Select Page

When it comes to toxic politics, imploring politicians to shape up isn’t cutting it. When will anyone push for real solutions?

The last few years have seen a steady stream of editorials and opinion pieces lamenting the rise of toxic politics and polarization, but the solutions offered are limited to variations of calling on our leaders to pull up their socks and do better.

Cut it out” may be how many Canadians (not to mention the Speaker of the House) react while watching a clip of partisan theatrics in the House, but when it comes to the serious rise in toxicity and polarization in society, does anybody seriously expect that to work?

MPs are not a bunch of naughty children who will respond to a lecture on moral virtues self-control. In fact, they’re responding to a powerful system of political incentives. The system itself is what needs to change. 

Power-hungry parties may not care to read it, but research comparing the effect of different electoral systems on polarization is clear: Proportional representation mitigates issue-based and identity-based polarization.

In democracies with proportional representation where coalition governments are the norm, citizens feel more warmly towards parties they didn’t vote for when those parties have been coalition with their preferred party anytime in the past fifteen years – even when those parties are ideologically far apart.

In New Zealand, which adopted proportional representation in 1996, proportional representation also helped dial down the level of toxic rhetoric in Parliament.

A recent white paper by researchers John Carey and Oscar Pocasangre summarizing decades of research for US-based “Protect Democracy” concludes:

“Proportional systems are better at promoting consensus – especially in polarized societies – and achieving public policies that better reflect what majorities of citizens want.”

Achieving more of what most citizens want through meaningful dialogue and cooperation while defusing the dangerous levels of partisan-fueled anger and divisiveness sounds like a common sense prescription for a more resilient democracy.

Maybe that’s why 101 MPs from all parties, including 39 Liberal MPs voted for MP Lisa Marie Barron’s motion for a non-partisan, independent National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. 

Around the world, citizens’ assemblies themselves are a cutting edge innovation to replace adversarial debate with meaningful deliberation among ordinary people. Increasingly used for topics that are too “hot” for politicians to touch or too controversial to find agreement on, these deliberative bodies remove roadblocks to progress and rebuild the trust of voters. 

Adopting proportional representation and leveraging the power of citizens’ assemblies could pave the way for a healthier democratic process, reducing polarization and fostering greater public trust. It’s time to move beyond mere calls for better behavior and embrace structural changes that promote genuine consensus and cooperation.

Related topics from Fair Vote Canada

Share This