Is a Mixed Member Proportionate Electoral System in Canada's Interest

An electoral system is supposed to be a stable and democratic institution. Based on the elections from the past, the democratic command of Canadian election results is questionable as, for example, after the federal election in 2000 Liberal party won the majority slots with lesser number of votes. The current government represents 38% of the total Canadian votes and this is if to consider that the number of seats won is expected to represent the number of votes. Although the Conservative Party has many supporters in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal cities, they lack representation in parliament. Likewise in Prairies, Liberals have thousands of supporters but they are hardly represented. Although the Federal party gets more than 60% of the votes across Canada in nearly all elections, Bloc Quebecois gets the seats. The NDP and Green parties are also inadequately represented in The House of Commons as they ought to be represented proportionally. The quality of leadership obtained from these curious results is also questionable. The Canadians are disappointed with the behavior in the parliament and federal politics in general. They consider that The House of Commons lacks seriousness and relevance to the lives of the citizens. Therefore, a mixed member proportionate electoral system is of an interest to the Canadians.

An elected parliament should be the main public forum of a nation and reflect the diversity of its citizens with passion and civility. The members of parliament represent their nation in very substantive matters so they should be able to make the policies on issues such as peace and war, poverty and inequality, and environmental degradation prevention and control. Moreover they should uphold the values of the citizens by working with conviction and passion for service. Just like Pierre Trudeau and Bob Stanfield, they should avoid claiming personal insult and false accusations onto each other.  To provide effective leadership they should reason passionately and uphold civility on the basis of respect of colleague’s dignity.

For the nation to be governed in a stable democracy, the personalities of its leaders, amendments of the set rules and structural change in the parliament are critical. As a consequence this calls for reforms in the Canadian electoral system that is outdated and should be replaced with a proportional representation of all Canadians in the various parties spread throughout the nation. In other words lack of structural reforms in the electoral system will continually deny the democratic representation of the credible parties in Canada and thus fail to reflect ideological and regional diversity of the citizens.  Recent elections were characterized by a significant drop in voter turnout which is an indication that electoral reforms are required in order to motivate a greater participation. 

The electoral system used in Canada is called single member plurality. The method declares the candidate with majority of votes to be the candidate elected in the legislative assemblies. Thus a party’s share of seats may not represent the nation-wide share of votes. Therefore electoral reforms are necessary. As a result, various types of the proportionate representation electoral systems have been proposed. The PR system aims at the citizen’s choice democracy by ensuring that there is equality between the percentage of the number of seats and the number of voters a candidate got. Basically, the proportional representation system attempts to translate a party’s share of seats into a proportional share of its legislature seats in an election.

The proposed mixed member proportion (MMP) is one of the most popular proportional representation electoral systems that combine the traditional representation in single member plurality electoral system with a proportional representation. In this system, some legislature seats are elected using the old one, and the remaining seats are allocated depending on the percentage of votes. Its major advantage is that it combines the interests of electoral reformers and anti reformers. This electoral system is likely to lead to the formation of stable post election coalitions that would reflect the opinions of majority Canadians. It will reduce politician’s use of personal insults against each other during the election campaigns. Furthermore it would promote regional and gender representation at all levels and in all parties. In the mixed member proportion system, every vote in an election is counted. This system combines political assurance with civility.

However, despite its merits different people showed different reactions towards the proposed electoral system. Some feared that it might lead to the formation of weak coalitions. Others considered it might produce governance without the deserved responsibility to elect the leaders. They also claimed that the proportional representation could be inefficient in a situation where there is cycling of majorities in government. Though the proposed system was intended to represent the will of the voters, it is important that it allows voters to clearly identify the elected leaders to be responsible for inherent instability. The electoral system should leave the mandate to elect their preferred leaders. Based on this, the proposed system was inefficient because it promoted multiparty coalitions that would make it easier to escape accountability.

Due to the results of the latest elections, and the drop in voter turnout an evaluation of the importance of reforms in the electoral system was needed  so the reformers held referendums to allow the citizens to participate in an electoral reform. Unfortunately, all the first two referendums were rejected while the third did not get the required support. This showed the lack of awareness among the Canadians.

The reformers carried out a survey to find out why a third supported, and two thirds of the Canadians rejected the reforms during the referendum.  They found that few people were interested in a change. Majority did not know the demerits of the existing system and were satisfied with its functionality. Those who supported the referendum seemed uncomfortable with the criteria for seats allocation and they advocated for multiparty coalitions. Moreover they disliked the proposed increase in the legislature by twenty two members because it could be an added liability and they disliked the idea of giving control to the party lists. They viewed it as a set up by the assembly and thus remained skeptical and reluctant (Fred &Fournier, 2007).

John Hiemstra, a political science professor, believes that the mixed member proportionate electoral system was in the interest of the Canadians. In his opinion, the world wide acceptable principle of democracy is where the government decides based on the majority rule. The single plurality does not reflect the majority Canadians’ political opinion in The House of Commons. It instead results into disunity, reduces accountability and disregards voters’ democracy. The proposed mixed member proportional representation would make every vote to be important, promote national unity, reflect Canadian political opinions in the parliament and strengthen the elected members (Barker & Charlton, p 234).

The country has 308 districts whose representatives in the parliament are decided upon using plurality formula that will remain in the new system. The only addition is that now only half of the number of MPs will be elected. The modesty reform suggests that the remaining half should be appointed from a party list. This list is given by the existing parties and each party gets a number of slots proportional to its number of votes in a province. John Hiemstra claims that to make every vote count, the electoral system should allow equitable representation in The House of Commons. The current electoral system allows the minority of voters to acquire majority seats. The evident is Liberals’ government elected with 38% votes (Barker & Charlton, p240).

The plurality system distorts the citizens’ perception of the strengths of various parties. The public starts considering the strength of a party on the basis of the number of slots a party won rather than the number of supporters a party had. This system is only effective for two party systems. This means it is insufficient for the diverse and complex Canadian society which has many political parties. A democratic principle would allow electoral reforms that promote multiparty politics other than restrict people’s choice to only two parties. A MMP would allow different political opinions to be expressed and addressed in a multiparty system. As a result, the governance elected by proportional representation might reflect citizens’ interests more efficiently than governance elected in plurality system. He believes the current plurality system has weakened representative democracy. It does not mandate the MPs to be active in making policies as the citizens would wish. The proposed MMP system would make the political system more dynamic. It strengthens parties and draws a clear distinction from one party to the other (Barker & Charlton, p 243). The MPs are then obliged to follow the policies and principles agreed upon with the party supporters. MMP system would therefore translate to an effective government and equitable representation. Canadians should not fear adopting the new system because they can get comparative evidence from such countries as New Zealand, Germany and Russia. With an effective governance and equitable representation MMP system can promote national unity. The plurality system rewards small minority while the MMP rewards both minority and majority. For example in 2006 federal election NDP had 17.5% of the total votes. In plurality electoral system it was awarded twenty two seats only. If the allocation was done on the MMP system NDP would be awarded fifty five slots. According to John Hiemstra, plurality system yields false majority governance. This system allows the party with majority seats to be the government. Since receiving its independence, Canada has been ruled by a government that had a majority vote only twice. MMP system would allow the public to decide on the proportion of representation in the House per party. For example a party with 7% of the total votes will get 7% of representation slots in the House.

On the other hand, Nelson Wiseman who is also a professor in political science at University of Toronto has a different point of view on this. In his opinion, it is not necessary to change to a new electoral system not knowing the outcome. He claimed that the mixed member proportional system is likely to leave half of the elective seats in the hands of party leaders. He believed it is necessary to be cautious and consider the likely consequencesbefore tampering with other institutional infrastructure. Nelson believed that an electoral system has no significance in determining the success or failure of Canadian politics. The output of policy making and quality of life in Canada was evidently better than in many other nations that used a mixed member proportional system. Efficiency of FTPT should not be judged based on the conversion of votes to seats only, but also geographical, sociological and historical factors require to be considered. Other nations such as Americans and British which are well-known democrats use the FTFP electoral system.  Except Germany and New Zealand there are countries whose performance is poorer than Canada’s and they use the proportional representation systems (Barker & Charlton, p 247).

Nelson considered that a change in the electoral system will result into greater implications than the voters’ representation. For example, the Canadians could be unhappy with their parliamentarians but they would prefer to remain with the existing parliamentary system. In his opinion the parties had been accommodated in the new parliamentary practice.

The proposed mixed member proportional system does not guarantee the government that is more sensitive or responsive to the citizen’s needs. Therefore a new electoral system may not promote citizen’s engagement in politics and participation in the election. Low voter turnout was evident in most western industrialized world and so effectiveness of an electoral system would not be based on a voter turnout. Despite the tireless efforts of reformers to introduce the mixed member proportional system the public seems to strongly object. Including proportional representation in the legislature as suggested in the proposed system does not guarantee this reflection in governance (Barker & Charlton, p254). Nelson indicates that major parties prefer the traditional plurality electoral system. The provincial government should have told the voters about the 60% percent bar. Introducing a referendum was hypocritical because most politicians especially those in large parties preferred FPTP electoral system. The FPRP electoral system has served efficiently in the past, and Nelson feels replacing such a system with a new system would risk the national unity. This might entrust the policy making to the parties’ leaders.

The fear of change is the major reason for people’s reluctance in embracing the mixed member proportionate system that could bring the society national unity, political conviction and civility. Canadian need of an overdue electoral system and the mixed member proportional electoral system has the virtues they are interested in. 

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