Political parties in Quebec share the task of selling that province to voters across the country. It’s one thing to frame and carry out the right policy agenda; it’s quite another to know how to communicate that agenda to an uncertain audience.
In Ontario, political parties have long had a hoot in so-called north-south politics, but now it is their turn to find a more effective representation on a regional basis. In making their pledge to their flocks last week, both the NDP and Liberals failed to deliver on that responsibility. Instead, neither offered any good policy ideas of their own for the immense challenges ahead.
The challenge of polling on even wide-ranging and controversial political questions is monumental. Voter turnout is lower in these ridings than any other. For every average voter who turns out to vote, there are three new voters who think their vote is important but don’t. Political parties may even have to give up their taste for government – they are not very popular with the electorate in this three-province region – because it will no longer pay to run any one party.
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Yet there is a way out of this impasse. It’s called proportional representation (PR), and it offers a good path out of this political morass. PR isn’t perfect; it only works if everyone is voting in the right place. But in some ridings, the party’s “true north” commandeering all the levers of political decision-making has proven too thin, and too shallow, for the voters, whose biggest concern is the economy and jobs.
Under PR, we would elect one Parliament of MPs from each of the three provinces. But instead of them elected under the first-past-the-post system, each party would also win seats in ridings – each with their own proportional share of the vote. Party leaders would be accountable to that vote, and would have to work to build the majority they need to secure their support of a majority government. In some ridings, if the party leader isn’t getting their choice of MPs elected, there would have to be a spill-over. PR would offer political parties a better way to govern, and a better way to run their electoral strategies.
Both the NDP and Liberals have recognized that there is a need for a change, but neither has a true plan for implementing it. The NDP is running on a new floor-crossing law, but won’t spell out how it will change the electoral machinery in a big way. The Liberals would give electoral reform options – including PR – but aren’t committed to giving voters that choice. Instead, they want to change the system to referendum.
That’s a good way to muddle the issue, and continue to thwart the democratic will of the voters. And that’s why Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has his finger to the pulse of this moment, and his vote to be counted at the 2019 federal election. It is a moment for the Conservatives to raise the standard of MP representation and their commitment to PR.