Via Fair Vote Canada:
The long-awaited convening of the Ontario Citizensâ€™ Assembly on Electoral Reform took place at York University campus on the weekend of September 9-10. One hundred and three citizens, representing every riding in the province, began their work to determine whether Ontario needs a new voting system.
Assembly Chair George Thomson welcomed the 52 women and 51 men who will be meeting on several weekends each month through the fall and winter to learn about voting systems. They will hold public meetings across the province from late November to the end of January, and then make a recommendation in April or May on whether the voting system should be changed. If they do recommend a new system, that recommendation will go to a referendum, all but certain to be held with the October 4, 2007 provincial election.
The agenda for this first weekend session included an introduction to the role of voting systems. To gain first-hand experience on how different voting system can produce very different outcomes, the Assembly used three different voting systems to select their snacks for the three coffee breaks on the second weekend. To wrap up the weekend, Assembly members discussed what they expect elections to accomplish. The next five weekend sessions will go into detailed reviews of all major voting systems.
The Citizensâ€™ Assembly sessions are open to the public. For more details on the schedule and topics, visit www.citizensassembly.gov.on.ca.
As always, J.H. Snider has regular updates and links to news accounts, including a rather hysterical warning from Ian Urquhart in the Toronto Star of 9 September about “a leap of faith into electoral darkness.” In the Star article, we get these nuggets:
Two years ago, a similar assembly in British Columbia recommended a loopy new system called the “single transferable vote,” which hardly anyone understood…
Urquhart alleges that in BC,
the research director for the assembly was an individual who was already predisposed toward the single transferable vote…
I know who this is, and while he has done research on STV and probably thinks it has been, on balance, pretty effective over the past 90 or so years in Ireland, to say that this makes him “predisposed” (as in biased in favor of) the system strikes me as unfair and unreasonable for the reporter to say (unless he has some very specific evidence). Essentially, he is calling into question the sholarly integrity of an professional researcher. Anyway, in Ontario, the reseach director will be a:
professor of political science with no published record on the issue of electoral reform.
Wonderful. We certainly would not want someone who actually is an expert on electoral systems working to assist a group of citizens–most of whom have never thought about electoral systems before–tasked with recommending either a new electoral system or the retention of the current one! (I do not wish to imply that the scholar chosen is unqualified or will not do a good, professional job. I simply am questioning the principle of having chosen someone who is not a specialist in the field. Additionally, Wilf notes in a comment that the model of a non-specialist Academic Director supported by a team of elections experts was precisely the model that Fair Vote Ontario recommended.)
Urquhart also fears that “the playing field is already tilted against the status quo.” In a sense, that is probably correct. Given that jurisdictions do not regularly hold such extensive reviews of their electoral systems (though perhaps they should!), the very fact that a process is underway suggests there is doubt about how well the status quo serves the jurisdiction. And well there should be, though my own research on reform away from plurality shows that Ontario is not one of the cases that is most “objectively” in need of reform. The province has not had the record of severe anomalies that British Columbia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, or pre-reform New Zealand have had.
Then, even after criticzing BC-STV, Urquhart implies that proportional representation necessarily is a system of “party lists” notwithstanding that there are no party lists under STV. He also claims that under PR candidates run on such lists “rather than in constituencies” (my emphasis), notwithstanding that one can have both, if one understands “constituencies” to mean single-seat districts and the form of PR adopted is MMP. (Of course, most non-MM PR systems, including STV, indeed have constituencies; jurisdiction-wide party-list systems, a la Israel or Ukraine, are exceedingly rare.)
Urquhart says that “permanent minority government” would be a cure worse than the disease, which he diagnoses as “presidentialization.” The latter term–highly misleading in any parliamentary system, but that’s a topic for another day–refers to the concentration of power in the premier. Apparently it has not ocurred to Mr. Urquhart that the reason the premier is so powerful is that there are no checks and balances on a single minority party (in votes) that is frequently given a majority (in seats) by Ontario’s current electoral system. Your premier will be a whole lot less “presidential” (not that he is now, but, again, that’s a topic for another day) once you have an electoral system that ensures, when there is no party with a majority of votes, that a minority party leads a minority government–or else, of course, a majority coalition.
The idea that one can genuinely empower “ordinary MPPs,” as Urquhart wishes–at least without real presdentialization, that is, electing legislators and the executive separately and eliminating confidence votes–is quite frankly naive. Under a parliamentary form of government, individual members are arguably at their least powerful under plurality voting and the resulting tendency towards single-party governments. PR–of some form–is essential to what Urquhart claims to want to accomplish.
It seems Urquhart and his newspaper could use a primer from an electoral systems specialist. But of course we can’t be trusted to be objective about our areas of research specialization, can we?