13 December 2017 0 Comments Posted By : Nelson Bennett

Weighing proportional representation pros and cons

Would moving to proportional representation affect B.C.’s triple-A credit rating?

Probably not.

Countries like Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, which all have some form of proportional representation (PR), have triple-A credit and bond ratings, while the U.K., which has a first-past-the-post system, has only a double-A rating from Fitch and Standard & Poor’s.

One legitimate concern for business, however, is government spending and taxation under PR systems.

PR often creates “pizza parliaments” that tend to spend more money than governments elected under the current first-past-the-post (FPP), according to a Fraser Institute study from last year.

“You end up with more minority governments,” said University of Windsor political scientist Lydia Miljan, who contributed to the study.  “So whenever you have a minority government, you have different political parties that have to enter into coalition, and often the price of coalition is that you spend money on goodies for your constituents.”

“I think that’s a fair concern,” said Max Cameron, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia, who nonetheless thinks PR is a more representative system.

“If you look at European parliamentary democracies, they are bigger governments and they do have robust welfare states and there is a fairly strong consensus around redistributive policies – particularly taxation and so forth.

“So it does seem like it lends itself to a more social democratic social orientation. If that’s a concern, then I think you’d want to stick with the current system. If it’s not a concern, if you are prepared to tolerate a slightly larger government and slightly higher taxes and so forth, then I think some kind of PR is what you want.”

In an analysis of electoral systems last year, the Fraser Institute found that 83% of the elections held by governments with PR resulted in coalition governments. It found higher central government spending in PR government systems – an average of 29.2% of gross domestic product, compared with 24.3% in FPP systems.

The report also found more deficit spending in PR systems than in FPP systems. It found government spending was 5.7% lower in FPP systems than under PR systems.

The biggest selling point of PR electoral systems is that the number of seats that a party wins in an election more accurately reflects the popular vote.

“The distribution of seats isn’t the same as the distribution of votes,” Cameron said of the current FPP system. “If you get 40% of the votes, you can still get over 50% of the seats and hence govern without needing to consult with the Opposition or bargain with it.”

But PR systems can also sometimes produce results that don’t necessarily reflect the way most people voted.

Take the recent case of New Zealand, which adopted a mixed-member proportional voting system in 1996, and has not had a majority government since then.

In the September election, the party that won the most seats did not form government – the party that won 10 fewer seats did.


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