OTTAWA -- Federal NDP Leader Jack Layton believes Canadian indifference to the democratic process can be fixed by abolishing the Senate and overhauling how we elect MPs.
The NDP will table an opposition motion today calling for a referendum to be held during the next federal election seeking Canadians' views on the idea of abolishing the Senate. At the same time the NDP wants a special committee appointed to consult with Canadians about how best to reform our electoral system.
The Senate has for decades been stacked with party operatives and failed candidates from whichever party is in power and has long since passed its best-before date, said Layton.
He also said some hybrid of the first-past-the-post system we have now with a proportional representation system would work best. The latter would see a number of MPs based on a party's share of the popular vote.
"Surely to goodness in Canada the days of getting 40 per cent of the vote and 100 per cent of the power are over."
Only four times since the First World War has a government in Canada been elected with more than 50 per cent of the popular vote. The current Conservative government won 46 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons with less than 39 per cent of the vote. If proportional representation was used as the only format for electing MPs by province, the Conservatives would still have won the most seats. But the Tories would be at a greatly diminished 117 seats compared to the 143 seats they earned in 2008. The Liberals would have increased their seat count from 77 to 81 and the NDP would have won 58 seats instead of 37.
The Bloc Québécois, which earned 65 per cent of the seats in Quebec with less than 40 per cent of the vote, would be reduced from 49 to 29 seats. The Green Party, which failed to secure a single seat, would have 22 MPs in the House of Commons.
Wayne Smith, executive director of Fair Vote Canada, said anyone who has ever studied the issue of voting has come to the conclusion that Canada should adopt proportional representation.
"The voting system we have is antique," said Smith. "It's a winner-take-all system and most of us are represented by people we voted against."
He said research has shown voters in democracies with versions of proportional representation are generally more satisfied with their governments and are more likely to vote. Fewer than 60 per cent of Canadians voted in 2008, the lowest turnout in our history. Smith cited a study which showed on average, turnout was 7.5 points higher in democracies with a form of proportional representation compared to those without.
However, voters in three Canadian provinces -- Ontario, British Columbia and Prince Edward Island -- all rejected a move towards a form of proportional representation in provincial referendums held in 2007, 2009 and 2005 respectively.
The Conservatives have proposed various democratic changes in a series of bills through Minister of State for Democratic Reform Steven Fletcher, member of Parliament for Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia.
Among them are term limits for senators and additional seats in the House of Commons for provinces underrepresented by population.
"These are positive steps," said Fletcher. "It would be very useful if the NDP would support them."
Layton said when the Conservative majority in the Senate last year voted down a climate-change accountability bill without any debate, it proved the government no longer cares about Senate reform now that it has had enough time to fill the chamber with its party operatives and failed candidates.
2008 election results
Percentage of the vote, percentage of the seats (number of seats/308 total seats)
Conservative 37.7 per cent of the vote, 46.4 per cent of the seats (143/308)
Liberal 26.3 per cent of the vote, 25 per cent of the seats (77/308)
NDP 18.2 per cent of the vote, 12 per cent of the seats (37/308)
Bloc Quebecois* 38.1 per cent of the vote in Quebec, 65 per cent of the seats in Quebec (49/75)
Green 6.8 per cent of the vote, 0 per cent of the seats (0/308)
*The Bloc Quebecois only runs candidates in Quebec, as such their vote is looked at only in terms of Quebec. The other parties are looked at nationally.