26 September 2007

MMP vs MPP reform

The Work Research Foundation has published two pieces in the run-up to the referendum on electoral reform here in Ontario. The yea side is defended (ably, one hopes) by yours truly: Why Ontarians should vote for MMP. The nay side is taken by my genial nemesis, Russ Kuykendall, Senior Researcher for the WRF: MMP? Or, intestinal fortitude? I can agree with Kuykendall here:

What Ontarians need is more MPPs [Members of Provincial Parliament] who set aside advancing their careers in caucus and cabinet and focus, instead, on advancing issues and policy perspectives. We need more MPPs who argue inside caucus, in committees and the legislative assembly, and in media and public meetings on behalf of issues. We need more MPPs who recruit pro-family volunteers, for example, to their campaigns and hire pro-family staff and interns so the next generation of activists is put in place. We need more MPPs who introduce pro-independent and home-schooling bills so that the law better reflects these concerns for fairness and human flourishing – to achieve what Augustine called “proximate justice.”

This is all well and good, but there is a need for institutional reforms that would facilitate these desirable outcomes, and they will likely have to be implemented within the parties themselves. Simply relying on the courage of individual MPPs will almost certainly be inadequate, because they will need a larger support system to overcome the obstacles posed by current levels of party discipline. I would welcome from Kuykendall more specific proposals for giving effect to this.

That said, these really are reforms for another day. The question now at issue is the one of fair representation, which I don't see Kuykendall addressing as such. I understand the objection to a party leader selecting list candidates. However, this is not so much an argument against proportional representation (PR) as it is an argument against the specific form on which we will be voting in two weeks. The single-transferable-vote (STV) would not possess this perceived defect. Might Kuykendall be more favourable to STV?

Finally, I do not see him addressing the injustice of a single party governing over the objections of most voters. There is wisdom in James Madison's belief that a multiplicity of factions will be less likely to harm a polity than a single faction taking power on its own:

If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution. When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.

Madison would scarcely think it better for a minority faction to claim majority status and rule accordingly. By increasing the likelihood of multiparty coalition governments, MMP will help to address this danger.

I am sorry that the WRF has seen fit not to take a position on the issue, given that a number of like-minded organizations (e.g., the Center for Public Justice and Canada's Citizens for Public Justice) are in favour of PR. Yet I am pleased that they have disseminated these two essays to educate further the voting public in this province.

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