Should Canada Adopt Proportional Representation? Essay

947 words - 4 pages

Should Canada Adopt Proportional Representation?The purpose of an election is to provide a routine mechanism for selecting the individuals who will occupy seats in representative institutions. They provide citizens with periodic opportunities to review the government's record, assess its mandate, and possibly replace it with an alternative. There is a great variety of electoral systems, and they can engender radically different government compositions between them. Canada, Great Britain, and the United States use single-member plurality, while continental European liberal democracies generally use proportional representation (PR). To ensure increased fairness and as a step in reducing western alienation, Canada should shift from the plurality system to PR.The single-member plurality system, sometimes called "first past the post (FPTP)," is the simplest of designs. A country is divided into separate constituencies, and each constituency chooses one legislative representative. In an election, the winner of a plurality, that is, the largest number of votes in each constituency, becomes the representative. The candidate does not need an absolute majority of votes--just more than any other candidate receives. This system has come under increased scrutiny in recent years because while it may cheap, quick, and simple, it is not always fair. Despite the fact that it favours a two-party system, there are some distortions with this electoral system. For example, relatively small swings of votes often result in large numbers of seats changing hands. Perhaps the most revealing example of this in Canada occurred in the 1935 general election when the Liberals swept back to power. Their share of the popular vote increased by less than 1%, but their number of seats nearly doubled, from 91 to 173. (5, 271)FPTP severely penalizes parties that have their votes spread out across the country and cannot obtain the largest number of votes in any particular constituency (in particular the current PC and NDP). It also penalizes smaller or fledgling parties because voters don't want to "waste" their ballots by casting them for individual candidates whose party has no chance of winning. (2, 399) The plurality system tends, therefore, to produce contests between two leading candidates. In fact, it is fairest as a method when only two parties are competing for office, and thus is an ideal system for the U.S. where the Republicans and Democrats combined for 96% of the vote in the 2000 general election. FPTP can produce bizarre, undemocratic results when there are more than two parties, as Canada is today. Often in such cases, the winning candidates receive less than half the votes cast, so that they do not, in fact, represent the majority of their constituents. One extreme example of these problems occurred in 1993 when the Conservatives took 16% of the votes in the Canadian general election but won only 2 seats--0.7% of the total. In the 1997 election they won 19% of the...

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