Opinions

Proportional representation worth a closer look

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If you plan to learn about only one issue during the current Federal election campaign, consider making that issue electoral reform, specifically proportional representation. Our current "first-past-the-post" model allows the candidate who gets the highest percentage of votes in a riding to sit in parliament as that riding's MP. Sounds good, right? Not necessarily--look at what recent history taught us.
In the last federal election, Reform only got 54.4 per cent of the vote in Alberta.
Although only half of us voted for them, Reform won all Alberta seats but two, thus representing 92.2 per cent of the Alberta delegation of MPs in Ottawa. In a nutshell: 50 per cent of the province voted Reform, yet they won 90 per cent of the available seats.

It was worse in Ontario. The Progressive Conservatives got 18.8 per cent of the vote, but won only one seat out of 103. At the risk of flogging a dead horse: 20 per cent of Ontarians wanted PC representation, yet Ontario PCs comprise less than one per cent of their provincial MPs. If statistics like these don't worry democratically-minded Canadians, we don't know what will.

Enter proportional representation. Very simply, this is a system many Western countries use in one form or another. In our current model, misrepresentation runs rife, especially since some ridings might field candidates from as many as 10 different parties, who all get a certain amount of support. Only one can win outright. Under proportional representation, a party gets as much influence in parliament as they truly deserve; there would be a direct correlation between how many people voted for the party and what percentage of power said party has over parliament, the organization that represents the voting public. Under our current system, the winner takes all.

Not only is proportional representation a fairer system, it acts to lessen the effects of regional voting as well. In a country as diverse as Canada, this is no small benefit.
There are downsides, of course. Proportional representation encourages minority governments, and minority governments lack the teeth of majority governments; however, there is a certain advantage in terms of accountability. But under a system of proportional representation, a minority government can ally with a moderate or sympathetic party to push through legislation it could not otherwise pass. This is a not-too-insignificant problem in places such as Israel. However, Canada is proving fully capable of obtaining a minority government using our current model, so maybe this isn't a worry after all.

If the 1997 election had been tallied under a system of proportional representation, the Liberals would have formed a minority government. The PCs would have had nearly three times the seats in the House of Commons. The NDP would have had a few extra seats as well. The Reformers/Alliance would likely not have gained or lost a seat.

Electoral reform won't be implemented in time for this campaign, but it could certainly be in place by the next time Canadians hit the polls. If you like this idea, let the candidates in your riding know and ask them their opinion. Challenge them at town halls and corral them when they come to your door. This may not prove to be the best electoral model for Canadians to adopt, but sufficient evidence exists to warrant a thorough debate.

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