Sunday, October 2, 2016

Why a referendum on proportional representation would be detrimental to voter equality

A referendum on whether to change our Canadian electoral system to the proportional representation* of parties would be a partisan measure of how much people want to protect their parties’ present turf rather than a non-partisan measure of how much people want to provide equal protection to all voters, including those who vote for smaller parties.

If that type of referendum, with a partisan-skewed topic, were to be perceived as having a non-partisan topic (such as the referendum on the prohibition of alcohol in 1898), then it would erroneously be perceived as “fair,”** and would provide a false cover of legitimacy. This erroneous perception would do more damage to the cause of fair voting and voter equality than not having a referendum at all.

Here is what would motivate a proportional representation (PR) referendum voter to be partisan: Since the outcome of a PR referendum would greatly influence how much power a political party would obtain in future elections, it is very likely that a voter’s answer on the referendum question would take that into account and therefore be influenced by their allegiance to their chosen party. Even without taking that into account, that referendum voter would be influenced by those in their chosen party who do take that into account.

**Our current system is unfair because in a winner-take-all election races in individual ridings, the only voters who have the unequal privilege of influencing national election results are those voters who happened to vote for the party candidate who won their riding. Other voters do not get that privilege, hence the inequality.


How the results of a PR referendum could be erroneously perceived as non-partisan by large numbers of people

There is a probability that a person’s answer on that referendum question will be influenced by their allegiances to their chosen political party. That probability is much higher than if that same person were to answer a referendum question on Prohibition (1898), Conscription (1942), and/or the Charlottetown Accord (1992).

Because of that difference in that probability, it is illusory to think that a referendum on proportional representation is the same as those other referenda.

And yet that illusion is precisely what some people, who have a long term political agenda, want us to believe. These people have money to spend on pushing this illusion.

Others simply believe that illusion because they have not yet been made aware that it is an illusion. There is less money spent on debunking this illusion, than on pushing this illusion.

Some corollaries

Because of the above, it is a mistake to have a referendum on PR. It always has been a mistake and it always will be…anywhere. This includes all of the provincial referenda in Canada, and all of the national referenda around the world. The decisions to have these referenda perhaps all involved people falling into the trap of believing the illusion that referenda on PR are not inherently partisan.

New Zealand, and other countries, shouldn’t have had to wait for the political landscape to be strategically correct*** before they switched to PR. No one should have to wait before making their voting system fair. No one should have to wait for basic justice. Justice delayed is justice denied.

*** A ”strategically correct” landscape meant a combination of 1. a minority government situation, and 2. a referendum that they could have a chance of winning (because of that minority gov’t situation). 

The moral basis for protecting the equal voting rights of those who vote for smaller parties

The protection of the rights of voters who vote for smaller parties is based on the logic of the Golden Rule (the principle of reciprocity) which states, “Treat others how you wish to be treated.”

Too few referendum voters will use this logic. The only hope for a referendum on PR is to force voters to use this logic by stating the referendum question in a way that will make it impossible to for voters to avoid that logic.

*Proportional Representation occurs when the percentage of seats a party gets is proportional to the percentage of votes they get.