UBC professor calls for proportional representation to enhance democracy in Canada

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      Electoral reform for political science professor Maxwell A. Cameron is more than just about how votes are cast and counted.

      For the UBC academic, it’s a question of reinvigorating Canadian democracy itself.

      In a submission to a House of Commons committee tasked to review and study alternatives to the current first-past-the-post, winner-take-all voting system, Cameron lays out a persuasive argument for proportional representation, which makes all votes count.

      Under the first-past-the-post system, the candidate that receives the most votes wins the election. A political party that wins the most seats gets to form government.

      Proportional representation aims to match a party’s seat count with its share of votes.

      According to Cameron, a shift to proportional representation would make the likelihood of “false majority governments” less common.

      These are majority governments that are elected by a minority of voters, he explained.

      When one party has absolute majority in parliamentary, there’s little constraint on the way the prime minister and the executive wield power, wrote the director of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions at UBC.

      Cameron, who is also a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, argued that proportional representation will result to more coalitions or minority governments.

      For Cameron, the prevalence of coalition or minority governments is good, and “could actually revitalize Canadian democracy”.

      “Party leaders would have to learn to work together, as competition among parties would be tempered by the recognition of the need for cooperation between elections,” he wrote in his paper. “This would reduce the incentives for permanent campaigning and the use of wedge issues.”

      Smaller parties will get to play a more significant role.

      “Elections would cease to be life-or-death struggles for third parties,” Cameron noted. “Strategies to permanently put adversaries out of business would become less attractive, even counter-productive. A party that won a quarter of the vote could expect some corresponding measure of influence in parliament. Thus, rather than devoting all their efforts to undermining the government, smaller parties could seek to use their influence to demonstrate their capacity to get results.”

      Governing becomes a less partisan endeavour.

      “Policy-making would be less prone to lurch from one position to another between elections …,  and major areas of consensus could be established where parties could work together to achieve longer-term objectives,” according to Cameron.

      Cameron also argued that proportional representation “could reinforce the functions of the legislature by requiring more negotiation among parties in Parliament and bringing more voices into government”.

      “That is because the necessity of cooperation in both the formation of governments and in the execution of policy and legislation would compel the parties to work together,” the UBC political science professor explained.

      The Liberal Party of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged in the last election campaign that the 2015 balloting will be the last under the first-past-the-post system.

      On June 7, 2016, a special House of Commons committee was created to study viable alternate voting systems, and look into mandatory voting and online voting.

      The committee has 12 members: five Liberals, three Conservatives, two New Democrats, and one each from the Bloc Québécois and Green Party. It is due to submit a report on or before December 1, 2016.