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NDP leadership race: Which candidates are determined to fix our broken voting system?

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Image: FairVote Canada, used with permission

As the NDP leadership race heads into the final weeks, most of the commentary seems to revolve around which candidate can help the NDP win enough seats to beat Justin Trudeau. This is, of course, the number one question for the party. You cannot change any policy from the sidelines.

The second key question for NDP supporters and all Canadians must be:

Which candidate is determined to fulfill the promise of electoral reform for all Canadians?

The brutal reality of our electoral system is that even when the NDP won an historic 103 seats in 2011 and became Canada’s official opposition, the non-governing parties including the NDP, representing 60% of Canadians were powerless spectators.

When votes for any party do not fairly translate into seats or influence, "better results" for a party become a hollow victory for those who dream of a better Canada.

With just 39.5 per cent of the popular vote, Justin Trudeau's Liberal majority has freely exercised the same power. Nowhere has this been more evident than their handling of electoral reform. Despite a clear promise of evidence-based policy, when 88 per cent of the experts recommended proportional representation Trudeau simply dumped his promise, stating the outcome did not match his personal preference, and the decision was his choice to make.  

Our Westminster style of democracy was designed to provide power to local representatives but the working model disproportionately rewards larger parties entrenching a two party system with the concentration of power in the prime minister’s office.

In practical terms, first-past-the-post concentrates almost all the power in the hands of one man and his party strategists. Single-party majority governments evolve, gradually or quickly, into public billboards for why we so badly need the collaborative decision making that proportional representation offers.

The NDP's goal must go beyond the dream of temporarily placing themselves at the top of the power pyramid, because building lasting policy change with first-past-the-post is like building a kingdom on a beach made of sand. There is always another king waiting in the wings ready to undo all of your policy advances.

Decades of research shows that countries with proportional systems are, on average, performing better than countries using majoritarian systems on long-term issues like income inequality, and environment -- sustaining progress rather than subjecting their citizens to an endless cycle of policy flip flops.

In this sense, proportional representation isn't just one issue among many:

It's about how decisions are made on every issue.

We just concluded the third federal parliamentary committee on electoral reform, and the 15th commission/committee/assembly in Canada to hear the same evidence in favour of PR.

When the ability of parties to hold unfettered power and the careers of the current politicians are at stake, getting proportional representation through the political roadblocks will require nothing less than leadership with a deep understanding and focused determination to make it happen.

A Minority Government May be the Key

PR is an item on every NDP leadership candidate's wish list. Each of the candidates has said if the NDP forms the government, they will implement PR.

But what if the NDP doesn't win 170 seats in 2019?  Which candidates will make PR an unwavering condition of supporting a minority government? Which candidates will tell the government-elect: "No PR? No support."

Charlie Angus - Electoral reform platform released August 2017: 

In response to Fair Vote Canada's campaign, Angus released a Youtube video to Fair Vote Canada supporters on July 19, 2017, stating that he would "move on electoral reform in a serious way within six months."

On March 26, 2017, he stated: "We need to win a majority so we can bring this in. Because let's not kid ourselves. If we win a minority we can be nice and talk to the Liberals all we want and nothing will change. From this process, we have to get the majority to get it."

In response to Fair Vote Canada's question about making PR a condition of supporting a minority government:

"Yes. While I did not get into politics to put other parties into power, I would make proportional representation one of the key demands on any government supported in Parliament by the NDP."

Niki Ashton - Electoral reform platform released August 2017:  

Ashton will introduce legislation for MMP in the first mandate of an NDP government.

In response to Fair Vote Canada’s question about making PR a condition of supporting a minority government: "As leader of the NDP, I would ensure that any potential partnership would include conditions to institute electoral reform."

Guy Caron - Electoral Reform platform June 2017: 

Caron was first out of the gate on this issue with a press release on June 6, 2017 announcing PR as one of his top campaign issues. Click here to read iPolitics' and Huffington Post's coverage of his position.

His platform states that not only will PR be the first bill of an NDP government led by Caron, but "in case of a minority government following the 2019 general election, electoral reform will be a prerequisite for any potential alliance."

In response to Fair Vote Canada"s question about making PR a condition of supporting a minority government: "Yes. As part of my policy on electoral reform in the NDP leadership race, I explicitly made a commitment to make electoral reform a necessary condition and prerequisite for any potential alliance or support of any minority government."

Jagmeet Singh

Singh noted electoral reform as one of his top four priorities at his campaign launch event. As of September 10, 2017, there is nothing yet about electoral reform on his website.

In response to Fair Vote Canada’s question about making PR a condition of supporting a minority government: "I believe the NDP can form government in 2019 and can bring in mixed member proportional representation. In a minority parliament, I would consult with our caucus and advocate for the inclusion of proportional representation as a condition of any alliance or support for a minority government."

Let's make 2019 the last first-past-the-post election

The NDP must campaign strongly on electoral reform, achieve enough seats to have an influence, and use their power to create lasting change for all Canadians.Regardless of which candidate(s) you support, ask them to talk about their commitment to proportional representation, to strengthen their commitment, and to become a vocal champion of voter equality of all Canadians.

We need every NDP leadership candidate firmly on board. This isn't a race that any of us who care about making votes count can afford to lose.

Image: FairVote Canada

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