By Seth Klein
and Vyas Saran
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Endlessly repeating that proportional representation should be rejected because it will enable far right or extremist political parties is clearly a core assertion of the No side in B.C.’s electoral reform referendum debate.
It’s a bogus claim.
No electoral system has a monopoly on either preventing or fostering far right parties. Those who say otherwise are only cherry-picking examples.
Our current first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system is actually the exception – not the norm – among democratic countries.
Only four democracies exclusively use FPTP, and these countries have been more apt to elect hard-right governments with false majorities that impose radical right-wing agendas:
- The United States elected President Donald Trump under a FPTP system (and Trump won with less of the popular vote than his opponent Hillary Clinton).
- The United Kingdom elected Margaret Thatcher as prime minister with a false majority, the first hard-core neoliberal government of the post-Second World War era.
- India recently elected the Modi government with a false majority (31 per cent of the popular vote). Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party is seen as neo-fascist by many.
- And then there’s Canada. Our antiquated FPTP system has given false majorities to the likes of Stephen Harper, Gordon Campbell, Mike Harris and, most recently, Doug Ford. All received complete power to impose their austerity agendas.
In some cases, conservative parties elected under FPTP have quietly accommodated ultra-right elements within their big tents, granting these tendencies considerable power (witness Trump’s inclusion of alt-right elements within his government).
So the contention that FPTP will somehow save us from far right political parties is rubbish. Historically, the emergence of far-right and neo-Nazi parties is clearly not the product of the electoral system but of neoliberal policies and austerity.
This was most infamously true of Germany in the 1930s, when the Nazi party capitalized on the humiliations resulting from economic reparations after the First World War.
In the 1980s, there was an upswing in neo-Nazi movements in the U.K. under Thatcher’s cuts.
And more recently in Greece, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party has made political gains because of punishing austerity imposed by Greece’s debt holders.
There are countries with proportional representation like Austria, Hungary and Poland where far-right political parties have won disturbingly high seat counts. These countries, however, don’t have an electoral system problem, they have a neo-Nazi problem or they have right-wing populist parties that would likely win regardless of the electoral system.
B.C. voters are taking part in a provincial referendum on electoral reform; their ballots have to be returned in the mail by Nov. 30. So where does this leave us in B.C. as we decide what electoral system to embrace?
First, we have nothing to fear. This choice will not determine if our politics are taken over by extremist elements. B.C.’s political culture has managed to avoid neo-Nazi and other radical fringe parties and that’s not going to suddenly change if we choose a new electoral system.
Second, if we vote for change, the new system will require that a party receive at least five per cent of the vote province-wide to win a seat. This minimum threshold provides a safeguard against fringe parties getting into the legislature.
So there’s no need to vote from a place of fear this fall. Vote for what you want.
Seth Klein is the B.C. director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Vyas Saran is a law student and the 2018 Rosenbluth Intern in Policy Research at the CCPA-BC.
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