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We Need Proportional Voting

Note: This column was first posted 15 May, 2014.

[“The Fair Elections Act has passed the Commons at last, and seems destined to become law before long. It is a much amended bill, and much improved for it: Some of the most contentious sections, such as the ban on vouching or the exemption from campaign spending limits for expenses incurred in fundraising, have been modified or removed.

Amongst the provisions that remain, however, is the one prohibiting Elections Canada from taking out ads encouraging people to vote. Conservatives hold fast to the view that getting out the vote is the responsibility of political parties, not the government. Elections Canada’s efforts are inevitably biased, they feel, because they are focused on groups, such as students, who are less likely to vote — and who, as it happens, are even less likely to vote Conservative.

Will democracy suffer as a result? Elections Canada can scarcely claim great success for its efforts. Turnout at the federal level has dropped from the 75% it averaged for most of the post-war period to just 61% in the last election. Yet turnout in federal elections is high compared with most provinces. If recent trends hold, just half of eligible voters will cast their ballots in next month’s Ontario election.

“Majority” governments are now formed in this country with the support of barely one in five adult citizens — about the same as elected governments a century ago, when women were not allowed to vote. We are, in short, facing a crisis of democratic legitimacy. If Elections Canada hasn’t stopped the slide, it seems no more likely to improve if we just leave it to the parties.”] excerpt from the article by Andrew Coyne.

Andrew’s points are well taken, and correct particularly in a proportional voting system. In the First by The Post voting system, like ours, Andrew’s argument is largely rationale because a minority of the popular vote, however many voters cast ballots, can elect a majority government. If every eligible voter cast a ballot, a minority of the popular vote could elect a majority government. That isn’t democracy, if democracy is the point of it.

That explains why voting in Australia, where Parliamentary government and proportional voting have co-existed for years, is supported by a mandatory voting law. So much of Andrew’s argument holds water ‘down under,’ but not so much here. Our voting system works even when voters stay home.

It’s an indictment of our voting system. We need proportional voting, not the European model, but one like the one used in Australia and New Zealand. Both countries have governments that represent the popular will of voters.

We don’t have that here, and making everyone vote won’t change anything unless we change our voting system. Is that likely to happen? Yes, when pigs fly. It’s as likely as reforming the Senate.

In a proportional voting system, majority governments are impossible. That forces all parties to co-operate to pass legislation. It means that a PM has less power, so you can imagine the reluctance of a PM in Canada to support the idea.

Our voting system, by its design, is corrupted before anyone votes. Political parties prefer it that way. It’s a marvel that Australia and New Zealand ever managed it.

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Professional. Retired. Canadian.

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