Monday, February 13, 2006

Proportional voting provides better voice

editorial from the York Region Era Banner - Newmarket,Ontario,Canada

http://www.yorkregion.com/yr/yr4/YR_News/Columns/story/3271523p-3788712c.html

Jan 19, 2006


Name a local priority on which you would concentrate if you are sent to Ottawa Jan. 23, a voter asked hopefuls in Thornhill during an all-candidates meeting last week.

It wasn't as much a question as a plea that came after 90 minutes of candidates regurgitating party lines, interspersed with shots at opponents and their leaders.

Let's face it, with few exceptions, most voters cast their ballots for a party or its leader. Local candidates are most often viewed as the embodiment of national party policy.

There's nothing wrong with casting your ballot for the party, rather than the candidate.

The problem is with our electoral system.

And despite a grassroots campaign that appears to be gaining momentum, no one is rushing to fix it.

The solution is proportional representation.

Politicians always seem to support the concept in principle but, like Senate reform, no one ever seems to act on it.

In a nutshell, parties win seats in legislature in proportion to their share of the votes cast. A party that receives 25 per cent of the national vote should occupy 25 per cent of the seats in Parliament.

It's a proven system that has been in use in European nations and others around the globe since the beginning of the last century. New Zealand switched to mixed member proportional representation in 1993.

The idea is being promoted by groups across Canada, including Fair Vote Canada, a multi-partisan citizens' campaign for voting system reform.

The organization makes a good case, referring to June 2004 federal election in which more than 500,000 votes were cast for Green Party candidates across the country yet not one was elected. Meanwhile, fewer Liberal voters in Atlantic Canada alone elected 22 MPs.

Also during the last election:

· The Liberals garnered just 7 per cent more of the popular vote than the Conservatives -- 36.7 per cent versus 29.6 per cent -- but ended up with 35 per cent more seats in the House.

· Even though the NDP recorded more of the popular vote than the Bloc QuÈbÈcois, they won just 19 seats versus the Bloc's 54.

It's similar to what prompted the move toward change in New Zealand: back-to-back elections in which the National Party retained power by winning more seats in Parliament despite the opposition Labour Party earning more votes across the nation.

Backed by a committee of prominent Canadians, including former Ontario Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander and York Region Newspaper Group columnist David Suzuki, Fair Vote Canada last week called on our next government to initiate a public consultation process on government reform and hold a referendum, allowing Canadians to decide on the best voting system.

"It's time to stop dodging the issue," said Wayne Smith, president of Fair Vote Canada. "The 60 per cent of the electorate who still vote are about to go to the polls again. We will try to elect a representative Parliament and we will fail because the voting system will distort what we say."

If we're voting along party lines anyway, let's adopt a purer system that better reflects what voters really want.

Proportional representation would lead to a House of Commons that's more in line with the way Canadians vote than does our current first-past-the-post system.

It would also drive up voter turnout, experts say, as it means a vote for a party other than the big three would no longer be considered a protest vote. It would count as much as one cast for the Conservative, Liberal or NDP would.

We choose the way we are governed. It's time we chose a better way to elect those who represent us.

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