Friday, October 12, 2007

Post Election Thoughts

This past Wednesday, the province of Ontario held its latest provincial election. I didn't vote. If my memory serves me correctly, this is the first provincial election that I have not voted in since I've been eligible to vote. The party I would normally vote for doesn't seem to do well in this riding, and, besides, most of the campaign seemed to pass me by with out my noticing. I've been busy [1] and didn't have time to register in this riding (since it's not my home riding). All in all, it didn't seem worth my while to seek out a local polling station for them to tell me to go to another polling station where I would then find out that I lack sufficient documentation to prove my residency. Anyway. Enough with the excuses.

As usual we--and by we, I mean everyone but me--voted on who would form the next Government of Ontario. We also voted on whether to maintain the current first past the post (FPTP) system of representation, or to implement a new mixed member proportional (MMP) system of representation.

The Election

Aside from one issue, as far as I could tell, the election was mostly a matter of The Dud We Know vs. The Dud We Don't. Perhaps Archie comics have had a more profound effect on my life than they should have, but I don't think I could vote for a party led by a guy named Dalton. Even the new and improved Dalton seems to be at least 50% weenie. The main features of John Tory are that is first name is not Dalton, and that his last name is also the nickname of the party he leads.

I don't recall much that Dalton's done during these last four years. Somewhere along the line he did one or two things that I thought were good ideas at the time. I can't even remember what those were. He might even have broken one of his promises in order to do one of the things that I liked. For the most part, however, I didn't care enough to vote against him. John Tory didn't have much to offer me to get me out to vote for his party. I think he campaigned against Dalton's broken promises. As you may have guessed, that wouldn't be enough to entice me to vote for his party. There was the usual talk about tax cuts that we expect from the PC's, but nothing really inspiring. Then there was the issue of extending public funding to faith based schools. I doubt that this was part of any grand philosophy, nor that he meant it to be an election issue like it was. My guess--I feel it's more like stating the obvious than guessing--is that the leader was trying to win some votes from religious conservatives.

The spectre of religious groups receiving public funding certainly frightens a lot of people, myself included. As a religious person, the spectre of having my faith based organization funded by--and ultimately controlled by--the government certainly frightens me.

It was rather amusing to witness the reactions of the not-so-religious to the proposal here in Canada, where separation of church and state seems much more like something we fell into--if we really do have it at all--than a founding principle, and especially in Ontario, where a large number of students attend Catholic schools, which I presume, by their name, are based on some sort faith that I've heard about once or twice called Catholicism. Correct me if I'm wrong. If it is fear of funding fundamentalism, then the opponents need only take look at these schools. Hardly hotbeds of extremism. If they were to become so, the government would likely step in and stop them, as they've done before. If the Catholic schools are any example, then extending funding to all faith based schools is likely a better antidote to extremism than not. If it is the grand principle of separation of church and state that concerns them, then they should be agitating to withhold funding from Catholic schools just as passionately as they are to keep it withheld from other nonCatholic faith based schools. It doesn't seem like those who are arguing against it know what they're really arguing against. Nor does their position seem all that consistent.

Dalton disallowed all forms of religious arbitration, including Catholic, when Sharia courts were proposed a few years ago. He wasn't going to pick and choose which religious groups should be allowed arbitration, so he banned them all from doing it, even if they had already been doing it. If he is so opposed to other religious groups receiving public funds, why hasn't he taken the same position he did with religious funding as he did with religious arbitration? It's not like he hasn't taken a position on continued funding of Catholic schools. A quick google search will yield quotes from the man himself assuring the schools that they will continue to be publicly funded. So much for consistency. Sure there's the issue of the constitution. Damn the constitution, I say. This is important! Other provinces have gotten over this hurdle. I don't see why we can't.[2]

The Referendum

As I predicted, the No vote won. I'm surprised at how much it won by, however. I was expecting popular support for MMP to be at least 50%, but it didn't even make 40%. The number of ridings with more than 50% support was much smaller than I expected, too. Only 5 riding had more than 50% support for MMP.

Initially, I was opposed to any form of proportional representation (PR). There were primarily two parties who advocated it. These parties, of course, were the ones who had the most to gain if some form of PR was adopted. Much of their advocacy came across as thinly veiled self-interest, clothed in the rhetoric of fairness. Not only that but telling me "If Ontario had PR, then we would have more seats/at least one seat" was certainly not the way to advertise PR to me. I was happy with the number of seats those parties had, and wouldn't be upset if they had less. But to have more of them? I'll pass, thank you.

After hearing more about it from less self-interested parties, though, I warmed up to more. Not enough that I wanted it, but enough that I was disappointed that it didn't receive more support. If I could have voted "maybe", I'm might have been passionate enough about that option to have registered and gone out and voted.

There were a number of other objections that I raised to PR before I was told about any specific form of PR (there seem to be many). The MMP system seemed to take care of a lot of them. I wasn't crazy about the fact that there would be two types of MPP's. Don't ask me why, though. I don't know. Perhaps the hordes of objections to two tier health care that I've heard have instilled in me a latent dislike for two tiered anything, including MPP's.

I did like the possibility that I would be able to vote for the party and the local candidate separately. When I was back in Hamilton on Thanksgiving weekend, for example, I saw that there was candidate who I thought would be a good MPP, but who wasn't running for a party that I would normally support If we had MMP, I could have voted for him, but some other party. (Well, actually, I wouldn't have been able to vote for him, even I were voting in Hamilton. He was in the wrong riding.)

There are other things that MMP would have left unfixed, and might actually have made worse. For example, even under FPTP, MPP's are often elected with considerably less than 50% of the vote in their ridings. In that case, it is not so much that the MPP's are the best representatives, but rather they are the least-bad representatives. This is in part a function of the size of the ridings. Under the proposed MMP system, there would have been fewer ridings than now, so they would be larger, exacerbating the problem.

One of the strangest criticisms of the referendum that I've read in the wake of its outcome is that the material given out by the government was presented neutrally and without bias. How terrible that they would give me only the facts and let me think for myself and make up my own mind. Fascists the lot of them. Is it too late to vote out the bums? What? It is? Dammit!

I wonder why electoral reform has to go to referendum, as it just did in Ontario, and as it has previously in BC. What's to stop a (purportedly ill-gotten majority) government from simply legislating it. I wonder if McGuinty comes off as a hero to PR advocates for putting it to referendum, or if he comes off as a coward for doing so rather than just legislating it. If 60+% of the voters are happy with the system through which he obtained his ill-gotten majority, could that mean that it is not so ill-gotten? If the ill-gotten majority government did legislate some form of PR, would that new system be illegitimate because the government that legislated it had a majority of seats with less than 50% of the popular vote?

I've heard that some PR advocates are saying that MMP is the wrong form of PR to use. I wonder what they think is wrong with MMP and what they think would be better.

The issue of PR vs. FPTP reminds me of an example of a "paradox" in statistics that I heard about last year. There was an issue of whether Maori were represented adequately on juries in New Zealand. Statistics on Maori representation were presented in two different ways. In one presentation, only local statistics were given. In each jurisdiction, Maori's were underrepresented [3] on juries. In another presentation, only national statistics were given. In this case, Maori's were overrepresented [4]. Arguing that Maori's are underrepresented by the first presentation is analogous to choosing governments by FPTP. Arguing that Maori's are overrepresented based on the second is analogous to choosing governments by PR. It is not clear to me which statistics are relevant in determining whether the Maori are adequately represented on juries. Assuming that the analogy is legitimate, is it any clearer whether we should choose FPTP or PR?

[1] Read "lazy". But really. I didn't even use what spare time I had to do stuff for myself, such as grocery shopping. I'm so lazy, in fact, that I'm not going to bother hyperlinking my footnotes today.

[2] I once read that Ontario Catholics (and not Catholics in other provinces) have a strong tendency to support the Liberal Party. I wish I had a reference. I don't remember if this support was for the federal party, the provincial party, or both. If this support holds for the provincial party, then I doubt that the Liberals will be advocating this solution the the funding issue any time soon. I could get into conspiracies about McGuinty's own Catholicism, but I won't. Surely it's a coincidence. Surely.

[3] Under suitable definition of underrepresented.

[4] Under suitable definition of overrepresented.

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