November 30, 2007
Canada needs electoral reform to bring in proportional representation. It is unconscionable that in a modern democracy such as ours, vast swathes of the electorate should be effectively disenfranchised by a voting system that is essentially corrupt, disproportionately weighted to favour some segments of the electorate to the misfortune of others.
A principled national movement for electoral reform is especially needed now, given moves afoot in the federal Parliament that would deny almost 40% of the Canadian electorate a fair vote. Yet the very organizations at the federal, provincial and local levels that ostensibly exist to bring us a fair voting system – they have names like Fair Vote Canada, Fair Vote BC, and Fair Vote Ontario – are eerily silent. None have anything to say on the largest electoral decision facing parliamentarians today.
The federal legislation – Bill C-22 – is designed to address current injustice, whereby citizens in some provinces are woefully underrepresented in the federal House of Commons. Using Quebec’s ratio of one MP for every 100,000 residents or so as a standard, the federal government plan would top up the number of MPs in fast-growing provinces. Alberta would likely get five additional MPs, for example, and British Columbia seven. After the 2011 census, the vote of an Albertan or a British Columbian would have equal weight with that of a Quebecer, eliminating an inequity that has justifiably rankled Westerners.
But another fast-growing province – Ontario – would be denied the same proportional representation as the others. Instead of getting an additional 21 MPs, the number needed to obtain the same ratio of about 100,000 residents per MP, Ontario would get but 10, less than half the number required.
Ontario Premier McGuinty, in standing up for fair-minded Canadians everywhere, clearly explained what is at stake:
“When important national decisions are made, Ontarians will not have the same right to have their voices heard, or their views count compared to Canadians living in B.C., Alberta or Quebec. In fact, Ontarians will have weaker representation in the federal Parliament than Canadians living anywhere else in Canada.
“Given Ontario’s growing population, the proposed legislation makes little sense. Under these changes, both Alberta and B.C. will get a new seat in the readjustment following the 2011 Census for every increase of approximately 100,000 people. However, Ontario will get only one new seat for roughly every 200,000 people. As time goes by, Ontarians would become increasingly under-represented with each new readjustment following a census.”
The unfairness, affecting almost 12.7 million Ontarians, could not be plainer. Yet rather than take on this dismissal of the principle of one person-one vote – surely a prerequisite for any voting system that pretends to democratic fair play – Fair Vote Canada has other priorities. It wants a system that gives political parties with insignificant public support the ability to veto legislation supported by the majority; that gives one-issue parties the clout to force their will on the majority; that gives political parties the right to install insiders as parliamentarians, even if the insiders are unpopular with the electorate – in short, Fair Vote Canada wants a system that gives more say to political parties and less to voters.
Had parties instead of people ruled, its Web site contends, the number of seats that the Saskatchewan Party won in its resounding victory earlier this month would have been fairer. It likewise faults the Manitoba election earlier this year. And the rejection of Fair Vote’s electoral approach by the Ontario electorate in a referendum last month.
“When the legislature does not reflect the electorate, both accountability to the electorate and the quality of legislation are compromised,” Fair Vote states. Yet it issues nary a peep at the prospect that the federal legislature will not reflect the Ontario electorate.
The Fair Vote lobbies, it’s fair to say, are not about fair voting at all. They are not even about proportional representation, the term they have appropriated to describe their electoral preferences. The Fair Vote lobbies are about delivering power to the parties, rather than power to the people.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and the Urban Renaissance Institute.
Feedback to this article
Rep by pop, National Post, December 8, 2007
Re: Tories Deny Ontario Democracy, Lawrence Solomon, Nov. 30
Lawrence Solomon confuses two definitions of “proportional representation.” The term is usually used to mean that a political party elects Members of Parliament in proportion to the votes they receive – a party that gets 42% of the votes wins 42% of the seats, and not 60%. This would seem an obvious and commonsense condition for a fair voting system, but it is far, far from the way our current voting system operates, much to the delight of Dalton McGuinty.
But Mr. Solomon uses the term to mean the equal weighting of votes from riding to riding, more properly referred to as “representation by population.” As he points out, Fair Vote Canada, of which I am a national director, has no position on rep by pop, for a couple of good reasons.
First of all, although not without significance, the problem is relatively trivial compared with the need for a fair voting system. Is the P.E.I. tail wagging the Canadian dog? Under the current system, most of us (and by “most” I mean more than half ) vote for losing candidates, so our votes have absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election. If the effective weight of your vote is zero and you are not meaningfully represented at all, what does it matter how large your riding is?
But in any case, the rep by pop problem is itself caused by our current voting system, and the simple and immediate solution is to adopt a proportional voting system. If every vote counts equally, then the size of your riding doesn’t matter much. In fact, a proportional voting system would give us much greater flexibility in varying the size of ridings to ensure effective and practical representation for rural and remote voters and smaller provinces. We could have smaller northern ridings, and more of them, without compromising the value of urban votes.
Oh, and the notion that Fair Vote Canada wants to give more power to political parties is just silly. Political parties already hold all the power, and have held it for a hundred years. The point of a proportional voting system is to give voters the power to hold political parties accountable.
Wayne Smith, National Council, Fair Vote Canada, Toronto