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Premature pledge


Where do you stand on electoral reform?

The federal government certainly wants to know. An all-party committee has been hearing from experts over the summer—and is set to conduct cross-country consultations this fall before submitting its final report by Dec. 1.

Locally, Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Don Rusnak is holding a town hall-style discussion tomorrow (Sept. 1) from 2-3 p.m. at the Fort Frances Public Library, in which he’s inviting constituents to share their views and ideas on the issue.

This all stems from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pledge that last October’s federal election would be the final one held under the current “first-past-the-post” system. The push, instead, is for one of proportional representation, where the number of MPs sitting in the House of Commons reflects the percentage of the overall vote each party receives.

More specifically, a preferential ballot system is being bandied about—in which voters would rank each candidate as first choice, second choice, third choice, etc. to determine the winner.

The biggest knock with the current system is that a particular party often wins majority government status with less than 40 percent support. But again, is this a flaw of the system or a consequence of having four major parties in Canada (five if you count the Bloc Quebecois)? In a multi-party system like ours, it’s extremely difficult (and very rare) for one candidate to capture an outright majority of votes (i.e., more than all the others combined) in their particular riding.

Proportional representation is touted as the way to solve these so-called “false majorities.” But what are some of the cons? For one, Canadians likely will be plagued by an endless stream of minority or coalition governments—and we all remember how well those worked from 2004-11 under first Liberal Paul Martin and then Conservative Stephen Harper (when there were four elections in that seven-year span).

Secondly, it’s hard enough to get Canadians to come out to mark a single ‘X’ on the ballot. Yet now we’re looking at a system to make electors have to rank all the candidates in order, with failure to do so resulting in a spoiled ballot?

Voter turnout surely would drop off considerably.

To reiterate: the current system, despite its shortcomings, has served Canada well for almost 150 years. Does it need to be trashed?

Canadians would be wise to carefully weigh all the pros and cons of electoral reform. At the very least, Prime Minister Trudeau’s pledge was premature because we may decide “first-past-the-post” is the best option after all.

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