Proportional Representation: an Idea Whose Time Has Come


2015-01-12
I have previously written about my concerns over our rapidly eroding democracy. As Michael Harris makes clear in his startling new book, A Party of One, the Harper Conservatives have enthusiastically embraced the methods developed by the American Republican Party and various far-right American groups to curtail democracy. Harper clearly wants to remove any impediment to his absolute control over Canadian political life. Harper has taken full and unscrupulous advantage of the power that can be exerted in a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy by a majority government. Harris quotes Harper as saying in a 1997 private speech to the ultra-right wing and very powerful American "Council for National Policy" (CNP) that "a Canadian prime minister with a majority and an inclination can in effect be a dictator" (Harris, p. 488). So what are the solutions? Getting rid of Harper and purging the Conservative Party of Canada of its far-right radicalism would leave this unfortunate vulnerability. Demagogues of all political stripes could still, with a majority of the seats, subvert parliament and the Canadian democratic process. Perhaps the best solution is proportional representation. It is something that other countries have embraced to various degrees. It is certainly complicated and would be very challenging to implement properly, but consider for a moment the advantages. No longer could a party win a majority with 39.62% of the popular vote, as the Conservatives did in the 2011 federal election. When one considers that the voter turnout in 2011 was 61.4%, this means that 24.33 percent of eligible voters supported the Harper Conservatives. Does this constitute a mandate to radically reshape the Canadian political landscape? Clearly Harper believes so, but I fervently hope the majority of Canadians would disagree. In 2011 the Green Party received 574, 221 votes, 3.91% of the total. Their seat total was 0.32%. This was certainly better than 2008, when 937,613 Canadians voted for the Greens, 6.78 % of the popular vote, and they received no seats. I am no great fan of the Elizabeth May - uh, Green - Party, but is it democratic to have so many Canadians unrepresented in our parliament? In 2011, the NDP received 30.63% of the popular vote and received 33.44% of the seats. So - the NDP was actually "over-represented, due mostly to our concentrated support in Quebec. No wonder the Liberals were unhappy - they received 18.91% of the popular vote and received 11.04% of the seats. And those crafty old Harper Conservatives? With 39.62% of the popular vote, they won 53.9% of the seats. One can congratulate the Conservatives for being so economical with their election efforts. But is this really the goal of democracy? Imagine if we had total proportional representation in our current parliament. Stephen Harper would still be the prime minister (assuming he lost no votes of confidence). But - to pass a bill, the Conservatives would have to get about 11% of the rest of parliament to support them. The Conservatives would have to negotiate, make concessions, find positive compromises. Any bill passing in the House would truly have to have the support of more than 50% of our elected representatives. Conservative back benchers would no longer be mere ciphers. Parliamentary committees would again be the place where good, comprehensive legislation and public policy are honed and refined. We would be living in a genuine parliamentary democracy, not in our current weird, Orwellian elected dictatorship. Thomas Mulcair has promised that an NDP government will enact proportional representation. This an NDP promise, not a Liberal one, so it means something. Go to http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/01/02/mulcair-ndp-proportional-representation_n_6407056.html to see what the Huffington Post has to say about Mulcair's announcement. Go to http://www.ndp.ca/ to see Mulcair's announcement, and a link to a petition calling for a fair electoral system in Canada. Go to http://craigscott.ndp.ca/democraticreform to see the detailed commentary of Craig Scott, Official Opposition Critic for Democratic and Parliamentary Reform. There are ways to stop Harper. The best one is to elect an NDP federal government this year, and ensure that never again can Canada be victim to anti-democratic demagogues like Stephen Harper.Joe Wilson

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