Rural-Urban PR

Why do people want proportional representation (PR)? Some want it because they see that not all voices are reflected in politics in this country. Others want it because they see the opportunity to break up the old political dynamics, such as “safe seats” (which leads to parties focusing almost all their attention only on “swing ridings”, meaning the opinions of voters in swing ridings are disproportionately important to parties across the political spectrum).

Why do people oppose PR? I think it’s often it’s because of fear of the unknown, such as concerns about what the size of rural ridings, or whom parties selected off of a “party list” might represent.

Fair Vote Canada suggested a model that attempts to enhance much of what people like about PR, while trying to mitigate some of the things that some people see as disadvantages called “Rural-Urban Proportional Representation” (RU-PR). It’s clever in that it keeps the rural ridings small, and makes the urban ridings proportional. It then makes the entire election result proportional with a small number of top-up seats.

Here it is in a nutshell: first-past-the-post (FPTP) is gone. In the rural areas, it’s replaced by the “Alternative Vote” (AV), a system whereby one representative is elected in each riding, and the voter gets to rank as many (or as few) people on the ballot as they like. The advantage for the voter is that if their first choice is eliminated their vote can transfer to a second choice or a third choice, which reduces the odds of their vote being wasted. Since only one person is elected, the size of rural ridings stays the same.

In the urban areas, multi-member ridings are created using the single-transferable vote (STV) system. This is a proportional system (it was the world’s first PR system, in fact). Under STV you still get one vote, but multiple people are to be elected in each riding and you also have a ranked ballot.

On top of all this you have a small layer of people elected off of a “party list” under an MMP-like system. MMP stands for “mixed member proportional” and has some people elected in local ridings, and others selected off of a party list. Typically under MMP the “constituency seats” are elected under FPTP, which in my opinion is the worst electoral system used anywhere in the western world. Some have proposed that MMP be used for BC and that 40% or more of the elected representatives would have to come off the party lists to make the result proportional. However, under RU-PR, the populous urban ridings would be elected proportionally so a much smaller number of elected officials would come off of the party lists, perhaps only 10%.

I think RU-PR makes a lot of sense. It keeps a majority of people elected from geographic constituencies under one model or another, keeping the connection between elected officials and the public very strong. It keeps the rural ridings small. It adds proportionality. I have nothing against it, and I think it’s probably the best electoral system ever devised.

Andrew Weaver has asked, can it be explained to your grandmother? That’s a challenge for RU-PR because it’s based on three systems, all of them relatively unfamiliar to voters. I think it’s a challenge that the electoral reform movement is up for. But there may be an alternative, and in my next post I will look at an alternate RU-PR model that Andrew Weaver could explain to his grandmother far more easily.


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