It’s times like this when I start thinking about electoral reform
Hello, Internet, it’s Friday, June 15th, and Bill C-38 passed in the House of Commons this morning.
You remember C-38. It’s that enormous piece of legislation that is theoretically a “budget”, covering everything from environmental assessment procedures to the age of retirement. It’s a monster of a bill, and one that the opposition fought valiantly. They proposed more than 1,000 amendments, of which more than 700 were brought to the House of Commons, and one by one, each was voted down by the majority government before the bill passed.
There are so many things that make me angry about this that I don’t even really want to talk about the bill itself. What I want to talk about is the fact that a government that was voted in by less than 40% of voting Canadians has the power to vote down every single amendment that the opposition had proposed, no matter how valid. And that, friends, is the fault of our electoral system.
First Past the Post has led us astray. Because our electoral districts are determined by geography, and each district can only have one representative, the supporters of the smallest parties usually go completely unrepresented in the House of Commons, while it is possible to have a government with less than 40% of the vote and 54% of the seats in the House.
We have a multi-party system. Generally, we like it that way. But First Past the Post actually works toward a 2-party system, because people are forced to vote against the person they DON’T want to win, instead of voting for the person they DO want to win. In recent history:
Remember, back in the day (2003), when Jean Chrétien was – and had been, for a long while – the Prime Minister of Canada? The Green Party was still an undercurrent. Liberals had a majority government (57% of the House with 40% of the vote, by the way). Also represented in the House were the Canadian Alliance (remember them?), the still-quite-strong Bloq Québecois, the fringe NDP (this was back when having a leader who biked to work was something that drew scorn rather than admiration) and a much battered Progressive Conservative Party. The Liberal Party was, for all intents and purposes, in the centre of the Canadian Left-Right spectrum; the BQ and the NDP on the left, the Alliance and the PC on the right. THEN the membership of the two right-wing parties had an idea: if they joined forces, they could stand a chance at the next election. “Unite the Right” became a slogan of sorts, and after some negotiations, the Conservative Party of Canada was born. They formed a minority government 3 years later.
This has led for a call to “Unite the Left”, but little has come of it so far. Still, the possibility exists that the NDP and the Liberal Party may indeed come together in an attempt to win the 2015 federal election. It could happen. It may be the only way to stack enough votes against the CPC in some of the determining ridings to win those seats. Time will tell.
The point is, Canada is using a system that is so ineffectual at representing the popular vote that we are forced to consider options like “let’s just mash these two parties with fundamentally different principles together so that the person we all disagree with the most doesn’t get elected”.
I’m going to lean on C. G. P. Grey, a very smart gentleman who makes excellent youtube videos explaining all of this using a hypothetical election in the Animal Kingdom.
There are alternate electoral systems, of course. Mixed-Member Proportional Representation is working in Germany, New Zealand and Venezuela. The Alternative Vote (or Instant-runoff voting) is not my favourite idea but is way better than First Past the Post, and it’s been used in Australia and the UK – in fact, the Liberal and Conservative Parties of Canada elect their leaders using the Alternative Vote. Grey is on it below.
Ok, so why don’t we have proportional representation? Well, opponents of electoral reform are vocal, powerful, and they’re scary. For MMP, a list of candidates that aren’t voted for directly by the citizenry is provided by the party, so voters are voting for the sheer power of numbers in the House instead of for specific individuals. Secondly, it’s “complicated”. A whole extra ballot? Or, ranking our candidates in order of preference? Our little minds could never handle it!
Most importantly, though, the parties in power don’t WANT electoral reform because the current system is working fine for them – after all, they got elected, didn’t they?
But it isn’t working fine for us. And when a government supported by less than 40% of the voting populous can unilaterally vote down every amendment proposed by the opposition – who represent the majority of voters, let’s not forget – and pass a giant bill that flies in the face of everything that parliamentary procedure is designed to do, that’s when we should be taking a look at the options that might be in our best interests.