3 Articles on Proportional Representation


Provincial NDP out of step with New Federal Leader

Overhaul electoral system, Layton urges

Federal NDP leader wants first past the post system scrapped

By James Parker of The StarPhoenix Star Phoenix June 13, 2022

Canadians will get a much bigger say on how the country is run if the federal government adopts proportional representation as a means of picking MPs, says federal NDP Leader Jack Layton.

This fall, the New Democrats will introduce a motion in the House of Commons calling for a national referendum on changing Canada's electoral system from the “first past the post” system to proportional representation. “Jean Chretien has been elected as prime minister three times, and the last two times, the majority of Canadians didn't support him,” Layton said during a recent stopover in Saskatoon.

“The last election (in 2000), he had 40 per cent of the vote. That means 60 per cent of Canadians voted against him, yet he has 100 per cent of the power"

Canada is one of the few countries in the developed world which doesn't use some form of proportional representation, which gives parties power in proportion to the number of votes they receive. For years, New Democrat MP Lorne Nystrom has been beating the drum for proportional representation on the federal scene. He and others who support the system say it will boost voter turnout, because people will have a sense their votes will count, and lead to a true sharing of power and more consensual decision making.

The Liberals don't seem eager to embrace the system, however. For Paul Martin, the likely successor to Chretien, reforming the House of Commons is the top priority when it comes to democratic reform. He has promised to take power away from the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) and give it back to MPs.

But some observers say there is a quiet momentum building toward proportional representation, a trend which will eventually force Ottawa to act. Five provinces are looking seriously at electoral reform and could possibly adopt new ways of electing MLAs. British Columbia has convened a citizens' assembly, which will choose an alternative voting system within 18 months. A referendum on its proposal will be held in conjunction with the next provincial election in 2005. Ontario Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty, who has good shot at winning the next election, has promised a binding referendum on a reformed voting system during his first term in office. New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are looking at alternatives. Quebec Premier Jean Charest has promised a reform package which will include proposed changes to the electoral system “so that the distribution of seats in this assembly better reflects the votes expressed"

Federally, the NDP, the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance all support reform. The Law Commission of Canada is currently preparing a report on the issue.

Critics of proportional representation say it leads to coalition governments, which are unstable and unable to take decisive action. Layton, who acknowledges the NDP will be prime beneficiary if Canada adopts proportional representation, said minority governments in this country have been effective. “It's when the most action happens. It's when the most legislation gets passed. It's when the most innovative legislation gets passed. Through the 1960s and l970s, we had minority governments. That's when medicare and the Canadian Pension Plan was brought in. The record will show coalition governments — minority governments — are the most productive.”

Larry Gordon, executive director of Fair Vote Canada, a non-partisan group pushing for reform, said a “mixed-member” proportional representation system might be best for Canada Adopted by New Zealand in 1993, it has half the seats in Parliament elected by the conventional system and the other half based on total number of votes each party receives. On election day, a voter would choose a local representative and vote for a party.

In New Zealand, the number of seats increased from 99 to 120, with 65 elected through first past the post and 55 through proportional representation.

“The barrier to this (proportional representation) is often the party in power" said Gordon. “But that's starting to change. There's more change happening in this area than at any time in our history. A tidal wave of demand is coming on political reform. As a politician, you can either get crushed by it or ride the wave.”



Fair Vote Canada

Note:  Fair Vote Canada is a non-partisan organization working for electoral reform in Canada.

July 22, 2022

In this issue ...

-- Sign Our Online Petition
-- Next Quebec Election Will Be Proportional
-- Study Shows Nova Scotia Elections Waste a Majority of Votes Cast
-- FVC Commends New Brunswick Premier's Pledge
-- FVC Calls for Better PR Models in PEI
-- More Campaign Endorsements


-- Sign Our Online Petition

The Make Every Vote Count petition is now online. You can add your name to the list of Canadians from across the country and across the political spectrum who support Fair Vote Canada's campaign. With your support, we will make Canadian elections more democratic and
our representatives more accountable.

Sign the petition at http://www.fairvotecanada.org/petition.php.

After adding your name, you can send a message through the website to friends and colleagues whom you'd like to tell about the online petition. Please help circulate the news and build our movement for fair voting!

-- Next Quebec Election Will Be Proportional

Quebec will abolish the current voting system in favour of proportional elections in time for the next provincial election. Minister responsible for Reform of Democratic Institutions, Jacques Dupuis, said on July 9, "There is a big enough consensus in our society for us to go ahead. That is the mandate I have received from the Premier."

Prior to last spring's provincial election, the Parti Quebecois government announced its intention of adopting a proportional voting system. The project has been taken up by the new Liberal
government. The third party in the National Assembly, Action Démocratique du Québec, also favours the move.

At the Estates-General, held in February, 90 per cent of the participants - over 800 Quebecers from across the province - voted in support of proportional representation.

-- Study Shows Nova Scotia Elections Waste a Majority of Votes Cast

According to a study of provincial elections between 1980 and 2000 conducted by Fair Vote Canada, more than half of the votes cast (50.2%) by Nova Scotians did not produce political representation for those voters. During the period of the study, only Ontario voters were less likely than Nova Scotians to be represented as they wished.

"Political scientists call these 'wasted votes', which are a result of our widely discredited winner-take-all voting system," explained Larry Gordon, executive director of Fair Vote Canada. "Under our current voting system, the only voters who win political representation are those who support the most popular candidate in their riding.

"Winner-take-all is just what it says. One group of voters wins the right to representation, while the others lose that right."

Nova Scotians go to the polls August 5 in what appears to be a close competition between the governing Tories, the Liberals and the NDP.

The current voting system also frequently creates phony majority governments, in which one party wins a majority of seats without winning a majority of the popular vote. The 54 provincial elections between 1980 and 2000 produced 33 phony majority governments. The last Nova Scotia election was a classic case, where the voting system allowed the PCs to win a majority of seats with only 39% of the popular vote.

-- FVC Commends New Brunswick Premier's Pledge

Fair Vote Canada commended Premier Bernard Lord for his election promise to establish a commission to study proportional representation for New Brunswick.

The commitment to an electoral reform study came partway through the provincial election campaign in May, and two weeks after Fair Vote Canada released a report identifying New Brunswick as the province with the most distorted election outcomes.

Premier Lord's commitment is included in the "Reaching Higher, Going Further" platform released on May 26. The platform states: "Bernard Lord's plan will focus on strengthening democracy by establishing a commission on legislative democracy to study the concept of proportional representation, fixed election dates and other mechanisms."

-- FVC Calls for Better PR Models in PEI

FVC Atlantic Canada coordinator J'Nan Brown made a presentation at the public consultations of the Electoral Reform Commission in PEI in June. Ms Brown commended the commission for its focus on key issues, but called for the developments of several voting system models for PEI that will deliver broadly proportional election results.

-- More Campaign Endorsements

Fair Vote Canada is proud to receive official endorsements for its campaign from the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).

OPEIU has 11,500 members who work for large and small employers in both the public and private industry sectors, including the utility industry, tourism and travel, education, information technology, call centers, research, manufacturing, insurance and transit industries.

CUPW's membership includes a variety of Canada Post workers plus new members such as couriers, emergency medical dispatchers, and warehouse workers.

FVC has previously received endorsements from various unions, including the Canadian Labour Congress, and other organizations such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

-- Chapter and Caucus News

For information about activities of the Fair Vote Canada chapter in your area check the Chapters page in the "About Us" section of the website, www.fairvotecanada.org.

If you are interested in helping start a local chapter in your area, please contact info@fairvotecanada.org or phone 416-410-4034.


Fair Vote Canada
26 Maryland Blvd.
Toronto, Ontario
M4C 5C9

phone: 416-410-4034
fax: 416-686-4929
e-mail: info@fairvotecanada.orginfo@fairvotecanada.org
website: www.fairvotecanada.org


Proportional Representation
Submission to the Electoral Boundaries Commission of Alberta
on behalf of the Alberta Green Party
by its leader, David Parker, PEng.

No amount of tampering with the British Parliamentary system used in Alberta will make it as good (i.e. fair, democratic, equitable) as a system based on Proportional Representation (PR). The recent history of politics in Canada has shown that the First Past the Post (FPTP) system is fundamentally undemocratic. Some examples of the inequities:  The provincial government of Quebec holds a majority of seats with a minority of popular support.
The former NDP government of BC also had a majority of seats with a minority of the popular vote. The present governments of BC and Alberta have far more seats in their legislatures than warranted by the number of votes received.
The federal Progressive Conservatives, immediately after the Mulroney government, were reduced to 2 seats after having received approximately 19% of the popular vote. The Reform Party, with similar support, became the official opposition. The BC Green Party received 12.4% of the votes in the last provincial election, but was awarded no seats.

The present situation in Federal politics makes it seem that the west is entirely supportive of the Alliance Party, Ontario of the Liberals and that the PC Party is only supported in Atlantic Canada. In other words, it is divisive and polarizing.  These disparities and the propensity of governments with large (and false) majorities to enact unpopular legislation, have created a lack of interest in electoral politics, especially among the young.  The FPTP system can also encourage people to vote against candidates they find totally unsuitable as opposed to the candidate they truly support. This has caused the ongoing split in the right of center vote and robbed parties such as the Greens of support, where sympathizers prefer to vote against the right of center parties known to have regressive environmental policies.  In local competitions where two or more candidates of similar proclivities are vying for the same seat the vote will be split and a candidate supported by a minority may squeak through the middle. This scenario was played out in several Edmonton constituencies in the last provincial election between Liberal and NDP candidates resulting in an apparent increase in support for the ruling Tories.

The mandate of your commission is to examine another unfair feature of the FPTP system, that of Electoral Boundaries. The FPTP system requires the voter to choose one person to represent them, not a party. The voter may consider the candidate totally unsuitable for public office but, because he or she supports the party, may vote for them anyway. The reverse may also be the case - the voter supports an individual not the candidate's party platform.

Major population disparities exist between rural and urban constituencies in Alberta. The worst case is that of Calgary-Shaw where it takes four votes to equal one vote in Athabasa-Wabasca.

On average, the disparity between rural and urban votes is about 1.5 to 1. This must not be allowed to continue, if we are still to regard our political system as democratic. The concept of one person, one vote must be reestablished.

The general excuse for retaining such disparate constituency populations is that the size of rural constituencies make it difficult for the representative to adequately represent their constituents. In the 21st century, when communication and travel are so refined, fast and convenient, this excuse does not stand up. All representatives must spend a large proportion of their time travelling to and from Edmonton but this elicits few complaints. Unlike when the British Parliamentary system was first established, an elected representative can now be instantly in contact with any of their constituents. Highways and air travel now ensure that the representative can be anywhere in the province within a few hours when electronic communication is deemed inadequate.

The PR system is currently used in most democracies, with the notable exceptions of Britain, Canada and the US.

Germany and New Zealand electoral systems offer a compromise between our local constituency system and a totally PR system. These systems, known as Mixed Member Proportional allow each citizen two votes, one for a local candidate and another for a party list.

Another common PR system is the Single Transferable Vote in which electors rank several candidates in order of preference. If one candidate does not obtain at least 51% of the popular vote the candidate with the least votes is dropped.

PR has allowed a more diverse spectrum of political ideology within governments allowing them to more closely represent the political values of the electorate. Normally a single party does not acquire sufficient representation to form a government by itself forcing the creation of coalitions in order to govern.

There are several common criticisms of PR, but they do not hold water:
Governments with illegitimately large representation do not deserve to have the ability to enact legislation beyond the wishes of the population or outside the promises made during the election.

Democracy is messy, and a higher voter acceptance results from compromising party ideology than having the illegitimate power to enact legislation. Examples of where Canadian governments acted outside the wishes of the majority of the electorate are with NAFTA and the GST.

Small parties can become part of government, due to the necessity to create coalitions. Consequently, they may have an inordinately large influence on governmental policy.

This happens in countries where the threshold of electorability is low (i.e. the amount of the popular vote required to achieve representation). This is easily resolved by having a high threshold of, for example, more that 5% popular support. The country most often cited in relation to this problem is the State of Israel where the threshold is very low and certain religious parties hold undue sway on government action. If 1 in 20 people are prepared to give their support to a particular party I believe this confers the legitimacy required to hold office.

Governments can often be toppled in mid-mandate.

If the consent of the population is so narrow that a government does not have the requisite support to continue then this is a good example of democracy working. The post-war history of Italy has seen much of this governmental instability. However, Italy has always had a very strong communist movement and the Cold War influence has been very strongly in opposition of allowing the far left any foothold.

Although acceptance of a PR system is still remote in the province of Alberta I sincerely hope your Commission will make it one of your primary recommendations. Failing this I strongly suggest that electoral boundaries be given equal parity in population regardless of geographic size.