Appendix 2: Myths and Facts about PR

As the all-party committee consults with Canadians about which values and features are important to them in a new electoral system, it is to the benefit of everyone to ground the conversation in facts.

Will MPs be “appointed and unaccountable”?

FACT: Sometimes people say “appointed MPs” or “unaccountable MPs” when referring to “closed” party lists – a design where the parties nominate candidates (as they do now, in nomination meetings), publish the lists, and voters choose only a party, rather than a candidate, on the ballot. Thus, the MPs are elected according to the order of the published list. However, Fair Vote Canada does not propose closed lists. Proportional models can be designed so that all MPs are personally elected and accountable to voters.

Does the all-party committee have to choose between “ranked ballots or proportional representation”?

FACT: “Ranked ballots” or “preferential ballots” are not a voting system. They are a feature that can be used in a majoritarian system or incorporated into the design of almost any proportional system.

Preferential ballot single-member ridings, usually called the Alternative Vote (AV) or “Instant Runoff Voting,” produces scores similar to, or worse than, FPTP on the Index of Disproportionality, which measures how well a legislature reflects the choices of voters. AV continues to divide voters into winners and losers and continues to produces majority governments with less than 50% of the vote. Over 21 elections in Australia, AV changed the local outcome only 6% of the time. When it was used in Canada provincially, it shifted the outcome in a riding about 2% of the time. None of the 12 commissions in Canada to date have recommended AV.

STV is an example of a proportional system which uses a ranked ballot in multi-member ridings. MMP representation can also use a ranked ballot.

Do Proportional systems cause “instability”?

FACT: A study comparing OECD countries using winner-take-all systems and PR systems between 1945 and 1998 showed the average number of elections for FPTP countries was 16.7, and only 16.0 for PR countries. Most countries using PR are governed by stable, majority coalition governments. When no party can achieve a majority with 39% of the vote, the incentives change, encouraging more cooperative politics.

PR creates a dynamic of long-term stability. You do not see massive shifts in policy because parties need consensus to pass legislation. Majoritarian systems like FPTP contribute to policy lurch, a dynamic where a new governments spends its term undoing the policy of the previous government. It’s an inefficient way to govern and build long term solutions to problems.

Can we still have “Local Representation” with PR?

FACT: The goal of PR reform is to increase, not decrease representation. Local representation is a feature of Canada’s democratic tradition, and all proportional systems proposed for Canada maintain local representation and retain that feature. Voters will have MPs almost as close to home as now, and every voter will have more choice of MPs to turn to for help, including an MP who shares their political views.

Will Canada become like Israel or Italy?

FACT: Proportional systems are used in over 80 countries around the world. Over 80% of OECD countries use proportional voting systems, including Sweden, Scotland, Germany and New Zealand. Focusing attention on individual countries, each with their own difficulties is not particularly useful. One could mention any number of countries using winner-take-all systems that also face considerable difficulties, including Uganda, Zimbabwe, the United States and others.

Will fringe parties multiply with PR?

Any proportional system for Canada could have a threshold – explicit, or inherent by design, or both – that a party must reach before qualifying for regional list seats. 4-5% is a common threshold. Germany uses an MMP system and currently has fewer parties with seats in the legislature than Canada (four vs. five). None of the PR options being proposed for Canada would make it easy for fringe parties to win seats, whether a formal threshold is added or not. One should worry more about extremist parties winning power outright, as can happen more easily in majoritarian systems than PR systems due to the greater ease of forming majority governments.  

Will PR require a constitutional amendment?

FACT: All proportional models for Canada require only legislation. The only PR model which would be unconstitutional is a system with party lists that cross provincial borders, which is not suited for Canada and has never been proposed.

Since parties need to cooperate and compromise with PR, will anything get done?

FACT: There is some anecdotal evidence that policy-making can sometimes be slower in PR countries. It makes sense that building consensus can take time. However, the policies that result enjoy a higher level of social and political consensus. Even more importantly, PR countries outperform majoritarian countries as early adopters on emerging issues such as same-sex rights or policies to restrict carbon emissions.1

Proportional countries score higher not only on measures of democracy, but on the United Nations Index of Human Development – encompassing many quality of life measures. PR leads to policies that are closer to the median voter, have lower income inequality, better environmental protection, and greater fiscal responsibility.

To view our full brief submitted the Special Committee on Electoral reform, please visit: http://www.fairvote.ca/category/fvc-erre-submissions/


1 Orellana, Saloman (2014). Electoral Systems and Governance: How Diversity Can Improve Policy Making. New York: Routledge Press (summarized by FVC).

 


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