Dec 31

A referendum is beside the point

The debate we should be having on electoral reform has been sidetracked by the question of whether a referendum is needed to approve a change to the voting system.  Proponents of the referendum make the principled claim that the voting system should not be the plaything of any political party, and should only be changed with the explicit blessing of a majority given through a referendum.

It’s great to hear such strong support for the right of every voter to be heard.  Empower the voters! Don’t let the politicians pull a fast one on us!

However, I find the moral outrage to be hollow.  The most basic requirement of representative democracy is that the legislature is actually representative.  Ours is not.

The most basic principle of democracy is that every vote should count.  In Canada this is not the case.

When we go to vote, half of us get the MP we want, and the other half do not. Many voters accept the results with good grace, perhaps with the hope that next time might be different, so they will eventually get a turn.  In the meantime we suffer one majority after another that does not fairly represent the wishes of the Canadian electorate. This is plain wrong.  It is not democratic.

Other voting systems are far better in this regard.  Other parliamentary countries like New Zealand, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries use proportional voting systems where well over 90% of voters are represented directly in parliament.  Those countries are committed to the fundamental democratic principle that every vote should count.  We should be too.

Most of the commentary in support of a referendum has ignored the problems with our existing system.  In fact, most of the commentary explicitly supports first past the post “in spite of its problems”.  So the high dudgeon concerning the absolute need for all Canadians to be consulted on voting reform is not supported by an equal concern that all Canadian voters should actually be represented in the legislature.  That’s just hypocrisy.

The fact is that our current voting system fails some pretty basic democratic measures and we should change it. We all have a basic democratic right to have our votes count and that is not met by the current system.  A referendum is beside the point.

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