Umm… asking appointed judges to change our voting system ain’t democratic, either.

Jonathan McLeod

November 15, 2011 | 7 Comments

It’s been a while since we’ve tackled electoral reform here at the Commons, so, with an assist from the Green Party, let’s dive right back into what has been, so far, a pointless endeavour:

Members of the Association for the Revendication of Democratic Rights, represented by the accomplished constitutional Montreal lawyer, Julius Grey, will file their appeal to the Supreme Court to have heard, their case regarding the constitutional merits of first-past-the-post. The motion asks for the system to be struck down.  A favorable decision would prohibit its continued use in Quebec and would certainly impact on its continued use in the rest of Canada. Elizabeth May and Fair Vote Canada were granted intervenor status by the Quebec Court of Appeal and will again apply for such status if the case were to be heard by Canada’s Supreme Court.  Both parties are represented by Peter Rosenthal, an experienced constitutional lawyer from Toronto, who has also been successful in his presentations before Canada’s highest court.

Yes, the Green Party is supporting a constitutional challenge to our traditional electoral system:

“Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees us the right to vote,” said Wayne Smith, Executive Director of Fair Vote Canada (FVC). “The Supreme Court has ruled in previous decisions that this doesn’t just mean the right to put a piece of paper in a box. We are guaranteed the right to effective representation.”

And, you know, they definitely have a bit of a point. I’ve yet to jump on the PR bandwagon, but first-past-the-post isn’t the shiniest rose out there either.

However, I have a serious problem with this initiative. A judgement in favour of the pro-PR side would likely spell the doom of the current voting system for not just Quebec, but every province. Here in Upper Canada, we rejected electoral reform by a direct vote. If you’re trying to enhance democracy, you shouldn’t do things that will directly thwart the will of the people.

If you want PR, get it back on the ballot. Don’t turn to the courts.


7 Responses to “Umm… asking appointed judges to change our voting system ain’t democratic, either.”

  1. R. Mowat
    November 16th, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

    I have to assume this will go nowhere (except in the newspapers).


  2. Wayne Smith
    November 16th, 2011 @ 3:44 pm

    The litigants are not asking the judges to change the voting system. They are asking them to rule on whether the current system respects the constitutional rights of Canadians, which is part of their job. If they decide the current system is inadequate, then it will be up to legislators to develop a better system, ideally through a citizen-driven process.


    Jonathan McLeod Reply:

    That’s a distinction without a difference, in my mind.


  3. Wayne Smith
    November 16th, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

    The nub of the case, by the way, is the simple fact that, under the current system, most of us are ‘represented’ in Parliament by people we voted against. How is that ‘effective representation’?


    Jonathan McLeod Reply:

    In Ontario, I’d say it’s “effective representation” because it’s the type of representation we chose a couple of elections ago.

    Should we change it? Maybe, but it’s really a question that should be posed to the people.


    R. Mowat Reply:

    You don’t vote against a candidate. You have one vote and you vote *for* a candidate.

    In 2011, 145 MPs were elected with an outright majority (ie, 50%+1). A further 42 MPs were elected with 47%-49.9% of the vote in their ridings. There are only a handful of cases of candidates obtaining 40%+ of the vote and *not* getting elected. And were only 43 seats where MPs are elected with less than 40% of the vote.

    The simple fact is that the majority of Canadians are justly represented by people who command the confidence of their constituents.


    R Sigurdson Reply:

    Despite your statistic that 85 elected MPs were more unwanted than wanted, your argument isn’t solid. In Alberta, for example, we have 1 (one) centre or left-of-centre representative speaking for 32.7% who voted against the Conservatives. If you look at the results of nearly every Parliamentary vote this season, you’ll see that they are usually split with the Conservatives voting one way, and all other parties voting the other. Is it “just” that nearly a third of Albertans’ views are represented by one vote in Parliament, while there are 27 votes for the other 2 thirds? I should think 9 and 19 would be a better, more “just” split.

    I have voted in every federal election I have been able to. As it turns out my vote has never elected a representative. And no matter how I try to express my views to them to represent me, they don’t. How is this “justly [representing] Canadians.”?


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