PEI

'Democracy is never a finished product': P.E.I. PR event to hear Scottish experience

Prince Edward Islanders will have a chance to hear how proportional representation works in Scotland during an online symposium this weekend sponsored by Islanders for Proportional Representation.

‘That does diminish the power of the whips and the party managers’

The modern Scottish parliament has always been elected on a PR model, says Willie Sullivan, and has always been stable. (Electoral Reform Society Scotland)

Prince Edward Islanders will have a chance to hear how proportional representation works in Scotland during an online symposium this weekend sponsored by Islanders for Proportional Representation.

"Democracy is never a finished product," Willie Sullivan, executive director of the Electoral Reform Society of Scotland and keynote speaker at the symposium, told Wayne Thibodeau on CBC's Island Morning Friday.

"It's a process and it can't stay still, because your society and our world and our technologies don't stay still."

The modern Scottish parliament, established in 1999, has always worked under a proportional representation model, and Sullivan said it has always provided stable government.

"We have governments that sit for four years. Some of them have been coalition governments, some of them have been minority governments," he said.

"They all sit for that period, and they all govern — according to all the survey work — in a pretty efficient and reasonable way and one that's supported by the population."

First-past-the-post world view

A narrow majority of Prince Edward Islanders rejected proportional representation system in a referendum in 2019. That followed a plebiscite in 2016 in which PR was supported.

In both campaigns, one of the main concerns expressed on the 'no' side was that PR would lead to more minority governments, more elections, and less of government getting things done.

Sullivan said that has not been a problem in either Scotland or most other democracies using PR systems.

That problem is built into minority governments under first-past-the-post systems, he said, because unlike PR systems, they are not based on consensus governing.

"If a piece of legislation comes forward and you want to get enough votes, then you have to garner enough votes from across the parliament in order to do it," he said.

"In some ways, that does diminish the power of the whips and the party managers, but I think it's a better thing for democracy."

Finding consensus

As societies become more deeply divided, and people entrench themselves in their own realities based on their social media circles, Sullivan said proportional representation offers a unifying approach.

"If you want a system of government that is better able to deal with that, then you need a system that is based on consensus and representation of a lot of different views. Not just a black or white, wrong or right, we're up-you're down type of politics," he said.

Sullivan also talked about the recent introduction of voting rights for 16- and 17-year-olds, which he said is cultivating valuable political engagement among youth in Scotland.

The symposium will take place virtually at 2 p.m. on Saturday. 

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