By GISELA RUCKERT
Fair Vote Kamloops
IT’S A NEW YEAR, but Mel Rothenburger keeps issuing the same old bad takes on proportional representation.
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.