Sunday, July 15, 2012

Rick Salutin on Proportional Representation

The problem with parties is they don’t exist to represent the views of the public, or even sections of it, or even their own members. Maybe they once did, or maybe not. But now they exist to win elections. They’re “election-day organizations,” to quote political scientist Donald Savoie. They take public opinion into account mainly in their strategic calculations.

Is some form of proportional representation the answer to the 'democratic deficit' reflected in the above excerpt from Part 2 of Rick Salutin's series on democracy?

Salutin admits to an ambivalence about a reform he once enthusiastically embraced. The most popular version, called the Single Transferable Vote, is explained by the writer:

You indicate your second, third, etc., choices along with your top choice so if your No. 1 is at the bottom and gets dropped after the first tally, your vote is transferred down the line until a set of winners — ridings are larger but total numbers of reps stays the same — emerge. It’s complex but it means most votes actually matter and something proportional emerges.

In my mind, that version would be effective only with a very engaged and informed citizenry, something that I'm not sure we have ever had in Canada, and certainly absent in the current political landscape, where complex ideas are reduced to cartoonish stereotypes, a strategy that the Harper Conservatives seem to have perfected, aided and abetted by buffoons in the media, Ezra Levant and the rest of the crew at Fox North being prime examples.

Until Canadians manage to cure their addiction to sound bites and simplistic bromides and platitudes and begin demanding substance and integrity from our politicians, I very much doubt that any systemic reform will be effective.

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