Saturday, February 11, 2006

Proportional representation: No way

Curiosity Killed the Cat has raised the question of proportional representation. He asked, in a discussion we’ve been having on the David Emerson debate, if I could support a proportional representation system.
The concept of proportional representation, while fine-sounding and all, is based on several premises I find at best wanting and at worst false and contrary to the real spirit of representative democracy under which we in North America operate (albeit under different modes).
Let’s look at some of those premises.
1. People vote for the party.
Many people do vote the straight party ticket, undoubtedly. Many others, though, vote the individual candidate, not the party. Voters don’t necessarily follow the party line and jump from side to side, depending upon the candidates and their views on the candidate.
Regulars here know my leanings are quite conservative. Those views are most often presented by candidates of the Republican Party. Not always, though. True confession: I have voted for a few Democrats in my day. I’m not displeased with my decision to vote for the Real Bob Casey, who served two terms as Pennsylvania governor. I didn’t buy all of his ideas, but in each race, he was the more conservative candidate. (Irony: In fact, his opponent in his second race, Barbara Hafer, jumped parties not too long ago and is now a Democrat.)
I’ve also voted for Democrats in local municipal elections. In fact, I did so this year because the Democrat candidate opposed a wage tax increase, while his opponent supported it. (BTW -- the Republican won. Our taxes are going up for open space preservation, a concept about which I could rage at length.)
So the assumption that a vote for a party’s candidate in a given district, riding, etc., is false often enough to damage -- fatally, in my mind -- this premise.
2. Only a (fill in the blank) can represent a (fill in the blank’s) interests.
This is not only a blatantly false premise, but an insulting one as well.
It assumes a monolithic worldview based upon a single gender, racial, ethnic or socio-economic characteristic. Identity politics, they call it.
That view is wrong, wrong, wrong.
It’s a fundamental denial of the individual as an individual. It also tends to attract those on the extremes of the ideological spectrum (primarily on the left, to be sure, but it happens on the right, too).
Anyone who speaks while claiming to represent “the people” usually really means “this is what I want the people to…”. Replace the word “people” with any identity group, and you get the same result. It’s a usurpation of the individual’s thoughts. And as far as I’m concerned, you can forget about that.
A proper representative, be he/she MP, Representative, Senator (yes, Canada, you should be electing your Senators -- and Cat, you still haven’t responded to me on that one), should work to represent everyone in his/her purview.
A representative chosen for “identity politics” reasons owes no consideration to those outside the boundaries of that particular identity.
Representatives are supposed to consider ALL -- repeat, ALL -- views… or at least give some lip service to the concept. Proportional representatives owe no such debt. That’s flat-out wrong and contrary to the principles upon which representative governments were established in North America.
3. Who does the proportional representative truly represent?
“The views of the party to which they belong” is the usual argument.
Who are they supposed to represent?
All of the people, not just their political colleagues.
There’s no loyalty to the public as a whole. (Granted, there’s not a helluva lot right now, but at least there is the possibility that a representative could dissent enough from the views of his/her constituents to be booted out on his/her ear in a future election.) The loyalty is to the party -- and, as we’ve seen in the recently-ousted Paul Martin Jr. government, sometimes it’s not even that, but a loyalty to the individual who provided the incentives to power (think Stronach, Brison, Dosanjh, Murray, etc.).U.S. residents can find parallels to the Nixon years.
4. Who picks the proportional representatives?
This is really a corollary thought to the above presentation. I do not see a viable system for selecting proportional representatives that includes voter choice as a means of determination. That leaves matters in the hands of the party leadership cadres, none of whom can and should be trusted (that means ALL political parties, y’all).
Trust me on this one -- the percentage of hacks would be mind-boggling.
At any rate, proportional representatives reduce the impact of the voting public on their representatives, not increase it. It means larger representative districts, because there would be fewer directly elected. It’s a transfer of power from the people to the politicians… again, never a good thing.
I don’t doubt that many supporters of proportional representation sincerely believe that it would correct some imperfections in the current system.
I also don’t doubt that greater imperfections would be created by a proportional representation system.
Cat, I told you this would be a long response. But I hope you get my drift.
And where DO you stand on election of senators?