Electoral Reform Proposals

White Rock B.C. - Wednesday, April 21, 2004 - by: Brian Marlatt


Advocates of proportional representation want to distribute seats in Canada's legislatures by party according to percentage vote, instead of within each constituency. Each party will then appoint some, or all, members of parliament, or members of legislative assembly proportionally. But will giving political parties more power be more democratic? Surely trusting the people instead of political parties to choose our representatives serves us best.


What of the arguments?


The usual practice is to argue that nothing specific is intended except to discuss alternatives to the existing system, described as the status quo, unfair in its distribution of power to defeated and small political parties, and as the source of voter disaffection from politics altogether and therefore from our democratic responsibilities.


Proportional representation is used widely, we are told, while only parts of the English-speaking world cling to first-past-the-post, and such conservatism is gradually being overcome. Perhaps.


Is disaffection from government and politics caused by how we elect politicians, or because politicians and parties seem to have little to do with us? If so, proportional representation is not a remedy.


Specifically, proportional representation empowers the party machine and strips power from voters, particularly from local constituencies.


Ultimately, in proportional representation, it is the party machine that decides who will be the member of Parliament, or legislative assembly, even where mixed systems are in place, mixed systems mask, but do not mitigate this distortion.


Doesn't proportional representation encourage single-issue parties composed, often, of well meaning people of talent, whose passion too easily becomes zealous because of the narrowness of focus?
  Don't majorities become rare, and doesn't political stability lessen as the percentage of popular vote needed to win elections falls and parties increase in number?
  Worst of all, isn't it the backroom deal after the election as coalitions are formed, as they generally must be in proportional representation regimes, which decides the ultimate direction of government?
  This approach has constant advocates, particularly among the ideology, or special-interest driven, who want to champion their cause without having to win election riding-by-riding, or within existing political parties. And it fails to ask important questions.
  Changing our electoral system might bring order to the shambles that is the ordinary condition of democracy. Discussing electoral reform may make us better informed about the virtues of what we already have. Discussion of Electoral Reform to be a healthy democratic exercise, must avoid being merely informed by criticism of what is, or advocacy of what is not.
  We must avoid empowering political parties at the expense of the people.

Brian Marlatt

  Ibbitson, John, Panel to recommend proportional voting, February 2, 2004, The Toronto Globe and Mail
  MacDonald, Cara, This is What 'Democracy' Looks Like In Canada: The Case for voting system reform, May 4, 2001, CAW/TWA web site
  Thompson, Susan, One Citizen, One Vote: Towards Proportional representation, August 8, 2003, The Dominion


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