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Jason VandenBeukel
Jason VandenBeukel is a PhD student in political science at the University of Toronto.

It’s long past time for electoral reform in Canada

Wait! Stop! Don’t turn away just yet! I know what you’re thinking: another progressive pontificator whining about our electoral system simply because they are incapable of properly taking advantage of it.

I promise I’m not one of them. Indeed, until quite recently, I believed that Canada’s first past the post system (FPTP) was one of the greatest features of our parliamentary democracy. Majority governments, a far off dream for most political parties across the democratic world, were par for the course in Canada. Not for us the indignity of coalition negotiations, or the fracturing of our party system into a dozen different groups advocating for everything from internet piracy to the reconstruction of the Berlin Wall. Canadian politics were of a different breed than the politics of those countries that used proportional representation: where their governments were chaotic and shaky, ours were ordered and stable.

Of course, to be perfectly honest, it never hurt that the party to most recently benefit from FPTP was the Conservative Party. As a conservative (and for the most part, also a Conservative), I was quite happy to see my party win a majority government with less than forty percent of the popular vote. So what if it wasn’t exactly representative? At least Stephen Harper was the Prime Minister. And after all, hadn’t Jean Chretien won a majority government in 1997 with even less of the popular vote? Now it was our turn.

I also once thought that, as a conservative, it was my solemn duty to support any aspect of the Canadian political system, which had survived since Confederation. If it made it this far, I figured, it must have some merit. So what if that merit was largely the ability to perpetuate the electoral dominance of those parties in power? Shutting out fringe parties in favour of the big centrist parties seemed to be a benefit, rather than a downfall, of our electoral system. And if that meant Elizabeth May had to move from Nova Scotia to British Columbia just to win a seat in Parliament, so much the better.

Despite this, my reluctant change of heart, which has been ongoing for some time, was accelerated by the recent elections in Alberta and the United Kingdom. The injustice of a system that rewarded the UK Conservatives with fifty-one percent of the seats, based on thirty-seven percent of the vote, while at the same time giving the UK Independence Party 0.2 percent of the total seat count, despite the fact that they won over twelve percent of the vote, is simply too great to be ignored. FPTP is incompatible with true democracy. There is no adequate defence for a system that so blatantly distorts the electoral will of the voters and yet claims to be democratic. It is inherently and irretrievably inequitable.

And so, despite my fruitless, desperate search for any justification of our current system, I find myself grudgingly acknowledging the need for electoral reform in Canada. As much as I think the country has benefited from the last nine years of Conservative government, I cannot avoid the fact that most of the country did not vote for that government. Similarly, as unhappy as most Albertans were with their Progressive Conservative government, most still did not want the NDP to be in power. The fact that the wishes of the majority of Canadians are constantly ignored by our electoral system is, quite frankly, a national embarrassment.

Do I want unstable coalitions to take over from the steady majority governments, which have historically dominated Canadian politics? To be honest, it doesn’t particularly matter what I want. If the will of the voters results in an unstable coalition (even *shudder* a Liberal/NDP/Bloc coalition led by Stéphane Dion), then that is what they should get. When it comes down to it, each of us is only one Canadian among thirty six million. If you truly believe in the supremacy of the electoral will of the people, and if you truly think that democracy is worth defending and improving (both of which should be key priorities of any true conservative), then you too will see the need for each one of those thirty six million Canadians to have an equal voice. If you believe in democracy, then you cannot help but believe in electoral reform.

The Prince Arthur Herald

Photo Source: Flickr, Tony Webster