‘A modest proposal’ to address ‘a giant betrayal’

In an article on the CBC News/Politics website, Prime Minister Trudeau’s (wise I think) decision to drop electoral reform unless or until there is some consensus on something other than the current First Past The Post (FPTP) system (which tends to reward the Conservatives and Liberals for being popular and to punish the Greens and the NDP for being “niche” parties) or Proportional Representation which he says, and I agree, “would be harmful to Canada,” was described as “a giant betrayal” by Elizabeth May. (Wow, that an 80+ word run on sentence!)

A few days ago I suggested that the Conservative Party of Canada needs to propose some bold, innovative, imaginative and popular polices … but how could electoral reform possible be a Conservative policy when the CPC is, as well it should be, staunchly in favour of FPTP?

How about ‘a modest proposal‘ that aims to address some of the electoral reform concerns ~ and electoral reform does have a lot of inchoate popular support ~ while retaining the vitally important aspect of FPTP which is that the better candidate, as defined by a plurality of the electors in each riding, is elected to represent a specific Screen Shot 2018-02-02 at 07.17.19community. (It is important to remember that the very name of our most important legislative body, the House of Commons, is more accurate in French where it is “Chambre des communes” which means chamber of the communities which is how our system is supposed to work … each community selects its own representative.) But, many say, it’s not fair ~ look at the Greens, they got 3.5% of the popular vote but only 0.3% of the seats in the House of Commons, the voters’ preferences, at the national level, are “underrepresented” by a full order of magnitude. That’s not a factor that my “modest proposal’ aims to address … in fact i don’t think it is a real problem; niche parties come and go, the best way for the Green supporters to achieve their aims is to convince the Conservatives and Liberals to adopt some of their key goals. A more telling complaint is that our current FPTP system means that most ridings are represented by a candidate who had more support than any others but rarely had the support of the majority.

My “modest proposal” aims to ensure that a solid majority in every constituency is represented in parliament by retaining the First Past The Post system but going to multi-member constituencies. It says that we can have a fairer system by having a House of Commons with 501 seats with all but three of them being two-member constituencies in which the first and second place candidates are both seated in the House. the three single member ridings are Yukon, the Northwest Territories and  Nunavut ~ their populations are so small that they should not elect more than one member.

Having a larger House of Commons will be unpopular in many circles. At first blush one might say, “Two MPs per constituency! That’s almost 700 of the buggers! That’s too many. Most people will say that the very last thing we need is more politicians in Ottawa. But are the politicians, themselves, really the problem? Well, a few are …


… but I think that most of the people elected to (and even appointed to) office in Canada are decent, honest, hare-working, patriotic Canadians and a few more will not do any serious harm.

But I don’t think we need 700 MPs, I suspect that 500 would do the trick … allocated about like this:

Screen Shot 2018-02-12 at 13.29.19

That’s a 501 seat House of Commons with 248 dual member constituencies and 3 single seat constituencies. Now, the last time we had only 250± constituencies was in the 1930s and creating the boundaries would take a lot of effort, but:

  • The distribution of seats is more fair, more aligned with the actual populations shares;
  • The changes are large, Ontario, for example, goes from 121 MPs representing 121 ridings to 186 MPs representing  93 ridings and Alberta goes from 34 MPs in 34 ridings to 56 MPs representing 28 ridings;
  • It is likely that something like 65% to 85% of voters will be able to say “My vote counted!” as opposed to, most often, only 35% to 55%.

I think it would also change the political dynamic in Canada. I suspect that the so called strategic voting, which the Liberals used to their great advantage in 2015, would almost disappear. If NDP voters know that their choice is no longer to either vote for the “better of the non-Conservative candidates” or accept that Conservative candidate will “come up through the middle” of a split vote they will be less likely to switch their votes to the Liberals. Dual member constituencies might create some permanent electioneering in a few ridings, but my guess is that MPs would have to learn to work together on local, constituency issues and it might, also, actually reduce some of the unseemly partisanship in the House of Commons.

I suspect that in some regions, like downtown Vancouver and Toronto, the Liberals and NDP might benefit more from the high concentration of young people; equally in some small town and in rural areas we might see a new, social conservative party emerge and the CPC and the new, social conservative candidate might finish first and second.

I also suspect that multi-member constituencies might create more independent candidates, I can imagine that in some areas where, for example, a Conservative finishes first with, say 37% of the vote, an “Independent Conservative” who ran on a platform saying “I will, generally, support the Conservative party but I will always advocate strongly for Christian values; I’m opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion …” might finish second with, say 27% of the vote, edging out Liberal, NDP, Green and other independent candidates who would share the other 36% of the vote between them. I can also imagine that some big city ridings where a Liberal or NDP candidate might finish first, again with, ay 37% of the vote, and Independent candidate who said “I will vote with my brain and my conscience in ways that suite the needs of this community but I will always put the interests of seniors first and I will advocate for you …” will finish second, maybe with 27% of the vote, because seniors are, increasingly, moving into downtown condos, right beside the young, hip, single 20 somethings and they (and their children in the suburbs, want someone to represent their interests. But that’s just guesswork on my part. But anything that might increase the independent voice in politics should be encouraged.

Multi member constituencies were common in Britain from the 1600s until, in a few cases, 1950. The best way to manage the electoral process is by having traditional FPTP elections although the system can work with ranked ballots, too.

My “modest proposal” is offered in the same spirit and Jonathan Swift’s was nearly 300 years ago: to provoke some discussion about a bigger issue. Many, many Canadians want some sort of electoral reform but they are unsure about what system to adopt. The NDP want Proportional Representation, the Liberals want some sort of single transferable vote. Conservatives want to stay with First Past the Post. Maybe the CPC can have its cake and eat some of it, too by offering Canadians another alternative.

As with a carbon tax, I am not advocating for multi-member constituencies … but I am trying to make a case for considering electoral reform. It’s just an idea, not even a fully formed one, but one that I hope some Conservatives will discuss because it, how we vote, matters to a lot of Canadians.



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