Canada Needs Primaries, Not Proportional Representation

In Canada, political parties are entrenched and dominate the system, this poses a problem. Our other problem is that voter turnout seems to be declining. Political parties being so entrenched is a problem has it ensures that minority opinions/interests are not defended and takes policy out of the hands of citizens and puts it in the hands of party members. Canada needs to reform its system, but how?

One (bad) solution: Proportional Representation.

One solution put forward to this problem has been proportional representation (in the form of STV, MPP and others.) Every time a proponent of “PR” extols the virtues of their system, everything they say is taken as self-evident. “PR is more accountable and democratic” or “Proportional Representation will lead to cooperation by expanding the larger parties” and (my favourite) “Voter turn out will go up under Proportional Representation.” All of that is complete bull-feces.

What Proportional Representation does do is further entrenches political parties and makes candidates little more than anonymous cardboard cut outs. PR voting puts 100% of the emphasis on political parties. Political parties should not be the focus in government, candidates should. Some systems like MPP (those involving a lists) privilege political parties so much that they argue (against all reason) that a faceless/unelected list of candidates being appointed to parliament by a number basis would make things “more democratic.” All systems of PR spring out of the flawed premise that voters are voting for a party before anything else. The problem is that PR imagines a political system where a candidate’s views are 100% in-line with their party (PR and Parties Promoting PR like the NDP/Green hate any form of descent) which is not true and not idea. A candidate should, above everything else, have the interests of their constituents in mind, not their party. Here is where First Past the Post excels. Our parliamentary system was designed to be elected by FTPT (which is why PR fails so badly.) Instead of having one-huge-country-wide-election (which Canada does not and has never had) there are 308 separate elections. Fist Past the Post lets the person who represents more of a riding’s interest than any other candidate be their member of parliament (not “the most” but more.) First Past the Post allows candidates and members of parliament to be more independent as they must be tied to their riding first and not their party (though parties are still very important.) Proportional Representation says that the election is not direct connexion between citizens and their representative. Proportional Representation ties everyone in the country to a party. By putting so much emphasis on party everything in the system becomes homogeneous and individual candidates don’t matter anymore. This allows incompetent individuals to get elected simply because their party has a certain amount of support instead of making them actually earn the right to be in parliament by running in a riding. Small parties support Proportional Representation because it lets them have more members of parliament without actually earning the votes to win seats. Voter turn out will not magically go up under this flawed system. If you look Europe, many countries their have different forms of Proportional Represntation and their voter turnout has been steadily decreasing. PR doesn’t solve the problem and would exacerbate Canada’s political woes.

Another Possible Solution: Primaries.

The primary system is where an election takes place in each riding where members of each party get to pick who will run to represent them. One irony of the dominance of political parties in Canada is that though they hold the monopoly there is still a large disconnect when it comes to how candidates are chosen. The current system does allow Liberals, Conservatives, and Dippers to chose their candidate. The difference Primaries bring is that it makes it easier for party members to vote and makes the whole thing more public.

In the United States it is easier to have primaries because they have rigidly fixed election dates. Canada’s parliament should not have fixed elections because it is necessary and desirable for parliament to have the ability to topple the government at any time (the U.K. has perfected this, as they are so large that governments can take themselves down.)

Still, Primaries would be have many positive effects. Safe ridings would still be safe but a political could still be challenged by a member of their own party. This would make it a lot easier to toss incompetent MPs out and would take away some of incumbency’s power. There are many members of the Conservative Party who do a terrible job but cannot be challenged in their riding. Candidates who are new and have never ran in an election would get experience in the primaries and be better candidates in the general election. Primaries encourage candidates to raise money for themselves and the parties. Since Primaries are help before the election they punish “carpet baggers” who will have no connexion to a riding and therefore no support their. Groups outside of parties get increased influence before and during elections as they can target candidates who support their position and give them support and campaign against candidates they find disagreeable. This would allow Legalization-advocates (like myself) to support candidates like Keither Martin, it would allow people who are Conservative but pro-Legalization to change their party’s mind on the issue candidate-by-candidate.. It would also make it easier to change party policy. Candidates who campaign on certain issues and win primaries will bring those issues to their parties.

Everyone benefits from Primaries: ridings/parties get the best candidates as the weak ones are weeded out, groups outside the government can use their grass-roots power to influence parties more (see my article on the Green/Marijuana/Pirtae Parties) and voters can get more excited over candidates and get used to voting on more than one occasion.

Conclusion(s):

- First Past the Post has many advantages. It is an easy system that lets each riding pick a candidate, not a party.

- Proportional Representation, whatever the system, puts all of its emphasis on political parties. Our system already has entrenched political parties. Canada doesn’t need to disconnect voters from their candidates with a system like PR.

- Primaries make candidates earn their seat. They get rid of weak/incompetent candidates/MPs and give new ones much needed practice. They make parties more diverse by tying them closer to actual voters and breathes new life into the system adding a lot more opinions/policies to the mix.
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I have fleshed out my opinion on FPTP, Electoral Reform and Senate Reform here:

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Open primaries, open minds by Preston Manning.

Earlier this month, Canada’s electoral officers – officials of Elections Canada and their provincial and territorial counterparts – held their annual conference.

The main subject of discussion was what to do about declining participation in Canadian elections – for example, the turnout of 59 per cent in the last federal election, the 51 per cent in the recent B.C. provincial election, and the abysmal 41 per cent last time out in Alberta.

It is good to know that our elections officials are concerned about this problem. They play an important role in informing and educating voters on election procedures and rules. But surely the primary responsibility for remedying Canada’s democracy deficit rests with others – with parents, educators, the media and particularly our political parties, politicians and leaders.

Often it takes a crisis of some sort to create opportunities for reform. In Britain, the recent scandalous abuse of expense accounts by members of the House of Commons from all major parties has created precisely such a crisis and opportunity.

In order to bolster public confidence in its candidates for the soon-to-be-held general election, the British Conservative Party has become willing to experiment with democratic innovations.

One in particular is being introduced in the constituency of Totnes. It should be watched closely by Canadian politicians and parties.

The Conservative MP for Totnes, Anthony Steen, was recently forced to “stand down” when it was revealed that he had claimed more than £87,000 over four years in parliamentary expenses on his country home.

Rather than choosing a candidate to succeed him by the conventional method of a constituency nominating meeting in which only card-carrying Conservative Party members can vote, the party has decided to experiment with an “open primary” in which every voter in Totnes will be invited to help choose its candidate for the next general election.

The Totnes Conservative Association drew up a short list of 11 potential candidates which was then reduced to three on July 15. Starting last Monday, ballot papers were mailed out to the 69,000 eligible voters in the constituency. There was an all-candidate event Saturday where the three candidates were to receive and answer questions from voters. Thursday, the results of the Totnes “open primary” are to be announced.

“This is the first time any political party in Britain has sought the views of the voters [on who should be the party’s candidate] in such a direct way,” said Conservative Party Leader David Cameron.

Observers will be watching closely and seeking answers to several key questions:

To what extent will the voters of Totnes actually participate? Will that participation give that candidate any advantage in terms of public confidence and support over candidates of other parties nominated in the more traditional way? And, will the primary stimulate greater interest and participation in the general election itself?

And here in Canada, will any political party be willing to experiment with the “open primary” to attract more Canadians into the process of putting candidates’ names on the ballot and thereby, one hopes, increasing public interest in the campaign and election to follow?

In North America, it is the United States that has made greatest use of the primary system, which is why Canadian liberals and social democrats – pathologically averse to adopting U.S. political practices – are unlikely to embrace it.

But what about Canadian conservatives? If the British Conservative Party – far older and tradition-bound than any Canadian counterpart – can experiment with such democratic innovations, why can’t Canadian conservatives?

The federal Conservative Party has recently tightened rather than opened its nomination process by permitting incumbents to avoid a nomination contest unless more than two-thirds of local party members vote for one. But if this should prove to be counterproductive, in terms of rallying party member support for the next election campaign or public support for candidates who are past their “best before” date, perhaps the British experiment with open primaries will find favour here.

And what about provincial conservative parties? Let’s take the aging, long-in-office, Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.

Forty years ago, I tried to persuade another aging, long-in-power provincial political party in Alberta to embrace a variation of the primary system as a means of injecting new blood into the party and new energy into the electoral process. The concept was rejected, especially by incumbent MLAs who saw it as a threat to their renomination and by “gatekeepers” at the constituency level who feared it would reduce their influence.

Two years later, the party was out of office, never to return – the opportunity to re-energize itself through democratic reform lost forever. Let us, therefore, watch the British experiment with interest, and not wait for a crisis before conducting similar experiments in Canada.

I have fleshed out my opinion on FPTP, Electoral Reform and Senate Reform here:

—————————————————————————————-

Open primaries, open minds by Preston Manning.

Earlier this month, Canada’s electoral officers – officials of Elections Canada and their provincial and territorial counterparts – held their annual conference.

The main subject of discussion was what to do about declining participation in Canadian elections – for example, the turnout of 59 per cent in the last federal election, the 51 per cent in the recent B.C. provincial election, and the abysmal 41 per cent last time out in Alberta.

It is good to know that our elections officials are concerned about this problem. They play an important role in informing and educating voters on election procedures and rules. But surely the primary responsibility for remedying Canada’s democracy deficit rests with others – with parents, educators, the media and particularly our political parties, politicians and leaders.

Often it takes a crisis of some sort to create opportunities for reform. In Britain, the recent scandalous abuse of expense accounts by members of the House of Commons from all major parties has created precisely such a crisis and opportunity.

In order to bolster public confidence in its candidates for the soon-to-be-held general election, the British Conservative Party has become willing to experiment with democratic innovations.

One in particular is being introduced in the constituency of Totnes. It should be watched closely by Canadian politicians and parties.

The Conservative MP for Totnes, Anthony Steen, was recently forced to “stand down” when it was revealed that he had claimed more than £87,000 over four years in parliamentary expenses on his country home.

Rather than choosing a candidate to succeed him by the conventional method of a constituency nominating meeting in which only card-carrying Conservative Party members can vote, the party has decided to experiment with an “open primary” in which every voter in Totnes will be invited to help choose its candidate for the next general election.

The Totnes Conservative Association drew up a short list of 11 potential candidates which was then reduced to three on July 15. Starting last Monday, ballot papers were mailed out to the 69,000 eligible voters in the constituency. There was an all-candidate event Saturday where the three candidates were to receive and answer questions from voters. Thursday, the results of the Totnes “open primary” are to be announced.

“This is the first time any political party in Britain has sought the views of the voters [on who should be the party’s candidate] in such a direct way,” said Conservative Party Leader David Cameron.

Observers will be watching closely and seeking answers to several key questions:

To what extent will the voters of Totnes actually participate? Will that participation give that candidate any advantage in terms of public confidence and support over candidates of other parties nominated in the more traditional way? And, will the primary stimulate greater interest and participation in the general election itself?

And here in Canada, will any political party be willing to experiment with the “open primary” to attract more Canadians into the process of putting candidates’ names on the ballot and thereby, one hopes, increasing public interest in the campaign and election to follow?

In North America, it is the United States that has made greatest use of the primary system, which is why Canadian liberals and social democrats – pathologically averse to adopting U.S. political practices – are unlikely to embrace it.

But what about Canadian conservatives? If the British Conservative Party – far older and tradition-bound than any Canadian counterpart – can experiment with such democratic innovations, why can’t Canadian conservatives?

The federal Conservative Party has recently tightened rather than opened its nomination process by permitting incumbents to avoid a nomination contest unless more than two-thirds of local party members vote for one. But if this should prove to be counterproductive, in terms of rallying party member support for the next election campaign or public support for candidates who are past their “best before” date, perhaps the British experiment with open primaries will find favour here.

And what about provincial conservative parties? Let’s take the aging, long-in-office, Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.

Forty years ago, I tried to persuade another aging, long-in-power provincial political party in Alberta to embrace a variation of the primary system as a means of injecting new blood into the party and new energy into the electoral process. The concept was rejected, especially by incumbent MLAs who saw it as a threat to their renomination and by “gatekeepers” at the constituency level who feared it would reduce their influence.

Two years later, the party was out of office, never to return – the opportunity to re-energize itself through democratic reform lost forever. Let us, therefore, watch the British experiment with interest, and not wait for a crisis before conducting similar experiments in Canada.

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One response to “Canada Needs Primaries, Not Proportional Representation

  1. Pingback: More MPs in Parliament is a Good Start « The Equivocator

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