Government approach to reforming elections is off to a partisan start


A major beef with Stephen Harper’s majority government was that it was secured with a false majority at the polls.  Elected with only 40% of the vote, the Conservatives took full advantage of parliamentary math to promote their agenda 100% of the time.  The Liberals thought this was an abuse of power, until they secured their own majority government with just over 39% of the vote.  It’s funny how perspectives change with circumstances, because that is exactly what has happened with the Liberals who are about to use their own false majority to change how we elect MPs, and nobody will be surprised when they settle on ranked ballots as the best way to do this.

If you remember the changes the Conservatives made to the Elections Act in the last parliament, you might also remember the Liberals joining opposition parties to accuse the government of creating rules designed to favour their party.  The changes were widely condemned as self-serving and democratic reform became a prominent issue in Canada. 

Now, the next changes to our electoral system will be preceded by a parliamentary committee that is supposed to inform any new legislation.   New Democrats proposed this committee would work best if the Liberals gave up their false majority and constructed it based on the percentages each party received in the last election.  That would ensure that over 7 million Canadians who didn’t vote for the winning candidate in their riding will have representation in the debate over how we will change our electoral system.

And changing the electoral system was a key component of our last federal election.  New Democrats promised to bring in a system of proportional representation, believing that a third of the vote in the country should result in a third of the seats in the House of Commons. In addition to that, proportional representation is the most commonly used electoral system in the world.  For their part, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals offered a vague commitment to ending first-past-the-post elections. 

In hind-sight many people who thought they were voting to support greater democracy, such as is offered by proportional representation, will realize they were being led along by the Liberals.  That party has been the unequal benefactors of ‘strategic voting’ and are not about to adopt a system that won’t favour them.  In the end, it may not matter since the committee report could amount to nothing more than a public relations exercise.

As Chantal Hebert pointed out this week, the make-up of the committee could be nothing of concern if the work that it does is ignored in the same way that the report from the Special Joint Committee on medically assisted dying was.  If so, that will be a cynical waste of everyone’s time.  If the government is merely going to propose the changes it favours and then force them through the House, the make-up of the committee really will be inconsequential.  For the government to use the committee to arrive at a democratic proposal it will have to make the committee democratic.  That starts with removing the Liberal false majority for the voting members who will deliver the recommendation.

Our electoral system should work for everyone, not just those who voted for the winner. You and your neighbour might vote for different parties, but your voices should be represented equally in Ottawa.