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Proportional representation breeds unstable governments

Proportional_Representation  Lake Superior News
#LSN_Opinion  Fraser Institute

THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO _  Sepetember 21, 2018  (LSN)  Some see the upcoming B.C. referendum on electoral reform – whether the province should switch to a proportional representation (PR) voting system – as a blatant attempt by the B.C. Green Party to secure more power.

While it’s clear that under any form of PR, the Greens could increase their seat share, there would also be more single-issue parties vying for seats in the legislature.

In B.C.’s current first-past-the-post voting system, it’s difficult for single-issue parties, and new parties, to garner enough support to get electoral seats. As a result, political actors tend to compromise and form coalitions within existing parties. Big tent parties such as the Liberals and NDP are basically coalitions of various interests.

Because the threshold for securing seats is lower in PR systems (usually about five per cent of the popular vote), they result in more political parties competing for support. PR systems reduce the need to compromise within parties before an election. While there are 18 registered political parties in B.C., only three (Liberal, NDP and Green) have seats in the legislature.

Because new and single-issue parties have a greater chance of being elected under PR, an international measure known as the “effective number of parliamentary parties” (or ENPP), is higher in PR systems than in majority and plurality systems like we have in Canada. In countries worldwide, the average number of effective parties in first-past-the-post systems is 2.5; under PR systems, that number doubles to 4.5. And there’s a lot of variability depending on the country. For example, while PR systems in Portugal and Greece have similar ENPP as Canada, countries such as Israel (7.5) and Belgium (eight) have higher ENPP.

The consequence of a higher ENPP is twofold: more coalition governments and more unstable governments.

Of course, coalition governments can occur in any electoral system. B.C. essentially has a coalition government now of the NDP and Greens.

However, the likelihood of coalition increases significantly in PR systems. Between 2000 and 2017, 23 per cent of majority/plurality systems (including first-past-the-post) produced coalition governments compared to 87 per cent for PR systems.

For mixed systems, which combine aspects of majority/plurality with aspects of PR, it was even higher at 95 per cent.

PR systems also have more parties as part of government, averaging 3.3 parties compared to 2.6 for mixed and 2.3 for majority/plurality systems.

Lydia Miljan Lake Superior News

By Lydia Miljan
Senior Fellow
The Fraser Institute


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