Election reform should serve voters’ interests


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OTTAWA -- For at least the sixth time in 20 years, Canadian MPs took their seats in the House of Commons this week to talk about how they should be elected.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/12/2014 (2923 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — For at least the sixth time in 20 years, Canadian MPs took their seats in the House of Commons this week to talk about how they should be elected.

And for at least the sixth time in 20 years, it seems pretty clear the kind of electoral system each party supports is directly related to the kind of electoral system that is most likely to deliver their party the best results.

This week, it was a motion from Toronto NDP MP Craig Scott, asking the next federal election be the last using first-past-the-post results and that a mixed-member, proportional-representation system be implemented after that.

“This motion is intended to put our parliamentary democracy on the right track by fixing what is an extremely unfair electoral system,” said Scott Wednesday.

This is the latest in a string of attempts in the last two decades in which the NDP has tried to garner support for MMPR. If elected in 2015, the NDP promises to implement it by 2019.

It’s a system that would elect MPs in two ways. Some would be elected through the current first-past-the-post system electing MPs from individual ridings. Others would be elected based on each party’s share of the popular vote and chosen from a list of names put forward by each party.

The NDP, it must be said, generally would benefit the most from such a system, finishing with fewer seats than their share of the vote suggested in every province but Quebec and B.C.

The motion failed in a vote of 166 to 110. The NDP voted en masse in favour, the Conservatives en masse against and the Liberals split almost right up the middle.

The Conservatives pretty much favour the status quo, with a few tweaks here and there on voting rules and regulations. The status quo, of course, currently benefits them the most, as long as the centre-left vote continues to be split between the Liberals, NDP and Green party. The Conservatives have a majority government but won just 40 per cent of the vote.

Pierre Poilievre, the minister of democratic reform, said Wednesday Canada’s success is founded on the British parliamentary system and dismissed MMPR as a flawed route to unstable coalition governments.

Of course, it should be noted, when the Liberals had a majority government numerous Tories, including current cabinet ministers James Moore and Jason Kenney, spoke out against first-past-the-post because of the inflated power it gave to the Liberals.

“We need a wholesale reform of our democratic system in Canada,” Moore said in 2001. “Proportional representation is one of many possible reforms.”

The Liberals split on the vote on this motion, but at party conventions, the Liberals have twice recently voted in favour of a preferential or ranked-ballot system, and that is what Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is pushing.

A ranked-ballot system sees voters rank the choices first to last, with the candidate with the lowest number of votes dropped each round and his or her votes distributed to the second or third choices, until someone wins with at least 50 per cent of the vote.

This is the system most political parties use to elect their leaders. It’s also the system that would benefit the Liberals the most, as the party usually seen to be in the centre of the others and most likely to be the second choice of NDP or Conservative voters.

Even Manitoba Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux said he had to admit the system each party supports pretty much lines up exactly with the system that benefits that party the most.

“There does seem to be a bit of what is in the parties’ best interest going on here,” he said.

When Lamoureux was a Liberal MLA in Manitoba, he was a vocal proponent of proportional representation. Of course, his party had only two seats in the legislature, but would have had as many as seven under proportional representation.

However, since he arrived in Ottawa, he has switched his allegiance and is now in favour of a preferential ballot.

So what do we do? It’s clear something needs to change, if we are to improve voter turnout, which is sinking lower and lower in almost every election.

But do we improve our democracy with a new system, or do we improve it by forcing our politicians to be more accountable, more transparent, more honest? Do we put in place more checks and balances on a government that wins in a first-past-the-post system, reducing the power of the Prime Minister’s Office and giving more influence to MPs?

Or do we throw it all out and elect governments differently?

The answer won’t be easy. Every option comes with pluses and minuses.

But perhaps it is time to have a national conversation about what Canadians think, invest in real studies of the various options and how they work and don’t work, and then decide.

As long as every political party is only in this for what works best for them, Canadians are not guaranteed a system that works best for the people.

Mia Rabson is the Free Press parliamentary bureau chief.

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