Among the fear-mongering claims of the “No” side in BC’s electoral reform debate, a favorite is that proportional representation (pro rep) will result in unstable minority governments that can’t get anything done.
The claim is unsubstantiated nonsense.
Only one part of the claim is true; namely, pro rep almost always produces minority or coalition governments. Which is great!
Minority outcomes result in more cooperation in our politics. Parties have to put together governing alliances or coalitions that, in combination, reflect the majority of voters. They are forced to collaborate on policies that better reflect the desires of a majority. The culture and tone of politics becomes less divisive. After all, parties cannot viciously antagonize other parties whose support they may need to govern.
Minority or coalition governments are also more accountable, as parties cannot win false majorities that allow them to rule with impunity for four years. Rather, they must continually secure the support of other parties, forming alliances that represent a true majority of voters. Junior coalition partners are able to hold governing parties more to account. I would contend that, under the current minority BC government, the Greens are holding the NDP more accountable than had the NDP won an outright majority.
In other countries, the minority governments produced under pro rep have proven plenty stable, with elections occurring no more often than under our current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system. According to research by political scientist Dennis Pilon, which compared the voting history of pro rep versus FPTP countries, between WWII and 1998, the FPTP countries had on average 16.7 federal elections, while the pro rep countries had an average of 16. In other words, no notable difference.
And what of the claim that minority government can’t get things done, or are unable to introduce bold new policy? Again, bunk.
Some of our nation’s most popular and long-lasting policies, from the Canada Pension Plan, to Old Age Security, to Medicare itself, were enacted under minority federal governments.
Similarly, in BC today, we’ve seen a refreshingly cooperative situation that is tackling poverty and the housing crisis. BC’s minority government has introduced public child care – the first major new social program of a generation – and progressive tiers to property taxes – a first in North America.
In the wake of an election with a minority result, does it sometimes take a few weeks to emerge with a clear outcome, knowing who will command the confidence of the legislature? Sometimes, and so what?
We can all recall the summer of 2017, when after the last BC election it took two months before we knew who would form government. It all made for some exciting political drama. But the sky did not fall. In the face of serious matters such as that summer’s forest fires, the system worked just as it should; the outgoing ministers continued to do their jobs. The institutions of government continued to function.
So, with respect to this false contention from the No campaign: as with so many of the other claims, park this one away. There’s no need to vote from a place of fear.
Seth Klein is B.C. Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.