As the BC Government considers changing the nature of our First Past the Post (FPTP) voting process and looking at Proportional Representation (PR) as an alternative, I feel compelled to share my thoughts and experience as someone who has lived under both systems.
I first came to Canada in 1989 as a German citizen with NATO and was stationed in Shiloh, Manitoba. I immediately fell in love with this amazing country. As an outdoorsman and nature lover, it was an easy sell. I liked the opportunities Canada offered to young entrepreneurial people and I started the process of immigration.
As a German citizen I had always been interested in politics but found the voting system frustrating as it always seemed to benefit parties and their friends, and not the people who wanted to represent a specific riding. There was a disconnect between local issues and state or federal government.
It was another thing I liked about Canada; one of my Canadian NATO comrades explained the FPTP voting system. It took all of 5 minutes and made clear that this system was all about someone representing a specific riding and championing the needs of that riding as part of a political party.
So, let me explain what I see as the major flaws in a PR voting system:
· In most PR systems each party has a list of candidates. Candidates are selected depending on the percentage of the province-wide vote. There is no direct connection to a specific riding, and accordingly the party controls who sits in the legislature, not the voter. In Germany and many other PR countries these lists of politicians are created exclusively by party bureaucrats. Accordingly, these lists tend to be rather stagnant and this has meant the same people are always at the top of the list, so the same people end up being appointed by their party. Angela Merkel has been running things in Germany for 13 years even though her party only received 30% of the vote in the last election.
· The PR system is very complicated to understand for the average voter, and certainly in Germany most people do not like it because, unlike a FPTP system where if your local MP disappoints you, you can vote him out, in Germany if she has a safe spot on the party list she will be there forever.
· The PR system inevitably leads to coalition government as no single party typically gets 50% or more of the vote. Coalitions can sometimes work but often give disproportionate power to smaller parties, extremist parties and one-issue parties. Think of the undue influence of the Greens with their 3 seats in the BC legislature. Coalitions can also take a long time to form. In the Netherlands last election, 20 parties were elected and it took over 1 year to form a functional coalition. In the interim period there was effectively no government.
· Coalition governments can be weak and indecisive during a crisis or when dealing with major threats and issues. It simply takes one small party in a coalition to waver on the government decision to stop a decisive response. In a time of crisis where minutes matter, this can be catastrophic.
· The PR system also tends to support and provide a platform for extremist parties. Parties that would never stand a chance in a FPTP system may garner just enough votes province-wide for one or two seats. Now they have a platform to promote their extremist agenda. Not only that, the leadership of these smaller parties are now entitled to a secure, often lifetime salary and pension if they can maintain their 1 or 2 percent of the popular vote.
· PR systems, because they lead to coalitions and inevitable compromises between coalition parties, also lead to higher government spending. In research conducted for the book “The Economic Effects of Constitutions” by economists Torsten Persson and Guido Tabellini it was determined that the government spending in PR countries was 6% higher than the GDP of other countries. Compromise is inevitable in a coalition and compromise tends to be expensive.
While the current FPTP system may not be perfect, it is certainly better in my view than any PR system I have seen. FPTP brings accountability because the voter has the power to send any member of the legislature, even the Premier, home during an election. This means that an elected representative actually knows and cares about local issues because local voters decide whether they get re-elected.
In a FPTP system the voter has all the power – and this power should be something that all voters should be reluctant to give up.
–Freddy Marks, Harrison Hot Springs/Agassiz, founder of the Elections BC-registered group No Pro-rep Fraser Valley East