It's time for a serious discussion on Proportional Representation
For those concerned about the functioning of a minority government, we are already being given a taste of how effective it can be. And this, before we even have a government!
With Brian Gallant about to take a shot at making a minority Liberal government work, notice how accommodating he has become on 3rd party demands that fixing the problem with ambulances be a priority in the Throne Speech. His response has been nothing short of “absolutely, we’re on it”. How different is that from his pre-election attitude, where he dismissed concerns by saying there is no problem because the stats show Ambulance New Brunswick is doing a fine job?
Anyone who lives in rural New Brunswick knows there are problems. So isn’t it nice that our government is now in a position where it can’t as easily get away with what it has up to now, in regards to ambulance service. Can you imagine, in this minority government environment, a government doing what the majority Liberals did in signing a ten year, no tender contract with Medavie, with no details being provided, and, on an ongoing basis, Medavie being allowed to get away with keeping the details secret of ambulance service, what trucks have been taken out of service, for how long, etc.? The Telegraph-Journal had to go to court with a Right to Information application to pry those details loose. That never should have been necessary. So hopefully from here on, the Greens and Alliance will use their voting numbers to bring an end to the lack of transparency we have seen over the last few years, and hopefully do whatever needs to be done to improve ambulance service.
So congratulations New Brunswick voters for forcing that change.
It’s just one example, but it shows how 3rd parties with a balance of power can use that, to force government to address issues that in a majority situation they could easily ignore.
So there’s that. And now a Telegraph-Journal funded Nanos poll shows that a majority of New Brunswickers feels votes should matter more than seats when it comes to deciding who gets to form government.
Now isn’t that interesting. And doesn’t it make right now, the right time for a serious discussion on dumping this flawed first-past-the-post system and adopting some form of Proportional Representation?
I don’t know about you, but I am tired of seeing governments win majorities and therefore 100% of the power, when less than 40% of voters voted for them, as was the case both with the Trudeau Liberals and the Harper Conservatives the time before.
But back to the province. I am also tired of having to consider strategic voting rather than voting for the party whose policies I like the most. Under Proportional Representation, every vote would count. If you get 30 percent of the vote, you get 30% of the seats. What could be more fair, or representative of voter’s wishes than that? It means not only that diverse views are represented, but it leads to more voter participation, and it leads to politicians of different stripes have to cooperate because coalition governments become the norm, and cooperation leads to better decisions.
If the election last month had been held under a Proportional Representation system, and my math is correct, the Liberals would have won 19 seats, based on taking 38% of the popular vote, the Progressive Conservatives 16, based on getting 32% of the vote, and so on. The Greens and Alliance six each, and the NDP 2. In that situation, if you are one of the major parties, you cooperate or you are gone. And what’s wrong with that?
Democracies are sometimes messy, and there are some who will focus on the down side of Proportional Representation, like extreme fringe parties getting a voice, or sometimes these coalitions fail and there has to be another election. Again, so what? And it is not a given. The Australian Labour Party governed without interruption for 35 years under Proportional Representation.
The problem is that first-past-the–post works for whoever wins so they don’t want to change it and they are the only ones in the position to do so. In 2004, Premier Bernard Lord appointed a committee to study electoral reform. It recommended a switch to Proportional Representation. That report is collecting dust on a shelf somewhere.
When Justin Trudeau was running third and it didn’t look like he had any hope of victory, he promised that that first-past-the-post election would be the last one. Then he won and ran away from that promise as fast as he could.
Just two points to wrap this up. First, we are one of only five countries in the world that is still using the first-past-the–post system, and one of the other ones is the United States. We can see how that’s working out for them.
Second, consider New Zealand. They switched from first-past-the-post in 1996. Then in 2011 as part of that year’s election, they had a referendum asking if citizens would like to switch back. The response – no way. There’s a reason for that. And there is a reason none of the other countries have switched back to this stupid system we adopted from 18th century England.
Because of last month’s election, we will get a taste of minority government, and I expect we New Brunswickers will learn that it’s not so bad, and in fact has the potential to be very good. So the time may be right to give Proportional Representation serious consideration. In fact, maybe what the third place parties should be demanding in exchange for their support is a change to Proportional Representation, or at least a referendum on it.
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