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The Liberals want you to think PR would be bad for Canada. Here’s why they’re wrong

Written by Think Forward Staff
Thursday, 22 December 2016

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has gotten itself into a real pickle when it comes to the issue of electoral reform. After campaigning on a promise to make the 2015 Federal Election the last one held under our current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system, the Liberals commissioned a Special Committee on Electoral Reform in June 2016. The committee then set about consulting with Canadians across the country, asking them whether or not we should change our voting system. During these town hall meetings, over 88 percent of the citizens and experts who testified recommended some form of proportional representation (PR). PR is based on the principle that votes should fairly translate into seats. This means that, under a PR system, a political party that receives 30 percent of the popular vote in an election receives roughly 30 percent of the seats in Parliament.

The Special Committee listened to the wishes of Canadians, and in its final report to the House of Commons, recommended a PR system for Canada. But the Trudeau Liberals don’t like PR, most likely because they’ve managed to do quite well under our current FPTP system. For example, in the last federal election, the Liberals won 54 percent of the seats in Parliament, and 100 percent of the governing power, despite only winning 39 percent of the popular vote.

So the Liberals have tried to discredit the very committee that they themselves commissioned, while spreading myths about PR in their new online survey, located at mydemocracy.ca. The “mydemocracy” survey attempts to undermine popular support for PR by using misleading questions to convince respondents that PR would be bad for Canada. In essence, the questions represent the Liberals’ arguments against adopting PR, and they are hoping that Canadians will respond in a way that enables the government to say that citizens don’t want a PR voting system.

Thankfully, though, Canadians aren’t buying what the Liberals are selling, as the mydemocracy survey is being panned by voters of all political stripes. Here’s a breakdown of the survey’s myths about PR, and a brief explanation of why – when it comes to electoral reform – the government is just plain wrong.

1) Myth: A PR system would empower radical or extreme political parties and candidates. (Proposition 7 of 20)

Truth: A PR system can guard against extreme parties and candidates by setting high thresholds required to obtain seats in Parliament. For example, a threshold of 5% of the popular vote would enable the Green Party of Canada to win seats in the House of Commons, but would prevent less popular, more radical parties – like the Freedom Party – from winning representation.

2) Myth: Under a PR system, it would take much longer for government to get things done. (Proposition 13 of 20)

Truth: As Fair Vote Canada points out, “there is an abundance of evidence that countries with more collaborative decision making outperform those with winner-take-all (FPTP) systems on measures of democracy, environment, equality, and fiscal responsibility.”

3) Myth: The cooperative decision-making that PR encourages, whereby governments have to negotiate their policy decisions with other parties in Parliament, makes it is less clear who is accountable for the resulting policy. (Propositions 3 and 12 of 20)

Truth: Empirical studies have shown that the necessity for parties to openly cooperate under PR lowers barriers to the transmission of information crucial to effective governance. PR reduces the costs of political information for voters by making areas of policy agreement and political decisions transparent and by necessitating the articulation of policies even when parties disagree. According to Henry Milner, when policy collaborations are public in nature and consistently reported by the media, even the most unengaged voters are able to make informed decisions. PR therefore promotes a more informed electorate.[i]

4) Myth: Under a FPTP system, voting ballots are easy to understand, in part because they offer a limited range of choices. Under a PR system, ballots would be difficult to understand because there would be too many options to choose from. (Proposition 2 of 20)

Truth: While it’s true that PR usually leads to more choices for voters by encouraging a wider range of voices in the political system, there is nothing to suggest that PR ballots are difficult to understand in the 90 countries globally that use proportional voting systems. The truth is that, under PR, we can have simple ballots and more choice.

5) Myth: Under a PR system, a party that wins the most seats in an election would still have to cooperate with other parties, and cooperation results in less effective governance. (Propositions 4 and 5 of 20)

Truth: There is absolutely nothing to indicate that PR systems, in which political parties govern cooperatively, lead to less effective policies outcomes and governance. In fact, the opposite is true. Studies have shown that, when compared to countries with majoritarian voting systems (like FPTP), countries with proportional voting systems have higher voter turnout, government policies that are closer to the view of the average voter, higher public satisfaction with the performance of democratic institutions, more women represented in legislatures, and higher rates of political participation among the public.

If you want to tell the government how you feel about PR, there is still time to complete the government’s survey on democracy and electoral reform. Here is a guide for answering the survey to ensure that your responses effectively advocate for PR. If enough of us raise our voices, the Liberals will have no choice but to respect the wishes of voters and the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, and implement a PR voting system.


[i] Henry Milner,“Electoral Systems, Integrated Institutions and Turnout in Local and National Elections: Canada in Comparative Perspective,” Canadian Journal of Political Science, 30, 1, March 1997, 89-106.

 

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