Photo of June Macdonald by Jerad Gallinger.
Proportional representation fans have got to be disappointed this election.
Less than a year after Ontario’s mixed member proportional representation referendum and with only months to go before British Columbia’s second crack at single transferable vote, hopes were high that the issue would finally come to the fore on the national stage. But in a campaign dominated by two other E’s, the economy and the environment, electoral reform has been shoved aside once again.
Cue Fair Vote Canada, the nation’s most prolific advocate of proportional representation. FVC’s network of grassroots volunteers is working hard this election to spread the word on why changing the way we choose our leaders is critical to the future of Canadian democracy.
“I think the viability of our country depends on it,” says June Macdonald, Past President of Fair Vote Ontario, a member of Fair Vote Canada’s national council and co-founder of FVC’s Toronto chapter. “I truly believe our country is not doing as well as it should if we had a proportional system. People are becoming disengaged, less and less people turning out to vote.”
“The system also depresses the number of women running,” Macdonald continued. “In most proportional countries more women run and get elected. And that means that issues of interest to women, and of minorities as well, don’t get the same kind of clout when decisions are being made.”
“This is one of the most disproportionate systems in the world. So a change has got to be an improvement over what we have. We don’t have a true democracy.”
With three of the four major national party leaders—Stéphane Dion, Jack Layton, and Elizabeth May—in favour of some kind of proportional representation, Fair Vote’s job should theoretically be pretty simple. So, aside from a single mention by Elizabeth May in the English leaders’ debate, why is electoral reform completely off the radar during the current campaign? Self interest, explains Macdonald. “[Politicians] don’t really like this idea because, of course, you can get a majority with 40 percent of the votes. So they don’t like it. It’s not in their interests to change the system.”
Even if politicians were to take action on electoral reform, Macdonald believes the direction of change should be determined not by parliamentarians, but by the people. “We are very suspicious of politicians setting their own job description,” she said. “That doesn’t seem to work very well from other evidence in other countries.” Although the recent Ontario and BC referenda failed to establish proportional representation at the provincial level, as far as Fair Vote is concerned, citizens’ assemblies are still “a good way of going.”
As for the prospect of sweeping electoral reform being implemented in Canada in coming years, Macdonald is realistic but hopeful.
“Near or medium term, I don’t know,” she said. “But I sense in this election an upswell of anger. People are really annoyed by this. We’ve had three elections in four years. Proportional countries’ governments are not that unstable. People are getting angry, and I think things are going to happen sooner than we think.”
“I hope so, anyway.”
Photo of a Fair Vote Canada poster by Neal Jennings.