Monday, March 25, 2013

More electoral reform, please.

Martin Cauchon wanted to gather some opinions from the Liberal supporters, so I put in another good word for electoral reform there (though there's no question about democratic reform specifically--I answered under "WHAT INNOVATIVE POLICY WILL HELP THE LIBERAL PARTY RECONNECT WITH CANADIAN VOTERS?"):
Zachary Timmons has a great answer**, but if I were to pick one single policy to push right now, it would be electoral reform–introduce a system that honestly attempts to assess voters’ desires, such as direct representation*** or mixed-member proportional (MMP). I’m sure that Justin Trudeau’s proposal for IRV/AV could be sold to the average voter who doesn’t know any better, but no one who has studied democratic systems, and all the myriad possibilities that exist, would want to settle for IRV/AV, a riding-based system that is unstable in close races and is unjustified from a mathematical perspective.

A key problem with all single-riding systems is that they are geographically biased. To illustrate, imagine that 40% of the voters prefer party A and 30% each prefer parties B and C. Reasonably, this should produce a minority government. However, imagine you could randomly shuffle where everyone lives, so that the same 40-30-30 split exists in every single riding. In that case party A would win every race* and take every seat in the country! This occurs with every riding-based system: FPTP, IRV/AV, and even superior systems like Ranked Pairs and Range Voting. What this means in practice is that all these systems give too much power to regional parties like Bloc Quebecois, emphasizing divisions among people, and too little power to small parties like the Greens. Unfortunately, big parties tend to like this bias against small parties (and independents), so they don’t do electoral reform, and this is wrong on principle.

There are other problems too, e.g. if a party expects to win 20% of the seats, it must field 5 times as many candidates as it actually needs! It also makes politics costly and stressful for the candidates, by guaranteeing that most candidates will not win a seat. These systems encourage negative ads, too, because instead of demonstrating your value as a candidate, you can instead convince the voter that “the other guy” is bad; negative ads don’t work so well if each voter has lots of choices. Finally, these systems constrain voter choice–for example I live in Calgary but I can’t vote for the Liberal in downtown Calgary, why? Just because I’m in the northeast! And neither Liberal will win anyway! Trudeau’s AV proposal is literally the smallest possible improvement that could be made. AV’s better than first-past-the-post, to be sure, but it’s nothing to get excited about.
* Oops, that statement was incorrect. The point is that if you shuffle people perfectly, and if they vote along party lines, the same result will occur in every riding. However, depending on the electoral system, the single winner of all the seats would not necessarily be party A.
** Zachary Timmons answer was:
I think I will participate in this question mostly by giving support to other answers which can already be found here. However, I would like to say this much:

I hope to see Canadian values restored: values such as honesty, openness, dedication to peace, scientific progress, technological innovation, hard work, etc. The Canada I knew as a child was ‘the Peacekeeping Nation’; now, it is…well, history will tell. We are no-longer the Peacekeeping Nation. We no-longer respect the environment. We no-longer care about our aboriginal peoples, despite the enormous contribution they have made in the forming of our country. We no-longer care about our immigrant population, nor do we invest in their descendants, despite the fact that a majority of our population is European-Canadian (“white”), descended from European immigrants who came hundreds of years ago. This is wrong. We need to fix this.

We need to Restore Canada. You may be getting tired of my responses, because I am largely saying the same thing over and over again, but I want to be heard, and I want it to be clear.

The word ‘restore’ has plenty of conservative elements to it to appeal to those for whom conservativism (real conservativism) is important. However, we also need to emphasize a willingness to move forward, and become a strong leader in the 21st century. A leader in a world that loves Causes, and is dedicated to human rights, animal rights, environmental rights, etc. So as a second element, I suggest that the Liberal Party become a champion of Causes.

As a champion of Causes, it would not be the job of the Liberal Party to denounce and attack other parties. On the contrary, it would be the job of the Liberal Party to invite all parties to cooperate and join in championing these Causes. Value openness, commerce, scientific progress, and a careful examination of social justice. Educate people to recognize important elements of society, such as misogyny and racism, and to seek to reduce these things in themselves and the people around them. Empower the people to take control of their rights, and exercise them freely, and to lend a hand to others to help them do the same.
*** Direct Representation is not be confused with Direct Democracy, which is not scalable, i.e. it is impractical at large scales and not conducive to good government.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Letter to Joyce Murray

In 2011, the Liberal Party of Canada had their worst election ever, getting only 19% of the popular vote and 11% of the seats, and for the first time in history they formed neither the government nor the official opposition. For a party accustomed to getting more seats than the popular vote warranted, it must have seemed unfair to get so few seats in Parliament... but perhaps it helps explain why electoral reform, one of my favorite causes, is being discussed in the upcoming Liberal leadership election. I am backing Joyce Murray for her support of Proportional Representation, although the polls say she won't win the leadership.
Hi Joyce, I just donated $100 to your campaign for one reason: because I want modern democracy to come to Canada.

I studied a lot of voting systems in college and of all of them, my favorite system is one called Direct Representation, which breaks the tradition of "one seat, one vote" in Parliament in favor of giving politicians power proportional to the number of voters who voted for them. The MP with 200,000 votes gets four times as much power as one that got 50,000, for example. The other thing I love about DR is that voters aren't forced to vote local--I live in Calgary Northeast, but I don't have to vote for someone from Calgary Northeast.

DR has other interesting properties too, but I know DR doesn't have much political traction, so I do support proportional systems such as mixed-member proportional and Stephen Dion's P3 idea as the "next best thing".

As you know, Justin Trudeu and Marc supports only minor reform via Instant Runoff Voting aka Alternative Vote. IRV is a mathematically unsound system that does not meet the monotonicity criterion nor several other common-sense criteria used to judge voting systems, and picks winners in an unstable way in close races. And like all riding-centric single-winner systems, it produces results that are not proportional and that depend on where people live and where district boundaries are drawn. Why should it matter that I live on the east side of the city rather than the west or the south? Heck, why should it matter that I live in Calgary and not Vancouver? This is a strange criteria for restricting which individual I am allowed to vote for!

The fact is, anything is better than our current FPTP system, so I would vote "yes" in any referendum for reform. Nevertheless, IRV isn't a serious choice for people that truly believe in democracy, and without some amount of cooperation with the NDP, even that modest reform will probably not be possible. If Justin wins instead of you, Joyce, please pass this letter on to him.