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Dear Ryan: Give Canada a fair democracy. Change our voting system.

Open Letter to Ryan Leef, Member of Parliament for Yukon

Dear Ryan,

Recently, a German dinner guest boasted about the superiority of the German electoral system.

So I did some research to see just how superior Germany's system was to other systems, including Canada's First Past the Post, (FPTP), electoral system.

There are alternative electoral systems of the ballot box.  France uses a run-off voting system, where the two top contenders run against each other in a second ballot.  The winner needs only 51 per cent of the popular vote, which is preferable to the 35 per cent or so often necessary in FPTP.

In preferential voting, citizens rate their choices.  If one's first choice is eliminated due to poor showing, the second choice is counted as a first choice.  Where there are multiple parties with similar mandates, this avoids vote splitting and the necessity of strategic voting. 

Of these two systems, preferential voting is more likely to lead to governments representing the popular will.  However, Canada would still be left with four-year dictatorships. 

Countries using Proportional Representation, (PR), form coalition governments.  Consequently, legislative decisions take longer as consensus is achieved.  However, this hasn't hurt Germany at all. 

Germany uses Mixed Member Proportional Representation, (MMPR).  Germans cast one vote for their regional representative.  They cast a second vote for the political party of their choice.  Political parties chose the number of representatives they are entitled to, based on the second vote, from their party's list. 

All representatives sit in the Bundestag, the German Parliament.

What is the difference in outcomes between countries using MMPR and those using pure party-list Proportional Representation, (PR)?  In Israel, the percentage of seats held by a party in the Knesset equals the percentage of votes received by that party.  Numerous parties form the subsequent coalitions and small, hardline parties can be kingmakers.  The instability of Israel's government is often used to demonstrate the perils of PR.

By combining traditional regional representation and the party-list system, the Germans have a more stable and less fractious government than the Israelis.

Germany has a number of democratic safeguards built into their electoral system.

For instance, political parties with less than five per cent of the popular vote are disqualified.  This rule prevents fragmentation, (which is a problem in Israel), and serves to keep extremists out.  

According to my German friend, the Allies insisted on this and other rules to discourage the return of fascism.

If the Christian Democratic Union, (CDU), win the most votes in the next election, there is no guarantee that Angela Merkel will be the next Chancellor.  Once elected, all members of the Bundestag, using secret ballots, vote for the Chancellor.  The German Chancellor cannot concentrate power in his or her office.

The Federal Convention is a special assembly of members of the Bundestag, members of state parliaments and nominated non-political luminaries representing the states.  Its sole task is to elect, using secret ballots, the President. 

The German President, taking advice from the Chancellor, choses members of the Bundestag to sit in the cabinet.  The current German ministry comprises members of CDU, (Angela Merkel's Party) and the Social Democratic Party of Germany. 

The German system of checks and balances protects their democracy from those who would seek to undermine it.  The President may only sit for two terms.  The President moderates the powers of the Chancellor and can dissolve government and dismiss the Bundestag.  Unlike our Senate, the office of the President actually applies sober second thought to new legislation.

A common argument in favour of FPTP is that it provides stable, majority governments.  Consider that the most stable governments in the world are repressive authoritarian regimes such as North Korea.

First past the post is fundamentally unfair.  A false majority of 35 per cent of the popular vote, which is all it would take in Canada, hardly represents the will of a nation. 

Dirty dealings are present in all democracies as political parties vie for votes.  But boutique vote shopping and wedge politics, (pitting large segments of society against others), are counterproductive in electoral systems other than FPTP.  The majority of Canadians are repelled by the ugly personal attacks, introduced to the Canadian landscape by Stephen Harper.  These tactics would be a handicap in any system other than FPTP. 

The NDP and the Greens have endorsed Mixed Member Proportional Representation. The Liberal Party platform is to form a committee "to determine whether we should institute a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation." 

Adopting a German-style MMPR electoral system, along with Germany's safeguards against fascism, could serve Canadians very well indeed.

 

Linda Leon is not now, nor has she ever been, a member of any federal political party. 

"Letters to Ryan Leef" are published monthly in The Whitehorse Daily Star and in rabble.ca.  This is the 50th letter.

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