Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2016/ Rigged Referendum

Rigged Referendum

Oh for crying out loud.

According to CTV, the Electoral Reform committee's plans have been leaked, and the committee will recommend a referendum on changing the voting system. Moreover, the referendum will take the same format as the failed Ontario 2007 (and BC 2005, and BC 2009, and PEI 2005) referendums: it will ask voters to choose between First Past the Post and some system to be determined.

It does not matter what system is proposed. That system will have some features people don't like. Then electoral reform opponents (and people who prefer the devil they know to the devil they don't) will argue that they "support electoral reform, but not THIS specific electoral reform". We will spend all our time fighting over the new system that we will ignore the many failings of first past the post. Media outlets will say "sure, FPTP has problems" without enumerating those problems, and then they will say "but FPTP has served us well for 150 years!" as if that was true.

Within the fair voting community, we will split into factions and fight over the details of the new system.

Backroom operatives within ALL THREE of the major parties will craft talking points about how the new system will put more power in the hands of backroom operatives and less in the hands of voters, unlike FPTP. Nobody will call out these backroom operatives on their hypocrisy.

A lot of people (hopefully not including me) are going to work as hard as they can to educate the public around the referendum, and a couple of misleading or outright false talking points will sink the endeavor.

The public is not literate on this issue in the sense that they do not understand alternative voting systems (or even their own voting system) very well at all. Canadians don't know the difference between MMPR and List PR and STV, and they do not even understand the mechanism by which a party with 40% of the votes earns 60% of the seats. Without that basic knowledge the general public is deeply susceptible to mistruths and lies. They are also deeply susceptible to the conspiracy of silence we can expect around this referendum. Most people will not even be aware there is a referendum happening until a few weeks before the referendum, and by that time the (well-funded, well-organized) status quo campaign will be in full swing.

EDIT: Some might interpret "the public is not literate in electoral reform" as meaning "electoral reform is not relevant to the public". I strongly disagree. The public is affected by First Past the Post even when they cannot articulate why. For example, in the 2008 and 2011 federal elections many people felt frustrated that Stephen Harper won even though a plurality of people wanted him out of office. This was even more acute in the riding of Kitchener-Waterloo, when Andrew Telegdi lost the riding by 17 votes to Peter Braid, and a lot of people felt bad for voting for other candidates. Canadians who regularly vote for parties that do not win locally tend to be acutely aware of the limitations of FPTP. Other Canadians suffer from regionalism, safe seats, and phony sweeps (such as in Alberta and the Maritimes) but do not directly relate these failings to the voting system. It is true that Canadians feel the limitations of FPTP a few days before and after an election; it is not true that electoral reform is irrelevant the rest of the time.

The structure of this referendum is the worst possible. By pitting FPTP against a different system, we end up talking about the new system. We never answer the question about whether we are happy with FPTP overall. New Zealand got its structure right, by making "Do you support FPTP" and "Which alternative do you prefer?" different questions. PEI got it wrong, but at least they had different systems to evaluate. The alleged federal referendum structure is engineered to fail.

I cannot believe that the Conservatives got their way on this issue. They advocated for a referendum endlessly because they want the status quo, and they won out. The real turncoats in this disaster are the NDP and Green party representatives (yes, that includes Elizabeth May). By giving into the Conservative Party demands they have doomed electoral reform to failure. The dream is dead. The politicians have won. The backroom operatives have won. The lobbyists have won. We have been betrayed once again.

I hope I have the strength to stay well enough away. But that is part of the betrayal too. The politicians are counting on electoral reform advocates to walk away in disillusionment, knowing full well what is ahead. There is no way out.