Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s claim that the 2015 federal election was the last one using the “first-past-the-post” (FPTP) voting method is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform Canada’s electoral system, Green Party member Elizabeth May said.
“This is a once in a generational change,” May said. “I think we are on the verge of the biggest democratic reform since women got the vote.”
May’s enthusiasm for replacing our FPTP electoral system with…anything…was on display Thursday at a “town hall” type meeting at the Museum at Campbell River.
Approximately 100 people interested in electoral reform attended the meeting in which May and Megan Dias, a Masters candidate in political science at the University of British Columbia, presented their views and then answered questions on what electoral reform means for Canada. Dias studies political behaviour and Canadian and American politics broadly. With the Centre for Democratic Institutions at UBC, Dias has researched electoral systems and reform from a comparative perspective, and has examined how this might play out in Canada.
May has been a proponent for electoral reform for all of her political life. She thinks Trudeau’s offer to reform the FPTP system is the best opportunity yet to replace the system many consider unfair to the majority of voters.
“I don’t think we’re getting another chance,” May said.
In the last two federal elections under FPTP, about 39 per cent of the people who voted got 54 per cent of the seats in Parliament, May said. This means about 61 per cent of voters did not get the government they wanted. Many of these people feel their vote was meaningless or wasted.
A Green Party information sheet handed out at the meeting says that since Confederation in 1867, an average of 52 per cent of voters have had no representation in their government.
The intent of electoral reform is to correct that and make the way we elect our governments more fair and equal. Some form of proportional representation (PR) is seen as the best way to make voting fair in Canada.
The Liberal government has appointed a Special Committee on Electorial Reform to explore how our voting system can be made more fair and effective. Part of its mandate is to consult with Canadians in determining its recommendations to be included in a final report due Dec. 1.
There are 94 countries using some form of proportional voting. Canada, the U.S., Britain and India are the only major democracies still using FPTP.
Some of the effects seen in countries adopting PR are:
- voter tunrout is up 7.5 per cent
- voter satisfaction is up 17 per cent
- disagreement between winners and losers is down 16 per cent
- the number of women elected is up seven per cent
- government policies are closer to the average voter’s values and result in more stability and less extremism
- there is only a small increase in the number of parties (less than one percent)
- less income inequality
- less energy inefficiency
- happier, gentler governments and populations
Thursday’s meeting took on the format of opening remarks by May and Dias followed by questions from the audience delivered in the form of written menu cards read to the guest speakers.
May is excited about the committee the Liberals have formed to explore the issue.
“I believe it to be fair,” she said.
If the committee comes up with a unified recommendations, May believes the Liberals are obligated to implement them.
Dias told the audience that whatever system is recommended it will be tailored to the needs of this country. It will most likely be a hybrid version of PR.
May agreed: “It is going to be a made-in-Canada system. We’re a different kind of country, so I think we are likely to have a hybrid.”
Dias said PR is responsive to the needs of minority groups in the voting system, whether that is women, youth or any other kind of minority – such as an informal political point of view that isn’t geographically determined, i.e., it’s spread throughout the population.
“First-past-the-post helps regional representation,” she said, “but it doesn’t help groups spread out across the country.”
May and other members of the committee – as well as other Members of Parliament – have been encouraged to get out into the country and stimulate debate about electoral reform, that was the reason for Thursday night’s meeting. A recent survey found that only three per cent of Canadians are engaged in the electoral reform debate.
With the committee making a final report on Dec. 1, time for public input is short.
There is an online questionaire put up by the committee and more information can be found at the committee’s website at http://www.parl.gc.ca/Committee/en/ERRE
Meanwhile, North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney will be hosting four town hall meetings on electoral reform.
An enthusiastic and inquisitive group of citizens gathered at Comox Community Centre on Sept. 10 to hear about and discuss changes to Canada’s voting system with Blaney.
Blaney, along with resident voting systems expert Jamie Deith, presented and answered questions on the review process currently under way, and the strengths and weaknesses of some of the voting systems and variations under consideration.
“The Liberals were clear that 2015 would be the last election using first-past-the-post. We want to make sure they honour that promise, and that what we bring in is a system that fairly reflects the values and intentions of voters in our riding and across the country,” said Blaney.
Blaney will be hosting three more town halls and continue to collect input from constituents until early October:
SATURDAY, SEPT. 17
1:30 p.m. at Dwight Hall in Powell River
SATURDAY, SEPT. 24
1 p.m. at Port McNeill Community Hall
SATURDAY, OCT. 1
Noon at Campbell River Community Centre