Friday, 5 October 2007

Thumbs down on proportional representation

Ontario referendumIn the form that’s being proposed in the upcoming Ontario referendum, proportional representation is downright dangerous.

Please don't misunderstand me. I would really like to see a form of proportional representation in our legislatures. But not this one.

It is truly unfortunate that parties like the Green Party, with its support swinging between 7 and 12% of the popular vote are shut out of Queen's Park. That is too significant a proportion of the population to have its political views completely excluded from effective public discourse. And I do agree that remedying this situation would help reduce voter apathy. So it was with considerable interest and no little hope that I took a look at the system that is being proposed.

There are, in my view, two immense problems with proportional representation in its pure form.

First, it tends to create unstable governments, with constantly shifting coalitions and all-too-frequent elections. The virtual impossibility of a majority government also makes bold moves on the part of the government very difficult, for good or for ill. One word: Italy.

Second, and this is far more serious in my view, it tends to give disproportionate power to marginal parties. Ironic, that proportional representation should produce results as warped as the first-past-the-post system. Splinter groups holding one or two seats can effectively hold the balance of power and wield influence far beyond what their popular support would justify. One word: Israel.

A third, smaller problem, is the lack of accountability of members who are not directly answerable to a specific riding, but the proposal being made does address this issue to my (somewhat uneasy) satisfaction.

I personally prefer having a majority government, at least most of the time, although massive majorities are definitely not a good thing. A mixed system that would work to reduce massive majorities to something more humble would be a good thing.

But the proposed system would use the list members (the third of the House elected according to party affiliation rather than by riding) to top up each party's representation to make it approximately equal to its proportion of the popular vote.

That way be dragons. With only 3% needed to get a seat, all kinds of spliinter groups - some of them potentially very extreme - would spring up. I can only see this contributing to the radicalization of Canadian society. Stop and think about it for a moment. Political and religious extremists would suddenly find it worth their while to fom a party, making all kinds of incendiary statements and getting a dangerously powerful platform. It is not that hard to hijack the voice of a minority group and deliver it into the hands of its least responsible members. I am a Christian, an evangelical Christian, and I for one would not care to see the more extreme members of that community holding the balance of power. They would get the votes of more moderate evangelicals because they would be perceived as the only ones speaking in our name. The same could be said of any number of ethnic and/or religious groups, some of them rapidly increasing in number. I have no problem at all with any of them having a voice. I have a great deal of trouble with the most extreme elements having a disproportionate voice, to the point of being able to dictate policy. Think of the influence the Ultra-orthodox have had in Israel.

If they had proposed list members who would be chosen proportionately among themselves, moderating the first-past-the-post system without bringing it up to fully proportional representation, my conclusion would be different. As it stands, I find the MMP system being proposed to Ontario voters would change our diversity into Balkanization, and I just can't support that.

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1 comment:

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