Justin, give Wade a call

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Gary MacDougall Gary MacDougall is a re­tired P.E.I. jour­nal­ist. He can be reached at pei­ivory­tower@gmail.com

Al­though it hasn’t ex­actly elec­tri­fied the pop­u­la­tion, the prov­ince is ac­tively re­view­ing our elec­toral sys­tem.

Since elec­tions are such a cru­cial el­e­ment of democ­racy, it is good the pro­vin­cial govern­ment is go­ing about it the proper way, as op­posed to the bull-headed man­ner of the fed­eral Lib­eral govern­ment.

One of the plethora of prom­ises made by Justin Trudeau in lead­ing his Lib­er­als to vic­tory in the 2015 Oc­to­ber fed­eral elec­tion was chang­ing the way Cana­di­ans vote. He vowed that Oc­to­ber’s elec­tion would be the last un­der the first-past-the-post (FPTP) sys­tem. FPTP is much ma­ligned for al­low­ing par­ties to earn ma­jor­ity govern­ment sta­tus with less than a ma­jor­ity of the votes.

For ex­am­ple, the Lib­er­als won 184 seats in Par­lia­ment last Oc­to­ber. That’s 54.4 per cent of Com­mons seats, but the party did it with only 39.5 per cent of the votes cast. It was a sim­i­lar story for the Con­ser­va­tives un­der Stephen Harper in 2011 when they won a ma­jor­ity with less than half the votes.

Those facts, and many other sim­i­lar elec­tion re­sults, make a strong case for elec­toral re­form.

Al­though the is­sue is com­pli­cated and di­vi­sive, on two points most agree: 1) an elec­tion re­sult should re­flect how the votes were cast, and 2) of­ten we end up with gov­ern­ments with strong ma­jor­ity pow­ers but not a ma­jor­ity man­date.

So Trudeau and P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauch­lan are cor­rect in point­ing to the need for re­form. But that’s where the sim­i­lar­ity ends.

In MacLauch­lan’s case, his govern­ment struck a leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee to study the is­sue. Next spring, the P.E.I. leg­is­la­ture will nar­row the elec­tion re­form op­tions to two. Then, fol­low­ing a six-month education cam­paign, a pro­vin­cial plebiscite will be held.

P.E.I.’s process is demo­cratic but it’s not one the Trudeau govern­ment plans to imitate. The new feds say they see no need for a na­tional plebiscite.

Ap­par­ently the govern­ment’s think­ing is that since elec­toral re­form was among its cam­paign prom­ises, when Cana­di­ans put them in power it also meant a green light to elec­toral re­form.

To be fair, the fed­eral Lib­er­als say an all-party par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee will study the is­sue and come up with an al­ter­na­tive sys­tem, which will be ap­proved by Par­lia­ment. But, of course, it is a Lib­eral-dom­i­nated one.

The idea of fun­da­men­tally chang­ing Canada’s vot­ing sys­tem with­out the con­sent of the peo­ple is not only un­demo­cratic, it’s dan­ger­ous in how it may change our sys­tem of gov­er­nance. It’s also naive of the PM to think vot­ers care­fully con­sid­ered ev­ery one of his cam­paign prom­ises.

Trudeau and his govern­ment need a re­al­ity check. The big­gest thing they had go­ing for them in the last elec­tion was that they weren’t Con­ser­va­tives. And even then, they didn’t get 40 per cent of the pop­u­lar vote.

While elec­toral re­form pro­po­nents are of­ten en­vi­ous of what they see as more pro­gres­sive vot­ing sys­tems in other coun­tries, the last time I checked there is just as much political dys­func­tion there as here.

There is no doubt P.E.I. — and Canada — need to take a se­ri­ous look at elec­toral re­form, but any so-called “im­prove­ment” needs the ap­proval of the peo­ple. It can’t be some sunny flavour-ofthe-month idea.

While it has its crit­ics, it should be pointed out Canada has ex­isted quite nicely within the FPTP sys­tem since its for­ma­tion in 1867. It al­lows us to elect gov­ern­ments but also to get rid of ones we don’t like.

There is noth­ing wrong with change, but al­ter­ing the way the peo­ple elect gov­ern­ments is one that de­mands the in­put and ap­proval of the peo­ple.

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