Proportional Representation: should we?

This article will analyze Proportional Representation and its implications in Canada

Many people may be aware of the term “Proportional Representation” from the 2015 Federal election, but how many people actually care to understand what it all means?  Let’s face it, there is a portion of the population that simply does not have time to care about it.  I thought it was about time to get to the bottom of what it means and some misconceptions and misunderstandings you can find almost everywhere in the media.

Our current electoral system is called First Past the Post (FPP), and it is pretty self-explanatory.  The number of seats in parliament is based on who won in their riding.  This is where people may become frustrated that 40% of the popular vote can result in a majority government, but that is simply how it works because electoral districts have different populations.  A Proportional Representation (PR) system seeks to even out the number of representation in parliament by using the popular vote as a way to add more seats to parliament.  There are other ways PR garner’s the popular vote and redistributes it, but that is its goal.  So, where are we getting these extra seats from?

Any extra seats added to parliament through a PR system must be appointed by the party leaders or a committee.  So just to be clear, there would be representatives sitting in parliament that were not actually elected by the citizens themselves.

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 10.49.15 AM

As you can see, this author tried to explain PR by taking seats away from certain parties, which shows a complete misunderstanding of the practice

Yet, popular media has explained it very differently.  Perhaps because PR is still relatively a theoretical approach in Canada, so they haven’t dug deep enough to understand the real implications of the PR system.  For example, this image from popular media has removed seats from Parliament in the chart on right.  This is not how PR works.

So, a PR system would allow Party leaders to select unelected people to sit in parliament, and considering the number that would have to accommodate a 350 seat parliament to 450 or 500 seats, there will be a serious cost to pay their salaries, constituency offices, staff, incidentals, etc.  Who would be paying for this? The taxpayer.

On the positive side, it would certainly even out the playing field for governments to act more cooperatively because there would be more minority governments; however, because there are more minority governments, there would be more frequent elections, and elections are expensive and also funded by the taxpayer.

My Opinion

The fundamental issue in our democracy is not how we elect our leaders.  It has more to do with the ethical obligations we put on our elected officials to represent our wishes and protect our rights.  I strongly believe that a PR system will not achieve better representation as well as legislation that improves the engagement process by elected leaders themselves.

We are living in a knowledge economy with advanced democratic technologies that are only getting better and I believe that improving the engagement process would be far more cost effective and have a greater impact on our democratic institutions than electoral reform.  Canada was ready for change and they got what they asked for in 2015, so there is in-fact nothing wrong with our current electoral process.  Reform needs to happen at the constituency office level and I plan on being a part of it.

A little more about Proportional Representation

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 10.49.15 AM

As you can see, this author tried to explain PR by taking seats away from certain parties, which shows a complete misunderstanding of the practice

A proportional representation system would even out the playing field by adding seats to each party based on popular vote, and seats can not be taken away.  But you may see examples in media of people trying to explain proportional representation and taking away seats, this is false.  You cannot take seats away from elected officials.

So there are positives and negatives to a proportional representation system.

Positives:

  • More equal distribution of power in parliament based on popular vote
  • Some smaller parties will be given additional seats in parliament
  • There will be fewer majority governments overall (more collaborative governments)
  • Government parties and officials will have to learn to work together more often

Negatives:

  • Additional seats in parliament (100+) which means $ Millions in extra MP wages, constituency offices, additional costs, etc.
  • There will be additional sitting MP’s who were not elected by the citizens of Canada (because in order to add seats to redistribute power based on the popular vote, new MP’s will be selected by party leaders)
  • Depending on the needs of the country, more minority governments can be unhealthy for the economy and lead to more elections and more government costs

In my opinion, the key issue lies in adding seats to parliament with MP’s who were not truly elected by the taxpaying citizens of Canada.  Furthermore, there is an underlying issue to our democracy that is hidden behind the proportional representation (PR) curtain.  This includes some fundamental problems of representation in the first place, that being: that representatives are free agents to make decisions independent of citizen involvement and accountability.  If we address this underlying issue, maybe Proportional Representation isn’t necessary at all and we will not need to add additional costs to government and create positions for new MP’s who were not elected by the citizens of Canada.