I had an interesting political discussion last weekend. It was a scene from a Joseph Conrad novel. Three old friends and a stranger sitting in the gathering gloom, sipping cool drinks against the summer’s heat, listening to the narrator spin his tale.
My audience divided perfectly: one FPTP diehard, one Pro-Rep supporter and one new to the scene, looking for information. We tossed the ideas around for an hour or so, and nobody changed his mind that I could tell. But we did exchange ideas, and that’s what a good political campaign is all about. You don’t win by beating people’s beliefs into the dirt. You win by being logical and respectful. You get them to think.
And I came out of it with a better understanding of how the public reacts to the Pro-Rep message. And I also have some advice for the three basic groups in this campaign
- The Undecided
Keep listening, but be analytical. Don’t just listen to the sound bites people are spouting. Look at the ideas behind the words. Some ideas are sound. Then there are threats and accusations and faulty logic. Watch out for people who appeal to your emotions, especially fear.
- The Supporter
Keep listening and find arguments that strike a chord in yourself. Then go out and talk to people. Encourage them to get the facts.
- The FPTP Stick-in-the-Mud (Okay, my bias is showing!)
Please listen to yourself when you argue. Listen to the number of times your argument starts with the word, “I.”
“I just can’t stand the idea of someone in Victoria who is only responsible to his party, and not to a constituency.”
“I’m not going to let a bunch of fringe parties get control of the government.”
Why is this a problem? Because “I” statements are an emotional reaction. Somebody is playing on your emotions. Neither of the statements above is based on fact or logic. Both are appealing to your fears.
And the most dangerous “I” statement starts with, “I want…” Is the political future you envision so full of what you want that you won’t allow others the same voice? Those “fringe parties” are legitimate voters with a concern. Let them air it publicly. If it’s so awful, it will die as it deserves to. Conservatives have the bad rap (sometimes deserved) of lacking empathy. Don’t be one of those.
Now for the Questions
The other valuable part of the discussion for me was coming up against arguments from an opponent I knew to be thoughtful and intelligent. If he believes these things, then they need clarifying.
- The extra MLAs have no connection with, or loyalty to, the voters, just to their party.
The answer? Well, the last time I looked, EVERY MLA votes with his party almost all the time, no matter what his constituents say. Secondly, those extra MLAs do have constituents. Their supporters are all the voters in the whole province who voted for their party. And, just like FPTP elections, if the party doesn’t do what the voters ask, that party doesn’t stay in power.
- The Pro-Rep system will let a whole bunch of fringe parties take over.
The answer? In the first place, a party has to get 5% of the popular vote to get any members at all. Exit the Rhinoceros Party, the Marijuana Party, and the NeoNazi Right. If any group has 5% of the popular vote, no matter how weird, we need to deal with their concerns. If your solution to people that don’t believe as you do is to deny them a political voice, see my comment about empathy above. Remember, they believe they have a legitimate concern, just like you do. Democracy is for everyone.
- The Pro-Rep system will consolidate power in Vancouver and leave the rural areas out in the cold.
The Answer? Well, my first answer is a question. Where the hell did that idea come from? Probably from the bully’s favourite technique of blaming his enemy for something that he does himself, hoping to draw people into an “Am not/Are too” argument that makes both of you look like idiots.
The real answer is that FPTP has done a marvellous job of consolidating power into the hands of a small group, and most of those people are not from rural areas. The intention of Pro-Rep is to spread the vote around more, to make more people’s votes count. It will do the exact opposite of what you fear.
And the best answer of all for the rural people encompasses both #2 and #3. The whole idea of Pro-Rep is to give power to smaller groups of people. Face it, rural folks; you might consider yourselves one of the “fringe groups” that will benefit the most from Pro-Rep.
And if you’re really concerned, cast your vote on the second half of the ballot for the Rural-Urban Proportional option. It was created for you. Or look at Dual Member Proportional, that allows for two members of different parties to represent one riding.
And for me, the crowning moment of the night was later on, when my FPTP friend leaned over, squeezed my shoulder, and said, “I might not agree with you, but I’m proud of you for what you’re doing. That kind of thing is what democracy is all about.”
Reminding me that the best way to create democracy is through discussion. Not argument, not force. Stick to the facts, and remember that firmly held beliefs are not going to change easily, so keep the emotions out of it.
Many of the fears people have of Pro-Rep come from the example of countries like Italy and Austria, which have a history of parliamentary problems that no system can solve. Stick to the plodding, sensible Canadian way of doing things, and we’ll be fine. Maybe even better than we are now.