A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Saturday, March 14, 2009

8 Principals of Electoral Systems

This post is a generalized look at electoral systems and based upon extracts from the
8 Principals of Electoral Systems as provided to Ontario’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform a couple of years ago. It is, I believe just as legitimate a discussion in regard to Federal systems.

An electoral system is legitimate when it reflects the values of the voting public. Even if you’re not happy with the outcome of an election, you can accept it as legitimate if the electoral system is based on principles that most people value.

In effect, legitimacy is the result or consequence of a good electoral system. If a system reflects the seven remaining principles, it is bound to be legitimate.

There are various ways to think about fairness of representation. {they include} demographic representation, proportionality, and representation by population.

Demographic representation means …..for example, in terms of gender, age, ethno-cultural identity and class

Proportionality is achieved when the share or proportion of seats a party wins is equal to the proportion of votes it receives in the election.

Representation by population means that each member of the Legislature represents roughly the same number of people. That’s why ridings in rural areas (with fewer people) cover large geographic areas and those in urban centers (with more people) cover smaller areas.

Quantity & Quality
Quantity of choice and quality of choice are both important features of an electoral system.

Quantity refers to the number of choices you have when you vote and the kind of preferences you can indicate for example, do you get to vote for individuals only, or can you also vote directly for political parties? With some systems, voters choose only one candidate. In others, voters rank the candidates in order of preference

Quality of choice means that you feel that you have a meaningful choice to make when you vote. In other words, you have the opportunity to select from among candidates or parties who represent genuinely different approaches to governing the province.

Political parties
Political parties play an essential role in democracies. Effective parties attract members who share basic beliefs about how the province should be governed. …Political parties are also shaped by the electoral system. A system can be designed to encourage more or fewer parties with seats in the Legislature.

Stable and effective government
“The electoral system should contribute to continuity of government, and governments should be able to develop and implement their agendas and take decisive action when required.”

An effective government can manage the affairs of the province {or Country} and achieve the policy platform set out in its election campaign. A government is also effective if it can make decisions and take action quickly when needed—for example, to deal with emergencies or challenging situations where it is hard to reach an agreement.

In our experience, we often associate stability with single-party majority governments, where one party has a majority of seats in the Legislature.

Other major democracies, including France and Germany, have experience with stable multi-party coalitions, where two or more parties agree to govern together. There are also examples of stable minority governments, which form partnerships or rely on more informal arrangements with other parties to be effective.

There are many elements besides the electoral system that contribute to stable and effective governments. These include the quality of leadership and, in minority or coalition governments, the success of negotiation and compromise.

The Legislature
The Legislature passes laws, votes on motions, and authorizes and oversees spending. Our elected members debate important issues in the Legislature. Discussions can involve argument or agreement, depending on the relationship between the government and the opposition, and the nature of the issues.

An effective Legislature has an effective government and an effective opposition. The opposition parties must be able to watch the government closely and present alternatives to the government’s positions. Question Period is the opposition’s opportunity to ask the Premier {or PM} and government Ministers questions about their policies and hold them accountable. It is a critical part of parliamentary democracy.

Electoral systems are primarily responsible for determining how parties make up the
Legislature. This, in turn, influences how the Legislature functions. Our system in Canada typically produces single-party majority governments and less frequently, minority governments. For example, the federal election on January 23, 2006 produced a minority Conservative government. In many other major democracies, minority or coalition governments are the norm.

Other factors, also affect the workings of the Legislature. These include the rules of the Legislature, party discipline (the party’s influence on how its members vote), and the role of Backbenchers

The Voters
People may be more likely to vote, or participate more generally in the political process, if they:

• have confidence in the electoral system;
• believe their vote will make a difference;
• feel the government cares about their concerns;
• believe that important issues are at stake; and
• feel that voting is part of being involved in civic or public life generally.

Political parties can play an important role in mobilizing people to vote. How well parties do this job may depend, in part, on how the electoral system motivates them. For example, in some systems, parties have an incentive to campaign for every available vote. In other systems, parties have an incentive to campaign strategically, focussing their efforts on the ridings they are most likely to win.

Majority or Minority
With a majority government, it’s easy to identify the party responsible for decisions. In minority or coalition governments, accountability may be a little more complicated. In coalition governments, two or more parties govern together and usually hold between them a majority of seats in the Legislature.

One way our system holds the government accountable is by requiring it to have the confidence or support of the Legislature. When the Legislature loses confidence in a minority government, it can try to defeat it with a motion of non-confidence. This happened at the federal level in November 2005 when the Conservatives, New Democrats and Bloc Québécois united to defeat the Liberal minority government. Parliament was dissolved and an election was called.

Voters can hold governments accountable by not re-electing them, but this may be easier said than done. Under some electoral systems, a party can win more seats from one election to the next, even though its share of the popular vote decreases.

In systems where you vote directly for your local candidate accountability is not always so straightforward. You may like your local member, but not the member’s party; or you may support a party, but not like the party’s local candidate.

Voting is not the only means of holding governments to account. For example, the opposition in the Legislature and the media also play important roles, especially between elections.

That’s the basics, feel free to comment upon what you think of the present system and whether it should be reformed. Those readers in BC will shortly have an opportunity to do just that, I do hope that the voters will do so with a clear idea of the options offered.
I will be expanding upon each of the “8 principals” in future posts. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

1 comment:

Ms. M said...

It will be interesting to compare with what the Athenians considered important - I'll write that up next.