In his new job as Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, Jack Layton has pledged to “fix Ottawa.” I’ve taken this to mean he will lead by example in hope of teaching the children to play nicely. I wish him luck.

The problem with our democracy goes far beyond Stephen Harper’s well documented contempt for Parliament. Fundamentally, our democracy is undemocratic. The “first-past-the-post” system of electing MPs always means that the wishes of great numbers of Canadians are unrepresented in Parliament. In a multiparty system, few MPs garner a majority of votes. But even in a 2-way race, substantial numbers of citizens find themselves unrepresented after the votes are counted.

This is not news. But it bears repeating – until we dump the FPTP system and adopt some form of proportional representation (PR) method of electing MPs – we are doomed to unrepresentative Parliaments and endless repeats of dubious strategic voting exercises.

What would a representative Parliament look like? Here’s what we have now.

Party Elected % of Seats % of Vote
Conservative 167 54.2 39.6
NDP 102 33.1 30.6
Liberal 34 11 18.9
BQ 4 1.3 6
Green 1 0.3 3.9

Source: http://www.sfu.ca/~aheard/elections/results.html. (Note, percentages to not add up to 100, probably because of some rounding in the original data. But you get the idea.)

The top two parties clearly have more MPs than their share of the popular vote would justify. It looks like this.

Now, look what happens when MPs are elected in proportion to their party’s share of the popular vote.

Party FPTP PR
Conservative 167 122
NDP 102 95
Liberal 34 59
BQ 4 19
Green 1 13

(Note: the above chart needed some rounding to make it work – but it’s close enough.) It would look like this.

As things stand now, Stephen Harper has an undeserved majority in Parliament – one he will use to impose his minority, right wing agenda on the majority of Canadians who voted for other visions of Canada. Under the current rules, he can do what he wants without reference to the other parties.

In a PR Parliament, Harper would be compelled to negotiate with some or all of the other parties in order to keep his job. Parliament would be representative and this, I believe, is a necessary first step in fixing our broken democracy.

Electoral reform must become a priority for all who call themselves democrats. In the past, both the Greens and the NDP have said they favour PR. We have to encourage them to make it their priority. At the same time, if we leave it up to any political party, we will be disappointed. It’s up to us to make it happen.

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Comments
  1. I don’t think we should expect Jack Layton to promote proportional representation in the House of Commons. It is true that in the last parliament his party supported a private member’s vote on looking at voting reform. However, the NDP didn’t have an on-going commitment to support proportional representation. The party just raises this issue for one or two days every couple of years just to keep a PR advocate like myself happy.

    Seriously, if we Canadians want to have a democracy that includes proportional representation, we are going to have to be as vigilant as the Egyptians and Tunisians were when they demanded that their countries become democratic. Our actions in Canada may need to involved creating our own “democracy squares” within our major cities across Canada. Until we do that, we will never get proportional representation. We need to let our fellow Canadians know that without proportional representation, we do not live in a democratic country.

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