Thursday, February 26, 2009

Electoral Reform Is a National Unity Issue

The last post was written back in October - now for a post that better reflects my current thinking: Here's some unfortunate stats on Liberal results out West and in Quebec from the last 3 elections. Notice how not once in any of these regions has our proportion of seats been as high as our percentage of the popular vote, in many cases not even close. Meanwhile the Bloc and Conservatives get the opposite results.

2004 Election

Party

BC

Alberta

Saskatchewan

Manitoba

Quebec

% vote

% seats

% Diff

% vote

% seats

% Diff

% vote

% seats

% Diff

% vote

% seats

% Diff

% vote

% seats

% Diff

LIB

28.6

22.2

-6.4

22

7

-15.0

27.2

7.1

-20.1

33.2

21.4

-11.8

33.9

28.0

-5.9

CON

36.3

61.1

+24.8

61.7

92.9

+31.2

41.8

92.9

+51.1

39.1

50.0

+10.9

8.8

0

-8.8

NDP

26.6

13.9

-12.7

9.5

0

-9.5

23.4

0

-23.4

28.6

23.5

-5.1

4.6

0

-4.6

BQ

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

48.9

72.0

+23.1


2006 Election

Party

BC

Alberta

Saskatchewan

Manitoba

Quebec

% vote

% seats

% Diff

% vote

% seats

% Diff

% vote

% seats

% Diff

% vote

% seats

% Diff

% vote

% seats

% Diff

LIB

27.6

25.0

-2.6

15.3

0

-15.3

22.4

14.3

-8.1

26.0

21.4

-4.6

20.8

17.3

-3.5

CON

37.3

47.2

+9.9

65.0

100

+35.0

49.0

85.7

+36.7

42.8

57.1

+14.3

24.6

13.3

-11.3

NDP

28.5

27.8

-0.7

11.7

0

-11.7

24.1

0

-24.1

25.4

21.4

-4.0

7.5

0

-7.5

BQ

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

42.1

68.0

+25.9


2008 Election

Party

BC

Alberta

Saskatchewan

Manitoba

Quebec

% vote

% seats

% Diff

% vote

% seats

% Diff

% vote

% seats

% Diff

% vote

% seats

% Diff

% vote

% seats

% Diff

LIB

19.3

13.9

-5.4

11.4

0

-11.4

14.9

7.1

-7.8

19.1

7.1

-12.0

23.7

18.7

-5.0

CON

44.4

61.1

+16.7

64.6

96.4

+31.8

53.7

92.9

+39.2

64.3

48.8

+15.5

21.7

13.3

-8.4

NDP

26.1

25.0

-1.1

12.7

3.6

-9.1

25.6

0

-25.6

24.0

21.4

-2.6

12.1

1.3

-10.8

BQ

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

---

38.1

65.3

+27.2



The argument that electoral reform would promote national unity is even stronger now than it was before the last election: If we had a system that more closely resembled the popular vote, the last election would have seen the Liberals, Greens and NDP have the majority of seats in House with solid representation from each province, the Liberals would have had more seats than they do now and the Bloc and Conservatives considerably less. The response to a coalition in a House of Commons that actually reflected more closely the popular vote would have been markedly different: no Bloc and much stronger Western representation. I think it’s pretty clear that it was the regional divides and presence of the Bloc that made the largest contributions to the Liberal-NDP coalition’s unpopularity. That’s why Paul Wells, once a major skeptic now has now recently come on board with the idea of electoral reform at the national level and I’m sure he’s not alone (The Globe and Mail , who opposed MMP in Ontario, is another such example). But we won’t see a referendum on electoral reform unless the Liberals support the idea and I think it’s now past time they do.

Michael Ignatieff makes many decisions with respect to how it will affect national unity and is particularly sensitive to the issue of Western alienation, so I hope he does no less when thinking about electoral reform. It should be clear to everyone that our current electoral system greatly exacerbates regional and urban/rural divides in this country.

I fully realize that our MPs are elected to represent their riding, not their province, and that obviously Liberals need to do much more (regardless of what system we have) to truly earn higher popular vote numbers out West and in Francophone Quebec, but our electoral system makes the regional representation issue much worse (particularly when so many Conservatives are elected solely because of a divided left that allows them to run up the middle) and it's a vicious circle - the system encourages us to write off more than 100 seats as unwinnable before each election - that in my view hurts national unity.

Whether Liberals like it or not, if we win the next election the West and rural areas will have far less representation in government than they do now and will likely be unhappy about that and even if we beat the Bloc in the popular vote in Quebec (which is a daunting task in itself) they could still easily have more seats than us there (we beat them by almost 5% in Quebec in 2000 and yet they still won 2 more seats than us and that was when all the other federalist parties scored a paltry 13% combined in Quebec).

But it doesn’t have stay that way at all.

If we are willing to hold a referendum on changing our system and it’s successful we would better ensure that EVERY government, no matter the stripe has significant representation from all regions and communities.

For those who dismiss the possibility of a successful referendum based on the results of MMP in Ontario you should realize that the justifications for electoral reform are FAR different than those in favour of it provincially - see the last post where 3 of the 4 reasons given only apply to the national context - and MMP is surely the least likely option to be put on a national ballot as it is.

As an added benefit, the promise of holding a referendum on electoral reform (following public consultations on the system to be put on the ballot) provides an excellent path to persuading NDP and Green leaning voters to support electing a Liberal government in the next election (remember where the bulk of our votes came from the last time we went from opposition to government) as we know a united right Conservative Party likes the current system fine the way it is and would oppose a referendum every step of the way. Interestingly, before Stephen Harper helped "unite the right" he supported proportional representation (see that last line of the article), now he's got no problems with our current system, I wonder why? Could it be that our current electoral system is the only reason his party holds together?

A Liberal government is the ONLY way we would ever change the system, and I hope that as Prime Minister Michael Ignatieff would allow people to have a say on this issue so we may choose between a system that would bring Canadians closer together and the current one that drives us further apart.

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5 comments:

Chrystal Ocean said...

It's refreshing to see this from a respected Liberal. I hope your campaign to get other Liberals supporting proportional representation is successful. It's way past time Canada got out of the Dark Ages.

Darryl said...

The proposed system would also give more voices to Conservatives in Toronto where we have made significant gains but failed to win a seat. Montreal and Vancouver would also see increased Conservative representation. The only draw back is it would guarantee permanent minority governments. If the system was straight proportional we would see an explosion of fringe parties like in Israel and Italy.

Things I would like to see for electoral reform:

-Increased referendums on major issues at election time

-An elected or abolished senate

-Perhaps a mixed system that incorporates proportional representation combined with accountability at the riding level

-The ability to recall an MP who does not keep their promise

-Far more free votes in the House. Free votes on everything not considered matters of confidence

-More representation for Alberta, BC and Ontario at the expense of Quebec. A standard population model should be applied equally everywhere except for perhaps PEI
where constitutionally they are entitled to 4 seats

-All leadership races should be one member one vote with a weighted system per riding

-Use the internet more to involve the grassroots in policy and decisions impacting their party

-Automatic membership in one of the parties or independent status when filing a tax return similar to what they do in the United States.

-Elimination of floor crossing until after the following election campaign

-Full ability off independent members to issue tax receipts, ask questions and sit on committees

Unfortunately I do not think either of the major parties will take electoral reform seriously. Liberals and Conservatives have too much to gain from the status quo. Greens have no voice in the Commons. NDP is a laughing stock right now. Hopefully the impact of the Bloc will be reduced based on the extra seats being allocated to Ontario, Alberta and BC.

janfromthebruce said...

Actually the NDP isn't a laughing stock right now, and saying so won't make it true.
Danielle, is this just another "Liberal" election gimmick? When you suggest that NDP and Green supporters would move to liberals and thus give libs a majority like how they did it in 1993, that isn't something to crow about. Everybody knows about their "big redbook" lies, where they campaigned left and ruled right.
Anyway, both NDP and Green supporters already can vote for parties who support PR, and those 2 parties are NDP and Green. And they are not offering a bogus referendum to "trick" Canadians into voting for them.
As for the split on the left, Iggy is clearly signaling in "words" and "deeds" that he is not centre left but very "centre right", and is coming across as out conning the cons.
So tell me again why NDP and Green voters would want to vote for a neocon lite liberal party?

Your idea of PR I am in agreement of. My vote would finally count for more than a buck ninety-five. None-the-less it's worth it. Left liberalism died with Trudeau.

Chrystal Ocean said...

Darryl: "The only draw back is [PR] would guarantee permanent minority governments."

Not true.

Under a PR system, elected representatives get together and form a majority coalition government.

Danielle Takacs said...

Darryl: See the next post for why I happen to think the Liberals no longer have a partisan interest in keeping the system the way it is. The Conservatives certianly would oppose any reform tooth and nail though.

Chrystal: You could still get single-party majority governments under STV.

Jan: If I'm not mistaken the NDP position is to hold a referendum on a new electoral system following public consultations on which system to put on the ballot. I am hoping for the Liberals to adopt the same position and ultimately then let the people decide with the referendum being administered by Elections Canada.

It's no gimmick, if the Liberals promised this (which they haven't to date) and became the government I have no doubt they would follow through, presuming they could get majority support for it in the HOC.

Dalton McGuinty followed through on his promise to hold a referendum on electoral reform in Ontario.

But the reason I say this would help bring NDP and Green voters to the Liberals is you WILL NEVER see a referendum on electoral reform unless the government of the day supports it. The NDP and Greens do not have a realistic chance of forming government. So that means if you want electoral reform bad enough then you should help elect a Liberal government that could help make it happen.

That said, for a referendum to happen the Liberals, NDP and Greens (if they have any seats) will need to hold a majority in the House to pass the referendum enacting legislation as we know the Bloc and Conservatives would oppose anything to do with electorla reform. But it will never happen so long as we still have a Conservative government.