Fair Vote Canada Speaks out on Reform
As British Prime Minister Gordon Brown prepares to announce plans to replace the unelected House of Lords with an elected upper chamber, Canada is headed for a constitutional quagmire on Senate reform – unless Canada’s political leaders see that parliamentary reform should begin with the House of Commons, says Fair Vote Canada.
“Traditionalists claim the Senate provides strong regional representation and sober second thought,” said Larry Gordon, Executive Director of Fair Vote Canada, a national citizens’ campaign for electoral reform. “The appointed upper house does neither. Regional representation is badly skewed and sober thoughts, when they occur, lack democratic legitimacy.”
While the reform of Parliament is an urgent necessity, the House of Commons rather than the Senate should be the top concern.
Addressing the Senate in a piecemeal approach is doomed to failure. The election of some Senators by some provinces virtually guarantees constitutional challenges by provinces whose interests are compromised. Furthermore, Senate reform can only be legitimate when all the main issues – method of appointment/election, allocation of seats among provinces, and the powers of the Senate in relation to the House – are resolved and then implemented at the same time.
“Before we even head down that path, another step is required,” said Bronwen Bruch, President of Fair Vote Canada. “Voters should first give direction to our political leaders through a referendum: should Canada have an elected Senate or should the upper chamber be abolished?”
With no quick fix for the Senate, Canadians could still gain a benefit often associated with the Senate - strong democratic representation for the regions – by reforming the way House of Commons is elected.
Today’s voting system suppresses the variety of voices in every region. Twenty-seven of Alberta’s 28 seats are occupied by Conservative MPs, even though more than a third of Alberta voters voted for other parties. Meanwhile more than a half-million people in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver voted Conservative, yet not a single MP from those cities sits in the governing party’s caucus. Two-thirds of Quebec voters voted for federalist parties, yet two-thirds of the Quebec’s seats are held by Bloc MPs.
“By giving every voter in every region an equal and effective vote, through a fair and proportional voting system, Canadians could elect, for the first time, a House of Commons that reflected all voters in all regions,” said Larry Gordon.
The governing party and opposition caucuses would then include MPs from all regions, not just those where their support is most concentrated. When every vote counts, national parties would have more incentive to pay attention to voters in all regions, rather than just those in swing ridings in geographic strongholds created by the current electoral system.
“Best of all,” said Gordon, “the introduction of a new voting system for the House does not require a constitutional amendment. It just requires our political leaders to amend the Canada Elections Act to reflect a widely shared democratic value: equal votes for all.”