Canada pushes for proportional representation

Written by Cecelia Balestrini, CNN The province of Ontario, B.C. and Alberta have been pushing for changes to Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system for many years. Their members of Parliament have become increasingly frustrated by…

Canada pushes for proportional representation

Written by Cecelia Balestrini, CNN

The province of Ontario, B.C. and Alberta have been pushing for changes to Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system for many years. Their members of Parliament have become increasingly frustrated by the current system of electing MPs, in which only the first-place finisher in each riding is re-elected.

Now, their efforts are gathering momentum. On June 21, Ontario’s provincial legislature passed a motion recommending that Ontario be the first province to adopt proportional representation, an outcome that party leaders in the province have trumpeted.

Proportional representation puts more of a value on regional representation and experts say that such representation is crucial to bringing Indigenous people into the electoral process. B.C. and Alberta also want to reform the status quo, with Premier John Horgan pushing for proportional representation in his province.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley called the motion “a historic step” that would help bring about a “true federal system in Canada.” B.C. Premier John Horgan said that the province would “put out a formal notice to the House calling for a government of Canada with proportional representation as its base.”

The proposal for greater representation includes in an off-duty legislature member, i.e. a non-politician, who is elected to represent their area in the legislature. A representative can remain with their party, even after being voted out, which has led to criticisms of candidate fixating in a proportional representation system.

Proportional representation has supporters, as it gives those from less populous provinces more influence on policy in the national parliament, but it has also brought increased representation for smaller parties. This typically ensures larger parties over-represent in the House of Commons.

An improvement for Indigenous people, an appropriate response

However, critics of the system say that certain groups and specific communities that are often ignored get a raw deal, such as women, immigrants and Indigenous Canadians.

While it is not time to completely abandon first-past-the-post, the battle for proportional representation is gaining momentum.

Change is also afoot on the federal level. The lack of gender parity on current Parliament is on its way to being addressed. The Liberals pushed through Bill C-45, which will require at least 50% of the country’s parliamentarians to be women by 2022.

The move for greater representation of Indigenous Peoples is another. The new forms of power the parties seek to take after 2019 are more applicable to an Indigenous worldview, and will ensure that an overwhelming number of people from Canada’s Indigenous communities, for example, will be better represented. It’s an appropriate response to calls for more effective social and political movements, for people who have been marginalized within the old first-past-the-post political system.

“International studies and experience across the political world demonstrate that it is better to have more representatives representing more interests,” said Nathalie Fabius, chief of staff for the New Democratic Party in Ontario.

What’s in it for Canada?

Canada is not the only country with a history of political exclusion to see the allure of proportional representation. In 2015, the European Parliament changed from the present system of first-past-the-post to proportional representation. It’s an endeavor that has been taken up in several other Western countries.

An overhaul of the current electoral system won’t happen overnight, however.

“We have one of the most archaic first-past-the-post systems in the world,” said Alberta NDP M.P. Rachel Notley. “The provincial and federal governments that will be put forward in 2019 won’t really know if we will have proportional representation until 2030 or 2031. But Ontario has started the ball rolling.”

An increasing number of countries are calling for changes to the electoral system, including France, the UK, Germany, and Spain.

This editorial was produced by CNN Canada, part of CNN’s media network.

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