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Making votes count


You can understand why Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and Thomas Mulcair’s New Democrats would favour overhauling the way the Canadian electoral system works and bringing in proportional representation.

Equally, you can understand why Stephen Harper’s Conservatives would hate the idea.

Tuesday, Trudeau announced a plan that would see a federal Liberal government revamp the electoral system, with the most likely option being a move to proportional representation, where each party would gain seats based on its proportion of the overall number of federal votes it receives on polling day.

Trudeau’s not promising anything specific just yet, saying that the issue is so important that it requires additional review before it is put in place.

The NDP has had proportional representation on its campaign agenda for a good long time.

Whatever form a change takes, it’s pretty clear that something has to happen.

Why?

Well, because right now, the country ends up being represented by a majority government that doesn’t even have the support of a majority of voters, let alone a majority of all Canadians. Having something like 36 per cent of voters choose a government that then decides the complete and unalterable direction of a nation seems less like democracy, and more like foolishness.

In the absence of proportional representation, the only real option for the left-of-centre parties is to do exactly what the right has done: amalgamate under one banner.

With no change, there’s a real risk that the Liberals and NDP will simply split votes on the left side of the ledger and, in the process, continue to let a minority number of Conservative voters elect a majority of Conservative seats.

That certainly may suit our current government, but it means our elected representatives aren’t, well, representative.

You can certainly give the Conservatives points for one thing: they recognized the hazards of splitting votes between the Reform Party and the Progressive Conservatives, and, however different their ideologies, managed to bring all of the right — despite a broad range of internal differences — under one single banner.

They’ve capitalized on the existing system and, as a party, have done very well in the process. That doesn’t mean the country has been well served.

Having the left continue to squabble while a united right divides and conquers may serve a minority of Canadian voters, but it certainly doesn’t serve a majority of us.

Talk to a younger Canadian, and they will tell you that they feel their vote both doesn’t matter and can’t change anything; that, regardless of where they put their support, the status quo will not change.

Proportional representation at least offers a chance for every vote to count — under that system, a co-ordinated group of young Canadians could build their own force and their own representation.

That’s probably not what any of the existing parties want, but if we want Canadians to keep voting, all Canadians have to believe that their vote has value and effect.

And the sooner, the better,

Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic Regional columnist. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@tc.tc; his column appears on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in TC Media’s daily papers.

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