Canada needs a new voting system, says Dion

Katie Tower
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Former Liberal leader in Sackville last week to speak on electoral reform

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. 

SACKVILLE, N.B. – 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 during a recent appearance Mount Allison University.

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: Mount Allison University, Liberal Party, Public Service

Geographic location: Canada, Sackville, New Brunswick

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Recent comments

  • Skipperwillie
    March 22, 2013 - 18:52

    I don't belong to any political party, although I was a member of the New Labrador Party at one time. I am not anti Conservative or anti Liberal for that matter, however I have problems with any one or any party that says one thing and then does another. Mr. Dion did attempt to bring the parties together, as did Jack Layton, as does Elizabeth May.. I certainly don't see this in the present day Conservatives. It's too bad really they had an opportunity to make some real changes, instead its the same old same old.

  • Observant
    March 22, 2013 - 12:25

    Cher Stephane... the solution to Canada's deficient voting system is quite simple.... merge the remnants of the Liberal party into the NDP..!!! This will create two major parties thus forcing voters to make one choice. However, to make the federal system foolproof, the parties must field 338 candidates to qualify as a federal party and this will eliminate provincial-only parties like the BQ. Watcha think, Dion..??

    • Simon
      March 23, 2013 - 00:50

      I don't think that works as well as some version of PR such as the one Dion suggests. For example it would still under-represent non-Conservative voters in Alberta and under-represent Conservative voters in certain other provinces. If for example 20% of Albertans vote NDP then about 20% of the MPs from Alberta should be NDP, not 0%, and so on. First past the post single member ridings exaggerates political divisions in the country, and wastes the votes of millions of Canadians in the sense that their vote counts for nothing in the sense that it did not help an MP get elected.

  • Charlie Joseph
    March 22, 2013 - 11:49

    Actually Freddy you failed to address the fact this was never an issue when Libs and NDP made the governing policy. I am not even a Conservative, I'm a Libertarian (no seats in Parliament ever) Dion WAS the absolute leader of the coalition talks which attempted to put a PM in power with less votes and seats than the largest party in Parliament. The man can't take the fact he was (rightfully - in my not so humble opinion) perceived as a dope, and unable to understand basic english, as seen by all in the Steve Murphy interview. A large group in the nation, including some of his own party thought he was suicide and the attempt to seize power was bad form to say the least. Parliament is a place where I expect a PM to wear big boy (or girl) pants, not soil himself and cry about the voter's intentions and parliamentary realities. Also, you can't just cherrypick different forms and graft them onto a parliamentary democracy. Unless you want to reopen the Constitution and listen to Pauline Marois demand insane changes to get her vote in accordance with the formula.

  • Frederick
    March 22, 2013 - 10:57

    I love how trolls here try to discredit Dion by removing his individuality and lumping him in with a group. Dion was not the liberal party of the last century, he is only one man. And then there is the paranoid conservative who thinks it is because the conservatives are in power, that this is being raised. And then go on to say they want less government control, yet Harper is all about government control. Democracy is a joke in North America, and anyone who subscribes to the left/right paradigm of politics spends too much time consuming mass media propaganda. Either our democracy becomes democratic or we will have revolution. Mind you that won't happen until things get much much worse and Harper is doing a good job of ensuring that it gets worse.

  • hollinm
    March 22, 2013 - 07:31

    Give me a break. The Liberals were in power for almost all of the last century and never discussed the current voting system and particularly how it needed to be changed. They went on year after year getting majority governments with 40% of the vote but nobody was worried about the FPTP system in Canada. However, the shoe is on the other foot now and the left including the Liberals have not found a way to beat Harper and his Conservative party. So why not change the system. The fact remains that the Liberals have lost their way and electing a man with a famous name looking for the glory days will not solve their many problems.

  • Charlie Joseph
    March 21, 2013 - 22:42

    WHAT A FRAUD! All this is is a way to prevent Conservatives from ever holding office. There are plenty of alternative systems the Libs and NDP reject because it would not block Conservative governments from forming. Like, run off elections between the two leading parties, like in France. Another thing these parties reject is referendums on major policies by the people, instead of our elected rulers/tyrants. The last thing they want is the little people having a real say in how our lives are lived. Less government control, more freedom please. We would do a lot more with less of these foolish control freaks deciding how WE should live our lives.

    • Me
      March 22, 2013 - 12:18

      If it's freedom you want, the Conservatives are the wrong party for that.

    • Rick Papineau
      March 22, 2013 - 13:29

      To suggest that Dion's comment is, for example, "A FRAUD" or simply looking to unseat the CPC needs to look at the voting system that the CPC uses to select its leader. Guess what? It's a variation of what Mr. Dion is suggesting. Furthermore, it can be easily argued that the LPC, NDP and GP are closely aligned on most major policy issues, whereas the CPC tends to be the polar opposite. As such, when the LPC earns a "majority" with 40%, the NDP voters and GP voters (which includes me) feel at least somewhat represented. When the CPC holds a "majority" with 40% voter supporter, the actual majority of the country feels grossly under-represented as their views and the policies of the CPC are antithetical.

    • Charlie Joseph
      March 22, 2013 - 16:23

      Rick, that supposition is not supported by my past experience in media dealing directly with political parties. The Libs and NDP organs HATE each other, and to date neither would concede the other the right to govern as the PM in a coalition. Why not go the runoff route which is popular in Europe. Oh, yeah, because it would be NDP vs Conservative or Liberal vs Conservative. One or the other. Never would the Libs and NDP be contesting each other. I also find serious fault with your assertion that the NDP and Libs are as closely aligned as you claim. Their is more of a rural vs urban issue in issue based politics, one where the NDP has been hostile to non urbanites and the issues of non city dwellers. The Gun Registry is another issue where this is the case, crime, I could go on and on. Hall-Finley Trudeau and Garneau all side with capitalism with regard to the oil sands and pipelines. The NDP is rigid and uncompromising. I contend many soft Libs would rather vote Conservative than with NDPers. Look at the public distaste for a coalition ith the Bloc and NDP, by polling numbers it was moderate Libs who stood tall against Dion's attempt to steal the PM's position.