Recently my co-blogger posted an opinion about creating support for electoral reform and this has encouraged me to reexamine where we are in that regard. I will in future posts also take a look at the other side of the coin, that being parliamentary reform. Lets be clear here right off the top, neither is going to happen in the foreseeable future. In fact it is improbable that even any meaningful move will be made to either study such options or to ask the citizens of this country if they are interested in such changes. Changes to the way we elect our representatives, be that federally or provincially can only come about with the support of a majority of those very representatives and far too many of them are, having been persuaded that they represent the party rather than the people, are quite happy with the status quot. The party apparatus will only support such moves if there is something in it for them and thus it is very improbable that any party in power will even bring up the subject, the best bet being if one or more opposition partys promises to bring a referendum before the people if elected - and then actually not only comes to power but carrys out their promise!
It can be seen then that from initial promise, to study, to proposal, to vote and then to implementation could well take 10 years or more, and thats if things go forward smoothly the first time around. As the BC and Ontario efforts have previously shown that is improbable and will probably entail not only the government of the day and the major political partys creating much spin and confusion in an effort to retain the status quot but the various folks who fully support change splitting public opinion by arguing about which system is the better, or that any proposed system is 'flawed'. Here is a news flash for you – There is no such thing as a perfect electoral system any more that there is a perfect system of government, we can but try and improve upon what we have and try and eliminate obvious flaws without screwing up and making it worse, and that folks is not going to be easy given that we must do so with a reasonable amount of consensus from both the political hierarchy and the citizenry who elected them.
Having said all that the conversation about reform is non the less important, it will take much public pressure to even start the process and the more we know about vulgarities of the existing system and the options that may be available the better equipped we will be to push for change. I will deal with the various options in a later article, for the time being I will simply review some of the problems we seem to be encountering with the present system and potential problems that changes could bring.
The first question is of course do we really need change and if so , why? There are perhaps two main indicators that something is wrong, the first is the oft cited way in which a minority of electors can elect a majority government, the second is the ever declining number of those who are eligible to vote do not bother. Now it seems the very process of where to vote has come under attack by those who would 'game' the election results. Most of those who feel electoral reform is necessary feel that the resulting mix of parliamentarians should better represent the popular vote, it cannot of course ever be exactly proportional but we can indeed improve on the proportionality, each of the various voting systems would produce varying results in that regard and I will cover such details in future posts. There are in my view two 'concerns' with a more proportional system, firstly that with a multiparty system it may well result in a series of minority governments being elected, for many this alone is reason not to change things, this thinking is to me, totally wrong. The problem with minority governments is not that they fail to give one party absolute power but that our political partys and the parliamentary system has evolved to the point where those that we elect have forgotten that they all, no matter what party they belong to, represent US not the party. They no longer will listen to opposing points of view and try and find middle ground where compromise and cooperation result in better legislation but insist it 'our way or no way'. Hence the need for parliamentary reform to reduce the opportunity for such partisan games, but that's for another post also. I will simply say that a electoral & parliamentary system that dramatically skews the power that PM holds away from that which the popular vote indicates the citizens want must be considered flawed.
The second thing that concerns me is that a proportional system, particularly in such a large a varied country such as ours must have checks and balances to ensure that minority populations, be that a Province or Territory, those in a less populated areas within such boundaries, or some other minority, have adequate representation. By enlarge our present system of electoral districts along with previously determined lower limits of representation for those provinces with small populations does ensure this. Any proposed new electoral system should not disenfranchise these areas of small population. With recent census figures revealing that 35% or so of Canada’s population live in just 3 metropolitan areas its clear that these urban citizens, whos view of Canada may be far removed from that of say those in Newfoundland or Northern Manitoba, are clearly in the drivers seat when it comes to electing who is to govern.
These are not the only concerns I am sure, but they do illustrate the need for dialog – and the need for those pushing for change to seek common ground, compromise & consensus early on in the process. That is after all what, in my opinion, democracy is all about.
Next week – more about the electoral options.