Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Struggle for Proportional Representation

Electing Members of Parliament in Canada is pretty simple. The country is divided into 308 districts. Political parties select candidates to run in each district or independents decided to run. Elections are held in each district and the candidate with the most votes, that is the candidate who surpasses the person with the second most votes, wins and becomes the Member of Parliament for that district. This fairly simple system is the first past the post system and it causes fear-based voting.

If you watch reruns of This Hour Has Twenty-Two Minutes you’ll notice jokes with the punch line “voting NDP is throwing your vote away”. Smaller parties, like the NDP, get the shaft under our system, where winners take all. The composition of the House of Commons does not represent the national support for the NDP. In the 39th Federal Canadian Election the NDP received 17.48 % of the overall national vote while getting only 9.42 % * of the seats in the House of Commons.

The regionally popular Bloc Quebecois, however, with 10.48% of the national vote received 16.56% of the seats. ** They have more seats than the nationally more popular NDP!

Our system doesn’t even ensure regional (district) views are properly represented. Just look at the Churchill district. The Liberal candidate, Tina Keeper, with a minority 40.68% of the district vote won. There were unique circumstances, for sure. The NDP Churchill Riding Association held an election, where Niki Ashton was voted in and Bev Desjarlais voted out. Desjarlais ran as an independent and split the traditional NDP vote. But MPs have been elected with 35% of the district vote, as in Welland.

Electors fear letting the worst candidate in, so they usually vote against rather than for someone. Fear of letting the Conservatives in is why so many electors vote for the Liberals instead of the NDP.

A popular set of alternatives is Proportional Representation and according to Fair Vote Canada:

“The core principle [of Proportional Representation] is to treat all voters equally – to make every vote count. When votes are treated equally, then election results are proportional. Parties get the seats they deserve – no more, no less.”

Understandably, the NDP is pushing for Proportional Representation. NDP Member of Parliament, Catherine Bell, introduced a motion which would get a committee to look into electoral reform. The committee would consider consulting the public on the matter. The motion didn’t include any specific alternative, but it laid out necessary groundwork for future reform. The motion did not pass.

Bell hasn’t given up. She’s now using a petition to get direct citizen support for electoral reform.

As demonstrated above, our system has flaws so reform is desirable. The system of Proportional Representation I’d most like to see here in Canada is the single transferable vote, because it allows for regional considerations but fairly represent parties in the House of Commons.

*The New Democratic Party filled 29 seats in the House of Commons. There are 308 seats in total. 29 divided by 308 equals 0.0942 (to the ten thousandth precision). 0.0942 multiplied by 100 equals the percentage of seats the NDP received, 9.42%.

**The Bloc Quebecois filled 51 seats in the House of Commons. 51 divided by 308 equals 0.1656 (to the ten thousandth precision). Multiplied by 100 this equals the percent of seats of the House of Commons they filled, which is 16.56%.

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