Sunday, April 30, 2023

Ask Yourself Seven Questions about Trudeau’s Statement that Proportional Representation Causes Division

 On June 6, 2022, Justin Trudeau said, “Anywhere we see proportional representation it is a recipe for divisive and regional outcomes that don't make for stable approaches.” (See 22:47 in this video)

Ask yourself seven questions about that statement (Notice the ones further down the list that get less attention):

1.    Is the alternative that Trudeau suggests better or worse than our current electoral system?
2.    Does our current electoral system produce outcomes which then lead to more division and instability than systems based on proportional representation?
3.    Does DISproportional representation meet the definition of representative democracy better than proportional representation?
4.    Is the task of “developing unity” within the scope of the function of elections?
5.     Will the task of “developing unity” be better served after elections which produce DISproportional representation rather than proportional representation?
6.    Is it necessary to establish Truth before Reconciliation?
7.    Is that “Truth” (ie. “the will of the people”) better reflected with better voter equality (ie. the voter equality that accompanies proportional representation)?

First: Is the alternative he suggests better or worse than our current electoral system?

Trudeau suggests an alternative electoral system which uses ranked ballots in single member ridings. But it is just another winner-take-all system. All winner-take-all systems share the same flaws as we see below. Ranked ballots in single member ridings produce results which are less representative of the “will of the people” than our current system, as evidenced by the Gallagher Index.

Second: Is our current system more “divisive” and “unstable” than proportional representation?

There is much evidence that our current system produces outcomes which then lead to more division and instability than electoral systems based on proportional representation: See this Fair Vote Canada link.

In terms of “stability,” a shortcoming of all winner-take-all electoral systems (relative to proportional systems) is that relatively small shifts in voting preferences are sufficient to generate large shifts in power, which more often results in policy lurches when a government changes.

In terms of “regional outcomes,” a shortcoming of winner-take-all systems (relative to proportional systems) is that they often create the false impression that an entire region voted unanimously for only the party of all the winners of winner-take-all ridings of that particular region.

For example in the 2019 federal election, despite political diversity in Alberta and Saskatchewan, voters of parties other than the Conservatives received almost no representation. See link.

In addition to robbing some voters of their rightful representation and being only partially representative of the will of the people within that region, this creates an illusory demarcation of that region from a national perspective.

Third: Does DISproportional representation meet the definition of representative democracy better than proportional representation?

A good camera will take photos that are an accurate representation of reality. A good election is similar. Neither a camera nor an election should distort reality. Both should show the proper proportions of reality.

Distortion happens when voters vote “strategically,” meaning that voters vote keep a candidate out rather than elect their desired candidate. That happens much more with winner-take-all electoral systems than with systems based on proportional representation: Proportional systems ensure that the percentage of seats a party gets will come very close to the percentage of votes they got regardless of the results of any individual riding. 

Ideally in a “representative democracy” such as ours, we should elect representatives to represent our desired candidates. If that representative democracy uses an electoral system that is better at being representative of that then it’s better at being a representative democracy. If the representatives are elected in proportion to the people who voted for them then the result is a better representation of the voters.

That’s what an election is for, first and foremost.

Can we expect an election to, by itself, create unity?

No. We can’t expect an election to create unity in society anymore than we can expect a camera to stitch together a quilt. It’s simply the wrong tool for the task at hand. 

First an electoral system facilitates an election “outcome.” If that outcome reveals regional divisions or other divisions that create a risk for instability, then we need tools other than elections to deal with those problems. 

Fourth: Is the task of “developing unity” within the scope of the function of elections?

The scope of the mechanical function of an individual election is much narrower than the scope of the project of developing unity in society.

Developing unity in society is much more complex than the simple function of holding an election: Unity development can use tools like diplomacy, negotiation, finding common ground, etc. But a good election is not one of those tools. The function of elections in representative democracies is simply to choose representatives that come as close as possible to matching people’s votes. Therefore electoral systems and the “outcomes” of elections should be assessed on how well that outcome represents voters. That purpose is inside their scope. However it is outside the scope of the mechanics of elections and electoral systems to assess them on how well they develop unity in society.

Fifth: Will the task of “developing unity” be better served after elections which produce DISproportional representation rather than proportional representation?

Let’s examine the fears the Trudeau expressed about regional divisions or other divisions that risk instability.

Before you can start on the project of unity and reconciliation you need truth. 

The function of an election is to tell the truth about what representatives the voters want. First you need that truth before you can begin any project of reconciliation. Honesty must precede dialogue.

The truth of what people are trying to express with their vote can only be the “whole truth” if you allow every individual voter in the whole population to have a vote that is equally effective on the outcome.
Establishing the “whole truth” entails doing our best towards universal voter equality.

If during your first step you distort the will of the people with disproportional representation and an unrepresentative election then your later attempts at reconciliation will fail. 

If you choose an electoral system to try to distort the will of the people and make it produce outcomes which are disproportionate to what voters want, and if you do so even before you have even seen the true will of the people, then that disproportionate distortion is not a good foundation for the later attempts at dialogue, diplomacy and reconciliation. Those who have been treated unequally will not want to carry on a conversation that started based on inequality.

First we must allow the voice of all the people to be equally and proportionately heard through a proportional election, and then, once they have all been equally heard and acknowledged, only then can an honest conversation begin in the spirit of mutual respect for each other’s equality.

If you begin by denying a large proportion of the population the right to express themselves in an election then this is not a foundation for a dialogue of mutual respect. That mutual respect comes from everyone being treated as equals when they vote. 

We need voter equality first. That equality comes from applying the Golden Rule of Reciprocity to our electoral systems. Treat others as you want to be treated.

The function of an election is to recognize and acknowledge what voters are trying to say before you begin the process of negotiation. That “recognition and acknowledgement” stage is a crucial step that must precede any negotiation or compromise dialogue. 

That sequence is important in conversations of all types.  To develop initial trust, first the voices in a conversation must be equally acknowledged, heard, listened to, and recognized. It’s only after that foundation of equal respect has been given that a conversation can then proceed with all parties on an equal footing.

If that first step (ie an election) leaves half the voters without a voice and without a representative that they voted for, then that first stage is not good enough at respecting everyone as equals. That is what happens with the First Past the Post electoral system. See link.

Also, if you use that first step (ie. an election) to try to corral everyone into only two “big tent” parties, then that is a manipulative abuse of that first step. It is not a genuine acknowledgement of all equal voices in a conversation. The act of corralling everyone into two “big tent” parties is effectively what happens in electoral systems with ranked ballots in single member ridings (which is just another winner-take-all system). See link.

On the other hand, the phrase “proportional representation” refers to the best effort at recognizing voter equality. That commitment to a mutual recognition of each other’s equality is the best and the most stable foundation for any future attempts at negotiation and cooperation. That’s one of the main things that lays the groundwork for genuine long term stability.

Footnote: Ranked ballots can be used to produce proportional results IF the ridings have multi members. See this link on Proportional Ranked Choice Voting. (STV) (from Fair Vote Canada)

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Proportional Representation and Public School Curriculum

If public schools would shoulder more of the responsibility to educate students about electoral systems then graduates of those schools might not be so easily fooled by people who purposely manipulate the public’s lack of knowledge of electoral systems.

Often the public must be first educated on various electoral systems before they can clearly recognize the unfairness of Canada’s electoral system, and be motivated to change it. Therefore, if public schools would shoulder more of that education responsibility, then that would reduce the burden of work for advocates of electoral reform: It would free up more of their time and money to focus on things like reform advocacy (ie. Fair Vote Canada), and the Charter Challenge for Fair Voting.
How is the curriculum developed? (Education is the jurisdiction of provincial governments.) If there is a certain government in power with a certain agenda, can a public school curriculum be politicized?

Good question: In 2015, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives criticized a certain sex education curriculum as ideological and later scrapped it when they formed government in 2018. Parents will now be able to exempt children from some of Ontario's new sex-ed curriculum. (Nevertheless that new curriculum is similar to the 2015 version.) See link.

So how much do public schools teach about electoral systems?

Here is some research into the current Ontario Secondary School curriculum called “Canadian and World Studies”:

At this link look at the left sidebar, see PDFs.

PDF: Grade 10 CHV2O – Civics and Citizenship (compulsory course):

Main Heading: B: Civic Awareness; Subheading: B2. Canadian and Indigenous Governance Systems

Pg 13: B2.8: “[By the end of this course, students will…] demonstrate an understanding of the electoral process”

PDF: Ontario Curriculum, Grade 9 and 10:

Main heading: A - Political Inquiry and Skill Development; Sub heading: A1 – Political Inquiry

Pg 158: A1.7 [Assignment (optional topic ideas)]: “…a debate on alternative electoral processes…”

Main Heading: B - Civic Awareness; Sub heading: B2 - Governance in Canada:

Pg 161, 162: 

B1.4 - communicate their own position on some issues of civic importance at the local, national, and/or global level (e.g.,….electoral reform…)
B2.5 - identify Canada’s form of government and demonstrate an understanding of the process of electing governments in Canada (e.g., the first-past-the-post electoral system)……“Why does the popular vote not always give a clear indication of the number of seats won by the parties?”

PDF: Ontario Curriculum: Grade 11 and 12 (not compulsory):
The words “proportional representation” are found in these two places:

Main heading: E. Rights And Power In The International Community; Sub heading: E.1: Influence, power, and decision making:

Page 540: E1.4 Explain the requirements for a democracy, and describe the characteristics and the strengths and weaknesses of different types of electoral systems used in democratic states (e.g., single-member plurality, proportional representation, run-off systems)…. Why are some groups trying to introduce proportional representation to Canadian electoral politics?

Pg 568 (Glossary):

proportional representation. A voting system in which the number of seats held by each party is in proportion to the number of votes each party received, rather than, as in a single member plurality, the number of ridings won by each party.

Here’s another possibly relevant point that relates to the Charter Challenge for Fair Voting:

p 456, Human Rights: “Which Charter right ensures that Canadians have the opportunity to participate in regular elections?”

I’ll close with this question: Are other provinces doing better or worse than Ontario on this? Could other provinces learn from this Ontario curriculum?