By Jenn Watt
August 16, 2016
Jamie Schmale is right: the last thing you want to think about in the middle of a sunny, hot summer is electoral reform. And yet, this summer, that’s just what he wants constituents to think about.
Our MP announced last week that he will be asking riding residents whether they think there should be a referendum on electoral reform. Despite not being personally in favour of changing the system, Schmale says he’s asking the question in response to the Liberal government’s electoral reform committee, which is examining election models and other concerns including the idea of online voting.
While the timing may not be the greatest, the questions being asked are incredibly important.
It takes only a cursory scan of vote tallies in any given Canadian election to see the government we get rarely reflects the diversity of views expressed through our ballots.
For example, according to CBC, in the last election 25 of the MPs elected received less than one-third of the votes in their riding; more than 60 per cent of voters did not want those candidates. But in first past the post, whoever gets the most votes wins.
Taken with a wider view, we see those parties with broad appeal across Canada can lose out to those with concentrated support.
“In the 2015 federal election, for example, the Liberals won every seat across the four Atlantic provinces; the Conservatives and NDP were blanked out despite the backing of 37 per cent of the region’s voters between them,” writes Simon Fraser University associate professor Andrew Heard in his online rundown of electoral reform.
Several provinces in recent years have held their own plebiscites on the subject, none of which led to change.
This could be because getting into the meat of reform is a confusing, time-consuming process with no clear answer. The system we have in place today is widely understood and has returned predictable, if at times unrepresentative, governments. Sometimes it seems better to leave the imperfect system alone when faced with uncertain alternatives.
However, alternatives do exist and are working quite well around the world. New Zealand and Germany both have systems that include a proportional representation component. Ireland and the Australian senate use a single transferable vote.
All of this is to say, despite the pleasant weather beckoning us to the docks and parks, it’s worth engaging in this process. Changing the way we choose our government is a monumental shift in our democracy and one that requires our attention – even on warm summer days.