I had a McDonald's breakfast this morning with two friends from work who are both new Canadians, and will be voting in their first elections whenever Harper brings us back to the polls, and in between breakfast burritos the talk turned to politics.
They're not too familiar with our political and governance system so I delivered a brief primer on the role of the Governor General, the Prime Minister, confidence motions and triggering elections. To avoid confusion I left out a sidebar on the King/Byng affair.
Most of the time they've been here we've had minority governments, and they both expressed that our system of governance seemed unnecessarily unstable. Since we may well soon be heading into our third election in three years, it's hard to disagree with them there. And looking back over the past three years, I think it's fair to say it hasn't been a particularly productive system of governance either.
I said that minority governments have been the exception in our history, majorities have been the norm over the years and they (if they want to be) tend to be more productive, and are certainly more stable.
As we look at recent polls however, it seems clear that we are in an era, likely to continue for some time, which will see minorities, rather than majorities, be the norm. That sets us up for more years of constant electioneering and partisanship, and little long-term thinking or actual governance. Not a good situation for the country.
Is it perhaps time in this current environment to revisit the issue of electoral reform at the federal level? The provinces are already ahead of the curve here, B.C. (last I heard) will have another referendum on electoral reform in the next provincial election and Ontario is also going through a citizen's commission consultative process.
I know the Conservatives have been making a little noise on the file, although the way they're handling it raises doubts about their sincerity, perhaps just going through some motions to try to win some support from the NDP, who have long pushed for action here.
With a majority in sight for no one, the public tiring of constant elections and no actual governing getting done, perhaps the time is right for a serious national discussion of electoral reform.
Last May, during the leadership campaign I participated in a blogger conference call with Stephane Dion. I asked him if he'd be supportive of electoral reform at the federal level, and here was his response:
"There is one strength of our electoral system, and that’s giving clear accountability lines. You know who is in power and who’s the opposition. There’s no in between. If the Liberals are in government you know who to fight or who to blame, and the same for the Conservatives when they are the government. In the PR system everybody is in the government and in the opposition at the same time and you don’t know who is responsible for what. There are moving coalitions all the time. Each electoral system has its shortcomings and its strengths, and we need to keep that in mind.I tried later to track down a copy of that paper, without success. But now that we're out of the leadership race let's have that debate. Dion says he's open to electoral reform, we know Jack Layton is, and Harper has at least been making positive noise. If he's bluffing, let's call him on it. If not, let the discussion begin. Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers
What I dislike in (the current system) though is the over-exaggeration of regional concentrations of the vote. With 50 per cent of the vote in Ontario we have been able in the past to have almost 100 per cent of the seats, and with 1/3 of the votes in the West we were unable to have a significant number of seats. It gives the sense we’re a party for Ontario and a party unable to have support in the West, when it’s not really the case.
One day, assume that you have a government elected where it is Quebec that is out of the government because of this electoral system, with 25 per cent of the vote, and the government has no or few seats on Quebec, and you have a separatist leader trying to have a referendum at the same time. This would be very dangerous for the country.
Because of that, I’m open to consider (electoral reform), and to be frank with all of you I wrote a piece…that will be published soon advocating for consideration for a system that would be very close to the German one, that means you would have a threshold of five per cent to receive compensatory seats, and the compensatory seats would be given on a PR system. I don’t have time to explain it (all) today on the phone, but I’m open…to consider a change in the electoral system.
I don’t think a (leadership race) is a good opportunity to (have that debate), but the one who will be in power will be in a position to study the results of the current consultations about that, and to have an open debate about ways to keep the strength of the current system while having some corrections for the exaggeration of the regional vote that we have now.”