Friday, January 27, 2006

The separatist curve ball - Walrus, February 2006

To the editors of The Walrus;

Joan Bryden correctly points out that it is the voting system, not the voters, that gave the Bloc Québécois its "formidable presence" as a spoiler in Canadian politics. According to the votes cast by Quebeckers, the Bloc should have 32 seats, not 51, in the new Parliament. Stephen Harper is delighted to have 10 seats in Québec, but he would have 18 if every vote counted. Federalist voters in Québec were also robbed of three Liberal MPs, six New Democrats, and three Greens by our obsolete, first-past-the-post voting system.

But Bryden falls off the rails when she suggests that proportional representation would not be good for stability because it produces "minority governments in perpetuity". Leaving aside the fact that Canada has done very well under minority governments, achieving Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan and our new flag, for example, during the minority-rule days of Lester Pearson, a quick glance at the 80 or so modern industrial democracies around the world that have been using proportional voting systems for most of the last century, including all the best-run countries in the world, countries such as Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Holland, will reveal that they invariably have effective, stable, coalition governments that represent a true majority of the voters.

This can be seen clearly in the case of New Zealand, which changed a decade ago from a system like ours to the type of mixed member proportional system developed in Germany after WWII. They were prompted to make the change after two elections in a row where the party with the most votes lost the election, not an uncommon occurrence under first-past-the-post. Under proportional representation, New Zealand immediately went to coalition government. They also started electing more women, more Maori people, and more minorities of all sorts, so that their Parliament now much better represents the diversity of their society. This is a not-inconsiderable side benefit of proportional representation, and one that is peculiarly relevant to Canada.

Minority government as we know it is not a feature of proportional representation, but a product of our current, winner-take-all voting system, as are distorted regionalism and phony-majority, single-party monopoly governments that breed arrogance and corruption. Our antiquated voting system still serves the interests of some politicians, but it no longer serves the interests of Canada and Canadians, and it must go. Modern, fair, proportional voting is coming to Canada, because Canadian voters are beginning to demand it.

Wayne Smith, President
Fair Vote Canada


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