Claim: “But proportional representation systems allow parties with extreme positions of the right or the left to be elected with a tiny percentage of votes – and then use that validity, legitimacy and platform to further their cause”.
NOTE: For the claims about “extremist” parties, see here.
The claim that parties with a “tiny” percentage of the vote will be elected is mostly false in the context of the systems on the ballot for BC.
The Attorney General’s report has guaranteed a 5% threshold that a party must reach before being able to elect MLAs to proportional seats.
The claim that “fringe” parties in very highly proportional systems (example: Netherlands) can use their few seats to “further their cause” is debatable and mostly irrelevant to the models on the ballot in BC.
(For an evaluation of that same claim for “extremist” parties who may not be “fringe” parties see here – the evidence does not strongly support that claim either).
How Likely is it that “Fringe Parties” Win Seats with the Proportional Systems on BC’s Ballot?
The Attorney General has set a threshold of 5% for smaller parties to elect MLAs to proportional seats. To put that in perspective in the context of BC’s current “fringe parties”:
If all 14 “fringe parties” which ran candidates in 2017 who did not get anyone elected combined all their votes, all those votes together would still add up to less than 1% of the total votes cast.
In Canada’s last few federal elections, all 15-20 “fringe” parties put together didn’t get 1% of the vote.
How Many Parties Can We Expect with Proportional Representation?
Proportional Representation is associated with an increase in the number of parties represented in legislatures. It undeniably makes it easier for voters for smaller parties to achieve representation.
Lijphart’s (1994) comparison of advanced industrialized democracies in 1945-90 found the “effective number of parliamentary parties” (ENPP) – which takes account not only of the number of parties but also the relative size of each – was 2.0 in plurality systems (first-past-the-post), 2.8 in majority systems (like Alternative Vote/Run-Off) and 3.6 in proportional systems.
Norris (1997) looking at elections in the 1990’s found that the effective number of parliamentary parties was 3.1 in majoritarian systems (first-past-the-post and Alternative Vote), 3.9 in mixed or semi-proportional systems, and 4.0 in proportional systems.
However, the number of parties depends on the political culture, the particular election, and the design of the system.
No-one has proposed a pure “List PR” system for BC with a low threshold – the type of proportional system that would be most likely to facilitate many more parties. What is on the ballot are essentially three “mixed” systems that all maintain local representation.
Here is an example of how many parties are elected with the types of proportional systems on the ballot in BC:
Germany (MMP): 6
New Zealand (MMP): 5
Ireland (STV): 8
Tasmania, Australia (STV): 3
Canada (FPTP): 7
UK (FPTP): 8
In addition to the 5% threshold to win proportional seats, the size of the regions or districts (the number of MLAs elected per region or district with MMP or Rural-Urban PR) will vary with geography. That will mean that the threshold to win seats may be significantly higher than 5% in some areas.
Do any of the three systems on the ballot in BC make it possible for a “fringe party” to win seats?
One of the systems on the ballot does give parties with less than 5% the chance to elect a Local MLA – Rural-Urban Proportional.
This is because the urban ridings will use a ranked ballot to elect a team of Local MLAs (Single Transferable Vote).
Since Single Transferable Vote elects all Local MLAs – no party-vote-based seats – there is no party-based threshold to apply to urban seats within Rural-Urban Proportional.
In a 5 seat district, a local candidate would be guaranteed one of the local seats with about 17% of the vote. Obviously, this is a strong level of local voter support and would not be considered “fringe”.
In Ireland, which uses STV, a few small parties (such as “People Before Profit”) have a seat in their legislature because their popular local MLA was elected by local voters. Ireland’s elections are more locally-focused than most countries with proportional representation – a combination of Single Transferable Vote (a candidate-based proportional system) and their political culture. Tasmania and Malta, which also use STV, have no small parties.
It’s conceivable that a very small party (with less than 5% of the vote across the whole province) with a very popular local candidate in one district could achieve a Local MLA in BC with Rural-Urban Proportional.
Will “fringe parties” (which will find it almost impossible to win seats with PR for BC) be able to use their few seats to “further their cause”?
This claim is difficult to evaluate objectively as there is no research available. Most OECD countries with proportional systems have thresholds somewhere between 3-5% so “fringe” parties do not get elected.
The 50PLUS party in the Netherlands got 1.9% of the vote and 2 seats (because the Netherlands, an exceptional case, has almost no threshold). Has this allowed them to “further their cause” of benefits for people age 50+? This would be a case study with limited relevance to BC.
Lijphart, Arend. (1994) Electoral Systems and Party Systems. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Norris, Pippa (1997). Choosing Electoral Systems – Proportional, Majoritarian and Mixed. https://sites.hks.harvard.edu/fs/pnorris/Acrobat/Choosing%20Electoral%20Systems.pdf
Authorized by Fair Vote Canada BC, registered sponsor, (778) 588-9563