Canada needs a new voting system: Dion

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Katie Tower
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Liberal MP Stephane Dion speaks to the crowd at Brunton Auditorium last Thursday evening as Mount Allison economics professor Craig Brett looks on. Dion’s talk was featured as part of the university’s President’s Speakers Series for 2012-13. TOWER PHOTO

In all the years he’s been involved in politics, Stephane Dion says there has been one particular issue that keeps coming back to the table time and time again – electoral reform.

The former leader of the federal Liberal Party said there is a need for change in the way we elect our Members of Parliament, in order to restore voters’ confidence in government and democracy.

“Canadians feel politicians don’t listen to them and don’t care about the issues that matter to them,” said Dion last Thursday evening at Brunton Auditorium.

Dion was visiting campus as part of Mount Allison University’s President’s Speaker Series, celebrating the Year of Public Service and Citizenship.

Dion said Canada’s current first-past-the-post voting system is clearly not working, noting that the major problem is the way it distorts the results between votes and seats.

“The current system we have is flawed . . . it tends to exaggerate the regional concentration of party support,” he said, pointing out that it creates too much political division and makes voters feel like their vote is sometimes wasted.

Dion proposes a new system, what he calls P3 – a proportional-preferential-personalized system – which he believes has the potential to revive democracy in Canada.

First off, he suggests a switch to a five-member district riding system, where Canadians would elect five MPs per riding (or less where the population warrants it). This would mean larger riding sizes but the number of seats in each province would remain the same.

New Brunswick, for example, would have two ridings instead of 10 but would still be represented with 10 seats (five per riding).

This way, he said any party obtaining the most votes in a given riding would be unlikely to win more than three out of five seats. Seats would be truly up for grabs in all ridings, he said, ensuring that individual MPs would no longer hold a monopoly position in their ridings. Instead, they would have to co-exist with the four other MPs in the riding.

“This would be very helpful for democracy,” he said, noting the P3 system would spread support for all national parties and motivate MPs to work harder and to work together for their constituents, providing them with better territorial representation.

The ‘preferential-personalized’ part of Dion’s proposal offers voters the ability to not only vote for their candidate of choice but to rank their parties in order of preference.

Dion said this would give voters a better reason to cast their ballots for their true preference and not place a strategic vote to ensure the ‘other’ party doesn’t get in.

“The sincerity of the vote is a right that isn’t available under the current system,” he said.

It will also give the government better information about voters’ preferences and help to improve the political culture in ensuring politicians of all stripes are working together for the good of all Canadians.

“It would provide governments who would be more willing to work together,” said Dion. “And it makes every vote count.”

Dion, who currently serves as MP for Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, a seat he has held since 1996, said although he realizes these kinds of changes aren’t achievable by the next election in 2015, he hopes the debate will continue and all the federal parties will make a commitment in their campaign platforms to conduct meaningful studies on electoral system reform.

“Canadians are tired of hearing politicians talk about doing things differently but continuing to do things the same.”

In order to change politicians’ behavior, said Dion, changes need to be made to the rules.

Former federal minister of intergovernmental affairs, the environment, and official languages, Dion has held many significant portfolios during his time on Parliament Hill. He served as leader of the federal Liberal party from 2006-08, currently chairs the Liberal caucus legislative committee, and acts as Liberal critic for a number of areas including intergovernmental affairs and democratic reform. He is also the Liberal representative on the sub-committee on private members’ business.

Organizations: Liberal Party, Mount Allison University, Public Service

Geographic location: Canada, New Brunswick

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