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Electoral Reform: How We Can Move Toward A Citizen-Centred Democracy

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KeithBishop
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There has been much reported lately on why our existing first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system needs to be replaced by an electoral system that produces results that are more proportional to how voters have voted. By way of example, this piece in Policy Note by Maxwell A. Cameron does an excellent job of describing the pitfalls of our existing system and how a more proportional electoral system would improve the functioning of our democracy.

Similarly, this three-part analysis that I prepared in June examines why Canadians need to participate in the national debate that is currently underway and provides tips for how Canadians might participate.

At the end of the day, reforming our electoral system is an opportunity for Canadians to ensure that the voices of a majority of citizens are represented in Parliament. If Canadians feel better represented in the House of Commons, it stands to reason that larger numbers will also be motivated to engage more fully in our democracy.

Both of these elements are cited as goals in the principles that the current Government published to clarify their intent through the study that is underway now and in which Canadians have been invited to participate.

In my brief to the #ERRE Committee, I recommended adoption of a Party List Proportional Representation (PR) system. My reason for doing so is that, while the semi-proportional systems being discussed most today (eg., Mixed Member Proportional, Single Transferable Vote) would be better than what we currently have in place, they are not fully proportional. This means that, following an election, the voices of some voters would still not be represented in the House of Commons by someone whose values they share.

I believe that Canada needs a citizen-centred voting system and that, as part of that, all Canadians should be represented in the House of Commons by someone whose values they share. My brief is available on the #ERRE Committee's website (here's a link to it) so I won't duplicate it in full, here.

Rather, I will highlight other changes that I have recommended for consideration of the Committee and full Parliament in order to move our country closer to a citizen-centred democracy.

We need to ensure voters who decide not to vote understand that they are, in effect, accepting to supplant their voice with the voices of other Canadians.

The funding of political parties should re-visited in order to level the playing field for all Canadian voters. The recent abolishment of per vote subsidies means wealthier Canadians (who have more disposable income to donate to their party of choice/pay party membership fees) effectively have a greater voice than Canadians of more modest means.

Similarly, tax rebates to Canadians who make a political donation assume that all Canadians have the means to contribute financially to support their party of choice. Political donation tax rebates should be abolished, and the savings used to fund all parties proportionally by re-instating the per vote subsidy. One's representation in our representative democracy should not hinge upon one's ability to fund their chosen party's capacity to increase outreach and engagement with all Canadians.

Elections Canada's mandate for outreach and education should be reinstated and sufficiently funded. We need to ensure voters who decide not to vote understand that they are, in effect, accepting to supplant their voice with the voices of other Canadians.

Levelling the playing field with respect to political party funding and ensuring Canadians understand that their vote translates into a per vote subsidy for their party of choice would also be a powerful motivator to encourage engagement of citizens in the democratic process and voter turnout by citizens.

Finally, an outreach and education program which describes the benefits to voters of a PR system which enhances the value of all votes would also serve to increase voter turnout. I do not favour mandatory voting; while voting is a right, it is also a privilege that should only be extended to citizens who make an informed choice to exercise their franchise because they are interested in shaping the future of the country.

The time is ripe for Canada to mature as a nation toward a democratic system that truly gives voice to all Canadians in a manner that is equal and fair.

In order to enhance inclusiveness in the democratic process, party membership fees could be abolished as the Liberal Party has already done. If all political parties were to adopt something similar, any Canadian who is concerned about "party elites" potentially wielding too much power during political party candidate selection processes could become a voting member of their party of choice.

Where local representation really counts is through decisions made by MPs in the House of Commons after an election. Increasingly, party discipline drives decision-making by MPs which is not always what local constituents want. This rant by Rick Mercer sums it up beautifully. Should all parties adopt the Green Party's free vote policy, this -- coupled with the inclusive approaches described above for party membership and candidate selection -- would effectively lead to a better quality of local representation than we have today.

Canada is a representative democracy. Representative democracy is a governmental structure based upon citizens electing representatives to serve on their behalf.

Representative democracy contrasts with direct democracy, in which citizens directly manage the affairs of the government. The time is ripe for Canada to mature as a nation toward a democratic system that truly gives voice to all Canadians in a manner that is equal and fair. A more proportional electoral system would go a long way toward improving how our democracy functions.

Hopefully the #ERRE Committee -- as well as all parliamentarians and political parties -- will pause to consider other ideas that might be implemented to complement adoption of a PR electoral system as we transform Canada into a more citizen-centred democracy.

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