For three years we directed our attention to education based initiatives. Our primary focus was on the Newfoundland and Labrador senior high school social studies curriculum, which for almost 20 years was devoid of any courses that gave students the opportunity to talk about governance, democracy, world problems and political economy. The consequence, not surprisingly, was the lowest voter turnout of any of the 10 provinces both at the federal and provincial level.
There is good news however. Our understanding is that the NL Department of Education has agreed with our concerns and there will be changes. We look forward to seeing them.
Why are we are now choosing to focus on electoral reform?
We’ve concluded that our current electoral system is incapable of addressing three alarming trends - growing inequality, growing corporate dominance of government decision making, and growing public disinterest in democratic participation. One way of addressing this is by changing the way we elect governments.
We would like to see a transition to a proportional representation (PR) system - an electoral system that achieves two important outcomes. Proportional representation gives small parties and the diverse opinions they represent fairer representation in government. It also prevents any party with less than 50% of the popular vote from forming a single party majority government. Check out our five part video series for an explanation of how that can benefit ordinary citizens.
Our approach differs from that of other groups advocating for proportional representation in two significant ways. We have a different referendum question. We also believe that, if we are to interest the public in proportional representation, we need to focus more on the achievements of proportional representation countries rather than the disadvantages of our first-past-the-post system.
Our Referendum Question
We want a referendum question attached to our provincial election (ideally the next one) that would present voters with the following choice:
________ I would like to continue with our current system for electing MHAs to the House of Assembly
________ I would like to change to a proportional representation system for electing MHAs.
Alternatively the referendum question might be stated as:
I want to change to a proportional representation system for electing MHAs to the House of Assembly.
Should voters choose proportional representation, the incoming government would use their term in office to research and select the proportional representation system best suited to Newfoundland and Labrador’s unique demography. We recommend that that process be done through an all-party committee commissioned to seek input from civil society.
Why do we prefer this referendum question to one tied to a specific PR system like Mixed Member Proportional or Single Transferable Vote? We believe that proportional representation gets defeated, or gets lukewarm acceptance, not based on its intent but on its mechanics. Understanding the concept of matching the number of seats a party receives in the House with the votes the party receives is easy. People like that idea. But what is complicated and confusing is trying to understand how that proportionality is achieved. People don’t like being confused and so they vote for the status quo.
Simplifying the referendum questions would allow citizens to vote for or against proportional representation according to its merits rather than it mechanics. But, there is another reason for not immediately choosing a particular proportional representation system. Did you know that there are more than 40 different PR systems in the world? We need to take our time and select the system that best suits our needs and values from all the choices out there.
Spreading the proportional representation message
We believe that if voters saw the benefits that proportional representation has brought to European countries there would be a drive to change our electoral system. Our challenge is to get that message out to people across our province.
How do we do that? We are not sure. We are looking for ideas and we are looking for volunteers. So, if proportional representation is something that you, too, believe in, please consider joining us.
We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.