Voting dysfunctions and the Greens: a response to @meslin and Erich Jacoby-Hawkins | #onpoli

On Facebook, Mez has highlighted a comment over at his place in answer to some of the questions about getting the Green Party involved in the provincial leaders’ debate. 

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins has left a thoughtful and well-written argument in favour of getting the Greens a seat; earlier this week, I’d expressed some reservations about it, not because I think it’s a bad idea, but simply because I was left wondering: why just them? Dave honoured me by answering me directly, but Erich’s comment goes into more detail. The two of them deserve a more considered answer, so here goes. (As always, guys: if you feel I’m misrepresenting you or taking your words out of context, please write in and correct me. You have my personal commitment to publishing your responses, unedited.)

According to Erich:

“You insist ‘Until then, I want to KNOW what ALL my options are.’ But that’s a false premise. There are currently 13 registered parties in Ontario. Can you name even a single riding or ballot that had all 13 on it? (I presume not). No matter what riding you’re in, ALL your options does not include all parties. For you to know all your options, you just need to attend your local riding all-candidate meetings and learn about the people on your local ballot. The purpose of a leaders’ debate is to help educate the masses who (unlike you) are only interested in the contenders they are choosing between. That mass of voters wants to hear from the serious parties and not waste time on the unelectable fringe. Why should your compulsion to know everything about everyone outweigh the attention span or interest of the vast majority of voters?”

It sounds compelling on first read, but by the same token, I think this argument, too, is based on a false premise. It relies for its foundation on an artificial distinction between “the masses” and “political junkies,” as if they’re two ends of a spectrum rather than points on a continuum with any number of intermediate positions in between. But even that’s beside the point.

The simple fact is, people do have candidates, parties and positions chosen for them. Every election has the same storyline: there are the three major parties and everyone else. Serious People don’t bother with the “everyone else,” so the whole artificial narrative becomes self-perpetuating. While I don’t question your motives in wanting to include the Greens, and in fact I can respect your reasons for wanting to do so, I can’t help but find those reasons arbitrary to the extent that they rationalize the exclusion of other viewpoints — whether I agree with them or not.

And that’s my biggest objection. Why should we leave it up to a private media consortium to decide who the serious candidates are? Or to the Villagers to decide what Serious People can talk about?

You say that in the case of the Greens, it’s been decided by the voters, by virtue of the support they’ve been able to command. Fair enough, but by the same token, Dave, you’ve recognized yourself just how dysfunctional and distorted the FPTP system is. You can’t say the Greens meet some arbitrary threshold on the one hand  and then turn around and (quite rightly, in my opinion) criticize the very system whereby that threshold is established.

If you want to talk about reforming the voting system (and yes, I know, it’s a complicated and uphill struggle), I’m totally with you. But if you want to rationalize your temporary and instrumental tactical acceptance of a system you yourself have recognized is unfair, well … I have a little trouble reconciling the inconsistency.

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