Electoral Reform Proposal Misconceptions

Toronto Ontario - Monday - April 26, 2004 by: Wayne Smith


I want to thank Brian Marlatt for his article on Electoral Reform Proposals. It is very timely, when six provinces, including Saskatchewan, are considering voting reform, and the Law Commission of Canada has just recommended that Canada change to a proportional voting system.




Unfortunately, Mr. Marlatt's article is full of common misconceptions about proportional representation.
"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."




Under proportional voting systems, parties do not "appoint" members of parliament. Parties put forward slates of candidates in multimember constituencies, and then voters choose whether or not to vote for them. Some systems allow voters to vote for individual candidates, as well as party slates.




"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."




Proportional representation is not about "giving political parties more power". On the contrary, it is about making politicians and political parties truly accountable to the people through a fair voting system which accurately translates the expressed will of the voters into representation in Parliament.



voter input

"Ultimately, in proportional representation, it is the party machine that decides who will be the member of Parliament . . ."




Mr. Marlatt must be thinking of the current system. Just ask "Tony Nobody" in Vancouver. Under proportional representation, candidates are usually chosen and elected by party members, just like any other system.




"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?"




This is a common fear, but experience in the seventy-five countries which use proportional voting systems, and have been using them for fifty to one hundred years, does not bear this out.




"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?"




What we get under our current system are phony majorities. Typically, one party gets about forty percent of the votes, which gives them about sixty percent of the seats, and exactly one hundred percent of the power. Countries with proportional voting systems tend to have coalition governments which represent a true majority of the voters.




As to stability, it is true that coalition governments can stay in power only so long as they actually command the confidence of parliament, unlike our current system, where a single-party monopoly government can fall to 16% in the polls, and still continue to be the government for another two or three years. However, all the best run countries in the world have proportional voting systems, countries like Switzerland and Germany and Sweden and Norway and Holland, and they manage to have stable, accountable governments.




"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?"




Again, Mr. Marlatt must be thinking of the current system. Our "big tent" parties are already coalitions of a sort. There are 'business' Liberals and 'social' Liberals, 'red' Tories and 'blue' Tories. Who knows what sorts of deals have been made? In countries which use proportional voting systems, there is normally a formal process whereby the parties sit down after the election to work out who will be the government, who will be in the cabinet, and what will be the agenda of the government. Far from being a 'backroom deal', this is normally in the form of a written contract which is signed by the parties, and available for public scrutiny.




"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."




Here, I can only agree with Mr. Marlatt. Fair Vote Canada is a citizen's organization whose primary purpose is to gain broad support for a national process to enable Canadian voters to choose which voting system shall be used to elect their representatives.




Fair Vote Canada believes that Canadians must have an opportunity to learn about and compare today's voting systems with those which would better meet such objectives as broad proportionality, extended voter choice, stable and responsive government, and maintaining a link between representatives and geographic constituencies.
We believe in democracy, and we believe that informed and aroused citizens will make the best choices.
I invite you to visit our website at www.FairVoteCanada.org to learn more about the rapidly growing movement for voting system reform.

Wayne Smith
Fair Vote Canada



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