Voodoo math, huh? Nice one, Mel. But which one sounds wonkier to you: 40% of the vote = 40% of the seats (as under PR), or 39% of the vote = 54% of the seats = 100% of legislative control (as under FPTP and demonstrated by both Harper & Trudeau)? Suddenly, FPTP math isn’t so easy anymore, is it?
PR is easy to understand, but I do have one question for you, Mel, about our current system. Could you please explain to me how an MP that was elected by 35% of the population somehow represents all the people in the whole Kamloops-Thompson region? And maybe copy MP Cathy McLeod on the response? Because I don’t think she got the memo. Every time I take the time to write a letter to my MP (which I confess is becoming less frequent because my head is getting sore from all that banging on the wall), I get back a pleasant letter explaining why she won’t vote the way I asked, and parroting her party’s talking points on the subject. I’m sure Ms. McLeod is a fine person, but she most certainly doesn’t represent my views in Ottawa. Rather, she reflects her party’s views back to me and to the rest of the 65% of voters who opted for a different set of priorities on election day. That’s the whole problem with First Past the Post: a single MP cannot possibly reflect the diverse views of voters in their riding. But, lucky for those MPs, they have no need to please most of the people in the riding — they only have to keep their little band of party supporters happy (that magic 30-something percent). The rest of us have to suck it up, and hope that our particular minority wins the next horse race in four years, so we’ll get a chance to undo all the work of the previous government, and so on, and so on, over and over.
The truth is, Canadians are a diverse bunch, and we are richer for that diversity. By having more perspectives in the room, we make better decisions. Universal medicare, the Canada Pension Plan, student loans, and the Maple Leaf flag were all brought to us courtesy of minority governments. On the other hand, so-called “majority” governments gave us short-lived gems like the “Barbaric Cultural Practices Hotline”. Kind of sums up the whole topic, doesn’t it?
Political science wonks refer to the fruits of PR governments as “more durable legislation that more accurately reflects the views of the median voter”. Check out Arend Lijphart, who has devoted his entire academic career to studying the impacts of different electoral systems. Or check out anyone with academic credentials, actually – you won’t find a credible source that backs the current system, as the federal Liberals found to their dismay during their short-lived foray into electoral reform (before they picked up their marbles and went home in a huff, realizing that some of their buddies on the Liberal bench wouldn’t be re-elected if PR were implemented). Legislation that is supported by a majority of voters doesn’t get undone every time we elect a different government, which creates a more stable policy path over the long term, and a more predictable investment climate for business. Witness the current pickle we’re in regarding Site C and the Kinder Morgan pipeline — PR would have ensured that those projects had the support of the majority of the population at the time they were approved, so subsequent governments would have no incentive to reverse those decisions down the road at potentially catastrophic financial loss.
Mel, you can argue against change and come up with all kinds of negative words to describe PR (and I have no doubt you will continue to do so), but the fact is that proportional systems are used by most of the developed world to get better economic, environmental and social outcomes than we do, with only a couple of notable exceptions. There is a reason why the U.S. and the U.K. are falling behind and can’t get anything done. Academic research demonstrates the mechanisms quite clearly, but the proof is in the pudding: no country that has ever tried PR has voted to switch back. Quite simply, voters like having more power, and they like seeing their priorities reflected by their government. Who wouldn’t?
Yes, PR will be different. It will require a bit of adjustment. There will be different colours in areas of the map that are used to being all one colour, which will be a hardship for parties that benefit from the current system. But change is never easy, and Canadians are plenty smart enough to adapt. We have an opportunity to finally ensure that ALL voters in the Kamloops area have representation, both in government and the opposition. Because the BC Liberals on Vancouver Island deserve a voice in Victoria just as much as the BC NDP and Green voters in this area do. Because REAL democracy includes everyone, not just the lucky 30-something percent who won the most recent horse race.
As someone smarter than me once said, “There are arguments against proportional representation. But they are arguments against democracy itself”. My advice, Mel, is to stop worrying about the math – you and I don’t have to deal with that. Start focusing on the outcomes of the system, and how they affect voters. You’re a smart guy. Do some reading. Some independent research. Because if our end goal is to have good governance that effectively represents all voters in a fair way, there is only one option. And that’s proportional representation.
Editor’s note: I’m not trying to get in the last word, and I won’t rebut you point by point, but since you asked me a direct question, I will answer. When you talk of percentages, you talk of percentages of the total electorate, not the local electorate. That’s the voodoo math. FPTP is, comparatively, localized. Proportional representation typically requires the amalgamation of ridings in order to accommodate the election of representatives that don’t obtain a majority of the votes cast. The result is a distancing of those representatives from those they’re supposed to represent. How’s that democratic?