Seldom will a week go by while the House of Commons is in session without hearing the all too familiar suggestion that "democracy is under attack". As I pointed out in last week's MP report whenever time allocation or another legitimate parliamentary procedural tool is used by Government this is a re-occurring accusation used by many different interests in response. In my view that challenge that occurs with the frequent use of the "democracy is under attack" theme is that eventually it is tuned out and ignored as the usual noise that comes from Ottawa. Democracy is a way of life that we as Canadians value dearly and have protected this principle for almost 150 years and at times with great sacrifice. Thus allegations of democracy being under attack must always be taken seriously.
The reason I raise this is that the Liberal Government recently announced the creation of a parliamentary committee for democratic reform. What is democratic reform in this context? During the last election one of the promises made by Justin Trudeau and the Liberals was to change Canada's current first-past-the-post process to elect Members of Parliament and in turn Government to instead use a different electoral system. The type of electoral system to be used was not specified by the Liberals hence the creation of a parliamentary committee to make a recommendation to the Liberal Government for a new means of electing MPs.
The concern expressed by many is the Liberals in turn announced a 12 person democratic reform committee that has a composition of 6 Liberals, 3 Conservative, 1 NDP, 1 Member from the Bloc Quebecois and Elizabeth May, the sole MP from the Green Party. Not only does this committee have a larger Liberal majority then what the Liberals were actually elected under, they have denied Elizabeth May and the Bloc Quebecois the right to a vote- in other words it will actually be the Liberals who will decide the next voting system for Canadians.
Why is this problem? Obviously for the Liberals it is not a problem however for other political parties different electoral system can have a significant impact. As an example for both the Green Party and the NDP, typically far more Canadians vote for them compared to the number of seats they will win in the House of Commons. For this reason they favour proportional representation as it would increase the number of seats they have in the House of Commons. For the Liberals, who often tend to be either the first or second choice for many voters, it has been suggested that the ranked ballot system could all but guarantee Liberal Governments for the foreseeable future. Obviously for the Conservative Party different systems that better advantage other parties will in turn be a disadvantage for them.
What is the best electoral system? In reality every electoral system has advantages and disadvantages. From my perspective there is no perfect system and that any potential changes should not be rushed as Canada has a unique federation, wide geography and diverse population. From the perspective of individual political parties, obviously some electoral systems will be far more desirable than others creating a clear conflict of self-interest. The question that should be asked is what is the best electoral system is for Canadians? It is my opinion that it is not for political parties to decide on. Ultimately this is a question for Canadians to decide on through a democratic referendum. Canadian democracy does not belong to politicians; it belongs to the people of Canada who should have the democratic opportunity to decide our electoral future. I welcome your views on this or any subject before the House of Commons. I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.