PR doesn’t fix what is bro­ken

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion - TODD WHITCOMBE

Last week, I was chat­ting with a cou­ple of col­leagues about pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion. They favour switch­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, one of their ar­gu­ments has shown up in the let­ters to the ed­i­tor on a few oc­ca­sions – “the present sys­tem isn’t work­ing so why not give PR a try? Af­ter all, if we don’t like it, we can change back in a few years.”

When I hear peo­ple say this, I groan and point out if we used this type of rea­son­ing in the rest of our lives, so­ci­ety would be a mess.

Af­ter all, you and your part­ner are go­ing through a flat spot in your re­la­tion­ship what should you do? Just try some­one else for a few years. If it doesn’t work out, you can al­ways go back.

You are hav­ing trou­ble with a pet? Try a new one for a while and if it doesn’t work out, well, you can al­ways go back to the old one.

Hav­ing a dis­agree­ment with a friend? Try some new ones for a while. If it doesn’t work out, you can go back to the old one.

Of course, all of these ex­am­ples are face­tious. But it does say some­thing about so­ci­ety when we are more in­clined to toss some­thing out rather than work on mak­ing what we have bet­ter. It could cer­tainly ex­plain the di­vorce rate.

But the other half of their idea is there will be an­other ref­er­en­dum af­ter two elec­tions in which we can switch back if we want. There is no way for the gov­ern­ment of to­day to make this stick. It is a false safety valve – equiv­a­lent to fixed elec­tion days and other leg­is­la­tion.

The gov­ern­ment can put in its leg­is­la­tion chang­ing the vot­ing act that such a ref­er­en­dum will be held but it will be the gov­ern­ment in power af­ter the next two elec­tions who will de­cide if such a ref­er­en­dum oc­curs. Not to­day’s gov­ern­ment.

This is one of the big con­cerns about the whole ref­er­en­dum – any­one vot­ing for PR re­ally has no idea what they are ac­tu­ally vot­ing for. Most of the im­por­tant and ma­jor ques­tions are unan­swered and will not be an­swered un­til af­ter we have voted.

It is a bit like be­ing asked to buy a car for $40,000 with­out know­ing any­thing about it.

What will the new rid­ing bound­aries look like?

How many MLAs? How many will be rid­ing-based and how many will be pulled from lists? Will the lists be pub­lic? Would the vot­ers be able to dis­qual­ify in­di­vid­u­als on a party’s list? For that mat­ter, would the party mem­bers have a say in the con­struc­tion of the list?

A whole host of ques­tions.

But my con­ver­sa­tion with my col­leagues took a dif­fer­ent turn.

My ques­tion to them was “what prob­lem are you try­ing to fix with pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion?” and they an­swered “the way gov­ern­ment runs.”

Noth­ing about PR will fix that. We will still have a party in power who will be able to make their “dic­ta­to­rial” de­ci­sions. We will still have op­po­si­tion mem­bers who will not be able to stop such de­ci­sions from be­ing made.

The only real dif­fer­ent will be the party in power will likely be a coali­tion of sev­eral dis­tinct spe­cial in­ter­est groups.

Most likely none of them will be able to com­pletely en­act their agenda be­cause they will need to com­pro­mise on their prom­ises in or­der to stay in power.

This hap­pens all the time un­der PR gov­ern­ments.

In any case, a change in vot­ing sys­tems will not ad­dress the fun­da­men­tal is­sues af­fect­ing our democ­racy.

A num­ber of books and ar­ti­cles I have read re­cently point out the prob­lems with cap­i­tal­ism. It is built on two fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples: one is per­pet­ual growth and the other is the no­tion prof­its will be plowed back into com­pa­nies and cor­po­ra­tions to achieve growth and bet­ter wages for work­ers.

This sounds fine and many of the busi­ness peo­ple I know do in­vest heav­ily in their com­pa­nies.

How­ever, this so­cial con­tract has fallen into a state of dis­re­pair.

The re­sult is that in the mid1960s, the num­ber of weeks worked for a mid­dle class life­style was 46 per year. It is now closer to 90.

How? By woman join­ing the work force in larger and larger num­bers.

In the late-1980s, when life­style and in­come fell out of step again, the an­swer was tax cuts. All they did was to lower mid­dle class in­comes by about 30 per cent. By ob­jec­tive mea­sures, they did not make the econ­omy boom.

In the 2000s, cheap credit was the so­lu­tion to so­ci­etal woes. Ev­ery­one in­creased both their per­sonal and na­tional debt. Many peo­ple are now un­der wa­ter and will never get out.

These are the is­sues lead­ing to dis­sat­is­fac­tion with our so­ci­ety – the gen­eral sense that we are work­ing harder but not get­ting ahead. It is not the way we vote.

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