House Call with Carol Hughes

Change to committee structure offers hope for electoral reform

Democracy was well served in the House of Commons this week when New Democrats secured a significant victory in the process that will establish a Parliamentary committee on electoral reform. You may recall it was not that long ago the government planned to use its advantage in Parliament to stack the committee that will recommend how we change our voting system before the next election.

This is truly important since the legitimacy of electoral reforms cannot be secured by any party that is hell bent on going it alone. That much was obvious after Stephen Harper’s government significantly changed the Elections Act with no political support from other parties. That alone led to grass roots movements that played no small part in the Conservative’s undoing during the last campaign.

Many will recall the Liberals promised to make the 2015 election the last to use first-past-the-post. However, before that promise, the Liberals did not agree that we needed to fix our electoral system which routinely delivers majority governments to parties that receive 40 percent of the vote-or less. That’s likely because they had benefitted from the phenomenon. Their conversion may have had as much to do with the momentum New Democrats were building on the issue after Stephen Harper changed the Elections Act for what seemed like partisan reasons.

Whatever their reasoning, once they were locked into a promise to change the system, the government should have known they couldn’t use a false majority to stack the committee. But they dug in their heels and their logic was wearing thin in the court of public opinion. Faced with increasingly bad press, the Liberals relented and supported the NDP motion which will build the committee more democratically.

The New Democrat motion establishes the committee in a way that represents all parties in Parliament without giving an advantage to any singly party. The committee membership will now be arrived at using the percentage of the vote each party received in the last election. In addition to that, we have ensured that the Greens and the Bloc will have voting rights-the Liberal’s initial proposal had basically given them observer status.

We are still a very long way from having a fair system where every vote counts and all votes are equal, but we have taken an important first step. Now that fairness and cross-party cooperation are the founding principles of this committee, the outcome stands a much better chance of ensuring that this parliament is the last that will be built on a false majority.

That is important since the vast majority of Canadians have expressed that they want to move beyond the current winner-take-all, first past the post system. Now that our motion has been adopted we can look forward to the committee being struck in the next 10 days. Then the work will begin in earnest.