PR doesn’t fix what is broken
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.