Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Six reasons to support proportional representation

The details are in my proportional representation FAQ and my post about coalition governments. But in a nutshell, here are the top six reasons all Canadians should be supporting proportional representation:

6. PR would put a stop to the exaggeration of regional differences. If you're an Albertan who's sick of being ignored while the Liberals are in power, or an Atlantic Canadian who's sick of being ignored while the Conservatives are in power, you should be supporting proportional representation. It's only because of our current voting system that it's almost impossible for a Liberal to win a federal seat in Alberta, or for a Conservative to win one in Atlantic Canada. Proportional representation would set that right, allowing all of the parties with significant levels of support to gain seats across the country. And it would also put a stop to the inflated seat count of the Bloc Québécois, who generally receive only 10% of the vote, but a much greater percentage of the seats.

5. PR would put a stop to the exaggeration of rural-urban differences. If you're an urban voter who's sick of not being properly represented in a Conservative government or a rural voter who's sick of not being properly represented in a Liberal one, proportional representation addresses your beef as well. Similarly to #6, our existing voting system makes it very hard for Liberals to win rural seats, or Conservatives to win seats in urban areas like Vancouver, Montreal, or Toronto. Proportional representation would change that, giving people voices even when they're not exactly like the people around them.

4. PR would bring more diversity to Parliament. If you're a woman or a visible minority who's sick of turning on Question Period to a sea of white men, proportional representation would address that problem as well. Countries that use proportional voting systems tend to have more representative Parliaments than those that don't. And no one would have to force special quotas on the system, either--it would happen naturally.

3. PR would force politicians from different parties to learn to work together long-term. If you're disgusted with the petty squabbles between two big parties slavering after their respective single-party majority governments, proportional representation would make them stop grandstanding and start listening to each other. Because of the unlikelihood of any single party getting more than 50% of the seats on its own, countries that use proportional voting systems are forced to form majority coalition governments in which the parties have to learn how to put aside their differences and work together in a stable, long-term way.

2. PR would bring more stability to our Parliament. If you're sick of having yearly elections because our minority governments can't manage to get along, proportional representation would address your concerns, too. Our current voting system only works well in countries that have only two parties, but Canada is more complicated than that. Proportional representation would force our political parties to confront the realities of that situation and figure out a way to make it work by forming coalition governments, rather than always striving for something that they're realistically not going to get anyway.

1. PR would make every vote count. If you're sick of casting your vote on election day only to have it wasted when someone you didn't vote for ends up winning, then proportional representation is for you. The vast majority of Canadians' votes go unused because they don't actually help elect anyone. Proportional representation voting systems work differently, by giving a party that gets 33% of the votes exactly 33% of the seats. The result is a Parliament that's just what the voters asked for, rather than one that only a minority of Canadian voters helped elect.


susansmith said...


wilson said...

Dion planted the seed for PR this week, and inadvertantly gave the thumbs up to NDP working with Cons.

Dion approached women NDPers to cross the floor, on the heels of luring Garth Turner (if you know his history, he is VERY rightwinged) to cross the floor.

If Dion thinks Dippers and Cons can work together from within the LPC, the move says that it is acceptable (even desirable) for Dippers to work with Cons OUTSIDE of the LPC.

susansmith said...

wison61, excellent anology. Essentially, we don't need the big tent of the liberal political machine to work across differences.

Anonymous said...

New Zealand has proportional representation, and I have a friend there who says it does not work. Do you know how many parties you would have to include?... and it would resemble Italy

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Wow, you are so right. Why don't you have a blog, man? It would be great.


Good questions! I actually address them in great detail in the longer posts I link to at the top of this post, but in short:

On New Zealand, you should ask your friend what she means by "does not work." There have been some NZ-specific issues with the way it's worked there, but even with that, overall opinion polls show that most New Zealanders like their new voting system better than they liked the old one (they switched to a form of proportional representation from our own system back in 1993).

On how many parties it would include: it depends on what system we chose, but most modern PR systems include a threshold that would require a party to get at least 5% of the vote before gaining any seats. In Canada, it would be possible to implement this threshold on a province-by-province level if we wanted to design the system that way.

On whether it would resemble Italy: no. There are a lot of reasons why Italy is the way it is, but only a few of them have to do with its electoral system. And the two possible systems that have been proposed for Canada would solve the biggest problems with Italy that are due to its system.

wilson said...

IP, the thought struck me after listening to Jamie Heathe on Friday's Duffy.

Robert McClelland said...

New Zealand has proportional representation, and I have a friend there who says it does not work.

Of course you do. It truly amazes me how you conservatives all "have a friend" who can crap on every issue or idea.

Funny thing though. I read a number of New Zealand blogs--left, right and centre--and I've yet to read any complaints about their PR system.

JimBobby said...

Whooee! IdealistGal, I'm a huge supporter o' PR. Fer once, I even find myself purty much in agreement with WilsonFeller61. I better mark this day on my calendar.

The trouble with PR ain't with PR, per se.

One trouble is explainin' PR so's people'll see how sensible an' important it is. Yer doin' a good job here on yer boog, an' I take my hat off t' yer fine efforts. The only thing is ... yer boog readers is probbly way more keen on polyticks than the average Canajun. Start talkin' PR t' sumbuddy who don't live an' breathe polyticks an' watch while they start snorin'.

The other big troublem is that in order fer us t' get a change in our electoral system, the parties in power need t' make that change happen. The FPTP system favours the bigass established parties an' there's no incentive fer 'em t' give away seats t' Greens or Dippers an' there's every incentive fer 'em t' keep the status quo.

As fer as the NZ thing goes, I'd reckon anybuddy who took a look at our own system oughta come up with the same judgment - it ain't workin'. When less than 60% show up t' vote an' "majority" gummints get elected with 40% of the votes o' the ones who bothered t' vote, our system ain't workin' -- leastwise if it's supposed t' be a democracy.


Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Thanks. And on the "talk to people beyond political geeks" issue, I'm in total agreement. That's what I was after in this post. We can ALL do something to bring this issue out of the geek ghetto.

Feynman and Coulter's Love Child said...

6) I have a better system, so I'm against this one.

5) There's no "exaggeration" about it. There are extreme differences, and any "common ground" is probably the exaggeration. This can also apply to (6).

4) There's nothing good about "more diversity to Parliament", and I think it has too many women already, so I'm against this one for sure.

3) I also don't want "politicians from different parties to work together" short- or long-term. Parties working together gives us American-style "bi-partisan" legislation, which just means liberal policies end up enacted by both liberal and conservative administrations. No thanks.

2) Likewise, I feel "Parliamentary stability" to be a hazardous thing. Mexico had "Parliamentary stability" for decades to the extent that even Amnesty International took the time to stop pressing fake charges against Ronald Reagan to speak out on the matter.

1) Finally, every vote shouldn't count. The voting rights of non-property owners and ovary-polluted homo acerbus has been a force for evil since the changes were brought about. Besides, the Golden Triangle would still mean votes out west became meaningless by the time the polls close. Again, better solution...

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

feynman and coulter's love child,

Wow, you read my blog? Colour me astonished. And kind of flattered. The Edmonton-Strathcona Conservatives must really be scared of Linda Duncan these days if they're trolling her supporters' blogs!

Anonymous said...

reason #7 to support proportional representation: to piss off people like "Feynman and Coulter's Love Child"....

Anonymous said...

IP, can you expand on the idea that PR would bring more diversity into Parliament without the use of quotas? I didn't see it mentioned in the posts you linked to, and it's not obvious to me that it would work that way.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Sure, I can do that. First off, it's important to note that the assumption that PR would increase women's and minorities' representation in Canada is based on how it tends to work in other countries. If you compare across systems, first-past-the-post tends to produce less diverse Parliaments than proportional systems do. This isn't true in every case because lots of things can have effects on women's and minorities' representation other than the electoral system, but in general it's true. So it's always possible that Canada would be drastically different for some reason, but that's not terribly likely.

The specifics of how it would work would depend on the specifics of the system we ended up choosing. For example, many proportional systems include some form of a party list, which seems to encourage more participation by women and minorities. Other kinds of systems include multi-member ridings, which seems to have a similar result. If you're an electoral reform geek, you might want to have a look at this list of publications for some more details.

Feynman and Coulter's Love Child said...

Actually, I couldn't name a single member of the Edmonton-Strathcona Constituency Association, and furthermore yesterday wouldn't have been able to tell you which party Linda Duncan ran for and in which election had you asked. For all I know she's the girl I bumped into at Kingsway last week.


Drew Adamick said...

I'm kinda skeptical about PR for Canada- not about should we put it in, but where? I do not think PR is good for the House of Commons since most proposed PR systems seem to take away the local representativeness of MPs- which is and should be what the Commons is about: local representation. To make that fair, we need to go to an instant-runoff system to ensure that an MP has to have at least 50% of the vote.

Now about PR, we should put it in the Senate, along with more or less equal seat distribution per province- either 10 seats for each province; or 40 seats for the West (10 per province), 40 for the Atlantic (10 per province), and 40 for Central Canada (20 for Ontario and Quebec). As well the PR would be based on the popular vote in each province (which would further undermine the BQ).

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


most proposed PR systems seem to take away the local representativeness of MPs

But this just isn't true, Drew. The only two systems that have been proposed for Canada are Mixed-Member Proportional or the Single Transferable Vote. Both of those systems would preserve ridings and the local representativeness of MPs. You can read more of the details about that in my proportional representation FAQ. There's no one in Canada who wants a straight list system, so that's a strawman argument.

As for using it in the Senate, if we were to allow Senators to be elected, it would certainly make sense to allow them to be elected in a sensible manner. But the fact remains that the House of Commons is where the government is, and it's the way we elect our government that is so desperately in need of fixing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks IP for raising this issue again.

My only beef is that the NDP have run SK for 16 years, and haven't once made a serious [or casual] peep about switching us to PR. It makes me wonder how serious the federal NDP are about vote reform.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I understand your concerns--the Saskatchewan and Manitoba provincial governments should be working harder to implement real change at that level, and they don't seem to care. I think your concerns are misplaced, though, about the federal party. Enough of the caucus are genuinely informed about the issue at this point that there's no going back even if the federal NDP were to suddenly make great gains under the current system.

What I personally don't trust them on is the details. Unfortunately, the federal NDP has a VERY specific idea of which system they want to switch to. I happen to agree with them that it would be a good system, but that's beside the point--when you're going into a process of reform, you need to stay open-minded and be willing to accept any reform that would be good for Canada. My fear is that there will come a time when the citizens choose something they don't find ideal, or a deal is offered by another party for the same sort of thing, and they will take their toys and go home because it's not every single provision they want.

I'm afraid that's the day I'd have to leave the party. Until then, though, I think their heads are in the right places, and they're definitely the largest concentration of people in Parliament who genuinely understand all the issues and know how much better things could really be.

Anonymous said...

I see people such as Leftdog though, an ardent NDP supporter, but he argues against PR simply because it might jeopardize NDP control of SK, even if that's what the people want. That kind of blind partisanship, if it exists in the federal NDP, surely spells out what we can expect - no change.

Another important point about fairer elections, is that it offers a chance to bring previously disenchanted people to the voting booth. We would see a rise in youth voting I predict.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I was at the federal NDP convention in September, and the electoral reform motion passed near-unanimously. Believe me, leftdog is an exception, if in fact he feels that way.

I didn't mention a possible improvement in voter turnout because it turns out the data on that is mixed. It is true that voter turnout is higher across the board in countries that have some form of PR than it is in countries that have first-past-the-post. But data from New Zealand, which switched from our system to PR, suggests that voter turnout went up for a while, but then eventually went back down to previous levels. Basically, I'm not confident enough that voter turnout would go up in Canada to make that claim, though you may well be right.

Anonymous said...

New Zealand needs proportional representation because it is the only form of checks and balance for the government in power. It is a unicameral legislture, since the Senate was abolished in 1951.

I am not sure what the NDP's attitude towards the abolition of the Senate is. It is not a winner in Atlantic and Western Canada, but it is something that proportional representation can offset.

Anonymous said...


Ironically Harper's proposal for Senate reform would be similar to the one in Australia. Senators are elected by Single Transferable Vote. So, the Prime Minister supports proportional representation in the Senate and not in the House.

Of course, the Australians elect their Members of Parliament through an alternative vote instant run-off voting. Harper may want to implement this if he gets a majority. The CPC wins by taking the second choice votes of some Liberals and the Family Coalition Party!!!

Anonymous said...


Under PR, the New Zealand Labour party is dependent on a "supply and confidence" agreement that is formed between Labour, the anti-immigrant New Zealand First, and the Christian fundamentalist United Future party.

As a result, the leaders of the far right of centre parties are giving ministerial positions but are not in Cabinet. PR encourages the forming of these coalition governments in the open, rather than something that is devised between so-called "back room boys":)

Anonymous said...

"most proposed PR systems seem to take away the local representativeness of MPs

But this just isn't true, Drew."

How can you say that's not true?? Just because MMPR doesn't remove ALL of the representativeness of FPTP, there are still a large number of members who will serve without ever being elected! If you thought the lack of accountability was bad now, wait until a third of the parliament is actually not accountable to anyone (except the party brass of course).
And, politically correct or not, your diversity argument is based on the fact that parties are free to stuff their lists with 'candidates' that would be unelectable in FPTP - ie the definition of patronage.
Overall, if you ask me, I'd prefer my MPs to be elected rather than appointed.
And I know you're going to come back with some 'open list' ideas where the people select the list candidates, but how many elections are necessary to run 1 election? And that's in addition to the increased election frequency that will be required simply because minority governments don't work (the average Canadian minority gov't lasts about 2 years doesn't it?).

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Just because MMPR doesn't remove ALL of the representativeness of FPTP, there are still a large number of members who will serve without ever being elected!

There are some variants on MMP where that is the case, but there are others where it is not. It is therefore inaccurate to make the blanket statement that this is inherently the case with MMP.

Besides, even in the most classic closed-list MMP systems, every riding still has at least one representative, and that's what I was referring to there.

how many elections are necessary to run 1 election?

It can all be done on one ballot in a single election, actually. democraticSPACE outlines one possible variant here.

that's in addition to the increased election frequency that will be required simply because minority governments don't work

Minority governments don't tend to last long, agreed. But it's a myth that proportional representation leads to more minority governments. In fact, on the federal scene in Canada in particular it would be almost certain to lead to fewer of them, given the peculiarities of our current party structure and their regional bases. Ironically, if you want more stability at the federal level in Canada, the most long-term certain road there is proportional representation.