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CHIDIAC – Canada must push forward on electoral reform

exnday-voteIF CANADA intends to continue to evolve as an inclusive democracy, electoral reform is essential.

chidiac-colhedIn the last federal election, Justin Trudeau expressed the need for electoral reform in Canada. But as prime minister, he recently announced that his Liberal party would not follow through on this promise. He said it’s not important to the majority of Canadians.

In a sense, Trudeau is correct. Only 44 per cent of Canadians who visited a government website to make their thoughts known are in favour of reforming our electoral system. That said, only 24 per cent who responded to the website questions are against it. A significant number of people, 32 per cent of those polled, don’t have clear views on the issue.

Based on the data from responses to mydemocracy.ca, then, it isn’t that Canadians don’t want electoral reform. The issue is that most don’t know what electoral reform means.

To try to understand what’s going on, I looked for contrasting views. What I found is that the greatest opposition to electoral reform comes from the larger political parties. That makes sense. If Canadians chose to reform the electoral process using proportional representation, it’s not very likely that two major parties would take turns dominating Parliament. Countries that use this system normally have coalition governments.

Coalition governments aren’t perfect but when we take time to listen respectfully to each other we come up with solutions where everyone benefits

Majority governments are certainly more efficient. Less time is spent in debate and more work is done. The problem is that we often end up with a government that passes legislation perhaps a little too freely. No one is able to hold them in check until the next election, except for the slow-moving judicial system.

Coalition governments aren’t perfect but they are more democratic. An elected assembly is no different than any other group of people. When we take time to listen respectfully to each other, we come up with better solutions where everyone benefits. It’s not insignificant that 14 of the 19 other G20 countries already use some form of proportional representation.

Another criticism to changing our system is that political constituencies would become much larger. We would no longer have one person in Parliament representing us. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some current politicians represent their constituents very well but others don’t. With larger ridings, we’ll each have more members of Parliament speaking for us – and more people to contact. We may identify more with one member than another. And that’s a very good thing.

It’s also argued that proportional voting is too complicated. People won’t support it because they don’t understand it. It is indeed more complicated than our first-past-the-post system, in which we simply check one box and the person with the most votes wins. But people are capable of learning. The 2009 B.C. referendum on electoral reform easily passed in a mock election in my child’s elementary school. Could it be that the children voted for it because it was explained to them and they could see it was a better system?

There’s a great deal of voter apathy in Canada. And when we look at election results, that’s quite understandable. There have been too many instances of majority governments being elected in Canada with less than 50 per cent of the vote. If you didn’t vote for the winner, essentially your vote didn’t count. Countries that use proportional representation, in contrast, have significantly higher voter turnout, because every vote matters.

Effective people and organizations constantly seek to improve. The same can be said for countries. Canada is using essentially the same electoral process we used 150 years ago, even though much better systems are available.

There are many forms of proportional representation and we don’t yet know which will work best here. It is clear, however, that we need to pressure our government to improve the electoral system so Parliament reflects the values of our diverse population, so Canada can remain competitive in the 21st century.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning Prince George high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students. 

© 2017 Distributed by Troy Media

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About Mel Rothenburger (5002 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on CHIDIAC – Canada must push forward on electoral reform

  1. “Office staff can handle almost everything” So why do we bother having local elected officials then? We have local elected officials so they can represent us and our regions. Whether they do this under the current system may be up for debate but at the very minimum your MP is familiar with where you live and the issues and interests at it’s heart. In the current riding setup, yes, his or her office staff is more than likely going to be able to ‘handle’ things as well. The larger that riding gets, the farther removed that MP, and their staff, is from local knowledge and understanding.

    How to properly represent a community’s diversity is one of the driving forces behind wanting to scrap the first past the post system. Increasing the riding size and removing knowledge of constituents does not seem to me to be the answer.

    As for the need to see an MP, and this is nothing more than a personal anecdote, years ago my parents were able to personally lobby Donna Burnett in the Cariboo South to intercede on a health concern that would not have been solved otherwise. Local representation works.

  2. Gordon Cameron // February 25, 2017 at 9:08 AM // Reply

    The huge problem with proportional representation that I can not get around is the size of the ridings. If I live in a large metro area the proposed systems make perfect sense, Outside of Vancouver, however, proportional representation ridings get so large that unless you live in the largest centre within that riding you will never see your elected official. Votes follow where the voters are.

    I know that many will argue that this is currently the case as, say a voter in clearwater is distanced from the center of the riding in Kamloops. True, but imagine that same voter when the population center of her riding is in Kelowna and covers the Southern half of the province. There may be more MP’s, but are they travelling to Clearwater to hear that voter’s message? Unlikely.

    I am waiting for someone to sell me on the Okanagan, being dependant on winery and tourism, sharing the same political goals as the resource based economy in, say, the Cariboo.

    In short, proportional representation as it stands is great for cities or the center of a riding and part of a dystopian nightmare for everyone else.

    • Gordon;
      I just can’t follow your line of reasoning.
      Office staff can handle almost everything…what’s the issue with needing to see your MP?

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