If Only This Were Jack Layton's Vision Of Proportional Representation

Edmonton - Monday, January 13, 2003 - by: Ron Thornton


Jack Layton, the Toronto city councillor and leading contender for the NDP leadership, figures that we need to reform our electoral system. While we would normally welcome such news, Layton has it in his head that proportional representation (P.R.) is the way to go, that having perpetual minority governments like our good friends in Italy is in some way a positive step. To determine our federal political representatives based on each party's national vote percentage in a land as vast and, unfortunately, as diverse as our own would be just plain stupid. Any politician or journalist worth their salt would immediately see that. However, we shouldn't just dismiss the notion out of hand just because some people did not do their homework.




Any political reform we might seek would have to meet certain criteria in order to provide us with a better system of governance, such as being more democratic and more representative of the will of the people in each province. First, I would suggest Layton understand a little more about our country, to discover how each region, each province, has its own political and societal nuances. Rather than concentrating on our national vote totals, maybe P.R. enthusiasts should consider the provincial totals in determining the results.




Under strict P.R., which is based entirely on their percentage of the vote in each province, the Liberals in the 2000 election would have had 125 seats, compared to 75 for the Canadian Alliance, 39 for the PC's, 30 for the Bloc Québécois, 27 for the NDP, with another 5 somehow divvied up among fringe parties. Having to forge a coalition, or at least an agreement, with one of the other parties would put us in the position of having a minority party dictating government policy. We already have heard that is Layton's vision, who says that as NDP leader he would refuse to support any ruling party unless they agreed to hold a plebiscite on his less than thought out scheme. Government by blackmail does not seem to me a route I want to take.



uses 15%

Other nations that have P.R., such as Germany, have thresholds that a party must meet, such as gaining 5% of the vote, in order to qualify for any seats. While the low thresholds do not seem to clarify much of anything, an interesting thing happens when they reach 15%. In our example, using the 2000 federal vote figures, the Liberals would manage to hold a majority with 155 seats, the Canadian Alliance with 87, the Bloc at 36, the PC's would come in with 12, while the NDP would have 11. In withholding any seats from a party that failed to claim a minimum 15% share of the vote in any electoral region, we would better our chances of stable government, yet at a level more closely related to actual popularity. Such a system would allow for fewer "wasted" votes as all those cast for any party with 15% or more support in the electoral region would affect the outcome of seat distribution. Fringe parties would be encouraged to consolidate into larger organizations in order to attain the necessary threshold to gain seats, or strive harder to achieve additional support.




The 1997 election provides a startling example. With a 37% share of the vote that year, the Liberals would have attained only 126 seats under this system. Reform and the Progressive Conservatives, demonstrating voter strength in central Canada, would have been next with 62 and 59 seats respectively. The Bloc Québécois would have been left with 29 seats, with the NDP rising to 24. Each of the four national parties would each have attained the minimum of 15% of the vote, thus picking up seats, in at least five provinces. In short, each of those parties would have attained a degree of relevance that rewarded it with representation in Parliament.



sense of

Of course, Jack Layton's view on this might be somewhat different than mine. He might argue that each person should be represented, but I would argue that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. In Grade 7, I went to a new school and ran for Junior High Student Union Vice-President against a more established student and got thumped by a 2-1 count. Now, the prevailing view was that Robert Zilinski kicked my butt and won a majority vote, so those who liked me or disliked Robert were out of luck. The NDP view would have been that I should have been Vice-President every third week so that my supporters would have been empowered. Nice thought, but not very realistic. That same sense of realism should also apply to electing our federal legislators and determining our national government.




Another problem with P.R. arises in that, while touted as being more representative, it can prove to be less democratic. In determining who sits in the legislature, most often the party makes the decision as to whom from their list of candidates is elected and in what order they are selected. The party leader and his chief lieutenants, or other party heavyweights, would no doubt be near the top of that list and more likely to be elected, whether voters cared for these individuals or not. In order to be democratic, I would suggest leaving that determination to the voters. In order to do so, we could use the Single Transferable Vote (STV) ballot, with which voters would put down their preferences, ranging from first to last, among those on their party list, rather than simply marking only one with an "x". If, using the case of Newfoundland, the election decided that the Liberals were allocated 4 of the 7 seats, then those on the Liberal list marked first through fourth choice by those voting Liberal would receive a vote. After tallying up the votes, those with the four highest vote counts would be deemed elected as the four Liberal Newfoundland MP's.


This works great in Newfoundland, or with Prince Edward Island's four seats, but it gets rather out of hand in deciding the 103 Ontario seats and the 75 in Quebec. Rather than expect the voters to chose from a province wide list, the province could be subdivided into smaller, multi-member constituencies that would select no more than ten MP's. In this way, the percentage of votes each party garners in each constituency would be applied to determine only those seats within that constituency, with party lists comprising of ten or less names from which to select from.


To illustrate how this might work, Manitoba could be divided into two seven-member constituencies, giving the province its 14 seats. Within each constituency, the seven seats would be allocated to the political parties based on the percentage of votes each garners within that constituency. A 30% of the vote for the NDP would give them two of those seven seats. The actual MP's would then be determined by the number of NDP candidates on its list who were chosen either 1st and 2nd by the NDP voters. Those candidates with the most first or second place votes, as determined by the voters, would be deemed elected as Members of Parliament to represent the NDP in that constituency.

the ballot

One final concern arises for those who believe individuals, not artificial and unaccountable political parties, should also have a voice in a democracy. Provisions should be allowed for a slate of independents, those who are not nominated or connected to any party, from whom the voter could chose from. As for having a multitude of independents choking a ballot, there were only 85 independent or unaffiliated candidates in 2000, or one for every 3 1/2 constituencies. It should also be considered unlawful for any such candidates to be funded in any way by the parties, which would aid in preventing any party flooding the landscape with official and unofficial candidates.


Interesting. A version of proportional representation that is more reflective of the will of the people while maintaining the likelihood of a strong government. A version that would reward parties with representation only upon their attaining a certain degree of relevance. A version that would allow the people to select, through their ballot, the individuals who will or will not represent them. A version that would allow for independents to appear on the ballot. In fact, it is a version of P.R. that I could actually consider as being a positive step forward in reforming Canada's electoral system. There is just one problem.
  I'm sure Jack Layton won't like it.


Ron Thornton

  Campaign democratic reform solutions of Jack Layton



Retrun to Ensign - Return to Saskatchewan News

This page is a story posted on Ensign and/or Saskatchewan News, both of which are daily web sites offering a variety of material from scenic images, political commentary, information and news. These publications are the work of Faster Than Light Communications . If you would like to comment on this story or you wish to contact the editor of these sites please send us email.

Editor : Timothy W. Shire
Faster Than Light Communication
Box 1776, Tisdale, Saskatchewan, Canada, S0E 1T0
306 873 2004