Never thought I would see the day that a government in Canada would take such a bold step and declare that the last general election would be the last using first-past-the-post. Moreover, the intention to do so has clearly been signaled before the newly elected Members of Parliament have even taken their seats in Parliament.
As militants, we have never been in this position before. Previously, at the provincial level, governments went as far as holding a referendum to change the voting system, but retained the first-past-the-post option on the ballot -- better the devil we know. As well, provincial governments in both British Columbia (BC) and Ontario placed a supra majority requirement (60%) in order to make the change. All three referendums (two in BC) failed to reach this summit. In Prince Edward Island, a referendum was held with little or any effort to inform the citizens about the choice they were to make. Finally, in Quebec a preliminary piece of legislation was tabled to lead the public through a process of consultation, but to no avail since the Charest-led Liberals never even attempted to enact legislation that would have actually changed the system.
So, despite the setbacks, all our work over the years finally has led to something substantive. As the late Canadian cultural icon, Doris Anderson, once said at Fair Vote Canada Annual General Meeting, "your moment will come and you will have to seize it." Amen.
I think as we head into this new campaign that we need to realize that the context is much different. First, the burden of the proof to demonstrate the recurrent limitations of first-past-the-post no longer rests with us. The Trudeau-led Liberals get it, and, most importantly, they have a majority of seats in Parliament (we all know how they got that majority) and can simply enact legislation to make the change. Second, the burden of proposing the alternative to the present system has not been transferred away from the government. It is the government's responsibility. In both Ontario and BC, the task was given to a citizens assembly, which although from first glance appears to be a laudable democratic practice, it allowed governments in both provinces to avoid taking ownership of the model that emerged from each assembly. In other words, it is no longer up to the citizens to get it right. This time around it will be the government's task.
Consequently, we need not get bogged down arguing the benefits of the Single Transferable Vote as opposed to the Mixed Member Proportional system. At the end of the public consultation process, it will be the government, for better or worse, that will be putting forward their preferred model and the vote will be limited to members of Parliament.
In this scenario, the mechanics of the voting method used for general elections, whatever is decided upon, must above all conform to the fundamental principles of democracy. For example, each and every vote must count and carry equal weight, and the composition of Parliament must conform to the manner Canadians actually voted. Anything else, no matter how you slice it and dice it, is unacceptable.
Early on in the consultation process, before any model is actually put on the table, Canadians must be clear to communicate that Democracy comes first and constitutes a priority over all other considerations, especially the desire to maintain a close link between the elected official and his or her constituents, a secondary feature of an electoral system that should not be adhered to so that the new voting method brings about undemocratic representation.
On this point, we must be extremely vigilant. Democracy should not be postponed to the indeterminate future. We want a democratic electoral process and we want it now!!!