LETTER: What are the goals of proportional representation?

LETTER: What are the goals of proportional representation?

I have read with more than a little bemusement the many letters by excitable Proportional Representation (PR) proponents attacking my own letter of Aug. 8, in which I expressed caution about adopting a new voting system for B.C.

In these letters it has been suggested that I have a “vested interest” in the current system, am part of the “anti-PR forces”, that I’m “deathly afraid of change”, a “BC Liberal”, a “fear-mongerer” (several times), a person with or who supports “undeserved power”, a “desperate political operative”, someone who “needs to wake up”, a person “who needs to be honest” and who is “part of an “anti-PR movement [that] needs to stop relying on fear mongering and start making their arguments on factual information”.

Let me be clear: I am simply a retired private citizen with an interest in good government. I am not affiliated with any forces, party, or movement. I have no vested interest in the current system and although I’ll admit to being cautious before endorsing proposals to make whole scale changes to our political institutions, I’m not typically “deathly afraid” of change. Raising some legitimate concerns about such an important change, especially in response to an extremely pro-PR letter, can be a helpful addition to the debate and does not amount to “fear mongering”. The movement that wants to change the system bears the burden of clearly explaining its position.

There are themes common to these letters that may provide some insight into the pro-PR movement: they tend to be anti-corporate, anti-BC Liberal, deeply suspicious of our current political system, and convinced that any policy-type problems we have can be laid at the feet of our electoral system. One letter writer listed several important existing public policies and programs, like public schools and the public health authority, which he suggested were the result of giving extreme voices space in our political system, which he feels is best, or possibly only, achieved under PR. Interestingly, every program on his list was introduced under our current electoral system, leaving one to wonder, what exactly is the problem that needs to be fixed?

Our current party system, which would change under PR, operates to moderate more extreme views without shutting out good policy ideas. This moderating influence comes about as parties seek to appeal to as broad a base as possible. Under PR, smaller parties and individual candidates have an incentive to appeal to special interests and, once elected, to promote mainly those interests at the expense of the broader public interest.

The “problem” most often cited by PR proponents is that our current system is unfair because the votes cast don’t translate perfectly into seats won in the Legislature, resulting in so-called “false majorities”, which they see as undemocratic. They are convinced that only a truly majoritarian electoral system can deliver true democracy. The point of my previous letter was to clarify that true democracy is based on a set of substantive ideals, none of which we will necessarily be closer to achieving with the adoption of PR, contrary to the assertions of its proponents.

Apart from the procedural questions about how votes are counted, it seems clear now that we need to ask, precisely what are the substantive goals that the pro-PR forces wish to achieve? What interests are they ideologically invested in? Then we, as voters, will be in a better position to unpack the politics behind this issue and make a more informed choice.

Mike Pankhurst