Maria Dobrinskaya’s Sept. 7 column, “Proportional representation worth your vote”, highlights some benefits of proportional representation, but also contains serious errors.
The statement that a majority government “gets a four-year dictatorship” is false. Every government is checked by constitutional restraints, the Charters of Rights, court rulings, the Official Opposition, pressure groups, and the media. The Trudeau government’s major judicial setback in the pipeline ruling illustrates the falsity of Dobrinskaya’s assertion.
Virtually all B.C. and Canadian governments have had legislation or policies declared invalid. Our electoral system does not produce four-year dictatorships. And a PR system would produce governments with the alleged dictatorial power.
Dobrinskaya states that, “Under proportional representation, your vote will count in every election.” All votes count in every election, no matter which electoral system is employed. In our present system, every winning candidate pays very close attention to how many votes each candidate received. When I won election to a political office, it was of great importance to me how many votes were cast for each candidate and thus each candidate’s policies. Such thinking prevails not only because in a democracy the winning candidate represents all constituents, but also because the winning candidate keeps the next election in mind.
The assertion that every PR vote will influence the shaping of policies is misleading. If a party wins a majority or, more likely, a majority coalition is formed, then all the elected members who are not in the governing party or coalition (typically almost half) have no more political power than opposition MLAs have now. To imply that with PR all parties will shape policy is false. In all countries that have adopted PR, most parties, given that there are typically quite a few minor ones, are opposition parties, having no more influence on government policies than our current opposition parties.
An equally important problem with PR is that after the voters have voted, they have no local MLA who can convey local concerns to the legislature. There is no local voice! In a modified form of PR, there may be a group of regional MLAs, but that still does not produce a specific MLA who is accountable to all the people in one constituency.
We read that, “Gone too will be the days when huge areas of the province have no voice in government.” This assertion is false on two grounds. First, there is no reason to assume that the parties getting most of the votes or even almost all of the votes in a region will be part of the governing party or coalition. For example, most voters in the Peace River region might vote for a Northern Party which is not included in the government coalition.
Second, and most importantly, a key aspect of PR is that since only the top candidates, a few or perhaps a third, on a party’s full list of provincial candidates are elected, it typically happens that large areas have no elected representatives who live in that area. This is the case because, generally, the top names on party lists are people who are already well-known. Therefore it is possible, even probable, that low-population rural areas tend to have no one in the legislature. With PR, rural voters typically help elect big-city candidates, labour leaders, business leaders, previously elected politicians, and celebrities. With modified PR, this major shortcoming may be alleviated somewhat, but it remains a very serious concern. PR and even modified PR offer no assurance that all regions of the province will have representation in government.
PR has some benefits, but its major flaws should be noted.
John Redekop is a professor emeritus in political science at Wilfrid Laurier University.
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