Friday, December 5, 2014

"You're unhappy because your guy didn't get in."

Years ago the title expression was used by a man who accused us proportional voting supporters as being unhappy because our guy didn't get in.  His comments stung a bit, but then I appreciated that he was truthful.  When we are reasonably content we don't question "the system."  After all whatever the deficiencies of the system it seems to work.

On the other side of the coin, the commentator was happy because his guy did get in or at least someone acceptable to him.  My contention is that in fact the system caters to the people who "got in" and does not reflect the true will of the people.  Furthermore because their will is not respected, they lose interest.  Yes, this is another diatribe about proportional voting.

What is the will of the people?  When it comes to shopping I think we have a clearer idea.  Some people like chocolate, some people like strawberry and other people like loud noises. How about you?  If enough people have a preference there is a market for it.  I might be peculiar but some of my preferences do not have a market.  Because I don't get along with caffeine, but do love cherry flavour I jumped at cherry flavored 7 Up on a vacation to Florida, but learned that the test results from Saskatoon did not justify setting aside shelf space in Ontario.  I like to think about looking for something better and when I find it look forward to enjoying it, but unless enough people share my passion it doesn't happen.

Voting is set up in many jurisdictions so that one person wins and everyone else loses.  It is true that a desirable candidate can attract a lot of support that can translate into volunteers and money.  Money is one thing that ought to worry us because although some people maintain that corporations are like people they have their own set of self-serving, profit-seeking priorities.  In our first past the post system a party does not have to get even half of the votes to be in a position of real power. They merely have to be the fastest or strongest of the other contestants opening a lot of different strategies.

Two issues in my history illustrate how this can be abused.  Free trade and the GST tax.  They were both set up with less than 50% of the support from the voters while at the same time the decision makers declared they had a mandate.  As it happens I agreed with both policies, but recognized there was not a true mandate. You could say my guy did get in.  It can be argued that many good things happen under our system and that it is simpler, but you cannot always prove the will of the people is really respected.

Any political party has a multitude of difficult choices to make.  They have to have a policy on everything.  In fact it is hard for any one individual to agree with any other individual when there is a large number of issues.  We usually just decide on a few priorities and accept that we might not get our way on everything.  Many people will claim they vote for the man (or woman), not the party, but it is hard not to notice that most actually do vote for the party they are comfortable with.

What all this boils down to is that on any one issue you would have people lining up on different, sides, but the issue will be decided by a party.  If more parties had a true voice, voters might be able to choose a party that more closely reflects their beliefs.  They might even find it worth their while to see if indeed there is a party more aligned to them than the practical choices offered.

What do I mean by practical choices?  In most elections there are usually not more than two or three real contenders.  Many voters worry more about who they don't want to "get in" and will vote their second choice.  Other voters will feel there is no chance they will have a voice and don't bother and in fact don't bother to study the matter.   Still others feel very confident their choice will get elected and don't feel an urgent need to actually vote.  They are all losers.

When the media comes out with its poll figures many people can see that their (wo)man will get in and they don't have to bother while others will see their (wo)man has no chance and it is not worth the effort.  Still others try to figure out how they can avoid a candidate they dislike.

There is another way and your voice can be heard a lot more clearly for a lot of different reasons.  Proportional voting is based on political parties, not individuals.  However individuals are indeed important and play a critical role.   The party is important because it takes money and a lot of effort to put across a point of view that can have real power.

Each party offers a list to the electorate.  The parties have the challenge of balancing different interests such as geography, gender, ethnicity, experience, policies, merit etc.  The electorate will be expecting that individuals with experience and intelligence are the most likely to be elected and so if they are far down the list voters will be discouraged from that party (every thing else being equal). There can of course be variations in how lists are presented.  In the end each party might find they are weak in a particular area (such as geography or ethnicity), but if they want to get more votes the next time around to have more power they will have to find ways to address the weakness.

One of the ways voters gain is that their little vote actually has more power.  In the old days their one vote was either not enough to make a difference or was not needed, but now regardless it will count towards the total votes of their party meaning more elected officials. that share their goals.  They need to be careful that they don't waste their vote.

Each party has a choice of either going after their niches or if they want to get the most power to appeal to a wider range of voters.

Many variations are possible, but the goal is that each vote counts.  New Zealand has a good system that reflects what people really want.

A criticism is that whacko groups will have power and that can be true.  But if they are more than 50% of the voters they in fact deserve to be in power and the voters deserve what happens.  Another criticism is that with so many diverse opinions to deal with nothing will get done.  That is a possibility, but there is another dynamic at play.  Do voters want inaction or not?  They now have more power and can take other factors into consideration.  Do parties accept they can't get their way or do they become willing to compromise?  Although I am not normally conservative I can see that new decisions might have to jump through more hoops before they are accepted.  It could go that I'll let you have your way if you let me have my way with something else, but budget concerns will become a voting factor.

An educated voter is really important and perhaps it is not enough that real power will encourage that in the long run.  Whoever controls the education system really has a lot of power.  If they feel ignorance helps them they can downgrade the budget, but if they feel they will benefit from an educated electorate the budget is more likely to increase with more attention paid to details.  For an economy to grow education certainly is a factor.  Human resources are not just something for companies to be concerned about, but even more so with the total community.

The low voting turnouts indicate elections are low priority for a lot of people.  They could well feel their vote doesn't make much difference or is not needed.   A sloppily thought out vote can be counter productive.  An educated voter should appreciate that their vote does matter and if given a real choice can really make a difference.  Elected officials should realize they work for the voters.

The photo was taken at the recent Mum show in Hamilton Ontario.

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