Stubborn and unimaginative political elites have turned electoral reform into a national threat
It looks like electoral reform is coming to Canada at last, after seven failed provincial referenda on the issue.
If you are reading this and thinking “I guess they finally passed the referendum in PEI”, you are in for a surprise. That referendum not only failed, but it was the third referenda on electoral reform in PEI alone.
Instead, it is the Quebec government that has announced its intention to introduce a Bill to switch to proportional representation (MMP) without a referendum. Nor was there sufficient public consultation.
The announcement was celebrated by FairVote.ca, which lists MMP as one of three alternate voting systems that they endorse.
This is to say that the format of proportional representation that Quebec will adopt is one of the most extreme, even within the realm of electoral reform.
Perhaps this move should not be as surprising, however, considering that Quebec has had a unique multi-party system for at least as long as the Parti Quebecois have been around.
Premier Legault, who himself was elected on a false majority and who runs the only centre-right party in the province, might not only be dooming Quebecers to perpetual minority governments, but also to perpetual majority-progressive legislatures.
Quebec is a little bit different of course. Proportional representation will give more of a voice to anglophones, but will further marginalize rural and indigenous voices.
However, this is not a matter of Quebec simply doing their own thing. This will set a precedent for progressive governments all over the country.
In the rest of the country, it is the NDP who are the most pushy proponents of electoral reform. In Ontario, this sentiment is exacerbated by at least two factors.
Firstly, NDP network in Ontario will not have forgotten the downsizing of the Toronto City Council (which I personally supported), which some see as having been unilateral electoral reform. At least some will see that incident as license to implement electoral reform unilaterally.
Secondly, many in the NDP blame Kathleen Wynne for the PC win in Ontario. A big part of that comes from when she made the unprecedented move of conceding the election during the campaign. By conceding but not endorsing the NDP, she allegedly had the intention of maximizing wasted votes to ensure a PC win.
Electoral reform is not just some impractical idea, it has become mainstream dogma for a new generation that will eventually no longer put up with first-past-the-post, simple as that. It is a hard pill to swallow for conservatives, but it is about time that they get onside and pick a horse.
The race is on, and it may just be a matter of which electoral system passes the post first. If conservatives at least show a good faith effort to propose a form of electoral reform, it should become a popular option even if only because it would likely be less extreme and more understandable than the other systems.
In fact, the range of electoral reform proposals have been shockingly uncreative, and each has raised the prospect of creating more problems than it ever claimed to solve.
If conservatives can come up with a good reasonable alternative proposal to the growing MMP-STV-PR madness, it would likely be enough to release just enough political pressure to ensure that more radical reforms will be impossible. Some of these outlandish ideas, some of which would create ballots that look like this, would no longer have any reasonable justification.
Even if such a proposal fails, it would at least set a precedent for a fair and honest discussion, rather than politicos trying to shove European failures down the throats of voters.
The recent BC referendum illustrates the need for this, as the best example of an NDP premier doing all he could to stack the deck in favour of reforms that he was not even willing to fully explain. I saw the referendum as a choice between three blank cheques, since the options were presented in a way that was sufficiently vague to allow for the subsequent writing of NDP-favouring rules.
A conservative plan would also have the advantage of being presentable to progressives as a “first step” in the right direction even from their own perspective. It is not that hard to design a system that fixes some of the problems with the current system but does not necessarily favour any particular party.
Campaigning on such a plan would create an opportunity to attack progressives’ failed approaches to electoral reform, and finally create a frame of reference so that the public can finally see these alternate voting systems for what they are: completely unsuitable for Canada.
Conservative governments around the country must make a good faith legislative effort at moderate non-partisan electoral reform before a buildup of pressure buys the progressive political capital necessary to implement a dangerous and radical programme of unilateral electoral reform. Our future stability depends on it.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article suggested that FairVote.ca advocated primarily for MMP, and has been edited to reflect that they in fact advocate for three alternative voting systems.