Monday, April 4, 2011

Canada Should Look Down Under to Address Its Democratic Deficit

I think that most people would now recognize that the world has moved on and Canada is still stuck with it colonial system of governance. No modern democratic state has a lower house elected by first-past-the-post and an upper house that is unelected.

Elsewhere in the Commonwealth, in particular Australia and New Zealand, political institutions have evolved, and Canada would do well to look down under for a model to bring about democratic reform.

Both countries ditched first-past-the post: Australia uses the Alternative Vote to elect the representatives in the lower house and a proportional method for the Senate, while New Zealand uses a proportional method to elect the members to its unicameral legislature.

Either country could serve as a model depending on what Canadians decide to do with regard to the Senate.

If Canadians choose to abolish the Senate, a mixed member proportional electoral system found in New Zealand has the advantage of combining territorial representation, using a voting method Canadians are familiar, with a list method to ensure that the electoral results with regard to representation are proportional to the popular vote.

If Canadians choose to retain the Senate, the Australian system is also appealing. In short, the lower house retains its territorial representation, electing one member per electoral district, but does so by requiring the winning candidate to seek a majority instead of a plurality. To obtain the 50% plus one, electors are asked to rank the candidates and voting preferences are transferred until one candidate receives a majority of the votes. In the Senate, multimember region districts are in place and representation is awarded in a proportional manner based on the number of votes cast for each of the political parties. Taken together, voters maintain the strong link with an individual Deputy in the lower house and enjoy equitable representation in the Senate.

Where to begin?

It would appear that the best place to begin would be to replace the voting system used to elect representatives to the House of Commons. Again, we should look to New Zealand for a model to guide us with regard how to go about making the change. Importantly, a committee of citizens should be entrusted with implementing a two-round referendum to choose the new system. On the first ballot, there should be at least four alternative voting methods. The first referendum would determine the two most popular alternatives and they would appear on the second ballot. The second referendum would then determine the people's choice by obtaining a majority result.

With only a few weeks before Canadians choose to elect a fourth minority government in seven years or to award a false majority to a single political party, we would do well to consider how to replace a broken electoral system that is beyond repair.

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