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Federal Politics

Tinkering with a broken system is not the answer

Image Courtesy of Torontoist.com

According to the National Post, the Conservative government will announce plans on Friday to move forward with a plan to add an additional 30 seats to the House of Commons in a misguided effort to deal with the imperfections in our system of representation by population.

And there are many imperfections in the current rep by pop system, to be sure. Here is a brief example of how the vote is skewed across the country, and how one person-one vote would be ideal, but is far from the truth at the moment:

If the average weight of a voter in such an international survey is taken to be 1.0, the weight of a vote in Quebec is 1.01, almost exactly what it should be. In Alberta, though, the average is just 0.92, in Ontario 0.91 and in B.C. just 0.90. Meanwhile, in Manitoba, each vote is worth 1.22. New Brunswick votes are worth 1.34, Saskatchewan 1.39 and P.E.I. votes 2.88. Far from there being one-person, one-vote in Canada, a vote in PEI is worth more than three times what a vote in B.C. is worth.

This is unbelievable. Everyone always picks on P.E.I. when they talk about voting problems in this country, and I am no exception. I wrote yesterday on voter turnout last Monday, and used the smallest province as an example of riding disparities. It is too convenient not to. So the National Post and I are on the same page when it comes to the importance of changing our voting system. They write that “the Tories should be commended for acting so quickly to redress Canada’s democratic imbalance.”

Maybe. But the Post also rails against the Opposition for killing Bill C-20 last December, which would have added those 30 seats (18 in Ontario, 7 in British Columbia, and 5 in Alberta). They applaud Harper for moving forward with this so quickly based on the fact the Tories need no longer fear a reprisal from Quebec within their own party or from a powerful Bloc Quebecois, given that they hold only six seats in that province (the lowest since the First World War), and the Bloc has been decimated. (Quebec traditionally opposes any realignment of the current voting system because it tends to favour provinces with growing populations that are surpassing, or have surpassed, Quebecs, thus ‘diluting’ their power in Ottawa.) The CPC is simply striking while their ‘enemies’ are vulnerable – and the Post cheers them on – which does not bode well for any spirit of co-operation or moderation for the next four years.

And while I do agree with the Post that there are problems in the way we elect MP’s in this country, they are in support of simply tinkering with a broken system. The decision to add 30 seats to the 308 we already have coming from a party in favour of small government strikes me as hypocritical, even if it is in the name of righting a modern imbalance in our voting system.

Of course the Post makes no mention as to why the Opposition would oppose such a measure: namely, that it would be adding 30 seats to provinces that have just returned massive amounts of Conservative MP’s. And while I would do nothing to support the addition of up to 30 more Conservatives in the House of Commons, I will say that party politics is not a good enough reason for the opposition to block a much-needed re-alignment of our unequal voting system.

But why is it, in this rush to rectify the inequalities in the rep by pop system, are we not looking for the systemic causes of our voting problems, rather that simply treating the symptoms? In other words, why has proper electoral reform like mixed-member-proportional (to take one of many examples) not even been mentioned? Is it because MMP and others benefit smaller parties, while Harper’s addition of 30 seats will overwhelmingly support the Conservatives?

Yes – yes it is! This tinkering is only adding a band-aid to a massive problem in the way we approach the election of our political leaders. And while the Conservatives should be commended for making strides to amend this, they should also be upbraided for using this as yet another opportunity to score political points under the guise of electoral reform, when this is electoral reform of the pandering, manipulative sort.

If we are serious about addressing the major imbalances in voter weight and worth in this country, we will oppose the new Tory plan to add 30 seats as too simple, and too unconcerned with equality and fairness. And we will recommend that proper electoral reform be considered in it’s place.

(And don’t I feel naive using the word “fair” in a political blog.)

About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.


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