Make Canada Democratic Again

By Jack Bourassa, Regional Executive Vice President for the North

(as published in the Yellowknifer, November 23, 2016)

Trumpocalypse, #RIPUSA, and many other striking hashtags were trending on social media on November 8th 2016. Bewilderment rippled worldwide.

Aside from the myriad of socio-economic issues that led to Trump’s election, one evident cause stood out.

Hillary Clinton got 47.7% of the vote. Donald Trump got 47.5% of the vote. Donald Trump won the U.S. Presidency due to a broken winner-take-all voting system. A system that Canada knows too well, and one that we’ve been trying to change.

On June 16, 2015, Justin Trudeau promised that if elected, he would ensure that 2015 was the last election using first-past-the-post in Canada. He promised to make every vote count.

Three parties representing 63% of voters made that same promise to Canadians.

The topic is not new. In a 2004 report titled “Voting Counts”, the Law Commission of Canada recommended the implementation of a mixed member proportional system (MMP) electoral system to replace the undemocratic first-past-the-post system that is currently in use.

Why? For too long, Canadian elections haven’t produced the governments Canadians truly want.

According to the Broadbent Institute, in only 3 out of 28 federal elections since 1921, a party has formed government with more than 50% support from voters. Despite the 50% voter support, the party that wins a majority of the seats in the House of Commons wins 100% of the power.

Under a proportional representation system, no one party could get 100% of the power with less than half of the vote. Parties would have to work together across party lines, allowing for compromise and negotiation.

Ignoring the report produced by the Law Commission of Canada and research findings from around the world, the Liberals have decided to proceed instead with expert and public consultations.

From coast to coast to coast, Canadians lined up at the microphones asking that the government keep the promise and deliver proportional representation—a system that celebrates our diversity and makes every vote count.

In Yellowknife, a few dozen participants expressed similar views with the rest of the country, overwhelmingly supporting different forms of proportional representation.

Alongside holding public consultations, in June 2016 the federal government appointed an all-party Special Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE) which held its own public engagements and heard expert witnesses on the matter of electoral reform.

89% of the ERRE expert witnesses with a position on voting systems recommended proportional representation. This backed up the findings of decades of worldwide research and 13 previous electoral reform processes in Canada, including two impartial citizen assemblies.

Last week the ERRE Committee arrived to its final days of negotiations. In a shocking move, the NDP committee members announced they would consider teaming up with the Conservatives to support a referendum, thus effectively ignoring 71% of the expert witnesses who appeared before the Commission and deemed a referendum to be undesirable or unnecessary.

Over the next few days, the ERRE committee will meet to negotiate a recommendation, with December 1st as the release date of the final report.

There is deep concern that the Liberals on the ERRE Committee will not push for any kind of proportional representation, although they were presented with many made-in-Canada proportional options to choose from.

With our chance at voter equality in grave peril, the Liberals on the Committee need to hear from Canadians more than ever.

It’s challenging enough that we now have to live with the potentially devastating policies of Donald Trump for the next four years.

We cannot allow candidates using Trump-style race-baiting politics to gain power in Canada.

The scars left by of the distorted results of a winner-take-all voting system on the Canadian values, and ultimately the lives of ordinary people, would be too profound.

In a time of complex problems, we need elections that are fair and governments that can work together to solve them.

To paraphrase the USA president elect, we need to Make Canada Democratic Again.