By Seth Klein
Among the fear-mongering claims of the “No” side in BC’s electoral reform debate, a favorite is that proportional representation (pro rep) will result in unstable minority governments that can’t get anything done.
The claim is unsubstantiated nonsense.
One part of the claim is true - pro rep almost always produces minority or coalition governments. Which is great!
Minority outcomes result in more cooperation in our politics. Parties have to assemble governing alliances or coalitions that, in combination, reflect the majority of voters. They are forced to collaborate on policies that better reflect the desires of the majority. The culture and tone of politics becomes less divisive as parties cannot viciously antagonize other parties whose support they may need to govern.
Minority or coalition governments are also more accountable as parties cannot win false majorities that allow them to rule with impunity for four years. Rather, they must continually secure the support of other parties, forming alliances that represent a true majority of voters. Junior coalition partners can hold governing parties more to account. I would contend that, under BC’s current minority government, the Greens are holding the NDP more accountable than had the NDP won an outright majority.
In other countries, minority governments produced under pro rep have proven plenty stable with elections occurring no more often than under our current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system. According to research by political scientist Dennis Pilon, which compared the voting history of pro rep versus FPTP countries between WWII and 1998, the FPTP countries had on average 16.7 federal elections while pro rep countries averaged 16. In other words, no notable difference.
And what of the claim that minority government can’t get things done or is unable to introduce bold new policy? Again, bunk.
Some of our nation’s most-popular and long-lasting policies, from the Canada Pension Plan to Old Age Security and Medicare, were enacted under minority federal governments.
Similarly, in BC today we’ve seen a cooperative situation that is tackling poverty and the housing crisis. BC’s minority government has introduced public child care – the first major new social program of a generation – and progressive tiers to property taxes, a first in North America.
In the wake of an election with a minority result, it sometimes takes a few weeks to emerge with a clear outcome about who will command the confidence of the legislature. So what?
We all recall the summer of 2017 when after the last BC election it took two months to know who would form government. It made for exciting political drama, but the sky didn’t fall. In the face of serious matters such as that summer’s forest fires, the system worked just as it should with outgoing ministers continuing to do their jobs. The institutions of government continued to function.
So, with respect to this false contention from the No campaign - as with so many of their other claims - park this one. There’s no need to vote from a place of fear.
Seth Klein is BC Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. His writing on BC’s upcoming referendum on electoral reform can be found at https://www.policynote.ca/pr4bc/.