We are the company we keep

Radical right-wing extremists are elected under first-past-the-post. Huh.

You’ve probably heard this: proportional representation will elect more far-right extremists, white supremacists, sexists and general bad guys. It’s the No-to-pro-rep side’s favourite (only?) argument. They cite recent examples of Poland, Hungary and Austria to prove their claims.

Part of this is true. Poland, Hungary and Austria do use Pro Rep systems. In fact, almost all democratic countries have some sort of Pro Rep system. Only three other democracies  exclusively use the first-past-the-post system like we do in Canada: the U.K., India and the United States.

Given that most of the democratic world uses Pro Rep, picking and choosing problematic examples doesn’t truly demonstrate the system’s effectiveness. On the other hand, the four first-past-the-post countries all have a history of electing politicians with far-right agendas.

First-past-the-post elects extremists — like Donald Trump

Canadians tend to look at our neighbours to the south with smugness. After all, our system can’t be that bad. But, in reality, we aren’t really different. Trump was elected in a first-past-the-post system. As was Doug Ford. And Stephen Harper. All were elected without winning the “popular vote.”

It turns out right-wing extremists, white supremacists and sexists can be elected under first-past-the-post as well. But there is a key difference: first-past-the-post systems are way more likely to give governments total power.

Our current voting system is a winner-take-all system. This means a politician, even a far-right extremist one, can win 100 per cent of the power even though less than 50 per cent of voters supported them. First-past-the-post systems are more likely to produce majority governments, meaning if 70 per cent of the population wanted another candidate or party, they are out of luck.

On the other hand, a Pro Rep system is designed to produce governments that actually reflect the make up of the population. So, unless more than half of your province is made up of neo-nazis, it’s unlikely that you would ever have a government with the same ideology.

Plus, even if a far-right extremist was able to infiltrate our legislature, it is improbable they would have complete dominance over the government, because Pro Rep makes it more likely to produce multi-party and coalition governments.

What if Pro Rep doesn’t work for B.C.?

Then we go back to the way things were. Actually. Attorney General David Eby has built in an escape hatch. We get to try Pro Rep for two elections, then vote on whether we like it or not. If we don’t think it’s working, then we get to go back to first-past-the-post.

New Zealand had a similar situation. They voted to change their system to a proportional one in 1992. More women and more people of colour have been elected since they changed their system. Helen Clark is the former Prime Minister of New Zealand. She admits, back in 1992, she campaigned against proportional representation. But once the system was changed, she saw the benefits — more transparency in government, more collaboration in decision-making, more consultation with the public — Pro Rep made New Zealand’s democracy stronger.

Kiwi voters agreed. In 2012, New Zealand held a referendum on whether to keep Pro Rep and the country was overwhelmingly in favour of it.

We have eight years to test drive a new system. Why wouldn’t we take this chance? If it’s good enough for almost every other democracy on the planet, isn’t it good enough for us?

It doesn’t work the other way around. If Pro Rep is not successful in this referendum, we won’t get another chance to vote on it for decades. This will be the province’s third time going to the polls on this issue in 13 years. If this fails, we are probably not going to get another chance at this.

Which means more Doug Fords, Stephen Harpers and Donald Trumps. And this time, they may be coming for B.C.

Join the campaign.

10 Responses to “We are the company we keep”

  1. Keith C. Cowan says:

    It got us the NDP coalition in BC and a Liberal Majority in Ottawa. Do you trust these guys to change our system?

  2. The system you advocate can put the balance of power in the hands of the acute minority – like B.C. today. Instead of the Greens holding the balance of power you could have neo-nazis or other dangerous radicals holding the power and manipulating for their agenda. Ever since Trump I have become wary of the power of the uneducated bigoted minority. So I have actually switched from Pro Rep to First Past the Post.
    In addition, I don’t quite see linking Harper to Trump- your research must show you that that is too long a stretch in credulity.

  3. David Myers says:

    The principle is simple . . . you get 17% of the vote . . . you get 17% of the seats in the legislature . . . anything less is not “one man, one vote”. Harper got 55% of the seats in Parliament with only 39% of the vote. Trudeau got 54% of the seats in Parliament again with only 39% of the vote. Those “extra seats” actually, democratically speaking, belong to the other (3rd and 4th parties). Had Proportional Representation been in place during the last election, Trudeau would have taken a plurality, but not a majority of the seats and his would have been a minority government depending upon the support of the New Democratic party and the Green party to stay in power. Bet Trudeau wouldn’t have pushed through approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline if a minority government dependent upon the NDP and Greens, had been in place.

  4. Gord says:

    So David, you’re saying he couldn’t push the KM pipeline through even though the clear majority (not a plurality) of Canadians support it. That tells me something. https://globalnews.ca/news/4180482/majority-of-canadians-support-trans-mountain-pipeline-expansion-ipsos-poll/

  5. Albe Plumer says:

    Thanks Lisa , some agreed points some not, ok thanks.

  6. Sjeng Derkx says:

    They are using a strong argument for PR to argue against PR. And a lot of people are buying it. When so many are so gullible, do you sometimes wonder too if, collectively, we may just be too stupid to be trusted with democracy?

  7. Gil Letourneau says:

    This from article article written by Roslyn Kunin at this link: http://troymedia.com/2018/11/11/kill-bc-electoral-reform/

    Paralysis in forming governments. In addition to the backroom deal making and increased costs, paralysis can never be viewed as leading to “good government. In spite of the positive spin put on in by PR supporters, PR is not always wine and roses. For example, recently Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and others had hung parliaments; in 2010, it took Belgium 541 days (18 months!) to form a government; Italy has had 62 governments in 72 years; in New Zealand, the sitting prime minister went on maternity leave, and the unelected, PR-appointed deputy prime minister, headed the government for six weeks.

    PR can allow fringe (even fascist) parties to establish, and then build on, a PR toehold. Looking at Europe today, this is not fear mongering. In Sweden, a far-right party has just ‘earned’ the balance of power. Likewise in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland and Italy. Looking to history, between 1918 and 1939, 15 PR European countries (including Germany, Italy, Spain and Greece) fell to dictatorships. No FPTP countries did. Scarily, today, many western democracies are paralleling the 1930s, with growing nationalism, trade barriers and right-wing parties, feeding on PR seats.

  8. Gail Armitage says:

    I have seen no sign of Nazis support growing in strength in BC. Why would you think that under Pro Rep your neighbiyrs would all of a sudden lose their moral compass??

  9. Ann Remnant says:

    Wow, you’re actually aware of the Trump situation and now you’re voting for the system which put him in power. No comprendo. I don’t know of 100,000 neo Nazi supporters in BC, which is the # of them you’d need to get to power. All the fringe parties in BC together got less than 1% support from voters last election. And they need 5% to get a single seat. Good luck with that.

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