Justin Trudeau in 2013

Long before Justin Trudeau spoke about Electoral Reform (ER), another Trudeau tackled the issue.

It was in 1979 and that Trudeau was Pierre Elliot.  In November 1979, during the nine months between his two tenures as Prime Minister of Canada, the elder Trudeau said he was “convinced Canada needs a system of proportional representation if the federal government is going to be able to identify itself with the whole country.”

As you can see, the senior Trudeau did not vaguely address the topic of Electoral Reform, like our current PM did, but he had a specific vision and explained it by stressing on the importance of regional proportional representation for Canada’s federal system.  The model P.E. Trudeau supported was very much the same as the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system currently proposed by most advocates of Proportional Representation (PR).

After Justin Trudeau scraped the whole idea of ER it became clear that he was not interested in improving Canadian democracy, making “every vote count” or achieving a “fair” system that results in a Parliament composed of voters’ first choices for government.  It became clear that our current PM wanted to reform the electoral system if, and only if, it would serve the Liberal Party. Thus, when it became clear that the Preferential Ballot model will not fly, he scrapped the whole thing.

The difference between the visions of the two Trudeaus is clear. One was based on how to make the Federal system more robust and more representative while the other was based on self (party) interest.

It is time that we see electoral reform for what it is. It is not a luxury or an intellectual exercise. It is needed in a country where absolute power can be in the hands of a party that has the confidence of only 35% of the voters. When you look at it like this you realize this is not a true democracy, where the power lies in the hands of the people. In our current situation, Justin Trudeau can make any decision he wants while he and his party were NOT the choice of over 60% of Canadians who cast their ballots in October 2015. This is simply wrong and fixing it should not be an optional choice of a party or a PM. Especially when that PM did promise on the campaign trail to “make every vote count.”

The debate on electoral reform must continue and the Canadian electoral system must be reformed into a system that represents the will of the population. When First Part the Post (FPP) was adopted in the UK and inherited by Canada the world was very different. Then it was a huge step forward that male property owners could choose their representatives in Parliament and the person supported by most members of the parliament ruled the country.  Comparatively speaking, it was a huge step forward from the absolute rule of the monarch. But democracy continued to evolve and many other steps followed. The right to vote was extended to other men then to all men, then women were allowed to vote then they were allowed to run for office.

The obvious next step is proportional representation. There is no need or justification to limit the influence of a voter to his or her riding. I am not saying that there be no local MPs who are connected and accountable to their constituency. This can be safeguarded while at the same time the composition of the parliament proportionally reflects the choice of the people through the MMP system.

Countries like Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Malta, New Zealand and South Africa have left First Past the Post behind and moved on to better, more democratic systems, in the late twentieth century. None of the young democracies around the world are adopting it.

Canada cannot and should not be left behind under an undemocratic system in the twenty-first century.

Image: Flickr/Joshuatree

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