I just read an article by a group that want to change our electoral process from a First Past the Post system to one of Proportional Representation. Their primary argument was, among many, that Canada had one of the most unstable governments of the developed democracies. They cite Italy as an example of electoral stability.
I don’t know about you but as soon as I read that comment their argument became as mushy as a wet noodle or an overcooked bowl of pasta without the meat sauce. They point out that because Canada has had 22 elections as opposed to Italy’s 18 since WW2 that somehow Italy’s electoral process is a model of stability. Holy ravioli, it cannot be. Well it isn’t:
Yes Canada has had 22 elections since WW2 but I would say that this is a reflection of how strong and stable our system of government is.
Canada has a parliamentary system of government based upon Westminster that calls for an election, until Harper’s fixed election date decree, of every 5 years. That alone would require an election every 14.2 years in Canada since 1945 if all governments were majority in nature. But they haven’t been and I would argue that that is also a good thing because the strength of our democracy and parliamentary system of government holds poor governments to account (remember Joe Clark, Meighen) by forcing them to go to the polls for public validation. Minorities can also provide strong legislative government as reflected by Pearson’s successful minority governments of the mid 1960s.
Our system also prevents potential constitutional crises – Mackenzie King, Bing affair comes to mind – something that Italy could only hope for. By the way, Italy may have had only 18 elections since WW2 but they have had 65 different governments since 1945, and therein lies the problem that can arise with Proportional Representation (PR). Nothing gets done. Why? Because governance coalitions are necessary for power and political survival in these countries with their PR systems of government. Unfortunately, by their very nature, they are unstable. Can you imagine the chaos in Canada if the Layton, Dion and Duceppe coalition had taken down Harper’s minority government back in December 2008? Luckily, through our strong and stable system of rules and protocols, Harper was able to prorogue parliament and thus avoid political instability in this country. The Liberals backed down from the coalition early in 2009. Whew! Of course all of the lefties blew a hissy fit and spewed their spaghetti all over their bibs.
As an example of the efficacy of Italy’s PR system, here are some facts about Italy’s 2008 election:
“An early election was called (in Italy) when Romano Prodi resigned as prime minister in January, after the collapse of his centre-left coalition, which had been in power for just 20 months…only one Italian government has lasted a full five-year term in the last 50 years, led by conservative Silvio Berlusconi between 2001-2006 and even he was forced to resign once during that time by fractious allies.”
“Italians blame electoral laws for chronic instability that brought down the 61st government since World War Two in January. The system, still in use, mixes proportional representation with a threshold of 2 percent for parties in a coalition and 4 percent for single parties. It permitted more than 20 parties to take seats in 2006.”
And the real kicker here is:
“Both Berlusconi and Veltroni favoured altering the system to reduce the PR element and push Italy towards a two-party system.” Unfortunately, for Italy, that hasn’t happened yet.