Wednesday, September 21, 2005

THE FALSE HOPE OF PR

Declan of CAtO is up on the old hobby-horse advocating proportional representation as a solution to Canada's governing problems. Actually, its more of a defence of PR in response to a Jeffrey Simposon article but Declan has always been a big proponent of PR as opposed to First-Past-the-Post.

I posted a lengthy comment in response, but I'm re-posing it here becacause, first, there has not been much content here lately, second, and more importantly, my comment begins to address what I think the principle problem of Canada's political system is and why PR does not adequately address it, in fact will likely make it worse.

Herewith, my comment (edited for typos):

There are two principle problems with the Canadian political system and I do not believe that any form of PR will adequately address them.

These problems are:

1. The Executive branch is subsumed within the Legislative branch and the separation that existed between the two in the early nineteenth century is no longer recognized.

2. Rigid party discipline as a result of #1.

Our federal Parliament has evolved to the point where it is believed that the Opposition party is supposed to check the government party, but this is not the way the parliamentary system was intended to work.

The Cabinet (the de facto Executive branch) is supposed to be checked by all non-Cabinet members, that includes members who are of the same party that make up the Cabinet.

However, enforcing party discipline makes it easier for the Cabinet to maintain the confidence of the house if a majority of their members are elected. Why bother appealing to other party's members if you have a majority bloc of members you can coerce to voting for you because of their party affiliation?

So rather than the give-and-take of the Cabinet vs. all-other-members, which is the way the system was designed to work, we get the Cabinet enforcing discipline over their own members and the Opposition members having little influence.

The result is that citizens end up voting for a party, in most cases, rather than an individual because voting for a party is more effective, given all of the above.

PR is an attempt to adapt the voting system to a broken legislative system. Where FPTP over emphasizes the importance of the individual candidate at the expense of representing party power, PR would over emphasize the importance of party at the expense of voting for an individual. Both are equally bad in the same, but contrasting way, because we have lost the original parliamentary tradition.

Under a PR system we would get a Parliament much more representative of the public's party divisions. However, this would once and for all confirm that individual party members are required to be largely interchangable with other members of the same party, except perhaps for the leader and a few key top-ranking or celebrity members.

The more important problem, but much bigger challenge, is to reform Parliament and its workings to re-empower the individual member, not to accept that party executives are actually the people shaping our nation's policies.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:26 PM