Saturday, October 24, 2015

When a Majority Is Not a Majority

by Ehab Lotayef (Montreal)


"...old habits die hard, and if we wait for those who benefited and are benefiting from a system to change it, our wait will be very long."

We woke up on Tuesday to the news that the Liberals have won a majority in a landslide victory. This left me wondering how we have grown accepting of certain terms which do not reflect reality.

It is true that the Liberals have won the majority of seats in the House of Commons, 184 out of 338 (about 54 per cent), but only 39 per cent of those who voted chose Liberal candidates. How can this be called a landslide eludes me. More so, how and why do we use the word "majority" so freely without qualifying it?

This is not a partisan question. Four years ago the Conservatives took 39 per cent of the popular vote and were also a "majority."

The "majority" before that was another Liberal one in 2000 (the 2004, 2006 and 2008 elections produced minority governments since no party won over 50 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons). This 2000 "majority" was won with 41 per cent of the popular vote. And the "majority" before that, in 1997, was won with 38 per cent of the popular vote.

Do you know when was the last time we had a real majority government in Canada? It was back in 1984 when the Mulroney Conservatives got 50.03 per cent of the popular vote.

Using the term "majority" gives the impression that the party obtained the support of over half those who voted and thus is entitled to run the country with a free hand. There is no example that depicts this better than how the Harper government, chosen by 39 per cent, changed the Canada we knew so much as if it enjoyed the support of 70 per cent or more of the people.

And the ills of our current electoral system do not end there. On the other side of the spectrum, it denies a relevant presence in Parliament to parties that may enjoy up to 10 per cent of the popular vote. In 2008, the Green party took 6.8 per cent of the popular vote but won zero (no) seats in the Parliament.

In addition to giving too much power to those who should not have it and denying the smaller voices a chance to be heard, it discourages many from voting when they know that there is no hope for a candidate of the party they support in their riding. This forces people to chose candidates belonging to parties that may be their second or third choice to make their vote meaningful, rather than support the party and candidate whose ideas and ideals they believe in.

This is a faulty system which we should not sit quietly till it is again abused by another government, regardless of which party will be in power at that time.

What is the solution?

There is an electoral system usually referred to as Proportional Representation (PR) that has many variants and that is practiced in the vast majority of functional democracies around the world (including most European countries). Also, most countries newly introducing a democratic system adopt one of the variants of a PR system to ensure that the will of the people and their choices are truly reflected in parliament.

The result of any variant of the PR system is a parliament that reflects the choices of the population. No vote is lost and no vote is worth more than another.

The problem is that old habits die hard, and if we wait for those who benefited and are benefiting from a system to change it, our wait will be very long.

What Canada needs is a grassroots movement to demand that Canada adopt a PR system rather than ask the members of parliament who have enjoyed, are enjoying or hope to enjoy power in the future because of the current system, to change it.

There is enough time for a movement to organize and grow effective to ensure that the October 2019 election will be fought under a fair, equitable and truly representative electoral system.