Time to ditch first-past-the-post system

A Town Crier Community Column

Compared with our European allies, Canada is a deadbeat democracy — and that’s no commentary on the flat flavour of this federal election campaign as it grinds forward to E-Day on May 2.

It is, though, an accurate description of how unrepresentative Parliament will look when the votes are tallied and a new government is formed. Whether it’s a minority or majority outcome the fact is our next House of Commons will fail, again, to reflect how Canadians actually voted.

Thanks to our first-past-the-post system of electing members of parliament — a discredited mechanism we share with Britain, the U.S. and very few other developed countries — a new government will be formed with the likely support of less than 40 percent of voters.

More than six of every 10 voters will cast their ballots for opposition parties, but they will be shut out of any effective participation in how national policies are fashioned and then adopted.

It’s an all-or-nothing system and it badly needs fixing. Unfortunately, our main parties pay lip service to democratic reform, but any meaningful change to the system, such as the introduction of a form of proportional representation, or PR, is largely ignored because, frankly, the three main parties in English Canada all believe they have a realistic chance of forming government without the “nuisance” of a cooperative power-sharing arrangement with the others.

PR has been a fixture of European politics for decades and the evidence shows it works to meet the democratic aspirations of its varied peoples. It can be clumsy at times and it often results in coalition governments. But at last look nations like Germany, the Netherlands, Austria or the Scandanavian countries haven’t collapsed into legislative anarchy and their economies thrive, global recessions notwithstanding.

Which brings us around to the riding of Parkdale-High Park where Liberal Gerard Kennedy and New Democrat Peggy Nash find themselves in a horse race to finish first past the post.

Only one of them will actually get elected.

Ideally, both of them should have a seat in Ottawa.

Under a PR system that incorporates a method of party lists, candidates like Nash and Kennedy would likely figure prominently near the top of their respective party lists. Which means that while only one of them would be directly elected to Parliament by local voters, the other would justifiably earn a seat as an outcome of the popular support their party attracted nation-wide.

Kennedy and Nash, together in Ottawa, would be formidable representatives. Each is a progressive activist who accurately mirrors the demonstrated will of voters in Parkdale-High Park over the past 20 years at all levels of government.

This corner of west Toronto is, arguably, home to the most progressive voters found anywhere in the GTA having already elected Nash and Kennedy on previous occasions, along with the likes of David Miller, Cheri DiNovo, Gord Perks, Sarah Doucette, Irene Atkinson, Bob Rae and Sarmite Bulte.

Parkdale-High Park is not a division of Ford Nation.

A form of proportional representation that includes party lists would almost guarantee that both Kennedy and Nash would be in Parliament.

Based on their abilities and proven track records, both deserve to be in Parliament.

The result would be good for Parkdale-High Park and even better for all of Canada.

Sadly, however, the outcome on May 2 will be a glass half-filled.

About this article:

By: Greg Hamara
Posted: May 11 2011 12:54 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto