PR & FPTP: Let’s Talk Accountability


Read The Propaganda Carefully

In the Vancouver Sun article on Monday, the FPTP bloc made a great deal of hay about the fact that, with Proportional Representation, an “overwhelming number of representatives…were appointed by their political parties…They were not elected by geographical ridings where they are accountable to voters.”

This is clever writing, because the “overwhelming number” seems to be talking about all political parties in a PR system, which would be nonsense, because in a PR system most of the representatives are elected in ridings in the traditional way. However, the article isn’t lying, because it is actually only talking about the representatives of the fringe parties. So, while the FPTP writers are factually correct about the smaller group, they have made a broader implication that is completely false.

In actual fact, under most forms of PR, a majority of representatives are elected by a riding.

The contention that in Proportional Representation the representatives are not accountable to voters is complete hot air.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

In a FPTP system, the party with the majority of seats in the Legislature, no matter how the popular vote worked out, has the right to enact any laws they can get past the courts. Once they are elected, they are not accountable to anyone outside their own caucus. Their only comeuppance comes years down the road when an election rolls around, and voters have distressingly short memories.

In a PR system, the party in power usually needs the support of other parties to form a coalition. These parties do not have the same objectives as the leading party, so the leaders are constantly accountable to their partners.

And the public; when the leaders come to loggerheads with their coalition partners, there is only one place they can go for support: the voters. If they can demonstrate a swell of public opinion towards their point of view, the partners – who have more delicate perches on the seats of power – have to give in.

Likewise, the parties in Opposition cannot spend all their time playing to their faithful voters. They can no longer depend on 35-40% of the vote to get elected. So they have to listen to the public as well, hoping to persuade the swing voters to their side.

So in a PR system, legislators are continually going to the people and listening to the media for guidance. That’s accountability.

Check Our History

The two most autocratic leaders in recent BC government – NDP Glenn Clark and Liberal Gordon Campbell – each had a majority, and each rolled merrily over legislative conventions and the wishes of even their own party to do what they liked. Glenn Clark’s most obvious move was the doomed Fast Ferries. His experts said they wouldn’t work; he got new experts. His party didn’t particularly like them; he overrode their objections. So the ferries soaked up about half a billion dollars and never got into regular service.  That’s a lack of accountability.

And the Intangibles

This post has been dealing with logic and facts. I will leave it to others to discuss the effects of proportional voting on the softer data: voter satisfaction, increased numbers of voters, the social effects of having a government that is cooperative rather than confrontational.

For some good information on these and other subjects, check out this specific page on the FairVote Canada BC website:

Go ahead. Click on it. Educate yourself.



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