Government And Politics


Government And Politics Essay, Research Paper

Government and Politics

Proportional Representation

An electoral system is an integral part of a democratic state which determines the method by which representatives are chosen by the electorate. It is the means by which the electors exert control over the government . The main objective of any electoral system is to achieve both equity and efficiency in government . The electoral system will satisfy this objective by producing a government [that] is equitably responsive to all sections of the electorate, and by enabling this government to be stable and effective . The objective should be met in this manner, regardless of the electoral system chosen, to ensure the integrity and effectiveness of government, which is necessary for a democratic state.

There are many different electoral systems including hybrid systems that adopt good points of many systems. We will examine the system of proportional representation, (in its purest form), as opposed to a plurality system, and its effectiveness as an electoral system. The plurality system, (or winner takes all system ), is currently in place in Canada and has managed to work fairly well. There are however, many arguments presented for the adoption of a system of proportional representation, which many supporters feel would better represent the diversity of the Canadian electorate. A proposed change of this magnitude must be carefully considered and the system of proportional representation must be accurately scrutinized. An examination of the system of proportional representation reveals major faults within the system itself and a failure to meet the objectives of an electoral system. An electoral system of proportional representation should not be adopted in Canada because it would produce multipartyism and balkanization of the political groups, an unstable government, as well as decreased accountability of the representatives.

Elections serve the purpose of vesting authority in chosen representatives whose duty is to reflect accurately the wishes and opinions of those he represents . The method of election, the electoral system, must empower the electorate to choose appropriately representatives that can effectively fulfill their duties. The plurality system, used in Canada since confederation, has provided the electorate with an effective formula that has produced many stable and effective governments that reflect the wishes of Canadians. The plurality system in Canada divides the nation into ridings , within which, the representative with the most votes is elected to government (either provincial or federal). The representative does not necessarily have a majority of the votes from the riding, but must have more votes than the other candidates. The representatives may or may not be associated with a political party however the plurality system leads to a three party system within Canada, which limits the choice of the electorate, but forces the parties, and therefore the representatives, to appeal to a large majority of the electorate.

With proportional representation, in its purest form, the seats in government are proportionately allocated to parties based on the percentage of votes they received. The actual representatives are then chosen from party lists which may be either closed to open to the public. Proportional representation usually results in the formation of a number of parties which can represent any group in society with a particular goal or interest. However in order to maintain their status as a viable political party, they must maintain a defined threshold of percentage of votes in each election . This eliminates the possibility of incredibly small political groups but does not limit their numbers to two or three, as with plurality.

Regardless of the system chosen, the end result is that the party that obtains the most seats within the House of Commons becomes the party in power. The ruling party has either a majority rule (more seats than the other two parties combined) or a minority rule (less seats than the other two parties combined). The party with the second most seats, forms the opposition and criticizes the policies put forth by the ruling party, effectively representing the portion of the electorate who voted for them and those opposed to the party in power. This presents an effective debate which prevents the adoption of political policies that may appeal to only a small number of Canadians. We will see that majority rule and the formation of a strong opposition are key to an effective government.

Effective government is very important to a nation as it enables the nation to function as a unit globally and influences the standard of living of its citizens. In Canada, we are used to a high standard of living and must ensure that the effectiveness of our government is protected to secure our future as a nation and as citizens. The system of proportional representation fails to ensure the formation of an effective government due to multipartyism, parliamentary instability and representative accountability.

The electoral system of proportional representation encourages multipartyism, which threatens effective government by creating a lack of focus within the House of Commons. Multipartyism, which is defined as a number of different political parties, creates a few large and many small (sometimes dysfunctional ) political units. These political units represent various groups with different ideas and goals and usually appeal to only one section of the electorate. A hierarchy of the groups, defined by the size of support from the electorate, develops within the political system separating the parties into national (major) and regional (secondary) categories . This categorization and innate differences creates a balkanization between the parties and deepens the divisions between the political groups . This creates a lack of direction within the legislature as every party attempts to carry out the wishes of the group they represent, which often conflicts with the wishes of other groups. This situation would inhibit an effective government by compromising its ability to act equitably. The plurality system currently in place in Canada leads to a three-party system in which each party appeals to all fractions of society and develops policies reflecting the wishes of a majority of citizens. This enables the government to achieve its goals of equity, forming a stable, effective government responsible to all fractions of society.

Proportional representation brings about political instability in the government through the formation of indecisive minority governments and the lack of definitive opposition. Both of which are direct results of multipartyism. Multipartyism, spreads the votes of the electorate over a number of different parties and eliminates the chance that one party will hold a majority government. The minority governments that result are usually forced into coalitions where it becomes difficult to get things done as every task requires compromise. This creates a situation of instability and governments become ineffective as was the case in Italy, Israel and Fourth Republic France , which all had systems of proportional representation. It is suggested by Robert Richie and Steven Hill, proponents of proportional representation, that a minority government is not always unstable and also occurs with a plurality system . They argue that if we don\’t condemn winner-take-all elections by citing Algeria, Pakistan, and India, then why condemn PR by citing Italy and Israel? Suggesting that if we don t criticize the plurality system for the possibility of an instable government we can t criticize the proportional representation system for producing a minority governments. Richie and Hill however missed the major point that proportional representation, through multipartyism, consistently produces minority governments whereas the plurality system, produces minority governments infrequently and so the potential instability associated with a minority government is limited.

Multipartyism also promulgates a lack of a unified opposition. Milnor states that an electoral system which fails to provide either a single stable majority to support the government or a partially united opposition to act as a constant alternative does not seem to serve parliamentary democracy with great efficiency . The lack of opposition fails to provide the electorate with a viable second choice which is as important to effective government as a stable majority rule. The opposition serves as a check mechanism for the party in power and affects government policy through debate . This serves an important purpose in a democratic nation, preventing autocratic leadership . By discouraging the formation of an effective (unified) opposition, proportional representation hinders the effectiveness of the government and does not ensure the electorate a fair representative government.

Proportional representation removes the district ridings necessary for a plurality system and therefore removes the accountability of the representatives associated with it. The duty of the elected representative is to carry the opinions of its constituency to parliament, respond to their demands and offer assistance with governmental matters . The plurality system defines district ridings in which there is a direct relationship between a representative and their defined constituency. With the system of proportional representation, this direct correlation between the representatives and the constituents is removed, replaced with larger districts (if there even are any) and multiple representatives. This creates a general sharing of the responsibility to the electorate amongst the multiple representatives. The electorate becomes unsure of who actually represents them in a system of proportional representation and who to turn to when a governmental issue develops. Should they decide to contact someone, the shared responsibility amongst representatives leads to a system of pass the buck leaving the constituent with little satisfaction . The lack of responsibility created by the proportional representation system fails to provide the citizens with a government that can be held accountable for their actions.

This lack of direct correlation between the electorate and the representatives also poses many problems within the government. Not only do they lose input from the various ridings and the direction that comes with it, but the lack of accountability will encourage selfish policy design that may not represent the citizens at all . The lack of input will be felt by the electorate and will result in decreased voter turnout as their vote becomes buried at the aggregate level and seemingly ineffective. These problems question the role of the government as representative of the people whom they govern. If selfish policies are developed within the legislature, the government is clearly not acting on the behalf of the constituents, a quality of good government . Also, it is impossible for any government, regardless of which electoral system is used, to fairly represent the majority of the citizens, if only a minority of them vote! A fair representative government is again challenged by proportional representation.

Canada should therefore not develop proportional representation based on the problems it creates with multipartyism, political instability and decreased accountability. Although the plurality system is not without faults, the problems associated with proportional representation threaten the existence of effective government. It fails to meet the objective of electoral systems; to create an equitable and efficient government. It also inhibits the stability of the government and fails to make the elected representatives accountable to the citizens. The electoral system of proportional representation would not provide the citizens of Canada with an effective government which should be accomplished by any electoral system.


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