Wouldn’t they be fairer elections?

April 9, 2014   ·   0 Comments

AS CONTROVERSY continues concerning the misnamed Fair Elections Act (more aptly called the Re-elect Conservatives Act), we think it’s time for a serious look at the pros and cons of Proportional Representation.

Proportional representation (PR) is a concept in voting systems used to elect an assembly or council. PR means that the number of seats won by a party or group of candidates is proportionate to the number of votes they received. For example, under a PR voting system, if 30% of voters support a particular party, roughly 30% of seats will be won by that party.

The main advantage of PR is that it really reflects voter preferences far better than our “first past the post” electoral system which may well see Torontonians faced with another four years of Rob Ford as their mayor, and which passage of the Fair Elections Act in its present form will almost certainly lead to the re-election of the Stephen Harper Conservatives, albeit with the support of less than half the electorate.

The main problem with PR systems is that they all tend to produce a proliferation of political parties and members. There are also many different forms of proportional representation, and the degree of proportionality also varies.

In the case of mayoral elections in large cities, it’s ridiculous that the present system leads to a proliferation of candidates, with the winner potentially garnering the support of only a small minority of registered voters.

In the case of Toronto, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Rob Ford returned to office despite all of his flaws and the likelihood he’ll get fewer than one-third of the votes, simply because there are at least four serious contenders in John Tory, Olivia Chow, Karen Stintz and David Soknacki, the latter two being present or former councillors.

As we see it, the Ontario Municipal Act should be amended to allow all large municipalities to require run-off elections for mayor if no single candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the votes cast. The run-offs would initially be among the top three contenders, and if none got more than half the votes there could be a third election in which the voters would pick the more popular of the top two. (Alternatively, the second vote would be a preferential ballot, with the electors ranking the top three.)

Although that would clearly be more costly than the present system, it would ensure that the winner was not just the most popular but also the least unpopular.

As for federal and provincial elections, the present scene in both Ottawa and Queen’s Park cries out for true electoral reform, since the Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats currently each enjoying the support of roughly one-third of the electorate.

In such circumstances, there’s little doubt that almost any form of PR would lead to minority or coalition governments, and the real question to be asked is whether this would be good or bad for the country or province.

Since we have experienced minority governments both federally and provincially without any disastrous consequences, the more important question is really whether minority governments are preferable to coalitions.

As we see it, coalitions have been proven to work well when the member parties have somewhat similar platforms. And at present, the more likely partners both federally and provincially would be the Grits and NDP, the latter having seemingly abandoned their unfettered support for socialism.

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