Electoral Reform — the Wrong Way

Distributing copies of the Canadian Charter of...

The Quebec-based group l’Association pour la revendication des droits démocratiques is nearing the end of the legal battle it started in 2004.  After early losses in the lower courts, it is taking its case against Quebec’s (and by implication Canada’s) first-past-the-post electoral system to the nation’s Supreme Court, with the backing of Fair Vote Canada and Green leader Elizabeth May.  It will argue, with some justification, that first-past-the-post violates the “democratic rights” and “equality rights” provisions (sections 3 and 15) of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I am reluctant to admit this — both as a strong supporter of proportional representation and as a Green Party member — but I think this is the wrong approach.  While it is true that there is evidence in some opinion polls of vague support for electoral reform in Canada, every time a concrete question is placed on a referendum ballot, proportional voting systems seem to lose their popularity.  I understand that this is frustrating, but it would be unfair for proportional representation advocates, having failed to convince the public, to turn around and sneak their changes in through the judicial back door.  Societies have a right to any electoral system of their choosing, and at the very least, ours has not yet made up its mind.

In 2003, a small number of Quebec sovereigntists proposed the abandonment of their longstanding call for a referendum on independence, preferring instead to read the election of a Parti Quebecois majority government as a sufficient mandate for secession.  The mainstream of the sovereignty movement swiftly rejected this idea, understanding that the principle of independence by referendum had always been at its heart.  There is something admirable in this recognition that there is a right way to go about achieving change, and a wrong way.

I never thought I’d say this, but electoral reformers could learn a thing or two from Quebec separatists.

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3 thoughts on “Electoral Reform — the Wrong Way

  1. While I like your argument about the right way and the wrong way to bring about electoral change, I am still very interested in the outcome of the Supreme Court case. If the outcome supported the idea of proportional representation, that would give huge credibility and likely influence the public opinion that has so far resisted the idea.

    • Yes, that is a good point; a win for proportional representation in the Supreme Court might have a positive effect on the opinions of some. What I fear, however, is that it would create a backlash among even more people — causing them to feel that the court is overstepping its role and thereby tainting all efforts at electoral reform.

      Most of all, I believe that voters have the right to choose any electoral system they want, and therefore that a referendum is the appropriate vehicle for any such change.

  2. Pingback: Quebec’s Election: Endorsements and Analyses | Song of the Watermelon

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