GUEST COLUMN – Fear of proportional representation is irrational

(Image: Fair Vote Kamloops)

Fair Vote Kamloops

IT’S A NEW YEAR, but Mel Rothenburger keeps issuing the same old bad takes on proportional representation.

Gisela Ruckert.

The latest one is somewhat more bizarre than others: suggesting that the political cesspool south of our border can provide insight into proportional representation is like suggesting we can learn about the Arctic by visiting Costa Rica.

Apart from his tightly-clutched misconceptions about proportional representation, Mel is apparently labouring under the mistaken belief that Canada’s Parliament uses first-past-the-post to elect our Speaker. Wrong-o!

As in the U.S., Canadian law requires a majority in the House to elect a Speaker. In fact, we use a ranked ballot to do so, which speeds up the voting process (it’s a nice touch―the Americans might want to look into that).

Wikipedia helpfully points out that our current Speaker, Anthony Rota, was elected as the 37th Speaker on December 5, 2019 by winning a ranked ballot contest between himself and five others.

Contrary to Mel’s fear mongering, countries using proportional representation consistently top the lists of the best-governed countries, as found by the Global State of Democracy Effective Parliament Index (compares the ability of Parliament to oversee the Prime Minister & cabinet across 165 countries) as well as the World Governance Indicators Project (compares 200 countries on six dimensions of governance).

Instead of being mired in conflict and endless negotiation, countries using proportional systems manage to get more done, too. During a one-year period from March 2020 to February 2021, Denmark’s multi-party coalition government passed 250 pieces of legislation. Canada? A paltry 16, despite the temporary love-in between the parties at the beginning of the pandemic.

Even more importantly, policies passed under proportional systems reflect the will of a true majority of the population, making them far less likely to be reversed. Governments tend to build on their predecessor’s work, rather than tear it down.

Here, we actually have a term for legislation passed by one government and undone by the next: policy lurch. This helps explain why comparative studies clearly show that proportional countries do much better on difficult, long-term issues like healthcare and climate change.

Particularly relevant right now is the fact that proportional representation serves as a bulwark against extremism, ensuring that a party supported by only a minority of voters can never govern alone.

In addition, proportional politics tend to be far less polarized. Mel already mentioned the near-fisticuffs in the U.S. House over the recent Speaker election, but let’s not forget that the Jan. 6 riot in Washington DC was a direct result of the hyper partisan and adversarial tone typical of winner-take-all politics exemplified by Donald Trump.

Contrast that “no-hold-barred” tone with the situation after the most recent election in Denmark: the leading party chose to dissolve the governing coalition after its latest victory in order to bring even more diverse voices into a broader coalition.

Similarly, Jacinda Ardern’s party won more than 50% of the popular vote in New Zealand, enabling them to govern on their own, but they chose to form a coalition with another party to ensure broader resonance.

Can you imagine Justin Trudeau inviting another party leader to co-govern with him, just because it’s clearly not a good idea for one party to set policy on its own? It’s laughable.

The data shows that countries using proportional systems have no more frequent elections than winner-take-all countries. Politicians in Ireland, Scotland, and Germany can’t exploit a small change in popular support for a big change in seat count as they do here under first-past-the-post.

The simple reason is that under proportional representation, voters get what they want, and there’s really not much difference between a party winning 32% of the vote and 36% of the vote.

In our system, those numbers mean the difference between a minority and a majority government, so politicians are encouraged to roll the dice at every small uptick in the polls. Mr. Horgan gambled and won, whereas Mr. Trudeau lost.

Mel’s irrational fear of proportionality leads him to see it lurking where it most definitely isn’t. Thankfully the polarization and intractable gridlock that has become a feature of American politics under its two-party, winner-take-all system has had the joyful consequence of reinvigorating the electoral reform movement there.

Fix Our House is not only a new American rallying cry, but an organization dedicated to giving Americans greater choice through proportional representation ― precisely to break the gridlock of recent American governments.

With folks like Mel regularly spewing falsehoods about proportional voting systems on this side of the border, the U.S. may even get to implement a proportional system ahead of us.

Informed debate is always a good thing, but fans of the Armchair Mayor deserve better than flat-out misinformation.

Gisela Ruckert is a member of Fair Vote Kamloops, a group that favours proportional representation.

About Mel Rothenburger (9358 Articles) 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 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.

9 Comments on GUEST COLUMN – Fear of proportional representation is irrational

  1. Fear of Proportional Representation is not irrational for those who wish to govern a nation or a province with a coterie of those who have interests opposed to the majority. It is irrational for me and for all who see power-hungry men and women who wish to pursue selfish interests opposed to the welfare of the majority of citizens. The old adage had it. Different strokes for different folks. I do not see resources expended on health, education and peace as being wasted.

    • Vivian Unger // January 16, 2023 at 7:04 AM // Reply

      Al, I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. Power-hungry people thwarting the will of the majority may be selfishly rational, though undemocratic. But Gisela didn’t say that selfishness is irrational, she said that fear of PR is irrational. And how do resources expended on health, education and peace come into it?

  2. Ian MacKenzie // January 12, 2023 at 10:28 AM // Reply

    Well said, Gisela!

  3. Vivian Unger // January 12, 2023 at 5:11 AM // Reply

    Proportional Representation is about fairness. Opposing PR means opposing fairness and justice.

    Many supporters of the current system are elitists who think they and their party should rule forever. In the US, a lot of politicians say that God wants them to win elections. In Canada, this thought just gets worded a bit differently. But it’s the same feeling of entitlement.

  4. In fact what we see south of the border is a direct result of their first past the post voting system with extremists holding more moderate Republicans hostage. With a proportional representation voting system these extremists would have formed a small minority party, leaving the true Republicans to govern responsibly, no longer needing to cater to this fringe element for votes.

  5. Coalitions to govern will still eliminate a great deal of people and philosophies.
    Personally I think this debate while greatly interesting is, in the end, quite silly. The “people” can’t even govern at the local level.

  6. Mel Rothenburger // January 11, 2023 at 8:06 AM // Reply

    I’m well aware the Canadian Speaker is chosen via a ranked ballot. The editorial didn’t suggest otherwise.

    • Simon wagstaff // January 11, 2023 at 9:36 AM // Reply

      It’s funny to read such blind belief in such utter clap trap. Your observation that you explicitly stated the difference between the Canadian and US systems is only the tip of the iceberg in her disinformation. Ireland and Germany are on hot rails to financial and demographic disaster. Denmark while avoiding demographic disaster is embracing economic suicide. Italy is a gong show.
      Meanwhile Trudeau HAS embraced a coalition with the NDP. The reasons she holds up as virtues are really the very instruments of self destruction. Generally I disagree with most everything you advocate for , but on this issue you are bang on. What possible benefit could your life-time of political experience bring to the question:). Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I disrespect you.

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