Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Stability through proportional representation

If the Globe and Mail keeps this up, I'm going to have to renege on my promise to provide my readers with large portions of their proportional representation columns as a public service--I'm not any more interested than you are in seeing this blog become all PR, all the time. They're not quite to that point, though, and besides, this is a particularly good one. I promise I'll have something to say on another subject before the end of the weekend!

Over to John Ibbitson:

We'll know by the end of next week whether the income-trust scandal (the mere fact that it now has a name is a disaster for the Liberals) is resonating with the public.

Even if it has, though, the most the Tories can reasonably hope for is to close the gap between themselves and the Grits. Barring an electoral earthquake, nothing is going to push either party far enough ahead of the other to prevent another minority government.

In fact, as last Friday's column observed, the mostly likely outcome is a hung Parliament, with both the Liberals and Conservatives possessing between 115 and 120 seats, the NDP with far too few seats to influence the outcome of any vote, and the government of the day largely depending on the all-powerful Bloc Québécois for its survival.

Ugly, ugly, ugly.

So it's time for opponents of proportional representation to explain themselves.

The argument most often put forward by detractors of PR is that it will lead to unstable Parliaments in which larger parties are held hostage to the agendas of smaller, special-interest parties, leading to repeated political crises and frequent elections.

The rebuttal is self-evident.

The Bloc is now in its fifth election, and has never been stronger. Even if its support wanes in future votes, there is no reason to think it will drop much below 40 seats, making it highly unlikely that either the Liberals or the Conservatives will be able to form a majority government in any future election. That's the political irony: Moving from first-past-the-post to proportional representation would actually make the House of Commons more stable.

Let's construct a PR Parliament, based on an unscientific blend of recent polls: We'll give the Liberals 34 per cent of the popular vote, the Tories 30 per cent, the NDP 17 per cent, the Bloc 14 per cent, and the Greens 5 per cent.

The 39th Parliament would consist of 105 Liberals, 92 Conservatives, 52 New Democrats, 43 Bloquistes and 15 Greens (in a 307-seat House). Such a House would invite a stable coalition of the Liberals and the NDP.

But what if, thanks to Trustgate (it has a nice ring, don't you think?), the Conservatives get 34 per cent of the vote and the Liberals only 30 per cent? How could the Tories ever govern with the support of the NDP? Would a coalition with the Bloc and the Greens be any less improbable?

Who knows? But such extrapolations can go only so far. After all, in a House based on proportional representation, the Green vote could go up and the NDP vote down; the Tories could break apart into two parties (and so, for that matter, might the Liberals), and entirely new parties could be born.

The point is that aspiring prime ministers would have to put their coalition cabinets together before they met in Parliament, complete with manifestos and memorandums of agreement, rather than lurching from Throne Speech crisis to budget crisis to Gomery crisis to dissolution, which was the history of the 38th Parliament.

A PR-based House would also be far more regionally representative. So strong is the Bloc right now, neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals may be able to form a cabinet containing elected francophone Quebeckers. But a PR-based system would ensure that the 50 per cent of Quebeckers who vote for a federalist party in a federal election would be appropriately represented in the government, just as the roughly 15 per cent of Canadians who vote for Quebec sovereignty would be appropriately represented in the House.

There are plenty of other reasons to support proportional representation: It tends to improve voter turnout, and it more closely represents the popular will. But the most potent argument in favour of voting reform is the one that has most recently emerged: PR might finally put an end to Canada's spaghetti Parliaments.

Trustscam. How does that sound?
I said it first, of course, but Ibbitson said it prettier.

1 comment:

Mark Francis said...

The same thoughts have been on my mind.