Wednesday, March 7, 2012

RE: The Problem With PR

Electoral reform, a buzz-phrase from the NDP leadership contest that’s trickling down to conversations between growing numbers of Canadians. While all candidates support electoral reform and the implementation of a proportional representation (PR), it’s important to be critical of any public decision.

Proportional representation is an electoral system that uses party ballots; citizens vote for a party, not a candidate. Prior to the election, parties create a ranked list of prospective MPs and elect the percentage of MPs equal to their vote-share. 

PR defines itself in opposition to our current first-past-the-post system in that it privileges ideology rather than geography. Under PR Canadian votes would represent ideas behind parties rather than the region they vote in.

I argue that Canada may just be too big and too diverse for PR to work. The success of the Bloc Québécois is that it fully exploited the geographic nature of our current electoral system. National PR elections would largely dilute regional concerns, including sovereignty, on the national stage.

Further, if MPs were elected by lists, partisan elites would populate the House of Commons. A national PR model would reinforce a class barrier to the participation in electoral politics. The switch would also require that the government find new and meaningful ways to interface with the pubic; Canadians would be losing their long standing institution of a constituency representative.

In an attempt to incorporate geographic representation into a PR electoral model, Mixed-member-proportionality (MMP) has been proposed. Therein, Canadians would be given 2 votes for both a local MP and the party of their choosing. Two types of MP would be elected, constituency representatives, and a predetermined number of list MPs in addition.

While MMP would mean our parliaments would more closely reflect parties’ vote-share, it would create a dichotomy of elected officials. To whom are the list MPs accountable if not a constituency? And are the duties of the list MPs less or less valuable, than those of representing Canada’s diverse regions?

Two models stand out as more palatable to Canadians. The first is Alternative Vote (AV) or Instant Run-off Voting (IRV), an electoral system is used by every major Canadian political party for their leadership contests. Therein, voters rank candidates, making the electoral process a more comprehensive reflection of public opinion. Effectively, it would benefit non-Conservative parties in the many races that centre-left vote splitting saw Conservative candidates elected with well under 50% of the vote. AV/IRV also maintains the mechanism of geographic representation, which has underscored most of Canadian political culture. 

The second option is a regionalized PR election; wherein, citizens would vote for a party that fields candidates in their region, and a given number of MPs representing that area would be elected from regional party lists. By holding separate regional run-offs, Canadians can elect a group of multi-partisan MPs that understand the needs of their constituents. Canadians then have multiple MPs to contact regarding local issues, and the election results would better reflect the real vote-share.

Incorporating regionalism into PR also inhibits partisan elites from dominating public discussion and reduces the impact frivolous single issue parties can have PR election outcomes. The regional dimension would allow a geographically based party, such as the Bloc Québécois, to be represented on the Parliament Hill.

Canada needs electoral reform, but it can’t be a decision made in haste; Canadians should demand a system that balances ideological and geographic representation.

Friday, March 2, 2012

RE: Minister of LGBTTQ Affairs

Dear Brian Topp,

I am writing in response to your March 2nd policy release in which you pledge to create a Minister of LGBTTQ Affairs. As a New Democrat who identifies as gender-queer, I am offended at the tokenization this represents, and as a taxpayer, I am skeptical of your ability to spend public dollars appropriately.

The action points of your press release are as follows:

·         Create a strategy to address bullying, homophobia and transphobia;
·         Review legislation and regulations to ensure they are inclusive of LGBTTQ people; including marriages of non-Canadians that took place in Canada;
·         Reverse the criminalization of people with HIV/AIDS;
·         Enhance the rights of transsexual and transgender Canadians; and,
·         Re-establish our good name abroad and speak out for LGBTTQ rights in other countries.

These ideas are vague goals untied to policy proposals, which during a leadership campaign is not uncommon; however, this release has the audacity to argue that these vague points merit the creation of a new ministry. Your approach would institutionalize the social relations (and divisions) between queer and non-queer Canadians. Just like the Status of Women Canada serves to define the experience of Canadian women in opposition to Canadian men, a Ministry of LGBTTQ Affairs would do the same to queer Canadians.

Further Mr. Topp, the essentialist way you have approached queer issues is problematic in the same way second-wave feminism was. You are mobilizing a series of identity politics on the assertion that some identity groups are more oppressed than others. To be clear, there is no hierarchy of oppression, no two Canadians experience oppression in the same way, and Canadians live though and with compounding and conflicting oppressions. Racism is no less a problem than homophobia or sexism or any other axis of oppression. To cater to such an essentialist ideology is a disservice to the Canadian public.

Mr. Topp, do you believe racism has been solved in Canada? If not, do you propose we create a ministry to address racism in Canada? What I’m facetiously getting at is that it’s impractical to approach social equity through a mobilization of identity politics entrenched in expensive bureaucracy.

A better way forward would be to reform present resources into a workable model that can program toward the inclusion of all Canadians. Replace the Status of Women Canada offices with an empowered Ministry of Social Equity that seeks social justice for all Canadians. This ministry would address structural sexism, homophobia, ableism, racism, xenophobia, and other oppressions, without singling any group out. 

A Ministry of Social Equity would serve all Canadians, and this service would be paralleled by budget support. The debate on budget allocations for identity-based service offices is reductive and detrimental to public discourse. Questions of “haven’t we solved sexism in Canada?” have seen the programs at the Status of Women Canada emaciated. I fear the same fate for an ill-conceived Ministry of LGBTTQ Affairs.  

Within my lifetime, I do not expect any Canadian politician will have the audacity to assert that inequity no longer exists. Consequently, the arguments that a Ministry of Social Equity should be de-funded or destroyed are infinitely weaker than those targeted at any single identity-based bureaucracy.

This policy release is a clear attempt to isolate and curry votes, rather than innovate and advance our nation. I hope you agree with my criticisms and rethink your approach to queer politics in Canada.