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EDITORIAL – U.S. Speaker fiasco gives us a taste of proportional representation

Confrontation during election of U.S.; House Speaker.

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

THE LATEST WEIRDNESS issuing forth from the American system of governance wrapped up early Saturday Washington time as the House of Representatives picked a new Speaker. It took four days and 15 separate votes to do it.

It happened because election of a new Speaker — who, by the way, has a totally different set of powers than the one in our Parliament — requires a clear majority.

Apparently they’ve never heard of first past the post. As one headline said, the whole degrading exercise illustrated the power of a few over many.

The Republicans, having regained a majority in the House, were divided over whether Kevin McCarthy should get the job, with enough party members voting for alternatives to keep him from winning.

This strange charade provided a clue to what proportional representation would look like if it was ever adopted in Canada.

OK, electing a new speaker down there doesn’t actually involve prop rep but the necessity of achieving a majority rather than a plurality made it look like it.

Prop rep requires that the number of seats awarded to each party equals the percentage of its total popular vote. The result can be parliamentary stagnation as the parties negotiate endlessly with each other trying to reach deals on legislation.

In this case, it got so contentious that, at one point, a congressman physically muzzled a colleague during a confrontation on the floor.

I’m not saying prop rep leads to physical confrontations but the lengthy stalemate we saw in the U.S. House is the kind of thing we could see a lot of if the prop rep folks ever get to saddle our own country with a system of elections that tries to make everyone a winner at the expense of effective government.

If the U.S. House of Representatives had used first past the post, they could have gotten their new Speaker with one vote instead of 15.

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops, former TNRD director and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a recipient of the Jack Webster Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. He can be reached at mrothenburger@armchairmayor.ca.

About Mel Rothenburger (9358 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.

6 Comments on EDITORIAL – U.S. Speaker fiasco gives us a taste of proportional representation

  1. Dawne Taylor // January 9, 2023 at 3:39 PM // Reply

    Totally disagree with you Mel. Pro rep is used by many countries – and they haven’t fallen apart, and often have a healthier democracy than 1st past the post nations.

  2. Actually, if Congress voted via FPTP and ‘ridings’ were determined geographically by population density by a non partisan groups like Elections Canada … so gerrymandering wasn’t a thing … its pretty clear that Republicans would not have the vote count to ever have control of the House. The party support difference would become pretty north/south specific … and its possible that California would run the country, lol.

    Beyond that interesting aside, I don’t buy that the American voting system is the equivalence of any Prop Rep concept, as the Electoral College system kinda blows that out of the water and puts the power in the White House and airdrops a partisan VP in as President of the Upper House. Conceivably a process that is the exact opposite of the concept of Prop Rep at its core.

    I’m sure New Zealand would disagree as well, where prop rep is the law, and they don’t seem to have a problem voting in speakers (albeit as you say the responsibilities are not comparable).

    As the American system is so badly fractured, polarised and as partisan as it is today, and as Congress is so unable to negotiate anything at all … under a FPTP system it would be completely unable to operate at all without an overwhelming majority … which pretty much describes Canada’s failure under FPTP, which again feeds the conversation around looking at alternative systems. All the worlds a circle.

    • I think the writer of the op-piece made it pretty clear that equating wasn’t the case. Just that tumultuous negotiations are required with a fragmented representation.
      And I am not sure citing New Zealand as a model for the most prosperous country because of proportional representation makes much sense. Canada is very, very prosperous, thank you very much!

      • Who said “New Zealand as a model for the most prosperous country because of proportional representation” … I didnt. Never said anything of the sort.

        What I actually said was that New Zealand would (and does) say that Prop Rep works very well for them most of the time, and they have no issues voting in Speakers. Mel (who wrote the above) is very correct about the American and Parliamentary, Speaker having very different jobs so that part is not comparable.

        Obviously Prop Rep has nothing to do with the economics of a country, clearly Prop Rep has not hindered their economic performance as a ‘prosperous nation’. With a 249.9 billion USD GDP and a debt per capita of 30% that of Canada … they are by many financial metrics better off than Canada economically.

  3. If you could clarify, the stalemate was caused by GOP representatives wanting to negotiate preferred treatment for their partisanship?

  4. Ian MacKenzie // January 9, 2023 at 5:36 AM // Reply

    You should be ashamed of yourself in identifying what happened in the States is the same as proportional representation. Do your homework on prorep and its overwhelming success in the democratic countries of the world before printing such an inane comparison.

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