The Case for Proportional Representation in a Nutshell

First Past the Post is a voting system which originated in 12th century England, and is used throughout the former British Empire (except for New Zealand). On the other hand, among OECD members, 85% use some form of proportional representation; this includes most long-term democracies, most European countries (e.g. Germany, Switzerland) and most of the major nations in the Americas.

Proportional representation supports three basic principles:

–          Fairness: a party that receives 39% of the popular vote receives 39% of the seats in parliament. With our current First Past the Post system, in 2011 Conservatives received 39. 6% of the popular vote and received 53.9% of the seats in Parliament;  in 2015 Liberals received 39.5 % of the popular vote and received 54.4% of seats in Parliament.

–          Diversity: political players with real constituencies but with supporters scattered across the country gain representation.

–          Democracy: we all believe that all votes should count. In the 2015 election 9 million voters did not vote for a member of Parliament. When citizens know their votes count, they are more likely to get out and vote.

The advantages of proportional representation include:

–          Giving all voters a reason to vote, regardless of political beliefs or place of residence

–          Electing a parliament that truly represents all Canadians, including women and visible minorities including First Nations

–          Giving all geographic regions representation both in the government and opposition benches.

–          Encouraging inter-party co-operation through coalition governments

Criticisms of proportional representation are often inaccurate. For example:

–         “PR would create instability – just look at Italy and Israel.” There are many variations of PR. No one is proposing the exact system used by other countries, but rather a made in Canada solution. In reality, since Italy reformed its system in the 1990s, Canada is now the most unstable of the major democracies with 21 elections since WWII compared to Italy’s 17.

–         “Small extremist parties might gain a foothold.” Parties could be required to win a certain percentage of the nationwide popular vote before they are allowed a seat. Germany, the horrors of the Nazi Party behind them, has implemented a system where parties who gain less than a 5% fraction of the vote get no seats.

–        “MPs would have no local accountability, and some MPs would be appointed by the party rather than elected by the voters.” This could be an issue, but in 2004 the Law Commission of Canada, after extensive nation-wide consultation, proposed a made-in-Canada solution that addressed both these concerns.

Unlike the Liberals, we do not support Alternative Vote (sometimes called             preferential ballot in a single member riding) as this would further distort parliamentary     composition in favour of the Liberals.

You may be interested to know that in a paper written by Stephen Harper and Tom Flanagan entitled “Our Benign Dictatorship” the authors said:

“Many of Canada’s problems stem from a winner-take-all style of politics that allows governments in Ottawa to impose measures abhorred by large areas of the country. The political system still reverberates from shock waves from Pierre Trudeau’s imposition of the National Energy Program upon the West and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms upon Quebec. Modernizing Canadian politics would not only be good for conservatism, it might be the key to Canada’s survival as a nation.”

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