PEI

How a New Zealand prime minister learned to love proportional representation

When New Zealand switched over to a proportional representation system in 1996, Helen Clark had been campaigning against it.

'It has meant a more collaborative, more consultative, more transparent political system'

After 15 years in Parliament, Clark said she had to learn a new way to work. (CBC)

When New Zealand switched over to a proportional representation system in 1996, Helen Clark had been campaigning against it.

Three years later she became prime minister.

After 15 years in Parliament, she had to learn a completely different way of working.

"[It] used to be like elective dictatorships between elections," said Clark told Island Morning.

"You had the majority in the Parliament and you got on with it. You didn't have to consult with anybody. Now that culture had to change. "

New Zealand's government operates under a mixed member proportional system, the same kind of system Prince Edward Islanders will vote on in a referendum when the next provincial election is called.

Clark presided over a stable government for nine years in New Zealand. She said she was able to make the system work by setting consultation mechanisms, which kept coalitions together in an environment where majority governments had become a thing of the past.

"It might sound dry and boring, but if you've got support parties, coalition partners, you have to take them into your confidence," she said.

"It has meant a more collaborative, more consultative, more transparent political system."

There was no point, she said, in putting forward legislation that wasn't going to pass.

Clark also addressed two concerns that have been brought up on P.E.I. about proportional representation.

She said stable governments have been the rule, not the exception, since the MMP system was put in place.

She also noted there has been more balanced urban-rural representation in the New Zealand Parliament, with the Labour Party nominating more rural candidates, and the National Party nominating more urban candidates for party lists.

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With files from Island Morning

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