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PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION

September 27, 2007
Proportional Representation


ALSO ON SITE

by Jen Frankel

The upcoming election in Ontario, Canada may just be the most important opportunity for people in that province, like me, to revolutionize a political process.

Let me explain.

As well as casting a vote, Ontarians are being asked to make their mark on a referendum ballot. The issue? Whether we keep the current "first past the post" electoral system, or move to a mixed system which will combine that with Proportional Representation.

It's a moment I thought would never come to Canada.

Despite our constant (and sometimes annoyingly self-righteous) claims to our superiority as a fair and democratic nation, there's a disconnect between that assertion and the reality. Just look at our House of Commons.

We have many, many political parties in Canada. This ain't no two party American system, where you're with the big two or you're the next thing to invisible.

We've always had at least three parties visible on the political horizon, our big two (Liberals and Conservatives, roughly corresponding to the American Democratic and Republican parties), and the NDP (New Democratic Party) who have a long and proud history as a leftist social conscience party.

The NDP fulfills a vital function in Canada. A national party able to attract enough voters to put people in Parliament, it has often held the deciding vote during years of a minority government, allowing a moderate group to have the final say in divisive policy matters.

But the system has always remained exclusionary, and doesn't really represent the actual votes cast.

We have a strong Green party in Canada with a comprehensive and rather brilliant platform. But, despite strong support across Canada (they field candidates in every riding), they can't get elected.

Their votes, spread out across the country, are not enough in any one place to elect a single candidate.

In effect, they control a fair percentage of the popular vote, but no actual voice in the political proceedings in Ottawa.

Proportional representation addresses this imbalance. Now, if the Greens poll 5%, regardless of the fact that 5% of Canadians support the party, they will not have a single seat in Parliament.

Under the proposed mixed system, as long as a party polls at least 3% nationally, they are eligible to fill some "List" seats in Parliament, as opposed to the "Local" seats filled by individuals elected in particular ridings.

Polling 5% would mean that the Greens would win 5% of the "List" seats, and would therefore represent the actual proportion of support for the party.

I never thought I'd see the issue on the ballot; it seemed a bit of a no-brainer that the two parties that controlled the government, who of course have a stake in avoiding the introduction of proportional representation, would never let it become an active issue.

It's so important for people to understand what proportional representation is all about, and to understand the mixed system begin proposed.

Elections Ontario has posted an absolutely excellent website, explaining the issue with clarity and simplicity. Check it out. It may just be the most important potential advance in the democratic process you see this decade.


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