In this second of two posts on our Political Culture in Canada I address the question of electoral reform. I have heard from many constituents of Vancouver Granville, and from Canadians across the country, that you also see electoral reform as essential. The message is simple: electoral reform is vitally important to make our system of government more accountable and reflective of Canada’s diversity. I agree.
While many of us were hopeful we would see an alternative to ‘First Past the Post’ voting in this election, it did not happen. We cannot afford to continue to fail in strengthening our democracy. We need leaders and leadership who are prepared to follow through and advance electoral reform through democratic means, and not just talk the talk but fail to act.
The Status Quo
As we all currently experience, First Past the Post (also known as winner takes all) is an electoral system where the candidate with the most votes in a given riding wins the seat. In Canada, where we have multiple national political parties, and the opportunity to run as an independent, this often results in a Member of Parliament being elected with less than a majority of the vote in that riding. This means an MP may be elected with as little as 40% of the vote in that riding, leaving the other 60% feeling unrepresented or underrepresented by their MP. To learn more about First Past the Post electoral systems, you can check out this quick 2-minute video.
Our current First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system is not working for many Canadians. Too many votes are wasted, and the majority of Canadians are not represented in Parliament. Time and again we elect a majority government with a minority of support from the Canadian population. For me, this is not consistent with the best principles and practices of democracy. Why would we not strive for the best system possible?
In 2015, an All-Party Parliamentary Committee was established to look at the best way forward to address Canadians’ concerns with representation in our democracy and heard from a diversity of voices. There are many options and opinions. In 2016, there were nation-wide consultations held on what might replace first past the post. In Vancouver Granville, we held a number of town halls, as did many MPs in their ridings, where many ideas were debated and discussed. Many people also wrote to our constituency office. By far and away the most popular approach favoured was for some form of proportional representation. This was reflected in the national findings as well.
The All-Party Parliamentary Committee made several recommendations in their final report, Strengthening Democracy in Canada: Process and Public Engagement for Electoral Reform. Among those recommendations was the implementation of a form of proportional representation, and the need for a national referendum on the issue. Ultimately, these were not pursued by the Government, leaving Canadians without a resolution on this important issue.
You might be familiar with systems of Proportional Representation liked Ranked Ballots and the Single Transferable Vote, Mixed Member Proportional, and Urban-Rural Proportional. There are some great online resources, like Fair Vote Canada, where you can learn more about each of these systems. Some of these systems are also used in other places in the world. For example, New Zealand has been using a Mixed Member Proportional system since 2006, which replaced the FPTP system previously used. You can learn more about New Zealand’s MMP system from the slides used to inform our own Parliamentary Committee found here. I was fortunate when in Cabinet to travel to New Zealand and learn about their system first hand.
There are many benefits to proportional representation. For example, data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union shows that countries with Proportional Representation elect a higher number of women, more representative of the population. In fact, the countries with the highest number of women elected to government all use some form of proportional representation. There is evidence that countries with proportional representation have more robust action on environmental policies. There is also a link between more representation in government, and lower levels of income inequality. In short – there are many great reasons to consider proportional representation.
Why is This So Difficult?
So why, then, has electoral reform been so challenging and difficult to accomplish? In my view, there is a huge relationship between excessive partisan politics and power, and challenges with electoral reform. Most parties, once they are in power, believe the best way to hold on to power is to maintain the status quo, through a FPTP system. As a result, they are less likely to invest in informing their citizens about all of the available options, and to pursue electoral reform in a meaningful way. As your Independent Member of Parliament, part of my role would be to push the government of the day on these important issues.
Ultimately, we need a system where each of our votes matter, where we can begin to create balance in our political system, and control the exercise of power. We need all voices to be represented. I believe we not only need to look more closely at democratic reform – we need to take action.
Interestingly, in BC, we have had three referendums on changing the system and all failed to meet the threshold set for the change. The most recent vote was in 2018 where a number of options were considered. While we can not predict how a national plebiscite might go, I think it is worth having a national vote where all are invited to participate.
Is the current system working for you? Is electoral reform a conversation that you think is important and worth continuing to have? Will you join us in talking about it? What do you think?
I look forward to continuing to hear your views and perspectives.