This is the twenty-fourth article in the Whoa!Canada: Proportional Representation Series
On the 1st anniversary of the Liberal Majority, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggests Canadians have lost our “appetite” for electoral reform now that his party has won a majority government.
A majority built on 39% of the votes cast.
Just as Mr. Harper had a majority built on 39% of the votes cast.
Our Electoral System Is Changing
Something unprecedented happened in the 42nd Canadian federal election of 2015. Every party — except the one in power — campaigned on electoral reform. This is something that would never happen without wide spread dissatisfaction with the electoral system we use now.
When most people feel they can’t vote for what they want, even if the person they vote for is elected, they don’t have the representation in Parliament they want. When the system fails to serve us, we don’t feel engaged in or satisfied by the process. When a majority of voters are routinely unrepresented, when some votes count more than others, but most votes don’t count at all, there is something wrong with an electoral system.
Even though we don’t understand the problem or know how to fix it, we know something isn’t working. So when Mr. Trudeau said, “We will make every vote count,” it resonated with Canadians.
The Liberal Party promise was itself an acknowledgement of the uncomfortable truth that every vote does not count in the voting system Canadians use now.
Our votes need to count as much today as they did last October.
The electoral reform process has barely begun. Although the public consultation is over, the ERRE Committee hasn’t even finished hearing experts.
Your vote should count. And so should mine. All of our voices deserve to be heard, but they won’t be until we have a fair electoral system. Canadians have been waiting for meaningful electoral reform for a hundred and fifty years. We can’t let them walk away from this election promise, this is our historic opportunity to create a stronger democracy and public policy that serves all Canadians.
Please phone or email your MP to let them know that we expect them to keep their election promise to make every vote count.
Tell your MP that backing off on electoral reform will lose your vote.
Here are the phone numbers and email addresses of our Waterloo Region Liberal MPs.
Bryan May – Cambridge
telephone: 519 624 7440
If you aren’t in Waterloo Region, you should contact your Liberal MP too. And if you don’t know who your MP is, you can find out here by Postal Code. If you know who it is but need the contact info you can find it here by typing your MP’s name.
This is the sixteenth in the Whoa!Canada: Proportional Representation Series
Not so long ago I had no idea there was any other way for Canadians to elect our government than the system we use now. When I began getting frustrated that no one I ever voted for ever got elected (no matter which candidate or party) it never even occurred to me the solution to my problem could lay in our voting system. All I knew was that the time I invested in Canada’s democracy ~ time spent learning about the candidates and issues and then voting for the candidate I thought would best represent me ~ the whole process had proven to be a futile exercise. In more than 30 years of voting, no one I had ever voted for got the chance to represent me in Ottawa. Or Queen’s Park, for that matter. It got even worse when I moved back to my home town to raise my family, because it was a “safe seat.”
Since there didn’t seem to be any point to voting, I began wondering why I should keep doing it. Every time an election rolled around, there was a lot of talk about how awful our low voter turnout. But maybe all those Canadians who weren’t wasting their time casting ineffective votes were smarter than I.
The lightbulb only went on over my head when I found myself listening to what people were saying at local Fair Vote events. They talked about why 39% of the votes shouldn’t equal 100% of the power. That made more sense than what happens when 39% of the voters elect a majority government. I learned that the only reason we use this system is because it was the same system England had been using… a system forged in the middle ages. Nor did I realize that a large part of the problem with our Westminster plurality electoral system had not even been designed to be democratic until I heard Canadian electoral system expert Dennis Pilon tell this to the ERRE Committee.
The reason is that the system was not designed to be democratic. Its origins are in the pre-democratic era, and it has been kept in place for electoral self-interest. Canadians have struggled to make their system democratic despite these institutional barriers. Proportional representation systems, by contrast, were designed to represent voters effectively, even if the motives of reformers were not always democratic.”
At first I felt pretty silly for not having figured it out myself. But the more I learned, the less foolish I felt. The first time I saw the John Cleese on Proprotional Representation video (yes, that John Cleese), I was a little jealous that our British friends found out about Proportional Representation decades ago. But I have to tell you, I was shocked when I discovered they hadn’t adopted it for UK General Elections in spite of the clarity Mr. Cleese brought to the subject. Although the new voting systems established for Scotland and Wales are proportional. Just as Ireland uses Proportional Representation.
The more I’ve learned about proportional Representation the more flabbergasted I am to realize more than ninety countries around the world have adopted Proportional Representation systems but Canada has not. But not for want of trying. Most Canadian electoral reformers date the need for Proportional Representation to the 1920’s, when Canada shifted from being a two party system to a multiparty system. The reason for this is that when you have a 2 party system, whoever wins a First Past The Post election will have has done so with an actual majority of votes. But because FPTP is a plurality system, the winner needn’t have a majority.
Still, even before we had more than 2 parties, not everyone was happy with our system.
There have been Canadians looking for electoral reform since before Confederation when the British government decided to pass The Act of Union amalgamating Upper Canada (Quebec) and Lower Canada (Ontario) in 1840. Each province received 42 seats in legislature. Unsurprisingly French Canada got the short end of the stick because of it’s larger population of 697,084. This meant on average 16,597 French citizens shared a representative, while an average of only 10,849 English Canadians shared a representative. Naturally the French Canadians protested this, clamouring instead for Representation by Population or “Rep By Pop”… or at least until the English population began outstripping the French when the tables turned.
In the late 19th Century, noted Canadian Sir Sandford Fleming offered a thousand dollar reward for anyone who could come up with a better way to elect our parliamentarians in An appeal to the Canadian Institute on the rectification of Parliament (1892) So there have always been Canadians dissatisfied with the inequities inherent in our system. And over the years there have been changes made, it took a while, but we finally managed to achieve universal that allowed every adult Canadian, regardless of race or gender to have a vote. Bur even so, Canada’s democratic deficit has been growing. In recent decades, our system more and more Canadians have disengaged from politics, leaving the job of voting up to only about 60% of the eligible voters. Even more alarming has been the fact a growing number of Canadians have largely stopped voting for what they actually want because they know there is little or no chance of getting it. After all, we live with a system in which a party seeking the dismantlement of Canada managed to become our Official Opposition Party decades before the NDP could. The fact is that voting “strategically” — not for the candidate who will best represent us, but for the candidate we think is the least worst. So many Canadians feel compelled to try to game the system that doesn’t work for us is a sure sign we are not getting the representation we want and we dare not even try.
The main reason for all of this is that our FPTP system does not deliver the results most Canadians want. When a party with a 39% plurality wins the election, that means 61% of eligible voters didn’t vote for that party. But the way our system works, that party can walk away with 100% of the power, because the winner only needs to get more votes than the others to get majority power. (And that is without factoring in the uncast votes of the 40% of eligible voters a constituency comprised of more eligible voters than those who voted in a 39% majority Liberal Government in 2015 or a 39% majority Conservative Government in 2011. In our multi-party FTTP system, we get far more phony majorities than actual majority governments. As the Liberal Party did in 2015, and the Conservative Party did in 2011.
The problem with disproportional results is too many voters don’t get representation in Parliament. And the problem with phony majorities is that a Majority Government without the support of a majority of voters has the power to make policy and law without the support of a broad base of Canadians. That’s why proportionality is important.
The Liberal Party promised electoral reform during the 2015 election, and the system we have gives them the power to deliver. And they have. The LPC Government has gone so far as to accede to the NDP request to restructure the composition of the Parliamentary Committee studying electoral reform to be proportional. These are good signs.
The ERRE Special Committee on Electoral Reform has been tasked with consulting with Canadians to find out what we want out of Electoral Reform. The ERRE Committee is reaching out to Canadians in a variety of ways, both online and off. One of the most important pieces of the process ought to be the ERRE Committee’s Cross Canada tour so they can consult with ordinary Canadians face to face.
This is a natural part of any consultation process. Earlier in the year I was the photographer for all 5 Fair Vote Waterloo delegations to the Waterloo Region MPs elected in 2015. Fair Vote asked each Liberal MP to do what they could to bring the Electoral Reform Committee to Waterloo Region. So I was surprised when I saw that Waterloo Region was not included on the itinerary the ERRE Committee had set out for the real world part of the consultation.
Some of my Fair Vote friends have suggested Waterloo Region might have been omitted because their group is so active here. After all, Waterloo Region might even be considered responsible for the fact the Federal Government is holding an Electoral Reform Consultation at all.
The Liberal Party electoral reform policy plank, which received wide spread support from Liberals across the nation, originated right here in the Waterloo Region as a grass roots initiative within the Liberal Party Membership. It was one of my proudest accomplishments, as the past president of the Waterloo Federal Liberal Association, to work with a team of fellow volunteers dedicated to electoral reform.
I can understand why the ERRE Committee wishes to to seek out and consult with Canadians who are not as well informed about electoral reform issues as some Waterloo Region residents are, but I see no good reason for the ERRE Committe to avoid ordinary Canadians who do have some understanding of the issue. Isn’t the point of a Parliamentary Consultation to consult with all Canadians, to find out what Canadians might want from electoral reform — even those who might already know what they hope for from electoral reform?
I have no problem at all with this Parliamentary cross Canada Consultation stopping once in Nunavut, twice in B.C and Manitoba, or even 3 times in Québec. The point is to consult with Canadians across the country.
What I simply can not understand is how the ERRE committee can limit its itinerary to a single stop in the most populous province, Ontario.
Since getting swept up in the electoral reform movement, I’ve had the opportunity to meet people from all the politcal parties in Waterloo Region. In the days before the wider community hadn’t even heard about electoral reform, many of the people attending the Fair Vote Waterloo events where I was taking photographs were very involved in politics, some with political aspirations. That was when I first noticed a bright young woman named Bardish Chagger. Although her face started become familiar because I kept seeing her at events like the Waterloo Robocalls Town Hall, it was only when she hosted a Liberal electoral reform debate that I learned she was a highly placed member of the local Liberal Riding Association. As I got to know her a little, I discovered her mentor was Andrew Telegdi, an MP whose name I knew from a principled stand he took even before I moved back home.
When Bardish received the Waterloo Liberal nomination, I was happy for her. Although I supported a different party during the 2015 election, and was very disappointed our exceptional candidate (and my friend) Richard Walsh wasn’t able to win the seat he and Bardish were contesting, I was pleased she had unseated the incumbent, and I was happy for her again. My husband predicted she might get a cabinet position in spite of her youth, and when it happened, I was happy for her again, but now it felt kind of weird to actually know a cabinet minister. But Bardish has brilliant people skills, and in spite of her elevation, she continued to be the approachable person she had always been, and when I meet her at events she always puts me at ease.
And now today I am happy for her elevation to the position of Government House Leader. People say it is unprecedented for a “rookie” like Bardish to end up in such a job, but I’ve not doubt Bardish has the skills necessary to do the job. Which is why I am offering the Honorable Bardish Chagger my most sincere congratulations.
This is the fourth in the Whoa!Canada: Proportional Representation Series
Canada’s government is chosen with a “First Past the Post” electoral system where some votes are worth more than others, but most don’t count at all. This effectively divides Canadians into those that have representation and those who have none.
With such disproportionate representation, the best hope for in such a polarized electorate is a minority government, because no laws can be passed without the support of more than one party. Unfortunately there is no “minority government” box to mark on the ballot. This is especially difficult for citizens when our winner-take-all electoral system delivers a majority government to a single party that earned far less than a majority of votes.
Our current Liberal majority government was elected by just 39.5% of the voters, excluding a majority of Canadians from representation in Government. When a “majority” government (like most First Past the Post (FPTP) governments) is elected by a minority of voters, the majority of voters are unrepresented. The idea is that whoever is elected, is expected to represent the interests of all their constituents. This sounds good in theory, but hasn’t worked so well in practice.
What citizens are left with is a serious democratic deficit. The problem becomes even bigger when well funded corporate and ideological special interest groups can successfully lobby for what their employers want. Powerful insiders and professional lobbyists know how the system works and they how to get what their employers want. Not only do these people know who to talk to, they have access to the decision makers ordinary citizens don’t. These pros can make backroom deals and convince the right people to put forth legislation and trade agreements beneficial to the special interests groups who hire them — even when it’s detrimental to the public good.
Since we are saddled with a system that usually leaves most voters without representatives who will speak for us in Parliament, the only recourse left to the majority of Canadians without representation is to lobby the government ourselves when our MPs consider issues important to us. If we don’t, we have no hope of discouraging our MPs from supporting:
legislation, policy or dangerous trade agreements Canadians oppose,
making and voting for laws that undermine the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and/or
otherwise jeopardize the public good,
That’s why the majority of voters have to work very hard just to get the government’s attention. We must try to educate the government about the issues that are important to us, and work even harder to try to convince the government not to pass laws or make policy detrimental to our interests.
If we used a different kind of electoral system — one that provided citizens with some form of Proportional Representation — we wouldn’t have to work so hard because we would actually have representation in Ottawa.
But we aren’t there yet. In the here and now, it is very important you let your MP know where you stand on issues that matter to you.
It doesn’t matter which party your MP is in, if you oppose Canada’s ratification of the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) you need to let your MP know you do not want the TPP.
Or Bill C-51.
Or even a motion to condemning the BSD movement (our right to dissent!).
Whenever the government is going to do things we don’t want it to, it’s up to us to let the government know or the only side they will hear is the other one. If you can’t convince your MP and/or their party disagrees with you, s/he isn’t likely to do you much good at all. So our only hope is that a lot of other Canadians will contact their MPs about the issues that matter to you as well.
We would be much better off with Proportional Representation, but even without it, if enough of us speak up, (strongly enough, loudly enough) there is a slim chance we might persuade the Government to back away from bad policy. Public opinion didn’t seem to have much weight with the previous Government, but public opinion does matter to the Liberal Government. Our chance of being heard is better than it was with 39.6% majority government the Liberals replaced.
You can contact your MP in a variety of ways:
by meeting with your MP in person,
speaking to your MP on the phone,
sending your MP postal mail (Mail may be sent postage-free to any Member of Parliament)
writing your MP an email,
sending your MP a fax
speaking to your MP on social media, or
Meeting with your MP in person is probably the single most effective strategy while signing a petition (especially a digital petition) is probably the least effective. To make it easier for the folks in the Waterloo Region area to contact your MP, I’ve put together contact information for our new crop of Members of Parliament.
MP Raj Saini (Liberal)
209 Frederick Street (Main Office)
This part of the website seems a little bit broken just now, as I’m finding it is providing links to incomplete draft contact pages. It might be easier to simply type in the correct URL by typing it into the URL address bar (or search bar) in your browser: