Centre for International and Defence Policy

Centre for International and Defence Policy
Centre for International and Defence Policy

Is proportional representation a good model for Canada?

Christian Leuprecht
​Op Ed, The Globe and Mail, 18 March 2016

Electoral reform in Canada tends to be propagated under the pretense of making Parliament more “representative.” What reformers really want is more representation of “their” views. Proportional representation (PR) holds out not only the spectre of greater representation of the left (more seats) but greater diversity of representation on the left (more political parties). Reformers seemingly forget that expanded depth and breadth on the left forebodes the same potential on the right.

A recent lead editorial in this newspaper on “the truth behind Donald Trump’s lies” claimed that, unlike the United States, Canada has “not developed a large, angry underclass of ‘old-stock’ voters” because “the rich and powerful can’t buy federal elections in Canada. We embrace diversity. We have universal health care, and a stronger and better-funded social safety net than the U.S. The same is true for most European countries.” But if the smug-Canadian hypothesis were true, how then to explain the “large, angry underclass of ‘old stock’ voters” that has been taking Europe by storm?

Over the weekend we got yet another reminder of the ugly underbelly of democracy, this time in Germany. The electorate in three of Germany’s 16 states went to the polls, two in the former West, one in the former East: a new party with no previous parliamentary representation garnered 15.1% of the vote in Baden-Wurttemberg, 12.6% in Rheinland-Pfalz, and an astonishing 24.2% in Sachsen-Anhalt. In its rhetoric, the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) has much in common with Trump: simple answers to a host of complex problems – disestablishmentarian, anti-immigrant, anti-globalization, Islamophobic, and a platform long on grievances on short on detail. It is similar in tone (although not necessarily in degree of ideological extremism) to the Front National in France (where Marine LePen stands to be a real contender for the presidency in 2017), the Vlaams Blok in Belgium, the Partij voor de Vrijheid in the Netherlands (a past governing coalition partner), Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland, Fidesz in Hungary, the True Finns, the UK Independence Party (UKIP)… All share the same electorate: older, white, often economically deprived and less educated.

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