Listen Up! Electoral reform is an issue worthy of a fight: Opinion

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Hugh Mackenzie Huntsville Doppler

Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

Flurries on the Hill

Some things are worth fighting for, but others are not. That, of course, applies to life in general but it also applies to politics and the media. There was a flurry of activity on Parliament Hill this past week that to me, at least, clearly makes the point.

Let’s start with Sophie Gregoire Trudeau the wife of our Prime Minister. While it is unfortunate that she made it a public issue, the fact is, she needs more help to carry out her public duties. Every Prime Minister’s spouse has had their own style and all of them have contributed equally, in their own way, to the well-being of Canadians.

The Trudeau’s style is more flamboyant than their predecessors. They seek more attention and they get it, because at this point in time many people at home and abroad are content to treat them as royalty. While that is not normally our style, it has happened before and will happen again and it will, as always, dissipate over time. In the meantime, it is no big deal and it is not worth fighting over. So give the lady what she needs and get on with more important issues. There is one caveat, however. It has been reported that Sophie Gregoire Trudeau receives a fee for some of the events she attends. If there is any truth to that, then taxpayers should not be required to cover her expenses.

A second issue not worth fighting over is whether the Prime Minister should have rushed into Fort McMurray at the height of the devastating fire in that community. He has been criticized for not doing so, but he made the correct decision. Prime Ministers come with entourages and there is no way around it. The last thing the brave men and women who stayed behind to fight the fires needed was to have to put up with the photo ops, the security and the scrutiny that accompanies these visits. Whether the Prime Minister was in Washington or Ottawa at the height of the fire is immaterial. What is important is that he was not in Fort McMurray.

In contrast, there were two serious issues raised in the House of Commons this week that deserve our attention. One is Government legislation required by the Supreme Court of Canada regarding the circumstances under which we are allowed to decide when to die. It is a heavy burden for members on both sides of the House and it is a complicated matter with ethical, religious and social implications. It is an issue to which all Canadians should pay attention. It is certainly worth serious and reasoned debate in Parliament and members should take the time to get it right.

The real biggie for me this past week, however, was the Government’s roll out of their plans for so called electoral reform in Canada. The makeup of the committee to develop recommendations on this basic principle of democracy is clearly a stacked deck in favour of the Liberals and even some of the left-wing media in this country see it that way. This really is worth fighting for.

During the 2015 election campaign, one of the many promises made by the Liberal Government was that it would be the last election where first past the post determined the winners. Fair enough. But when you stack the committee that will make recommendations as to what the alternative will be, you are simply serving your own purposes and not the people of Canada.

Prime Minister Trudeau says that Canadians gave him a mandate to reform the way we vote. Not so fast. First of all his Government is the product of a first past the post election. It received well less than 50 per cent of the popular vote. Further, people who did vote for the Trudeau Government voted for change. They did not necessarily vote for every single plank in their platform. The back room Party folks are well aware of that, which is why they can get away with not keeping many of their promises.

Electoral reform is a complicated process. There are many models to choose from and none of them is perfect. First past the post is one of them. The candidate who gets the most votes wins. Simple as that. It is a system that is commonly used but it does allow a person to win with a minority of votes cast.

There is also a viewpoint that a successful candidate should have a majority of votes cast and this could be accomplished in two ways. One would be a ranked ballot where voters indicated their first, second and third choices. The candidate who won the majority of votes including second choices, would win. The second option would be a runoff election if no candidate gets a majority of votes allowing only the top two candidates to participate. The worst alternative in my view would be proportional representation which means a Party would be awarded seats in Parliament based on how many votes they get across the country. This would allow areas with larger populations to control the process and effectively disenfranchise communities of a smaller size. Party hacks would decide who sits in Parliament and constituencies would have no direct representation.

The bottom line for me is that no Government, in fact no political party, should cherry pick which alternative for electoral reform they are going to shove down the throats of Canadians. The question is just too fundamental to our basic democratic rights. If memory serves me correctly, Patrick Boyer, a native of Bracebridge and one-time Member of Parliament, was a fierce proponent of referendums. I think he actually wrote a book about it. In my view, if there were ever an issue that cried for a referendum before changes are made, electoral reform is an obvious one. Canadians and only Canadians, by a majority vote, should decide how the electoral system should change. This is a fight really worth having, right up to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Huffington Post photo

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3 Comments

  1. If it ain’t broke leave it alone. And IMO the present sustem has worked well in the past, people understand it and it is fair and simple.
    Just like most Canadians.
    I agree that if the issue is to be changed there must be a referendum. While they are at it why not put the right to die on the same referendum.
    (Isn’t a referendum a simple majority vote? ! )

  2. Joy Salmon Moon on

    Hugh. “at this point in time”?
    “At this point”, or “at this time”.
    Please, NOT both.
    A ranked ballot would be less expensive than a runoff.
    PS. Good column.

  3. Rob Millman on

    One wonders why Mr. Mackenzie even bothered to bring up the debate on Bill C-14 (physician-assisted dying) if he is more interested in the peripatetic Trudeaus and electoral reform. He expressed absolutely no opinion on the matter; even though his column is ostensibly an opinion column. The vagaries of electoral reform are longstanding and will be sorted out in due course. The Supreme Court, however, requires the government’s answer to Carter vs. Canada by June 6.

    As unpalatable as the High Court’s initial ruling (February 6, 2015) was, it is still fairer than this Bill. The option of a physician-assisted death under C-14 would only be available to those facing “foreseeable” death from an incurable disease or disability. In other words, somebody in that unfortunate circumstance, suffering irremediable and intolerable pain, would be “sentenced” to life.

    We can only hope that our MP’s have been listening to the outcry from their constituents, and that consequently this Bill will be defeated. The Prime Minister has freed Liberal MP’s to vote their consciences, which is certainly to his credit, as he is personally invested in the Bill as proposed.

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