NDP MP Craig Scott proposes an “adapted-for-Canada” system of proportional representation

by: Obert Madondo  | Published Friday, Jul. 11, 2014

The Harper majority is a lie, a protester declares during a 2012 demonstration on Parliament Hill. (OBERT MADONDO/The Canadian Progressive)

The Harper majority is a lie, a protester declares during a 2012 demonstration on Parliament Hill. (OBERT MADONDO/The Canadian Progressive)

The Canadian democracy is broken. In fact, it’s in the ICU.

We have a majority government rejected by over sixty per cent of Canadians during the 2011 federal election. The Conservatives bagged 54% of the seats in the House of Commons after winning only 39.5% of the vote. Not only that. Now a right-wing regime relentlessly prosecuting a dictatorship-style assault on Canadian democratic institutions and values presently holds power in Ottawa.

Harper must go. And our electoral system must change. For the 2015 federal election, every vote should count. And the composition of the House of Commons should reflect the political and electoral preferences of Canadians.

NDP MP Craig Scott and the Official Opposition believe we need more than a system of “proportional representation” to renew our democracy and reform Parliament. We need an “adapted-for-Canada” system of PR, he said in a message posted to his Facebook page Thursday.

“We are ruling out from the outset the sub-set of PR systems that eliminate directly elected local MPs – for example, as exists in Greece or Israel,”  wrote Scott, the Official Opposition critic for Democratic and Parliamentary Reform. “Those kinds PR systems are not appropriate for Canada because they do not include a central virtue of our present system, which is that every constituency elects one MP who must serve the community as a whole once elected and who can be held directly accountable when seeking re-election.”

Here’s the full text of Scott’s message:

Dear Friends,

I encourage you to spread the word about the NDP online petition to demand that every vote count in our electoral system through an adapted-for-Canada system of proportional representation: http://petition.ndp.ca/demand-that-your-vote-count.

Last summer and fall, as the Official Opposition Critic for Democratic and Parliamentary Reform, I spent a considerable amount of time at town halls across Canada and working with partners in civil society on the need for our country to adopt a fairer voting system than our present ‘first past the post’ system. By “fairer”, I mean a system based on a representation of parties through seats in the House of Commons that is directly proportionate to the percentage of the popular vote they received in an election – proportional representation (or, PR). At the same time, we are ruling out from the outset the sub-set of PR systems that eliminate directly elected local MPs – for example, as exists in Greece or Israel. Those kinds PR systems are not appropriate for Canada because they do not include a central virtue of our present system, which is that every constituency elects one MP who must serve the community as a whole once elected and who can be held directly accountable when seeking re-election.

Before looking at the PR system I have been advocating, let’s first be clear on the central unfairness of the current ‘first past the post’ system. This system saw the conservatives win 39.5% of the vote in the 2011 federal election, and yet receive something like 54% of the seats in the House of Commons. Not only is this a false majority but also it distorts our national politics because our Parliamentary system gives governments with over 50% of the MPs in the House of Commons 100% of the power to ram through a highly partisan legislative agenda – without any need to work cooperatively with other parties in the House of Commons even though, as in 2011, those opposition parties received over 60% of the votes.

But it is crucial also to be clear that the unfairness of this system does not depend on it being the Conservatives who most recently benefited from it. Our ‘first past the post’ system produces unfair, distorted results as the rule rather than as the exception, regardless of who wins a majority government because of it. For example, take two Ontario provincial examples of parties other than the Conservatives that received over 50% of the seats in the legislature at Queen’s Park despite receiving well under 40% of the vote: both the NDP a couple decades ago and the Liberals a couple of months ago formed majority governments with only 38% of the vote. It is no more acceptable for the NDP or the Liberals to achieve majorities unfairly than it is for the Conservatives (even as many of us have, of course, become most acutely aware of the consequences of our electoral system due to the ideological damage the Conservatives are doing to Canada as a result of the false majority of seats that they received in 2011).

Under my and Tom Mulcair’s leadership, the NDP has made its strongest commitment ever to implement a PR system. And we are not speaking in generalities. We have an actual preferred PR system that we have put on the table. Our own strong preference is for the PR system that works well in three very healthy democracies – New Zealand, Scotland and Germany. This is the same system that, since the year 2000, commissions or citizen assemblies in four provinces (Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and PEI) and at the federal level (The Law Commission of Canada) have recommended be adopted here.

This electoral system’s technical name is the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. An MMP system seeks to achieve the best of both worlds, by combining proportional representation of parties in Parliament with the direct election of an MP in each constituency.

More concretely, we can think about the system from the perspective of each voter as she goes into the polling booth to vote. From that practical perspective, we can call it the “One Ballot, Two Vote” system. On a single ballot, each elector ticks one box to vote for the local MP (exactly as voters do under our current system) – the candidate with most votes becomes MP – and then ticks another box to indicate which party they prefer – the party with the most votes ends up with the most seats in the House of Commons. Apart from having two votes to get the best of both worlds, another beauty of this system is that voters can split those two votes, for example, a voter can vote in the first vote on her ballot for a candidate from Party X to be the local MP and then vote for Party Y in her second vote on the ballot.

Again, I encourage you to spread the word about the NDP online petition to demand that every vote count in our electoral system through an adapted-for-Canada system of proportional representation: http://petition.ndp.ca/demand-that-your-vote-count.

Those who sign the petition will hear more from me about how the NDP plans to design and then implement a “One Ballot, Two Vote” PR system when I return make this campaign my number one priority from this coming fall through 2015.

Craig

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter.com/Obiemad

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Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based independent journalist and progressive political blogger. He's the publisher and editor of The Canadian Progressive.