Ian and Scott sit down with Jackie from Leadnow to discuss electoral reform in the first of our monthly Deep Dive episodes where we examine a single topic in detail. We examine the current reform efforts in Canada, the systems under consideration and other tweaks for how Canadians vote. The Liberals promised in their 2015 platform “that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.” We discuss their promise and the progress they have made. Systems under consideration are:


Finally here’s the testimony given at Meeting No 42 ERRE – Special Committee on Electoral Reform on Oct 21st.

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3 Responses to “DD 01: Electoral Reform”

  1. The strongest argument I’ve come across in favour of FPTP is Popper’s emphasis on the importance of a “Day of Judgment”, based on the idea that democracy’s great advantage is in minimizing the harm of bad leadership. Bad policies cause discontent, which results in lost elections (and party reform in their wake).

    “[…] election day ought to be a Day of Judgment. As Pericles of Athens said in about 430 BC, “although only a few may originate a policy, we are all able to judge it.” Of course, we may misjudge it; in fact, we often do. But if we have lived through a party’s period of power and have felt its repercussions, we have at least some qualifications for judgment.

    This presupposes that the party in power and its leaders were fully responsible for what they were doing. This, in turn, presupposes a majority government. But with proportional representation, even in the case of a single party governing with an absolute majority and thrown out by a majority of disenchanted citizens, the government may not be turned out of office. It would rather look for the smallest party strong enough to go on ruling with its help. […]”

    [From: http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2016/01/karl-popper-democracy ; similar discussion here: http://www.iep.utm.edu/popp-pol/#SH2a .]

    Do you know of any studies that have examined this idea?

    • I don’t know of specific studies… but I guess I have a few initial thoughts on a rebuttal.

      First, FPTP biases toward two party states (or possibly a third small party). So rather than “booting the bums out” you end up just swapping from one bad party to the other. The clearest example of the danger of this is south of the border where you end up with a very entrenched political class that drives disenfranchisement until someone like Trump comes along to flip the table.

      Second, I’m not such a pessimist. That argument relies on a purely negative view of elections that are about punishing bad behaviour in representatives rather than rewarding or promoting forward good ideas. PR systems allow you to ensure that there is still representation of different ideas so the better ones can come forward. This is what Jackie was referring to when she said countries with PR tend to have better policies (I can double check that reference with her & LeadNow if you want).

      Finally, despite that claim, Canadian elections aren’t really about “punishing” a government. In 2011, the Conservatives won about 40% of the vote and in 2015 they won 32%. So the argument is attributing this mass decision to punish Harper to about 8% of voters. Mathematically it just doesn’t hold up.

  2. Googled PR having better policies; found http://behindthenumbers.ca/2016/10/11/proportional-representation-likely-produce-better-public-policy/ .

    When I finally remembered I can still access academic papers, I followed up on the sources and am entirely persuaded by Knudsen’s 2011 “Which democracies prosper? Electoral rules, form of government and economic growth”. The numbers are strong and the explanation plausible.

    Using some of Bueno de Mesquita’s terminology, the (geographically & demographically) broader winning coalitions under PR make private rewards (corruption, earmarks, targeted regulations, etc.) more costly relative to public rewards (good policy), resulting in better policy.

    So, although Knudsen doesn’t directly test “Day of Judgment” effects, ~1%/year faster economic growth is a strong indicator that it either doesn’t matter or is swamped by other effects of PR.

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