Letter to Telegram: Oct.10th
The last seven federal elections in Canada have produced five short-term, minority governments. Moreover, in the 2019 and 2021 elections the Liberals received fewer votes than the Conservatives but still formed the government because they won more seats.
Under a proportional representation (PR) system, where the percentage of seats a party receives matches their share of the vote, the latter would not necessarily have happened. Instead, since neither party had the required 50% of votes for a majority government, the “winning” party would be the one most able to form a partnership with other parties to pass legislation. This implies a whole new way of governing.
Working cooperatively, usually in coalition with other parties, is central to proportional representation systems. And contrary to what PR critics claim, these coalition governments are remarkably stable and lasting.
As an example, since Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish voters chose proportional representation to elect their new parliaments or assemblies back in 1997, there have been five elections in Scotland, six in Northern Ireland and six in Wales. Contrast that with the nine elections Canada has held during that period.
Surveys indicate that Canadians like the concept of proportionality. It appeals to our sense of fairness that, under a PR system, NDP, Green or PPC supporters would not be wasting their time voting for a candidate that has no chance of winning the riding seat. Why? Because their votes would still be counted to determine how many seats their party would win nationally - something that doesn’t happen under our first-past-the-post (FPTP) system.
PR also makes it less likely entire regions of the country will be represented by just one party.
Yet Proportional Representation has been rejected in referendums in B.C., P.E.I. and Ontario. Why? We suspect it has to do with its implementation. FPTP may be unfair to minority opinions in ridings, but the manner in which the seats are allocated is much easier to understand.
Still, confusion about the implementation of PR seats wasn’t an obstacle for Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish voters, accustomed as they were to voting in EU parliamentary elections. They knew proportional representation worked. Choosing it was a no-brainer.
Canadians, by contrast, have little exposure to PR. Moreover, our two major parties remain firmly attached to our first-past-the-post system. And why wouldn’t they be? FPTP systems perpetuate dominance by two parties.
However, FPTP can no longer be relied on to produce majority governments. That’s a game changer, although we somehow doubt the Liberal Party is going to shift its position on PR. After all, they are the principal beneficiaries of strategic voting where NDP and Green supporters vote Liberal in order to prevent a Conservative riding victory.
The Conservatives, on the other hand, should be noticing, not just their disadvantaged position, but that “conservative” parties are holding their own in Europe.
Might it be in their interest to actually support a Made in Canada proportional representation system – one uniquely designed to meet the diverse needs of our country with its strong rural component?
(Marilyn Reid and Barry Darby are members of Democracy Alert NL and the Council of Canadian)