Thursday, December 29, 2005

Do Key New Democrats Really Want Fair Voting?

By John Deverell

I was pleased to see NDP federal leader Jack Layton give a nod to PR this week in a chat with a CP newspaper reporter.

It would be more heartening to see Layton advocate effective voter equality and PR to national television audiences. As yet, and putting aside the shining eyes moment in Hamilton, there has been little indication that PR is important to the NDP 2006 campaign.

If voter equality and PR do not graduate from the long NDP wish list to a very short clutch of strong NDP campaign commitments, they will be a throwaway in any post-election NDP Parliamentary negotiating strategy.

The NDP's re-appointment of the retired Ed Broadbent as custodian of the fair vote file looks like an insulate-and-avoid stalling tactic as it was in the last Parliament.

If Broadbent allows himself to be sent into the next round of negotiations to a fair vote side table, without benefit of a deadline and program/ process ultimatum from the NDP, based on an explicit mandate from NDP voters, then the outcome is likely to be similar to Broadbent's last effort. Much Hill chat, no useful result.

The never-ending question for the federal NDP remains how to time and frame the defeat of a government, Liberal or other, in an unstable and dysfunctional Parliament. This is doubly difficult when the existing election rules offer little prospect of positive change or clarification.

Rarely has the need for voting reform been more compelling and urgent.

Surely a federal NDP leader could now promise, profitably, to show Canada and North America the way forward. We need to acknowledge, in law, that effective voter equality is the minimum test for democracy. It follows that proportional representation in the legislature is the necessary operating system.

Yet the NDP is keeping voter equality and PR hidden in the cupboard, reserved for serious use at some unspecified future time and place.

I infer that, as usual, the surprising federal NDP timidity in this matter has been determined mainly by the provincial NDP leaders in BC, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Fair voting is nowhere on their priority list. As in decades past they are prepared to sacrifice the federal NDP interest -- and the NDP provincial interest in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and the territories -- to preserve undemocratic voting in their provincial jurisdictions.

This contradiction has gone well beyond bad joke. The Parliament of Canada will remain dangerously dysfunctional so long as the Bloc Quebecois is popular and monstrously overrepresented and party public opinion remains badly misrepresented in every other region of the country. Federal voting reform has become necessary to the survival of an effective Canadian state.

It is time for Jack Layton as a national leader to insist, forcefully, that only fair voting and PR can give Canadians of every political persuasion an honest, practical, reliable way out of the continuing Parliamentary impasse.

A Canadian political party could make no greater contribution, to the country and the wider world, than to give democracy on this continent a more useful and functional definition.

Should the NDP then unleash in 2006, if it can and if necessary, another election -- a referendum election on voting reform?

Yes. And for the policy to be credible, more serious groundwork in public opinion should be done now.

This is why I hope voter equality and PR, with clear commitments and deadlines, will emerge as a major theme in the second half of the NDP campaign. I urge those of you who share the analysis and sentiment to raise this call in the necessary places.

More than ever, Canada needs democratic representative government. Make this the last unfair election.

John Deverell is Treasurer of Fair Vote Canada

Jack Layton calls for voting reform in his year-end interview with Mike Duffy, video available on the CTV website at

CTV year-end review



Blogger Wayne Smith said...

Jack Layton calls for voting reform in his year-end interview with Mike Duffy, video available on the DTV website at

2:24 AM

2:29 a.m.  

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