majority governments can more easily implement their agenda means they are also less likely to reflect the values and priorities of Ontarians, or to listen to the other duly elected voices in the legislature. If the goal is democracy as defined, surely this must make those governments and parliaments less effective, not more.

It may seem odd that, up until now, we have not mentioned Legitimacy. That’s because in a democracy, legitimacy is the result of the successful application of the first four principals we mentioned. The electoral system will have the “confidence” and “reflect the values” of Ontarians when it elects governments that represent them.

Finally, one comment about your additional principal, Simplicity and Practicality. Again, we agree that this must be a key consideration when designing a new system, if indeed that is what you choose to do. However, please also strongly consider the intelligence of voters. Political issues themselves are often not simple. If we don’t believe voters are able to understand a ranked ballot or a regional magnitude, for example, what makes us think they’re qualified to make decisions regarding the governance of the province? The Green Party believes and trusts in the ability of voters to make the right choices when they have the right information, and when the electoral system accurately communicates their choices.

The Current System

The current electoral system in Ontario (and the rest of Canada) does not provide for adequate voter choice or fairness of representation, and therefore lacks legitimacy and effectiveness. The many examples of serious anomalies are no doubt very familiar to you by now, and therefore don’t need to be repeated. Suffice it to say that the current system is not doing a good job of fairly reflecting the nuanced political views of all Ontarians, and is doing an even worse job of electing proportional numbers of various groups, including women and minorities. While there are admittedly many factors influencing these electoral outcomes, our electoral system itself is a key one.

Another key indicator of the current system’s inadequacy is the number of voters who feel like they can’t vote for who they think is the best choice, for fear of unintended consequences. Whether you’re a Tory in Toronto or a Green…well, anywhere…you could be forgiven for thinking that your vote doesn’t count. For a democracy, that’s unacceptable.

The Need for Change

Therefore, yes, the Green Party believes there is a need for change. A new electoral system must give a voice to every Ontarian, ensure that all votes are counted equally, and help to create a legislature that reflects the demographic and political mix of its population. Some will argue that, since no system is perfect, we’ll just be trading one set of problems for another. They may be right, but the problems we inherit are almost certain to be of less consequence than those we do away with.

Obviously, it would be possible to design a worse electoral system than the one we have, but we find it unlikely that a group of citizens who have spent so much time studying the issue will be capable of doing so. The one caution we will make is that the new system should not give new expanded powers to party leaders, particularly with regards to the formation of party lists in a list or MMP system. The centralization of power with party leaders does not serve democracy, and leads to reduced transparency, accountability, and voter choice. Instead, there may be creative ways of generating the list, including the so-called “best loser” system, where the list is comprised of all the candidates from a party who failed to win seats, in descending order of the number of votes they received.

While many of our members and the authors of this document have their own preferences for different voting systems, we will not include them here, as the party’s position is that that decision should rest with you. Additionally, some of us have made our preferences known though individual presentations and written submissions.

Thank you for taking the time to review our submission, and for all of the hard work and service you’ve given and will continue to give as members of the assembly. We look forward to reading your report.

Respectfully submitted on behalf of the Green Party of Canada by Chris Tindal, Democratic Reform Advocate.

One thought on “Yay for Democracy Part II

  1. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t read it all, but what I did read was brilliantly written. Great job, Chris.

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