Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Proportional Representation

I was snooping on the internet.. and I came across an article that my buddy John wrote for The Commonwealth Jornal a couple of years ago. Now I would be the first to admit that my knowledge of politics sucks. But this makes so much sense it would be nice to see it implemented.

Proportional Representation could be the way to go in Canada
by John Bidochka

What is Proportional Representation? The straight answer is this: in an election, the percentage of popular vote a party receives will determine the number of seats this party holds in a legislature or parliament.

Sounds simple enough, but there are number of ways to implement proportional representation (PR).

One method is the single transferable vote, which means that the percentage of popular vote directly translates into seats. Another method is to combine the current first-past-the-post system with the single transferrable vote to reap the benefits of both local representation and a fair national vote distribution. There are more than 70 countries currently using proportional representation systems. These systems differ considerably from the current first-past-the-post system used in Canada.

First-past-the-post is a winner-take-all scenario where a party can capture a seat by a handful of votes - even if less than half the people in the riding voted for this particular candidate or party. By the time the results of all 308 ridings pour in during a federal election, a series of close races from coast to coast reveals startling discrepancies in terms of democratic accuracy.

If representing the people is as important as elected officials say it is, we should put the people ahead of political parties.

For example, in 1997, the federal Liberals won a majority government (155 seats out of 301) with about 38 per cent of the popular vote. In the June 28, 2004 election, NDP incumbent Dick Proctor was defeated in the Palliser riding by Conservative candidate Dave Batters by a mere 124 votes. But, in spite of the fact that each candidate garnered nearly 10,000 votes each, only one of them gets to go to Ottawa to represent this riding.

Saskatchewan results in the 2004 federal election were very disturbing for the NDP and the Liberals. The NDP was shut out in all 14 ridings and the Liberals managed just one seat.

Thirteen seats went to the Tories even though 25 per cent of Saskatchewan voters supported the Liberal Party and 23 per cent voted NDP. With approximately 180,000 eligible voters in Saskatchewan, under some form of proportional representation, the Tories could have as many as seven fewer seats.

However, it is important to note that the democratic deficit we currently face in Canada can work the other way. For example, although the Conservatives garnered more than 300,000 votes in Quebec, this did not translate into a single seat in this province.

In the Canadian Parliament, the Liberals, Tories, and Bloc Quebecois all have exaggerated seat counts when compared to the 2004 popular vote. The 580,000 votes the Green Party garnered would have actually given them seats in Parliament were a PR system in place. The NDP, with more than 2.2 million votes in the 2004 election, would have about 48 seats instead of 19. These are some examples of how our out dated electoral system creates a democratic deficit at both federal and provincial levels.

Even though PR has been in place in countries such as New Zealand for years, the discussion of this topic in Canada is fairly recent. National Post columnist Andrew Coyne has written that if people get the government they deserve, they should at least get the government they vote for. By this standard, we should at least get an electoral system where the majority and not the plurality rules. There are definitely opposing viewpoints on the subject of PR but at the end of the day should people not be represented fairly and equitably within an electoral system?

One example of a country where proportional representation works is New Zealand. In this country, half the seats in parliament are elected through a traditional first-past-the-post method and the rest are filled from published political party lists. The percentage of popular vote determines which particular names from which particular political parties are chosen from the list. It is difficult to say which PR system would work best for Canada because of our vast diverseness and regionality but at the same time this is all the more reason to begin a dialogue on proportional representation.

So, if our antiquated first-past-the-post system is not fair, what can be done? Many Canadians have joined the group Fair Vote Canada and are currently discussing ways to reform our electoral system. Fair Vote Canada's Web site address is www.fairvotecanada.org.

Proportional representation should reduce voter apathy and strategic voting so that an individual's vote counts. In turn this should encourage more people to participate in the electoral system.

Although implementing PR voting system, either provincially or federally, could mean the end of successive majority governments it may prevent four years of unchecked political rule. We need fear not coalition governments.

In the past, legislation produced by coalition governments has often benefitted Canadians. To quote from the Fair Vote Canada Web site, "The formation of coalition governments under fair voting systems is done in public view, the compromises are publicly known, and the resulting coalition always represents a true majority of voters. If representing the people is as important as elected officials say it is, then we ought to be prepared to put the plight of the people ahead of the plight of any party. That is true democracy."

Click here for more information on Proportional Representation.

Ah .. wikipedia.. is there anything it can't do?

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