So far, most of the discussion about Proportional Representation (PR) has focused on fairness. Without a proportional voting system, there’s no way to make every vote count equally. But there are other reasons to adopt it, arguably as valid: it would bring social and financial stability and cut waste.
In elections using first-past-the-post relatively small changes in the vote can give a new party majority power. And when power shifts from one party to another, the new party imposes its own ideology, cancelling and reversing the laws and programs of the previous government. It’s called “policy lurch.” And the cost in wasted taxpayer dollars is almost unfathomable.
This is what we’re currently witnessing in Ontario: wholesale scrapping of laws and programs that Liberal governments put in place over four terms of office.
To get a handle on the extent of this waste, just type into Google the words “Ford cancels”. You’ll find a long list, with wide-ranging impacts on the environment, the economy, education, and elsewhere.
Policy reversals during the past several months have included the cancellation of a cap and trade plan to regulate greenhouse emissions. The Green Energy Act, in effect since 2009, has been scrapped, which means withdrawal from the booming clean energy global economy.
We also have seen the scrapping of Bill 148, which extended workers’ benefits, including a proposed $15 minimum wage and equal pay for equal work. A pilot project on guaranteed basic income, being watched closely around the world, has been terminated.
In education, a newly developed sex ed program ready to go into effect, was scrapped. Writing sessions aimed at introducing more indigenous content into Ontario classrooms were cancelled at the last minute. Also, funding for three university campuses—well into the planning stage—has been withdrawn
This Ontario government gained a majority of seats in the House with 40% (or less) of the vote, a consequence of the first-past-the-post system in a four-party environment. The likelihood of another party gaining that threshold next time is high, which would result in more lurches, cancellations and instability. Add to that the fact that the right wing in Canada is moving further to the right in terms of ideology, we can expect each lurch to be that much greater and more costly with each change of government.
What Ontario have been experiencing is not the norm for most democracies around the world because most use proportional representation. Instead of completely replacing one party for another, elections reflect change in the vote with greater accuracy, rebalancing power among parties, resulting in coalitions that speak and act for the majority. Yes, coalitions do take more time to hammer out policy through consultation and compromise, but policy will be less erratic and wasteful. The resulting continuity, stability--and savings--are huge positives.
When Ontarians voted in June 2018, they demonstrated a desire to shift power away from the Liberals, in favour of the Progressive Conservatives. However, judging from their response to these sudden and radical changes in values by the new government, they did not intend such extreme outcomes. Like many Ontarians, I feel insecure about the future. There is too much change, too fast. We don’t know what our province will look like in four years. I’m afraid we will lose beneficial things we can’t get back.
So, when I look to the current referendum in British Columbia, I wish we Ontarians also were having the opportunity to vote for PR, for accurate representation of the voters’ wishes in our provincial government, and for the moderate power shifts that PR provides.
Joyce Hall, Professor, Seneca College, Toronto, Ontario