Sunday, June 16, 2024

Discussion About Electoral Reform Should be Based on Facts Not Fear-mongering

Letter to the Editor


As the new federal government (and we the voters) begin to grapple with electoral reform, it’s important that the facts of the options considered be accurate and that the options themselves are truthfully represented. This was not the case in Dan Brown’s Postmedia December 30 column, “Proportional representation aids extremist parties”. That article serves as a warning of the sort of disinformation we are likely to see.

Mr. Brown’s first assertion is this: if you agree that political extremism is bad and moderation is good, then you must oppose any move to replace this nation’s first-past-the-post system. Where have we heard that logic before? Oh yes, if you think terrorism is bad and freedom is good, you have to support Bill C-51. Bollocks.

His second assertion is, “proportional representation rewards parties for sticking to their extreme positions.” For evidence, he offers the NDP and the Reform parties’ failure to form a national government. Bollocks to that too.

The NDP’s platform in the last election can hardly be called extreme. And the Reform Party didn’t form a national government because it split the vote on the right with the Progressive Conservatives and because it was rooted in one region of the country. Stephen Harper fixed that and his agenda was Reform-plus.

But let’s put history to one side and look at the evidence for his assertion that proportional representation encourages extremism.

Um, there isn’t any. Not in the Law Commission of Canada’s report recommending proportional representation (PR), or in the elections of the 21 (of 28) Western European countries currently using some form of PR.

Those that use an “open list” form of PR include Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Austria. Open list simply refers to the form of the ballot: every candidate’s name appears on the ballot. That’s a criterion of our current MP, Larry Miller.

If Mr. Brown is worried about democracy (and who isn’t), I hope he’s also concerned that we have been electing majority governments in Canada (NDP, Liberal, and Conservative in the past few elections) who won less than 40% of the popular vote. Currently, more than 60% of voters in Alberta, Ontario, and Canada did not vote for the government they got.

PR would fix that. In systems that use open list (or mixed member) proportional representation, you vote for your local MP as you do now. But you also vote for a party or one of a number of regional candidates (who are also on the ballot). That vote returns MPs in proportion to the popular vote. Not only do you end up with a parliament that better reflects voters’ preferences, but you also get two MPs – your local MP and a regional MP. If you don’t like how your local MP is representing your interests, go talk to your regional MP.

Yes, we would likely see more minority governments, but Canada has been well-served by minority governments, precisely because they better represent the electorate. And no, coalition governments are not inherently evil in spite of Mr. Brown’s poor opinion of Canadians’ urge for governments that represent the people.

David McLaren

Neyaashiinigmiing, Ontario.

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