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EDITORIAL – Hand-picking facts to support proportional representation

Germany’s Bundestag is often cited as a successful example of mixed member proportional representation. (Image: Pixabay.com)

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

I ATTENDED THE PRESENTATION on Wednesday night by Dr. Denis Pilon of York University on the upcoming referendum on changes to the B.C. electoral system.

He’s a very good speaker and explained his arguments in favour of proportional representation by reviewing points being argued by the pros and cons as he understands them. Then, he took each point and dissected it using examples of proportional representation in other countries.

Being a proponent of PR, of course, his choice of facts supported his side of the argument. As his presentation was sponsored by Fair Vote Kamloops, I’m guessing that for the most part he was preaching to the choir.

Dr. Pilon speaks at TRU Clock Tower Theatre. (Image: Mel Rothenburger)

I was only slightly annoyed at his frequent mimickry, in a subtly mocking tone, of those who defend First Past the Post. Focusing on the substance of his arguments, I found them lacking.

Certainly, the experiences of other countries with PR and FPTP provide ample evidence upon which to base arguments. But Pilon didn’t explain — nor could he — the effect of localized economies, cultures, geographical size and populations on the success or failure of one electoral system over another.

Those who question the need for electoral change, for example, point out that Canada and its provinces are vastly different than the countries being touted as PR successes. PR in a small country may work well but that doesn’t mean it will work here.

Just as importantly, neither does it support the conclusion that PR is needed here.

Pilon dismissed facts that don’t fit his case. For example, in listing the three PR options proposed for B.C., he said one of them has been used elsewhere and the other two “technically” haven’t. In fact, they simply haven’t.

He also brushed off concerns about there being no electoral maps created before the vote, saying people don’t care about that. In fact, people do — they want to know what their riding will look like, how many MLAs it will have and how their representatives will be picked.

It was also interesting to hear him state his support for compulsory voting and his belief that electoral changes should have been made directly by the B.C. government without a referendum. That doesn’t sound democratic to me, especially from someone who espouses PR based on it being more democratic than FPTP.

For those who already support proportional representation, Pilon was, no doubt, music to their ears. He is presented as someone who has studied electoral systems around the world and who has concluded that prop rep is the way to go.

Of course, there are many others, such as Dr. Lydia Miljan of the University of Windsor, who teaches political science and who has also studied electoral systems around the world (and, like Pilon, has written books on the subject), who come to an entirely different conclusion.

I did find his comments about PR countries seeing increases in representation by minorities and women worth noting and, if the two things can be connected, that’s certainly a plus for the PR system.

In the end, we all have to decide which facts and whose logic we feel outweigh the other side. For me, the answer is First Past the Post.

Mel Rothenburger’s Armchair Mayor editorials appear Mondays through Thursdays, on CFJC- TV. His Friday editorials are also published occasionally on CFJC Today. His Armchair Mayor column is published Saturdays on ArmchairMayor.ca and CFJC Today. Contact him at mrothenburger@armchairmayor.ca.

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About Mel Rothenburger (5861 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

10 Comments on EDITORIAL – Hand-picking facts to support proportional representation

  1. Garry Worth // July 11, 2018 at 11:16 PM // Reply

    four words describe First Past The Post—Donald Trump, Doug Ford—end of story

  2. Eileen Hackett // July 7, 2018 at 4:34 PM // Reply

    Both John Horgan and Andrew Weaver campaigned on the promise to put in Proportional Representation and now that they are the governing parties in power (a coalition of 2 parties forming a minority government) the voters gave them the right to change our electoral process. It seems to me PR should now already be in place instead of having the naysayers gathering those with very deep pockets to try to reject the referendum!! Democracy is basically 50% plus 1 or more yet our governments so often (federally & provincially) get total control with 39% or 40% – what happens to the 60% more or less who do not agree with the changes put in?? Federally in the last election, Trudeau was elected with his campaign promise to put in PR then reneged on that promise!! Let’s give PR a chance to see if it will give ALL voters fair representation in government:!! The promise is to change it back after 2 elections if not working for our citizens. Also the pledge is not to have a large increase in MLAs. Does Mel not read ALL the information put out by Fair Vote Kamloops or does he just not want change, period!! Has he lived his whole life keeping with the status quo with no changes in his life? Seems very boring and obviously he is very comfortable in his own little world. But what about the REAL majority of citizens who are entitled to changes they want put in by their government?? Change usually means betterment, shouldn’t we give Proportional Representation a chance!! Nearly 100 countries (progressive democracies) in the world use PR. FPTP is not democracy!! Democracy is rule by majority – it’s in the dictionary. Seats in Parliament should equal the percentage of votes.

  3. Some people have said Canada (BC being it’s gem) is the best country in the world. They cite ethnic diversity, freedom, respect, wealth as adjectives in support of that assertion. That may be the case however our present voting system (FPTP) is contrary to Canada’s populace.

    It punishes diversity, and free expression. It almost always gives disproportionate power to the group which has attained the greatest influence, and with multiple parties in the running, that need be only 40%. The other 60% be damned since they are such losers anyway. Most will agree that influence can be purchased through emotional enticement such as attack ads, misconstrued “facts” (or outright lies), and downright empty promises.

    Gone are the days where one party fits all, if there ever was such a time. The “conclusion that PR is needed here” is blatantly self evident to anyone who sees our society for what it really is.

  4. David Johnson // July 6, 2018 at 4:37 PM // Reply

    Heres an out of the box idea, but an option we are being given;
    Switch to whatever PR system the referendum suggests. Then (as is being put forward already by David Eby), let it run for one election. If Mel turns out to be the all knowing, all seeing guru … then change it back, no reasl harm, no real foul.

    Yes it will cost money, yes it will be annoying, and yes it may well be a political timebomb for someone, but in the end … whats the real true harm in giving it a go and then look very deeply into the experience and see if either arguments of dread or success pan out?

    Children will still go to school,
    we will still go to work,
    gas prices will increase,
    and the world will roll on.

    This is not a sky falling / economy trashing / freedom destroying level decision. We should be willing to test new ways of doing things to see if we can make our world better instead of continuously cycle on wondering if it ‘could’ work.

    If it doesn’t work … we just back out.

  5. tony brumell // July 6, 2018 at 11:44 AM // Reply

    Picking and choosing the points that support your position ??? Hmmmm! I don’t remember KGHM putting out a lot of informtion that was against the mine .I don’t hear a lot of organisations that try to defeat their own cause by hiring the best opponent they can find . ( If they were smart and dedicated thats exactly what they should do and then “shoot them down )If the opposition wants to bring out their “CON” issues let them bring in their expert.This would follow a line similar to the EAO;s “professional reliance ” tactics.
    In other words “We all do this and it is exactly what I expected.”

  6. Ian MacKenzie // July 6, 2018 at 10:32 AM // Reply

    Dear Mel – You conclude your description of Dr. Pilon’s presentation with “In the end, we all have to decide which facts and whose logic we feel outweigh the other side. For me, the answer is First Past the Post.” Certainly I can’t argue that statement.
    However, having also attended the same lecture I would support the position that PR is needed everywhere there is a recognizable lack of democracy, which can best be defined as an inequality of the value of all votes. Certainly FPTP is a glaring example of such inequality when a minority of votes produces a false majority government ignoring the votes of the majority. The winner uses semantics in saying they have a “majority” government. How can a government formed by 40% of voters be a majority? The only way is to assume that the 60% who didn’t vote for the first past the post winner didn’t vote at all. A twisted logic unworthy of consideration if our parliament is to represent all voters equally! Clearly a change in our electoral system is necessary. Certainly the views on the subject held by Dr. Lydia Miljan of the Koch subsidized Fraser Institute would never reverse that corkscrew logic for me
    I was impressed by the structure of Dr. Pilon’s presentation which was a careful analysis of data showing trends over time in order to answer many of the questions people entertained after the main lecture. I did not notice any mockery which you mentioned and wonder if that is more a reflection of your bias towards FPTP. In fact I felt that he distilled 30+ years of study into a very balanced presentation directed towards a room full of people he understood were not experts on the subject. His approach allowed anybody there to accept or reject his conclusions. Obviously you were predisposed to reject, while I am predisposed to accept the evidence-based manner of the lecture.
    So for me, the answer is Proportional Representation!

    • Mel Rothenburger // July 6, 2018 at 11:19 AM // Reply

      The “40 per cent of the vote should result in 40 per cent of the seats” mantra of those favouring proportional representation is actually only relevant in an election at large. We often get governments with less than 50 per cent of the vote because we have a system in which local interests and aspirations are taken into consideration via ridings. In one riding, for example, a party could win in a landslide but in two other ridings it might lose narrowly. The result would be that a party winning those two ridings will receive fewer votes in total than the party that wins the single riding but still win the election. That’s fair because different communities of people have different economies, populations, infrastructures and issues. PR won’t improve on that. Equating percentages with seats sounds right in a catch phrase but it actually misrepresents what’s going on. I knew when I mentioned Dr. Lydia Miljan somebody would jump straight to the Fraser Institute, as if the Fraser Institute somehow created and dictates her views. The fact that her views happen to co-incide with the right-leaning Fraser Institute’s conclusions in no way makes them less relevant or less factual, any more than we should automatically reject Dr. Pilon’s opinions based on his connection to the left-leaning iPolitics. Let’s instead argue the point.

      • Sean McGuinness // July 6, 2018 at 2:05 PM //

        There is I think a way that one can strike a balance between voting for a party vs voting for a candidate. In a PR system, one could divide BC into regions with a slate of candidates etc for each region which would be chosen by regional voting percentages. I think it should be mentioned that our current system does discourage people from voting for their preferred candidate –people do tend to vote strategically, and this often comes at the expense of a smaller party, eg. the Green Party.

  7. Sean McGuinness // July 6, 2018 at 8:42 AM // Reply

    There is the concept and then there are the details. Not to downplay the details — they didn’t create an airplane that will fly simply by drawing a picture. However, here we need to realize that our system of voting and government is archaic, the model T of democratic systems. It’s leap of faith to change, but one needs to make it. The Wright brothers never worked out all the details before their first flight either.

    • tony brumell // July 6, 2018 at 3:34 PM // Reply

      The best balance I have seen yet is expressed by Simone Weil in her treatiss called “On the abolition of all political parties.”This is less than 60 pages and is startlingly revelatory. Google it and read without prejudice.When combined with a compulsory vote then the pro rep T shirts would read 100% of the votes equal 100% of the seats.
      Canada’s northern territories have always been non partisan. We could stop voting parties out of or into power and all votes in the ledge would be conscience votes for the good of the province and the electoral system becomes automatically/systematically “Pro rep “

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