Make 2015 the last unfair election

Last month, my colleague Craig Scott, the NDP’s Democratic Reform Critic, tabled a motion that received the support of Green Party and independent MPs. They joined with the NDP in demanding that 2015 be the last unfair election. The NDP is proposing to change the electoral system and leave behind the “winner takes all” approach in favour of a mixed-member proportional representation system.


Why make a change?

Over the past few years, voter participation has been declining, and widespread cynicism is on the rise. In 2011, only 40% of voters turned out at the polls. The current first-past-the-post system leads to young people, cultural communities and women being under-represented in Parliament. Less than one-quarter of Canadian parliamentarians are women.

The system also creates “false majorities.” Parties receive a majority of seats in Parliament despite being supported by only a minority of voters. For example, the Conservatives received only 39.5% of the popular vote in the 2011 election, but hold a false majority of 54% of the seats in the House of Commons.

We constantly swing between false majorities and unstable minorities, and our country’s long-term priorities. The current electoral system appears to be one of the reasons behind our problems. 


What are the benefits of a mixed-member proportional system?

The system we are proposing is fairer and more equitable. Here’s how the reform’s proponent Craig Scott explains it: “Each voter has one ballot but two votes. With their first vote, citizens elect an MP to represent their riding, just like in the current system. With their second vote, they elect a candidate from a regional list of candidates prepared by each party.”

Under our current system, voters have just one vote to choose a candidate and support a party. As Craig Scott explains, voters are faced with a dilemma. “They have to vote for a local candidate they may not like in order to support their party of choice, or they have to vote for a party they may not like in order to support the candidate they feel will best represent them.”

Under the mixed-member proportional system — or “one ballot, two votes” — the problem disappears because the MPs sitting in the House of Commons will be a mix of local MPs and MPs from the regional list.

Changing our electoral system will breathe new life into Canadian democracy. Germany, Scotland and other countries that use this system have seen increased participation rates. People no longer feel they are “wasting” their vote because each person’s vote carries weight. Under the reformed system, monolithic blocs of MPs from one party will not dominate a region, as is currently the case in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The local population’s range of political viewpoints will also be better represented.

Canada has everything to gain from a healthier democracy. Under the reformed system, a party that receives 40% of the popular vote would have 40% of the seats in the House.


How do we get there from here?

Tom Mulcair and the NDP are committed to making 2015 the last unfair election. Proportional representation has been an NDP party plank for a long time. Our commitment goes back to the 1970s when Ed Broadbent led the party. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and the Conservatives have continuously opposed this kind of reform.

However, there has been some movement on this issue. Half the Liberal caucus, excluding Justin Trudeau, supported Mr. Scott’s motion. We must achieve a consensus if we are to move ahead on this significant reform, and I hope that all parties will support our initiative.

In Vancouver, Tom Mulcair stated that the NDP is committed to introducing a mixed-member proportional system during our first term in office. Our first step will be to create an all-party task force because nothing would be better for the future of parliamentary democracy than to see the NDP, the Green Party, the Liberals and the Conservatives all committed to introducing proportional representation. This multi-party team would work closely with experts and consult the public on the best way to introduce this new electoral system.

The next election is your opportunity to vote for a fairer, healthier and more equitable democratic system.

On that note, I wish you a wonderful 2015!