The case against Proportional Representation

In what seems to be a recurring theme after every election in Canada the last few years, there is talk about how our electoral system is ‘unfair’ because 40% of voters voted for the party that received 54%  of the seats.  Detractors like to say that 60% of voters did not vote for the government, but tend to ignore the argument that an even larger portion of the voters did not vote for any of the other parties.  But let’s forget about that for a bit, and assume that these people truly want a more fair democracy, and aren’t just annoyed that their parties lost the election.

The main argument in favour of proportional representation assumes that everyone in the country votes only for the party, and makes absolutely no allowances for the candidates running in an individual riding.  While this may be the case for some, or even many voters (as evidenced by now-large Quebec contingent from the NDP) there are obviously many other ridings where individuals won or lost based on the campaign run in that riding.

In a full proportional system or mixed-member proportional, the party creates a list of candidates which are elected based on the party’s proportional share of the vote.  But what if voters don’t like someone on the list?  Or even what if the voters like the party ideology, but don’t like the leader?  Is there any recourse for voters to get rid of individual politicians?

Just think of the results if the recent election had been through proportional representation: The Liberals would have won 58 seats, and Michael Ignatieff would still be sitting in the House of Commons.  The Bloq would have won 19 seats, and Gilles Duceppe would also still be sitting in the House of Commons.

Clearly, the voters in both Etobicoke-Lakeshore and Laurier-Sainte Marie did not feel that the leaders of either the Liberals or the Bloq deserved to represent them any more.  But under a proportional system, the leaders would (obviously) be at the top of the party list, so the only way to truly get rid of the leader is to completely wipe out a party.  That means if a party can get a minimum amount of support, they can get a fairly significant number MPs elected that are accountable to no voters.  Even with 5% of the popular vote a party would get 15 seats.

Can you imagine a situation where less than 5% of the country voted for the Liberal party?  Even if their current troubles continue, I don’t think their popular support would ever drop that low.

So, how can a system where a list made by a party is considered more democratic than voters individually deciding which candidates should stay and which should go?  In the last election, the Conservatives lost 4 cabinet ministers: Lawrence Cannon, Gary Lunn, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, and Josee Verner.  In addition to their leader, the Liberals lost three members that ran for the leadership of the party in 2006: Gerard Kennedy, Martha Hall Findlay and Joe Volpe, who has held his seat since 1988.  Does anyone think that any of these individuals would not be right at the top of any party list in a proportional system?  And if they were near the top of the party list, why should they be, considering their local constituents did not consider them worthy of winning?

Now, I am not opposed to at least discussing some form of electoral reform, but we should at least look at the pros and cons of any system that we choose.  Just saying that 40% of the votes for a party should result in 40% of seats ignores some pretty large deficiencies in the means for allocating those seats.