The Conservative Case For Proportional Representation

April 1st, 2022 | DS

Electoral reform and, specifically, proportional representation have been dismissed and lambasted here at Poletical by other contributors, but there are a growing number of reasons to revisit the debate and to consider proportional representation from a conservative point of view. One of those reasons is for smaller, more conservative parties like the PPC to get elected. Another is to limit majority governments. Grassroots conservatives could benefit from more diverse representation and the possibility of coalition governments, like the ones seen in Israel and Germany.

It is true that parties like the NDP and Greens would gain more seats in a system of proportional representation, but with more up-to-date election results, it seems small conservative parties would benefit without costing the federal Conservative Party too many seats.

In a system similar to Israel's Knesset, parties would be elected to Canada's House Of Commons proportionally to the popular vote and voters would vote for a party rather than a candidate. Each party would pre-select their members and representatives, or hold internal run-off elections, and those members would be assigned seats in the House Of Commons based on the party's percentage of the popular vote. Each party could decide whether to assign their seats based on the popular vote in each province or region. For example, if a certain percentage of the Conservative Party's popular vote comes from Alberta and Saskatchewan, let's say 10%, they could assign 10% of their caucus seats in the House Of Commons to members from Alberta and Saskatchewan.

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Another way for parties to assign seats regionally would be to pre-select the maximum number of candidates from each region and assign them in a specific order based on the popular vote in any specific province.

It sounds complicated, but much of the issues about who gets to represent a specific region would be pre-determined by a party, using their own rules and procedures. The general voting public would only need to worry about voting for a particular party, the same as they do now. The rest of it would be sorted out by the rules and various internal party procedures.

Comparing Systems

In the 2021 federal election, Liberals won 33% of the popular vote but won 47% of the seats in the House Of Commons. In a theoretical proportional system, the Liberals and Conservatives would have been tied in and around 120 seats.

Many proportional systems have a threshold that parties must meet in order to win seats. In Israel, it is 3%. Any party that scores below a specific threshold in popular support fails to win a single seat. In Canada, the threshold of 5% is most commonly used by analysts and pundits who theorize about Canadian elections based on some sort of proportional system.

In Canada, the threshold of 5% would win a qualifying party a minimum of at least 17 seats.

Had Canada had a proportional system with a 5% threshold in the 2021 federal election, the results would have looked something like this:

Conservatives: 120

Liberals: 117 seats

NDP: 60 seats

Bloc: 24 seats

PPC: 17 seats (just beneath the 5% threshold)

Without PPC:

Conservatives: 126 seats

Liberals: 123 seats

NDP: 63 seats

Bloc: 26 seats

In both cases, the Green Party would have been disqualified under a 5% threshold. Under a strict 5% threshold, the PPC would have been disqualified in the last federal election as well as the 2019 federal election. You too can experiment with your own results using this calculator.

To drastically diversify Canada's parliament, we could suggest a 2% threshold, which would look more like this:

Conservatives: 115

Liberals: 112

NDP: 61

Bloc: 26

PPC: 16

Green: 8

Under a proportional system, Canadians would be more willing to give their votes to smaller fringe parties, knowing that their votes would matter more than in a first-past-the-post system.

"In Canada, the threshold of 5% would win a qualifying party a minimum of at least 17 seats."

In the above situations, left-wing parties continue to rule the majority, but a proportional system could bring more Canadians out of the woodwork who would not normally vote. A smaller threshold would encourage more Canadians to cast votes for parties that would normally have no chance of winning seats. This has proven to be the case in countries like Germany and Israel, where voter participation is higher on average than in countries with first-past-the-post.

For the most part, a proportional system is good for democracy and good for conservatives. It limits majority governments, demands compromise and increases the likelihood of legislative deadlocks—which is something advocates of smaller government should appreciate. Going forward, proportional representation is something that more conservatives should consider with an open mind.

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