Sun., Sept. 12, 2021timer3 min. read
Special to Waterloo Region Record
We need to break out of this situation where we shift between loathing the Conservatives and loathing the Liberals. In 2015, the Liberals under Justin Trudeau swept to power with a desire to turf out the Conservatives; the same feeling is blowing the other way this time around. We need to stop this cycle of resentment. There is a way.
If we elect our representatives through a modified Mixed Member Plurality system, as recommended by the Law Commission of Canada back in 2004, it may bring to Canada a more collaborative style of politics. The recommended reform is a blend of the current first-past-the-post system with some proportionality. How would this help quell our cycle of resentment?
First, it would minimize the chance of any one party holding a majority in parliament. We’ve had a good number of minority governments over the last 15 years, so that’s not a new thing. It’s also not a bad thing. We are a diverse country, with diverse views and values, and our parliament should reflect that. But our system incentivizes our parties to aim for a winner-take-all majority at all costs.
Did you think Trudeau called an election because he wanted yet another minority government? Large “governing” parties under our current system always shoot for a majority. And now, if a party wins a majority with maybe 38 per cent of the vote, there is nothing to prevent it from ignoring the views of the other 62 per cent. But a system that almost ensures perpetual minority or coalition governments incentivizes parties to take that outcome into account, and then modify their governing (and campaign) style accordingly.
Second, the parties (and their leaders) will likely reposition themselves not as electoral war lords out to win terrain against opponents, but negotiators trying to strike a balance with potential partners, or collaborators. Imagine what effect that might have on subduing, even if just a little, the highly charged partisan divides we are seeing in Canada. Even young children know that to be able play with others, you can’t afford to be a jerk.
Third, and this is not something discussed nearly enough, a mixed-member system would help legitimize parties a bit more. Right now, a party that seeks power builds on a solid regional block. That’s where many of its MPs come from, and also where a lot of its donations come from. And when in power, it’s not unusual for a party to have few members from a particular region – sometimes none at all! Liberals struggle to get any MPs from the prairies; Conservatives struggle to win seats in large urban areas; the NDP gets nearly shut out of Quebec. This reinforces a party’s regional branding, perpetuates some regional alienation, and amplifies regional divides.
Imagine how, under a mixed system, there will likely be Liberals elected in Alberta, Conservatives from Toronto, NDPers from southwestern Ontario, and so forth. There will even likely be more than one or two Green MPs, and, yes, maybe even one or two MPs from parties that you absolutely do not want to see in parliament. There’s no need to fear a hyper-fragmented, Israeli-style House of Commons if we adopt MMP, however. Other countries, such as New Zealand, have shown that you can design the new system in a way to keep out the most fringe elements.
Large parties will still exist, of course, one of which will likely lead government. Even if they govern without a coalition partner, they can at least claim to represent Canadians from every region. And they will have to work hard to retain that representation. At present, parties still cling to a regional brand, and can base their election strategy and governing style with their regional bases in mind.
Mind you, a mixed-member system won’t totally erase the cycle of grievance-propelled politics. But it may help lessen it just a little, if only because the parties will need to work harder and will need to focus their appeals to a broader electorate. Consequently, parliament will elevate the voice of more Canadians, and prevent silencing those who in majority get locked out of government.
Andrea Perrella is an associate professor of Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University, and a deputy director of the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy. Brian Tanguay is professor of Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University. In 2003-04, he worked for the Law Commission of Canada, drafting its report, “Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada.”