How much reform is too much reform? If we use the presence of the word reform as an indicator, Nathan Cullen’s electoral reform committee reform proposal suggests that more is better. But is electoral reform really the same as post-party 3 am poutine? A stranger’s answer to that question is frozen to the sidewalk outside my Montreal apartment, and some Canadians might agree with his assessment.
On electoral reform, many Canadians wonder, “if it ain’t broke, why we gotta fix it?” The old adage holds water in many cases, but it encounters a few problems here. Since 2000, voter turnout in federal elections has been between ~59% and ~69%, indicating that many Canadians do not vote in the current electoral system. Is it possible for these people to know the health of the system if they never interact with it? Oddly enough, yes. The fact that they aren’t voting suggests that the system doesn’t work for them. Reform could fix that. So should we listen to Nathan Cullen?
No, and here’s why: Cullen’s proposal is outrageous. He wants the Liberal Party to give up its majority on the committee, instead allowing for the committee’s composition to reflect the popular vote in the most recent federal election. This sounds nice at first glance, but it becomes less appealing when we consider its implications. Without a single party majority to steer the discussion and suppress opposition, the committee would have to reach some degree of consensus in order to accomplish anything. This means the resulting reforms wouldn’t favour a single party, and that Canadians might have to acclimatize to cooperation in federal politics. Do I feel poutine coming back up? Cullen wants the committee assigned to tackle electoral reform to embody some of the principles of electoral reform. Forget begging the question- Cullen is grovelling. Although for different reasons, he doesn’t receive much help from his enemies in blue.
Rona Ambrose and her post-Harper band of Conservative survivors view electoral reform in much the same way as that poutine-eater retrospectively viewed his late night snack. All signs suggest they want none of it. Unfortunately, they’re too scared to come out and say that, so instead they say we should have a national referendum on reform. There are a few problems with this proposal. First, we already had one back in 1988. Second, it makes Ambrose and gang look like a bunch of dirty Harpercrites. They never asked anyone before trying to reform other aspects of our government and society, including the composition of the Supreme Court and the Senate. They probably should have, because they failed on both fronts…but that isn’t the point. The point is that, from their perspective, electoral reform is at worst much more justifiable and less politically-charged than many of their reforms were, and at best no different at all. The whole debacle makes them look rather daft.
Politics and voter turnout aside, there are several good reasons why electoral reform could improve the health of our democracy. A reformed electoral system could stop rewarding slim pluralities with commanding majorities. It could encourage parties to work in the national interest, rather than trying to build a majority by pandering to a few seat-rich regions of the country. It could ensure that, no matter where you are in Canada, your vote counts for something. These would be welcome changes.