In a quest to better understand the electoral system called ‘proportional representation’, also called PR, we present you a collection of myths and facts that are often linked to it. Do not hesitate to contact us if you have more questions (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- In a PR system, you cannot vote for the candidate who will represent your riding
- PR produces unstable governments and overly frequent elections
- PR allows more women to be elected to Parliament
- PR does not encourage political pluralism
- PR fosters greater ethnocultural diversity in Parliament
- Too many parties will be elected to the House of Commons
- PR would increase the rate of electoral participation
- Reforming our system is too complicated
There are several proportional representation models and each one can be adapted to the realities of one’s country. The NDP believes it is essential that citizens maintain a direct link with their Member of Parliament. That is why we think that the electoral system called “mixed-member proportional representation” is ideal for Canada.
In this system, electors fill out a ballot that contains two choices: (1) the voters mark a ballot for the member who will represent their riding, as in the current system and (2) they vote for an additional regional member. The latter is chosen among a list of regional candidates provided by each party. The seats in the House of Commons would be attributed to the parties according to the number of riding members elected, and regional members are selected according to the percentage of votes obtained.
In fact, our current electoral system already produces elections too frequently! We have had 22 federal elections since 1945, which is well above the average in many other democracies with a proportional representation system.
Source : Broadbent Institute
On the contrary, proportional representation is conducive to coalition governments that tend to be more stable. Since obtaining an absolute majority is very difficult, the parties are more inclined to ally in order to govern together instead of governing against each other. This allows a greater proportion of electors to be taken into account within government. A coalition government allows for more stable, more inclusive and less polarized governments in terms of political ideologies, without necessarily generating repeated elections.
Although the Liberal government decided to put a mixed cabinet in place, our current voting system does not encourage equal representation in Parliament. In fact, the number of female members elected in the last election only represents 88 of the 338 available seats, or 26%. In a mixed proportional representation system, the parties present lists of candidates in advance. The more the parties favour male-female equality in their candidate list, the greater the chances of achieving equal representation in Parliament.
Our current system is designed to favour large political parties and to limit the presence of small parties. Consequently it limits divergent opinions in the House of Commons, since the large parties monopolize the debate for the most part.
On the other hand, a proportional voting system would allow for better representation of the different opinions throughout Canada, since representation in the House of Commons would be proportional, as the name implies, to the percentage of votes obtained in the election.
Just like the underrepresentation of women in the House of Commons, ethnocultural diversity must be improved. With a system of proportional representation, we could foster a Parliament that would be more inclusive of the entire Canadian population. Since each party must present a list of candidates for its regions, we could make sure that we had representatives from various ethnic communities.
Many fear that PR will lead to the multiplication of small parties and consequently to chaos in the House of Commons. Experiences have demonstrated that marginal parties are only a source of chaos if the threshold to obtain a seat is low. Consequently it is easy to prevent that eventuality. In Germany, for instance, where the threshold to obtain a seat is 5%, there are only five parties in the national legislature. In Canada’s case, where there are already five elected parties in the House of Commons, it is very unlikely that the number of parties would become excessive.
As a matter of fact, the election of a larger proportion of candidates from small parties is desirable, as it would be more conducive to coalition governments which tend to be more stable. To understand why, click here.
A proportional system would certainly allow for an increase in the rate of electoral participation in a majority of ridings. With our current voting system, results in certain ridings are foregone conclusions, because they are bastions for certain parties and the results are predictable. For citizens who oppose these established parties, it becomes difficult to make their voices heard in Parliament, practically speaking, and this generates political cynicism, and may cause some to abstain from voting. Since everyone’s vote is really taken into account in a proportional system, Canadians would certainly be more inclined to vote.
Indeed, reforming the electoral system presents large challenges. However, it is a question of fundamental justice. A proportional electoral system would better represent the voice of all Canadian men and women, which makes it a fundamental investment in our democracy.
Several countries such as New Zealand and Ireland have shown that it is possible to change the first-past-the-post system to a system of proportional representation. Germany and the Scandinavian countries, to mention only those, also have a mixed-member proportional system. Canada could do the same and change its electoral system for the better.