Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Threat to Democracy

During the second English language federal leaders' debate, the leaders spent some time talking about proportional representation. The idea also seems to be gaining ground among the media and the public. It seems an attractive enough concept to allow more voices smaller parties to get representation by assigning seats based on the percentage of total votes received rather than electing representatives with as little as 35% of the popular vote in a given area. The problem is that by assigning seats based on party, we lose a direct voice over who our representatives will be. If a party garners enough votes for 10 seats, who will determine which ten people get the seats, who will determine which people are on the party's list of candidates at all and who will determine their rank?

Naturally, the party hierarchy will choose the names on the list and their rank. It’s not certain what criteria they would use. In the leaders’ debate Jack Layton said proportional representation would help the NDP ensure that 50% of their candidates are women, and that there are more minorities in caucus. Noble goals perhaps, but Mr. Layton is also saying that the central party would choose different candidates than the current slate that had been elected by NDP members.

With the current culture of pay backs and entitlements in the Liberal party, I don’t dare imagine how its final list of candidates would be developed. If it didn’t result in outright bribery, I’m sure it would be something close.

Regardless of the party, a proportional representation system results in more power moving to the elites at the expense of ordinary citizens. Let me explain:

Under Canada’s current electoral system party members (ordinary citizens who pay a nominal fee) select the candidate in their district prior to each election. Ordinary citizens then vote among all the party candidates and the candidate with the most votes wins. It’s not a perfect system but it is inherently democratic; anyone can get elected as a member of parliament. All that is required is to convince enough party members that you are the right choice for the candidate and enough voters you are the right choice as a Member of Parliament, then presto, you’re elected.

Under a proportional representation system a vote for a political party means simply choosing which group of elites gets to pick candidates off of their party lists. Members chosen under this system would be accountable to the party hierarchy rather than directly to citizens.

Proportional Representation will take power away from individual citizens and individual Members of Parliament. Proportional representation is a covert threat to democracy that should be opposed by anyone concerned about democracy.