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UPDATE: The Council and proportional representation

In that it now seems very likely that the Harper Conservative government will fall in the first week of October and that Canadians will be heading to the polls on November 9, this is an opportunity to revisit our past discussions on proportional representation.

In March 2004, the Law Commission of Canada submitted a detailed proposal to the House of Commons calling for mixed-member proportional representation.

This is the electoral system in place in Germany, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales that Ed Broadbent wrote in the Globe and Mail, “would work well in Canada, combining proportionality with an individual MP for each district.”

In the days after the last federal election Broadbent wrote, “It was a bad day for Canadian democracy – more unstable, unrepresentative government. If Tuesday’s vote had taken place with an electoral system such as those in the vast majority of democracies, Canadians would now have the prospect of a stable centre-left coalition government, with a majority of seats in Parliament representing a majority of the popular votes. …Why do we persist with a 19th-century electoral system designed for two parties long since rejected by more than 40 multiparty democracies throughout the world?”

He asserted that, “Since a majority of Canadians voted for (the Liberal, NDP and Green) parties, they, not the Conservatives, should be determining our political agenda. …When a party with just over a third of the vote gets to govern, and one party, the Greens, doesn’t get a single MP although nearly a million people voted for it, is it any wonder that only 59 per cent of Canadians bothered to vote on Tuesday, the lowest turnout in our history?”

Also, the day after the last election Fair Vote Canada reported that:

  1. The NDP attracted 1.1 million more votes than the Bloc, but the voting system gave the Bloc 50 seats, the NDP 37.
  2. 940,000 voters supporting the Green Party sent no one to Parliament. By comparison, 813,000 Conservative voters in Alberta were able to elect 27 MPs.
  3. Had the votes on October 14 been cast under a fair and proportional voting system, the seat allocation would have been approximately as follows:

Conservatives – 117 seats (not 143)
Liberals – 81 seats (not 76)
NDP – 57 seats (not 37)
Bloc – 28 seats (not 50)
Greens – 23 seats (not 0)

Back on October 18, 2004, the House of Commons unanimously amended the Speech from the Throne to instruct the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs “to recommend a process that engages citizens and parliamentarians in an examination of our electoral system with a review of all options.”

Almost five years later we haven’t seen this change to Canada’s electoral system.

You may remember that in September 2007 we issued an action alert that stated, “In addition to casting ballots in the Ontario provincial election on Wednesday October 10, voters in Ontario will be asked in a referendum whether they want to implement a new system of mixed member proportional (MMP) representation…The Council of Canadians believes that MMP is more democratic than our current electoral system. It ensures a fairer representation of votes cast, and prevents a governing party from holding total power after earning only a small percentage of the popular vote, which is the case now with the first-past-the-post system. MMP would also allow for a better representation of parties, of people and their issues.”

That action alert also stated, “For those across the country, please note that in February 2006 the Council of Canadians reaffirmed its support for proportional representation as an important aspect of electoral reform in Canada and called on the federal government to make this a priority and to consult with Canadians on a preferred model before its adoption.”

In the October 2008 federal election, only 59.1 percent – or 13.8 million out of 23.4 million – of eligible voters actually voted, a historic low in Canada. While voting is a right that should be exercised, we believe that more people would vote if they felt their vote were better reflected in the outcome of the election through proportional representation.

Ed Broadbent’s op-ed on proportional representation can be read at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081015.wcocoalition16/BNStory/Technology/?page=rss&id=..wcocoalition16.