There are some clever politics at play in the NDP support for proportional representation. After all, who wouldn’t want a voting system in which our government reflects the popular vote?
In fact, what’s remarkable about our antiquated system is that it’s the exception. All of the world’s major democracies use proportional representation but three: Canada, U.S., Ghana.
On December 3, the NDP introduced a motion in Parliament calling for proportional representation. But before looking at the results let’s look at the politics.
“Let’s make 2015 the last unfair election,” is the NDP slogan. That slogan reminds voters of two things. If they don’t vote NDP in 2015, they can expect more unfair elections in the future. Also, they can expect more of the shenanigans perpetrated by the Conservatives in 2011: voters directed to nonexistent polls on election day, suppression of non-Conservative voters.
It’s clever politics too, because it’s a kind of motherhood issue: a policy that other politicians would have trouble opposing. Framed as an issue of fairness, if an opposing party were to reject proportional representation, it would be equivalent to rejecting fair elections.
As for the results of the vote on the NDP motion on December 3, all NDP favoured it and some Liberals but no Conservatives. Politics aside, the lack of Conservative support is surprising when you consider that Conservative voters actually support proportional representation. Not just Conservatives but Canadians from all parties support proportional representation. An Evironics poll from last year found that on average 70 per cent of Canadians strongly support or somewhat support it. Green, NDP, and Liberal voters support it most but so do 62 per cent of Conservatives.
So how did Cathy McLeod, Conservative MP for Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, explain the divergence of the wishes of her voters and the lack of support of her party in Parliament? She could only refer to failed referenda in B.C., Ontario and PEI. “I don’t think there’s an appetite for it,” McLeod said. “We’ve watched what’s happened provincially. We have other areas we’re interested in focusing on.”
NDP candidate, Bill Sundu, was more buoyant. “You sense, and polls reflect, a general cynicism and disinterest with the political system we have,” he said. The political system we have yields false majorities. In the last election, the Conservatives won 54 per cent of the seats with only 40 per cent of the vote.
With six out of ten Conservative voters supporting proportional representation the Minister of State, Pierre Poilievre, had some explaining to do. It’s all about commons and colours, he explained:
“With a proportional system, that direct connection between a member of Parliament and citizens is obscured at best, and broken at worst. In fact, this place is called the ‘Commons’ because it represents the common people. Its colour is green because the early commoners actually met in fields.”
The only thing the current system has going for it is that it’s simple. Fair voting is a little more complicated and there are different types. The NDP explains theirs as “one ballot, two votes.” Some candidates are voted in the usual way and some according to the popular vote. That’s why it’s called mixed-member proportional representation.