1027 - When Maxime Bernier left the Conservative party, leader Andrew Scheer could not expel him from Parliament and he certainly couldn’t appoint a replacement MP.
But that is exactly what happened to New Zealand MP Donna Awatere Huata. Her party leader expelled her not just from the party, but from parliament itself, and replaced her with the next person on a party list. No need for a byelection. No need for the opinion of voters.
How is that possible? Because New Zealand had (and has recently reinstated) what they amusingly call the “waka-jumping” law, which is far more serious than it sounds. It allows party leaders
extraordinary powers because in their system of Proportional Representation, proportionality must be maintained at all costs.
Waka-jumping shows the key difference between our current First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system, where voters choose their representatives directly in local ridings, to systems of Proportional Representation, where voters give away some of their decision-making authority to political parties and party lists.
Yet advocates across Canada continue to press for pro-rep systems to replace our stable and successful FPTP majoritarian system.
In British Columbia, the third referendum in 13 years on electoral systems — the first two failed — will be decided by mail ballot by Nov. 30. In Quebec, François Legault’s newly elected Coalition Avenir Québec says it supports pro rep, and P.E.I. will vote on pro rep also for a third time next year. In contrast, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided not to proceed with pro rep when he found there was no consensus around the country as to what it would mean, other than the entry of extremists into Parliament.
Canadian elections are the sum of multiple regional elections. In B.C. we have 87 ridings and 87 elections. Voters assess candidates for their character, their record of leadership, and, yes, for their political party, and choose who they think will best serve their community.
The result of the 87 elections determines who forms government. That choice, made by the voters, is almost always known on election night.
With First Past The Post, voters assess candidates for their character, their record of leadership, and, yes, for their political party, and choose who they think will best serve their community
This is the principle that PR advocates have a hard time accepting: the non-partisan nature of Canadian MLAs and MPs as community representatives.
Elected officials, of course, have a political role as well, mainly played out in the legislature where government and opposition parties put forward legislation. Political debates may seem adversarial and difficult at times, but they are a healthy testing of the issues.
Contrast that with pro rep, where your vote goes either entirely or in part to political parties, not to people. The parties appoint some or all of your “representatives” for you, chosen off party lists, so the legislature is “proportional” to the percentage of votes each party received.
And to whom are party-list members accountable? Not to voters — only to their political parties. In B.C., the proposal is that we lose 40 per cent of our riding-based, voter-accountable MLAs, and replace them with party-list MLAs. The riding MLAs pay detailed attention to their constituents; the list MLAs need only pay detailed attention to their party backrooms.
If pro rep turned out well, this might not matter. But pro rep is going badly around the world. In particular, it is failing in the modern liberal democracies to which we Canadians might compare ourselves.
With pro rep, your vote goes either entirely or in part to political parties, not to people. The parties appoint some or all of your 'representatives' for you, chosen off party lists
Almost universally in pro-rep countries, the traditional larger coalition parties are breaking down into smaller single-issue parties that have little interest in co-operating with each other, resulting in unstable governments or the complete inability to form government at all. Small parties gain inordinate influence as the price of support.
Worse still is the rise of extremist parties across Europe, most recently in Sweden, where a party with neo-Nazi links won 18 per cent of the vote — and seats. When a provinceiwide vote is all that matters, extremist parties can elect members with just five per cent of the vote
Why would we invite this system with dubious benefits and such indisputable problems into Canada?
We are lucky to live in one of the most stable and successful countries in the world. Nothing is broken in our electoral system.
We should vote for people in Canada, not political parties. Do not be talked into giving away your right to choose your representatives. Proportional representation assumes parties matter most. They do not. Voters do.
Hon. Suzanne Anton QC is a director of the No BC Proportional Representation Society and a former attorney general of B.C. and former Vancouver city councillor.