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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.