01 August 2003

The benefits of PR

I have written before on this weblog and elsewhere in favour of adopting some form of proportional representation (PR), which would ensure that the proportion of popular support for a political party translates fairly accurately into the proportion of seats in parliament. Thus if the Liberals receive 38 percent of the popular vote, they should receive approximately 38 percent of the seats in the Commons, and no more.

I do not believe that instituting PR will lead to the arrival of the kingdom of God. I want to be careful not to attach overly rosy expectations to what I believe to be a necessary reform. However, here are some of the benefits likely to come from PR:

1. It would put an end to the farce whereby a party receiving only a plurality of the popular vote receives the majority of the seats and all of the political power.

2. It would force the plurality party to negotiate with other parties rather than to depend on its monopoly of party discipline over its own parliamentary caucus.

3. It would dilute the impact of a single ideological vision and force its adherents to moderate its more extreme positions. This has implications for Quebec separatism, whose followers would not simply be able to run away -- both literally and metaphorically -- with the province.

4. It would better represent the true preferences of citizens expressed at the polls.

5. It would encourage higher voter turnout, because voters would no longer fear that their votes would be wasted.

6. It would rein in the considerable powers of the prime minister, on whom there are insufficient checks in our system.

Other reforms, particularly of the Senate, are needed as well, but the institution of PR would be a major step in making our political actors more accountable to the citizens.

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