The Spectre of Electoral Reform

As of 2017 the spectre of electoral reform hangs over Canada. Articles are pouring out of newspapers and sites debating why Trudeau has backpedaled from his promise of reform; I even have customers at the bar talking of reform. Trudeau has explained that there was no agreement among the parties at how to reform elections and that he was unwilling to have a divisive national referendum on the issue.

Federal politics aside, the BC Greens and NDP have also been clamoring for reform, specifically proportional representation (PR). There is likely to be a provincial referendum on the issue… again. This will be the third… or fourth, I’ve lost count, attempt. This is because previous governments wanted more than a majority, they wanted a decisive majority, above 60%. I’ll be intrigued to see how the NDP-Green government approaches a referendum, one that they desperately want to see in their favour.  If there is reform it is likely to be one of PR, simply because it is so simple.

It sounds great a party wins a certain percentage and they receive a certain percentage of seats in the legislature. This is favoured because it is seen as more democratic. There has been fear mongering that fringe parties then can take over government, but this is often able to be combated by having a minimum percentage to get seats, often 5%. In BC that would mean over 230,000 votes, no mean feat for a fringe. I used to believe that this was a better system but have changed my mind when I realised what FPTP accomplishes.

Canada and BC are massive land masses, with various regions and diverse needs. FPTP, because of its breakdown by geographic location allows for regional representation. A MP is responsible to a specific constituency and there needs, and can represent them in Ottawa or Victoria. PR does away with this responsible government by making an MP nothing more than a seat and number, responsible to no one but the party, they represent the party line and not the people of Canada. To me PR seems to isolate politicians from the public obscuring government.

I recognize the desire to have parliament more representative of voters intention, but doing away with geographic seats destroys another form of representation. And this is where I think Germany has done something amazing, they have the geographic seats, but also grant seats to parties to make the proportion of seats fit with the election results. This allows for the strength of both to shine through.

Unfortunately, I have heard no one talk about this type of electoral reform. Until they do I will stand against true PR because I think that the geographic seats of FPTP creates a more healthy system of politics.

So you want to open the constitution huh? While we are at it why don’t we just…

Premier Couillard has laid out a vision of Quebec as a signatory of our constitution, it is the regular requests from La Belle Province for recognition, immigration rights etc. Prime Minister Trudeau quickly shot down the idea, as most PM’s probably would after 1995. But I’ve been thinking a lot about Canadian Federalism recently, (who doesn’t, right?), and I started to wonder if there isn’t a few things that perhaps should be amended in Canada.

Chris Hall  has referred to the opening the constitution as “Pandora’s box” since as soon as negotiations start a whole slew of issues comes to the fore. He believes Premier Wall would abolish the Senate and MP May would want environmentalism enshrined. Personally I think if the constitution was opened up why not deal with the festering issues in Canada.

I’ve never felt the Senate to much of an issue, despite living in the west it’s balance has never bothered me. I think the whole house of sober second thought is commendable, but it is a part of our democracy that has irked the Prairies for decades. I actually think the appointment of intelligent Canadians that are not constantly politicking for votes is a good thing. Perhaps they should be appointed by the Premiers? I’m not sure. I think Liberals were right to stop their party association with in the Senate, it should be non-partisan. All said maybe it just needs a seat redistribution to reflect current population?

As long as I am creating a wish-list constitution I am going to include an issue close to my heart: municipalities. Every couple years I come across an article saying that Toronto should become its own province. I generally dismiss these but the recurrence of this concept shows there to be a deeper issue here. Cities need more power to work with their citizens, the current federal distribution to municipalities is not addressing the demands of the public need.

Cities are  the life blood of a country, they are closest to the people, and should be able to address issues directly. Unfortunately, they are the least powerful government in our federation. In the past few years I have watched cities like Vancouver and Victoria ( presumably others I just live on the West Coast) constantly need funding from provincial and federal governments to build, fix, and expand infrastructure. And if the government does not feel like handing out money the city and its citizens get screwed. I think a potential solution would be to give cities the ability to have a sales tax.

Now I have been putting a lot of thought into this, (and nearly no research), but I believe a city sales tax (CST) could be beneficial. Here me out before you condemn. I would want the PST decrease, but to balance with the CST. In BC we have a 7% sales tax, I propose that with in cities this decreases to 4% or 5% with the city then getting a 2 or 3% sales tax. ( These are entirely arbitrary numbers and I would love to see a study to figure what the proper balance would need to be). This redistribution would give cities the ability to act independently to meet the needs of their populations.

I see a more powerful city being able to alleviate pressure off of provincial governments. Social issues, like fentanyl ( and other deadly drugs), low income housing, immigration programs, public transit, city infrastructure, can all be better addressed by a municipal government, but they would need funds to do so. ( I realize that cities do work on these issues already, but I believe they need more resources to do it well).

There is a glaring issue (at least for me, since Elsie keeps glaring at me) of this screwing over rural communities and small cities that would not be able to produce the revenue to take care of their citizens. This, I don’t believe, could be a blanket solution. There would need to be a threshold for this to be feasible, (I don’t know what it is), perhaps cities over a certain population? or ones that have their own police force? both probably happen between 100k-200k people. There are only twenty cities in Canada with a population above 200k so maybe that is the balance. Cities below the threshold, what ever that would be, would remain under provincial jurisdiction. I would not want the province to lose all taxing powers within the cities since these areas are the greatest tax revenue source because of the high population. These regions to an extent subsidies the necessary infrastructure to more rural regions, and this is a good thing. The balance though would need to be studied.

While I do not believe any premier would agree with my opinion I do think cities need more power granted to them by the constitution, and if we are opening it up hey why not?

P.S why not make the territories provinces as well?