Thursday, October 2, 2008

Oh, Canada!

A brief pause in musical discourse for some political action. For those not in the know, there's an election looming in Canada, which presents an opportunity for house cleaning that it doesn't seem like my fellow citizens are likely to take, at least not in sufficient numbers to have an effect. With the increasing ridiculousness of the party leaders making it harder to take them seriously, and polling in my home district not looking good, I'm left with very little choice as to how to vote. Below, the text in full of the letter to my current MP – scribbled in a hasty e-mail and replete with the redundancies that seem unavoidable in political correspondence – detailing the issue that has taken over my consciousness, and what I view as being the key to repairing our "dysfunctional government", in the words of the current occupant of Sussex Drive:

I am writing as a Canadian currently living abroad of my intent to cast a vote for Mr X in the coming election. As a supporter of the NDP, I have been dismayed by recent actions by that party and its leader, especially the move to exclude Green leader Elizabeth May from the debates. Although they have since reversed their position, the NDP's decision to run an unqualified candidate in my riding makes it impossible for me to cast a vote for them. With current riding polling indicating that the Conservative Party candidate and Mr X are running very closely, it is all the more important that I cast my vote for the Liberal Party to keep the seat from going to the Conservatives.

However, I have made this decision under extreme duress. While I honour Mr X's service in government and agree with him on many issues, he still does not seem to support one major issue that faces the way our country is governed: that of proportional representation in Parliament. Current seat projections indicate that while the Bloc Québécois and Green Party are polling the same numbers, their projected seat count after the election stands at 47 for the Bloc and 0 for the Greens. While extreme, this example clearly illustrates the fundamental unfairness of our first-past-the-post parliamentary system. It is unfair that the views of a minority of regionalist separatists such receive such a huge share of parliamentary power versus the same number of people whose primary concern is the environment. Proportional representation should be the single biggest issue facing 21st century Canada in the area of governmental structure. Proportional representation – as for example practiced in my current country of residence, Finland – is vital in creating broad consensus through coalition government. It furthermore limits the needs of larger parties to cater in their platforms to fringe elements within their own party, such as religious fundamentalists and regionalist spoilers, thereby lessening extremism. It is also fair, in giving the views of supporters of a party a direct, measurable percentage of parliamentary power to speak for them.

Are we to continue suppressing the voices of smaller political parties by this undemocratic practice? It is long past time that the parliamentary structure of Canada was reformed. It should be debated in Parliament, given broad support by MPs and put to a national referendum, where I believe it will find support among the electorate. The current intiative to enact proportional representation in British Columbia would seem to be a first step toward a federal reform. To date, though, only the NDP and Green Party explicitly support proportional representation at the federal level in their platforms. I can only assume that the major parties (Liberal and Conservative) and the Bloc Québécois do not support this reform out of fear of losing power in Parliament, as the current system massively favours them. Nonetheless, it is unconscionable that in the 21st century Canada should continue this undemocratic practice.

While this single issue will not affect my support for Mr X in this election, I would underline that this support is strategic, and not whole-hearted. The issue of proportional representation must be brought forward and given the fair hearing it deserves. Only one of the major parties can accomplish this. A joint motion by the Liberal Party and NDP would surely be the best way. The ensuing debate would and should frame the issue as one of building a stronger democracy. I cannot imagine even the staunchest opponents of such reform casting a public vote against greater fairness in our system of representation. It is the right thing to do, and it is time to do it. I strongly urge Mr X to bring the issue of proportional representation to the Liberal caucus and persuade his fellow Members of Parliament of the justness of this reform. I furthermore urge him to add the issue to his platform and support it whole-heartedly. Until I see such a measure in the Liberal platform, any support of your policies will only be contigent, and in the best interests on the country as a whole, which are not being safeguarded by the current government. Good luck to Mr X; I hope he will prevail and contribute to a fairer, more equally represented Canada.


Wayne Smith said...

Thank you for this. The increasingly blatant unfairness to the Green Party, and the looming possibility that Stephen Harper will get a "majority" government with less than 38% of the votes, is bringing about rapidly increasing awareness and discussion of the need for a new voting system for Canada.

In this election, as in every election, most of us will vote for candidates who do not get elected. These votes will make no difference to the outcome of the election, and these "orphan voters" will end up "represented" by people they voted against.

Fair Vote Canada has created a home for these orphan voters, with cash prizes!

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