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Canadian Democracy - A Sequel

The last several Canadian elections have delivered somewhat less than might have been expected in terms of quality political representation. This proposal suggests a slightly modified electoral system that would certainly change the dynamics of parliament, whether for better or worse would make an interesting discussion.

If you have any comments, critiques or alternatives please send them to: steve@icomos.org and I'll post them in the follow-up area.


Canadian Democracy - A Sequel

One of the fundamental problems with Canadian democracy as we know it is that, at present, Canadians can vote either for the best individual to represent their riding or for the party they wish to govern the country. Not both, except by coincidence. The following proposal would change this by asking the voter, at election time, to make two marks on his ballot - one for a Riding Representative to deal with local issues and another for the political party they wish to form a government.

The election of Riding Representatives would be little changed from the current system but their function would be exclusively the representation of their ridings, not to bolster a party's national standing or as potential cabinet material.

The "party vote" on the other hand, would be used to populate an Executive House which, instead of being composed of party faithful rewarded for past efforts as is the current Senate, would consist of party faithful selected for their skill and knowledge.

To achieve this each party would maintain a public list of the people with whom it would fill the seats of the Executive if given the mandate. First on the list would be the party leader followed by other cabinet material, in order of importance (to the party). How many of these people actually get seats would be determined by the proportion of the popular vote each party receives.

Thus, assuming 100 members in the Executive House, a party that received only 1% of the popular vote would get a seat for its leader. A party with 2% would have the second person on the list get a seat and if a party got 50% of the popular vote half of the Executive House would be members selected by that party (the first fifty names on the list).

The main advantage of this system would be that each party could select its best candidates for each cabinet position and these people would be virtually assured of seats. Even a party with only 10% of the popular vote could insure that it had knowledgeable critics well versed in many aspects of government. This should result in an Executive House that is a source of true expertise in all areas and the quality of legislative proposals and the debate concerning them could be expected to be at a high level. Such a list could also maintain appropriate regional, ethnic and gender mixes, something that is difficult or impossible at present.

Several other inequities of the current system would be addressed by this approach.

Currently, ridings that elect cabinet ministers are largely deprived of riding level representation because their members are busy with executive matters. Furthermore the ministers, when they do obtain some advantage for their riding are open to charges of favouritism. Both problems would be eliminated because the MP would never become a minister and the cabinet would be elected by the population as a whole instead of being beholden to a particular region.

The most glaring manifestation of this problem is the situation where party leaders must displace elected Members of Parliament in order to get a seat a custom, which largely disenfranchises the voters who elected the MP in the first place.

Another serious problem with the current system is party solidarity, a custom which effectively removes back bench MPs from the democratic process because they have little or no input into the formulation of legislation and are not allowed to think for themselves when it comes to a vote. By extension this disenfranchises the voters they represent as well.

While it would be nice to think that the Riding Representatives would be free of party affiliation this is unlikely in practice as this house would inevitably be a proving ground potential Executive talent. However, ministers would not be chosen from this group, leaving the Riding Representatives free to concentrate on their constituents. Most importantly these members would not be "members of the government" so all votes would be free votes considerably reducing party politicking.

The system would work something like this:

The leader of the party with the greatest popular vote would become Prime Minister and would select a cabinet from those with Executive seats and members from any party could be considered - thus creating a coalition.
This cabinet would prepare the legislation necessary to run the country though, as is now the case in theory, any member of either house could propose legislation introducing new initiatives.

Legislation, introduced into either house would be debated, amended and, if passed, sent to the other body where it could be passed, passed with amendments, or rejected. If amended, it would return to the initiating body where it would be considered, more or less, as a new proposal. Committees combining members of both houses would be required if this is to work smoothly.

Of course stalemates will occur under such a system. They could be a result of differences of opinion between the Riding Representatives and the Executive or, in the case of a minority government, there could be deadlock in the Executive House where a majority is not prepared to support a government initiative.

Stalemates between the government and the Executive House would be decided by the Riding Representatives.

In the case of a stalemate between the government and the rest of the Executive House the first recourse would be for the proposed legislation to be sent directly to the Riding Representatives and, if passed, it would become law. In effect this means that the government, when supported by the Riding Representatives, can overrule a Executive House majority.

If such legislation fails in the house of Riding Representatives a different party leader in the Executive House could be called upon to form a government or, if this proves impossible, a general election would be called.

Stalemates between the Riding Representatives and the Executive would be decided by referendum.

If the system is working well there would, from time to time, be conflicts between the Riding Representatives and the Executive House as these groups have very different agendas. Each Riding Representative should be basing their vote on personal conscience and the best interest of their ridings. The Executive, on the other hand, would be involved in Party politics.

If the two houses cannot reach a compromise a non-confidence motion could be proposed which, if passed by a __% majority of either house would force a referendum to be called to ask the electorate to decide for or against. The question would have to be formulated in laymen's terms, a responsibility of a nonpartisan electoral commission or perhaps the Supreme Court. No doubt there would also be politicking going on that would further explain the issues and the positions of the different groups.

Abuse of this mechanism by the politicians would be restrained by the political risks involved in going to the people as each referendum ballot would also contain:

  1. an indication of how the Riding Representative had voted on the question and a
  2. by-election option.
  3. an indication of the different party positions on the issue and a
  4. general election option.
Assessment of the referendum ballot would be as follows:
  1. If the referendum question is approved by a simple majority of the electorate the legislation
  2. would become law and the houses would return to business as usual.
  3. If a __% majority of the electorate in a riding select the by-election option a by-election would be
  4. called in that riding.
  5. If a __% majority of the electorate select the general election option a general election would be
  6. held.
It is assumed that the electorate would use these forced election options sparingly because of the disruption and costs involved but, unlike the present system it does provide a mechanism to remove individuals and parties that have lost the confidence of their constituents. In the normal case general elections would be scheduled when a new house first convenes - set for the first convenient date following a four-year mandate.


Some of the Problems

The Proposals

Some Advantages

Some Details


Follow-Up Discussion
from: Steve Nickerson steve@icomos.org

It seems to me that a serious proposal for a replacement of the inane system we currently enjoy, if presented by a party with some element of credibility, might enjoy overwhelming support from an electorate that seems to be losing interest in the process as it is. (Also I needed something in the follow-up area)


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Inquiries to: steve@icomos.org

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