Our Electoral System Is Fine
Our first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system is fine. Maryam Monsef's rhetoric about bringing Canada's democracy into the 21st Century comes from her party's grab-bag of fun words and platitudes. It's the same grab-bag that Justin used when he was buttering up naïve students and first-time voters last fall. They're fanciful words that serve no other purpose but to sell an agenda. It's like a car salesman using your own emotional yearnings to upgrade you to a Cadillac just to fatten his own wallet. His tried and tested techniques are designed to bypass your logic and go straight for your feelings. You don't need a new Cadillac, just like Canada doesn't need a new electoral system, but those well-rehearsed talking points are designed to make your emotions take control of the wheel.
Straight out of the oven, Monsef's
“In a multi-party democracy like Canada, first-past-the-post distorts the will of the electorate. It's part of why so many Canadians don't engage in or care about politics. While there is no such thing as a perfect electoral system, we can do better.” – Maryam Monsef
First of all, October's federal election saw one of the highest turnouts in two decades. Second, a proportional or transferable voting system won't necessarily engage more people. Third, proposing to reform the electoral system with a House made up of MPs elected through a FPTP system contradicts Monsef's rhetoric.
Reforming FPTP with FPTP?
If FPTP distorts the will of the
electorate, then so do any reforms approved by a government that was
elected by FPTP. Until a few days ago, Monsef's committee was made up
of a majority
of Liberals, which means that any electoral reforms would have
ultimately been decided by Liberals. It will still be a Liberal
majority that decides on the committee's recommendations, but giving
up their majority on the committee gives opposition parties a
sense of hope. Rather than even bother trying to make electoral
reform completely non-partisan, Liberals originally decided to stack
the committee in their favour. A fair proposal to reform our system
without a referendum would have involved a committee made up of three
Liberals, three Conservatives and three New Democrats. But, like a
referendum, such a committee might not produce the results Liberals
are looking for.
A recent Global
News poll conducted by Ipsos found that 73% of Canadians want a
referendum on electoral reform.
Disenfranchised Voters And Perpetual Coalitions
Engaging more voters and encouraging
participation isn't accomplished by forcing people to vote or by
implementing proportional representation. The fringe communists,
anarchists and independents will still feel disengaged and alienated
when they only hold twenty seats in a parliament of nearly 350. If a
new proportional system was introduced without increasing the number
of seats in the House Of Commons, it's unlikely commies, anarchists
and independents would win any. Depending on the system, the
influence of fringe parties would be as negligible as it is now. Even
in European countries with proportional systems, fringe parties and
principled socialist and conservative parties are forced to abandon
their own values in order to form coalitions.
When it comes to disenfranchising
voters, a proportional system does a good job. The most notable
consequences of proportional systems – like the systems in Germany
and Israel – are perpetual coalitions. If Canada were to adopt a
similar system, we'd likely never see another majority government
In Israel and Germany, coalition
governments are the status quo. This disenfranchises voters by
forcing their parties to make compromises in order to prop up other
governments. Ruling minority governments looking to be propped up by
opposition parties often have to make concessions that go against
their values and against their promises. Nothing disengages voters
like an electoral system that encourages parties and candidates to
abandon their values and break their promises.
As for voter turnout, since 2009
Germany's turnout has averaged 70% and has been steadily
declining since 1998. In October, Canada's voter turnout was 69%
– the highest in 22 years. This alone proves that it's not the
system that encourages voter engagement, but the politics and the
policies. Canadians will show up to vote in droves when they're
inspired or angry. That's how democracy has always worked in Canada
and it's not a bad thing.
FPTP Keeps Governments Accountable
Almost seven million Canadians had
enough of Stephen Harper's Conservative government. Regardless of the
reasons, Canadians were angry and fed up. Canadians of all genders
and ethnic backgrounds turned out on October 19 to punish the
Conservatives. It was the FPTP system that made that punishment
possible. It was the same punishment that was doled out to Paul
Martin, Pierre Trudeau, John Diefenbaker and countless other Prime
Ministers throughout Canada's 149 year history. No other systems
could have held these governments as accountable for their actions as
It was also through FPTP that the New
Democrats made history by becoming the official opposition in 2011.
FPTP can be fatal and rewarding.
Corrupt parties can be ousted in the most brutal fashion and lose all
of their influence in a single election. A proportional or
transferable voting system would have kept previous ruling parties in
positions of power. Although proportional representation strips most
major parties of principle, it can keep the power players and their
establishments in key positions. As an example, Germany has had
cabinet ministers from opposing parties as a part of coalition deals.
To put that into perspective, let's look at how seats might have been
distributed in the last election under a proportional system.
The ideal proportional system tries to
distribute seats in parliament in ways that match the popular vote.
Currently, Trudeau's Liberals control 54% of parliament, but they
only won 39% of the popular vote. In the ideal proportional system,
Liberals would only control 39% of parliament and would have a
minority government. To the dismay of Liberals, Conservatives would
be in control of 32% of parliament, rather than 29%; and New
Democrats would control 20% rather than the 13% they control now. A
proportional system would also enable smaller parties and a lot of
normally unelectable fringe parties.
What Elections Would Look Like
If the last election was a hypothetical
proportional election, Conservatives would have nine or 10 more
seats, the NDP would have 24 more seats, and the Liberals would have
about 50 fewer seats. This might sound good to Conservatives and New
Democrats, but that changes when we apply proportional representation
to the 2011 election.
Under a proportional system, Harper's
Conservatives would have been 35 seats short of a majority in 2011.
Conservatives would have had a weak minority government of 120 seats,
followed by the NDP in official opposition with 92 seats (not the 103
they actually won), Liberals with 55 seats (not the 34 they actually
won) and the Green Party with 3 seats.
All of this is just a rough estimate,
but if Canada were to adopt a system like that of Israel or Germany,
no party would ever win a majority government with less than 50%.
Canada would be doomed to a future of permanent coalitions made up of
parties that have been forced to abandon their values and their
promises. Canada would see Liberals, Conservatives and socialists
forced to prop up their ideological opposites, or face another
election. In a proportional system, voters and parties would be
forced to choose between perpetual coalitions or perpetual elections.
In Germany, Angela Merkel's right
leaning Christian union has been propped up by the leftist Social
Democratic Party since 2013. Germany's last and only majority
government happened in 1957. After that, the closest Germany ever
came to having another stable majority government was in 1980, when
the right-wing Christian union fell six seats shy of the 260 seats
needed for a majority. Ever since, right-wing and left-wing
government policies in Germany have been watered down and diluted by
opposition parties. No ruling party within any coalition in Germany
has been held fully accountable or been completely ousted by the
country's half proportional system.
Israel's system is more complex and
completely proportional. The one and only time Israel ever had a
majority government was in 1969, under an alliance of two parties
called The Alignment. Even the country's single historic majority
required a union of two separate parties under its proportional
Focus On The Senate
The only electoral body in Canada that
needs reform is the Senate. The Senate is undemocratic, unaccountable
and completely outdated. If anything needs to be brought into the 21st
Century, it's the Canadian Senate. It's hard to imagine that Liberals
and Maryam Monsef aren't trying to deflect attention away from the
Senate and their party's failure to successfully reform it. Rather
than make the Senate electable and meet with provincial leaders for a
resolution, Liberals have put the Senate on the back-burner and put
their focus on the House Of Commons.
Senate Liberals pretend to be
independents under current rules and Trudeau's fake reforms have left
the Senate virtually unchanged. Senators are still vetted secretly
and appointed by the Prime Minister. By the time Trudeau's government
is put up for democratic judgement in 2019, the Senate will be fully
stacked with ideological liberals that will never face democracy.
Senators will serve until they retire and they'll never be held
accountable. They'll block bills and stall future Conservative and
New Democrat initiatives at will, without any consequences.
If reforming the Senate is difficult,
reforming the House Of Commons shouldn't be easy. Although there
aren't any real constitutional barriers preventing electoral reform,
voters should hold Liberals accountable. The Senate is an
undemocratic body that shouldn't be able to escape reforms. Since
Harper's defeat, Senate reform has dropped off the radar and media
seems to have forgotten the controversies that absorbed news coverage
under the previous Conservative government. It's up to voters now to
refresh their memories, because no one else will.