Here's what we said in our letter.
We need a different proportional representation strategy.
Back in 2015, Justin Trudeau repeatedly promised voters that if the Liberals became the next government, 2015 would be the last first-past-the-post election. He also promised that the party whip would only be used by a Liberal government to deal with confidence matters and implementing campaign promises.
Two weeks ago, the Liberal Party of Canada used the whip to defeat a motion in the House of Commons to accept the recommendations of the parliamentary electoral reform committee and hold a referendum on proportional representation. This effectively put an end to attempts to keep electoral reform alive federally.
This was disturbing, not just because of the broken promises, but because the thwarting of the electoral reform committee’s recommendation was done by a party that has been elected as a majority government by only 39.5 per cent of voters.
That couldn’t happen under a proportional representation system, where the percentage of seats each party gets matches the percentage of votes they receive. Designed to prevent any government with less than 50 per cent of the votes from acting with absolute power, proportional representation leads to more coalition governments and the potential for small parties to wrestle concessions and compromises from government.
That’s precisely what the Liberal party doesn’t want. They argue that proportional representation will lead to frequent elections, uncooperative parliaments where nothing gets done, and the rise of extremist parties.
None of this is valid. Over the last 50 years, Canada has actually held more elections than most European countries where proportional representation is the norm. In mainland Europe, unlike here, Pharmacare and government-subsidized daycare programs are also the norm. Workers’ benefits and rights are stronger and there are better environmental regulations. The result is that there is less inequality in Europe than in Canada.
As to the risk of political extremism, my European friends point out that Donald Trump would never have been elected under a proportional representation system because he didn’t win the popular vote. Nor would the Harper government have been able to pass all its unpopular legislation.
If we are going to develop a momentum for change, it will only happen if ordinary people step forward to promote it.
The Liberal government’s defeat of the electoral reform motion last month now transfers any hopes for implementing proportional representation back to the provinces, with British Columbia being the province to watch.
But what about here in Newfoundland and Labrador? In the 2015 provincial election, in spite of being in the midst of a gigantic economic crisis, voter turnout was apparently the lowest of any province since Confederation. That’s a huge comment on people’s dissatisfaction with our political choices.
We need transformative change. Three local groups — Democracy Alert, the Council of Canadians and the Social Justice Co-operative — believe electoral reform is a good place to start. We would like to see a thorough debate on the merits of proportional representation, followed by a referendum, ideally attached to an election.
Our referendum question is simple. Let voters decide whether or not they want to change to an electoral system that follows the principles of proportional representation. If a majority of voters choose change, it would be the responsibility of our elected representatives, through an all-party committee, to select a specific proportional representation system. This would then be implemented for the following election.
Notice that our referendum question is not tied to a specific proportional representation system. Why? There are actually more than 40 different proportional representation options to choose from. In our opinion, it’s a mistake to precipitously commit to a particular system simply because other provinces have favoured them in their referendums. Let’s take our time and choose the best system for our province and let’s do it in a deliberative, unbiased and collaborative way.
Proportional representation is not a radical option, in spite of what the Liberal party would like us to believe. More than 90 countries now use some form of proportional representation. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have also gone that route. Why, then, not us?
If you want to learn more about proportional representation, N.L. style, there’s information at DemocracyAlert.ca. And please consider joining us. If we are going to develop a momentum for change, it will only happen if ordinary people step forward to promote it. Where better place to look for support than with Telegram readers?