The moniker Odysseus was bestowed on me by my university pals. It refers to both my profession (military) and to my long absence from my own beloved isle, Prince Eward Island. From Wikipedia (the lazy, uneducated man's access to knowledge): "Odysseus or Ulysses, is the main hero in Homer's epic poem, the Odyssey, and plays a key role in Homer's Iliad. King of Ithaca, husband of Penelope, father of Telemachus, and son of Laƫrtes and Anticlea (the tragedy Iphigenia at Aulis names Sysiphus as his father), Odysseus is renowned for his guile and resourcefulness, and is most famous for the ten years it took him to return home after the Trojan War. Ithaca, an island along the Ionian coastline of Greece, is one of several islands that would have comprised the realm of Odysseus' family, but the true extent of the Cephallenian realm and the actual identities of the islands named in Homer's works are unknown." Enough of allegory. I am married to the beautiful Heather Cudmore (Charlottetown) and we have four fine, young sons - Conor, Rory, Liam and Sean.

Friday, November 25, 2005

PEI's PR Dilemma

I find it baffling that the Yes campaign has so vigorously supported a reform model which, mathematically, will prohibit the increased presence of under-represented groups in the PEI Assembly. I am a strong supporter of PR, but disagree with the adoption of the d'Hondt method and closed, party lists because they will hinder democratic reform in PEI.

The expectation in chosing the model was that more women, Acadians, First Nation peoples, farming and fishing interests, etc, would gain a voice in the legislature. This won't happen because of the simple math involved in applying the d'Hondt method to 17 district seats and 10 list seats. It has been consistently demonstrated, objectively, that the winning party will rarely gain any list seats. Despite the fact that that party may have gone to extensive efforts to provide a gender, regional, and issue-based slate of list candidates, none of them will sit on the government side of the house. This is not the fault of any party or the "No" side of the campaign - this is what the math of the D'Hondt formula provides. The only difference that MMP offers on the government side of the house is a more limited number of sitting members in the government benches. And that's good, but it doesn't deliver on the false promises that under-represented groups will gain a voice.

A party which loses the election in the district contests will be compensated by the d'Hondt formula: the percentage of popular vote cast for the list seats will allow it to receive the same percentage of seats in the Assembly. If this party receives 40% of the list vote it will be given 10 list seats. Now if you're the Conservative party and have won three elections and have just gotten burned in a scandle (like Polar Foods, for example) won't your party organizers be thinking that the PR list seats are going to be safer than the district seats? The new PR system wants voters to chose their party of preference; party organizers will have to make this list as appealing as possible to get the party votes. This party MAY provide some gender, regional and issue-based representation - but it doesn't have to! It will, however, provide a slate of candidates that will get their party the most list votes. Again, the party's choices in how it chooses to appeal to the electorate is not to be faulted under the parameters offered by the MMP system. The MMP system allows this party to exploit the electorate to its best advantage. Gender, regional, and issue-based concerns also lose out where the losing party is concerned.

So, if the d'Hondt formula and closed, party lists can't methodically rectify the under-representation of minority and interest groups in the Assembly, what does it achieve? D'Hondt is all about math. Unfortunately, most users of the Commission on Electoral Reform's web-site d'Hondt calculator have attempted to input past election results to predict the future. This is the incorrect way of constructing a hypothesis. If you want to construct a hypothesis that is meant to predict future results, you should use hypothetical data based on what the data might look like in the future. That's a bit complicated, but look - none of the past electoral data provides any idea of what an election will look like if the NDP and Green Party earn more popular vote. Go ahead and fool around with this calculator and give the NDP and Greens 12-18% of the popular vote. Try a few different scenarios and you will see that d'Hondt will provide an inordinate number of minority governments. No one can really argue this point; it's what the math provides.

Some people say that they can live with minority governments - that they will be better than majority governments. Fine. But everyone following this debate should understand one very important point: minority government is the ONLY promise that d'Hondt and closed, party lists delivers on. It won't increase the number of women in the legislature, it won't increase the quality of candidates, it won't increase the quality of debate, it won't pick politics up out of the gutter, and it won't feed the poor.

The CLC, CUPE, Advisory Council on the Status of Women, Cooper Institute, Fair Vote Canada, and all of the groups that have supported the Commission's proposal, have been sold a pig in a poke. They will get two, maybe three, members representing their interests in the Assembly under the NDP and Green Party banners; they will not have gained any presence through the mainstream parties. Like Jack Layton, one of these parties may be able to hold a gun to the head of the governing, minority party for a deal or two, but then the government will fall, an election will be called, the influence will be lost; and they will be back to square one.

A parallel MMP system with an open list system and independent candidates would have forced the mainstream parties to nominate gender, regional and issue-based candidates to the PR list because all parties under this system would stand an equal chance of having some of its list candidates elected. The winning party would not be shut out and its issue-based candidates would make it to the Assembly; and the losing party would be morally and pragmatically obligated to match the quality of list candidates. The people, rather than the parties, would have a chance to chose and support the inclusion of women or Acadians or advocates for the poor or First Nation leaders in our political landscape.

In their zeal to gain two or three seats under MMP and control the balance of power in minority Assemblies, the NDP and Green Party leaders sacrificed all of the expectations and promises that electoral reform was supposed to offer. I find it sad and disheartening that people following this debate were so overcome by emotions and rhetoric and did not see the truth. If this proposal passes, d'Hondt will have robbed us of our future possibilities. It was all about the math.


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