Sun, Dec
7
2008

Proportional Representation and National Unity

Sun, Dec 7, 2008

Apropos of nothing, I’d like to throw out some numbers:

  • There are more Conservative MPs in this federal government from the province of Ontario than there are Conservative MPs from the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba combined.
  • 36% of Albertans who voted, voted for parties other than the Conservatives — roughly 2 out of every 5 Albertans. Pick an two Albertans out of a crowd of five, and try to pick the ones who decided to think a little differently. Can you do it?
  • Similarly, over a third of voters in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area voted for Conservative candidates. They received 20% of the seats, and not a single one within the City of Toronto proper, when if you believe in real representation by population, they deserve at least four.

Clearly, the break in this country is far less east-west, and far more urban-rural, but that doesn’t stop the rhetoric.

The regional polarization that I’ve seen arise over the debate on the merits of the proposed coalition government illustrate, for me, why this country desperately needs a proportional representation style of government — possibly regional-open Mixed Member Participation or Single Transferable Vote. Yes, such a system would give us a lot of minority governments, like we have now, but they would be different from our current minority governments in critical respects:

  1. All of the parties would be aware that they wouldn’t need the artificial threshold of 40% of the vote in order to obtain their desired majority of seats — thus reigning over the remaining 60% without the need to consult. Instead, they would have little choice but to reach out to one or more parties to pass the real, democratic 50% threshold to get their policies passed. Frustratingly, parties like the Liberals and the Conservatives promise to look into this when they’re in opposition, but find the taste of power too intoxicating to actually implement changes when they’re in government.
  2. A proportional system of government would give us Liberal and New Democratic MPs from Alberta and Saskatchewan and Conservative MPs from Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Partisans may not like this, but consider it a moment: Liberals from Saskatchewan. Conservatives from Toronto. Greens from anywhere. These would be Liberals or New Democrats who go to Ottawa after having spoken to or interacted with friends, neighbours, acquaintances and voters from provinces like Alberta. These MPs would have a far better chance, I suspect, of understanding the concerns of your average Albertans or Torontonians, than the current brand of Liberals or Conservatives who have been shut out of these regions.
  3. These Liberals from Alberta and Saskatchewan or these Tories from Toronto could take this understanding to the party caucus meetings where such sentiments haven’t been heard often enough. They can begin to change the parties into something that both reflects a national interest, while at the same time being more responsive to regions they’ve been tempted to ignore in the past. Liberals can build something that resonates in Western Canada, and Conservatives can build something that resonates in our big cities.

Let’s not be fooled into thinking that our three previous minority governments where the two main parties have been constantly one sucker punch away from majority power are at all indicative of the minority governments we could receive in a system that matches power more accurately to population. Instead, the regional differences that spice our country would no longer be exaggerated, and each party would be better equipped to understand and respond to the aspirations of all parts of the nation, rather than their limited redoubts.


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