Voters should take a close look at the smoking ruins of the latest electoral disaster. It's not a pretty sight. The NDP wins 1 million more votes than the Bloc but gains 22 fewer seats; Green party supporters are denied even a single MP.
The lesson from January 23, as in all previous elections, is that our antiquated winner-take-all voting system makes a mockery of representative democracy. Three hundred and eight ridings and more than 6 million voters casting wasted ballots that elect no one.
Consider the following outcomes: more than 650,000 Canadians voted for the Greens and returned nary a rep. Meanwhile, 475,000 Liberal voters in Atlantic Canada elected 20 Liberal MPs.
In the Prairie provinces, Conservatives got three times as many votes as the Liberals but won nearly 10 times as many seats. In Alberta, the half-million people who did not vote Conservative sent no one to Parliament.
Toronto will not have a single MP in the governing caucus, let alone in cabinet, even though a quarter-million locals voted for the winning party.
Had Monday's ballots been cast under a fair voting system based on proportional representation (PR), the results would have been far different (see box). Many would have voted differently since there would have been no need for strategic or negative voting, and more people would have found it worthwhile to vote.
Does Canada have a terminal case of electoral dysfunction? Not if Jack Layton puts electoral reform at the top of his negotiation agenda with the Conservative government and the other parties, and keeps it there.
He can't expect to win an immediate reconstruction of the Canada Elections Act. The NDP should, however, demand a citizen-driven reform process. In 2004, the Conservative party was prepared to support a national citizens' assembly and referendum process for electoral reform. Though Stephen Harper has shown no inclination for such, he might have to get behind it if Layton gives it a strong push.
Meanwhile, the first PR breakthrough will likely be at the provincial level. Last May, British Columbia held a referendum on a version of PR that would see voters rank candidates in order to elect a number of reps in each district. Nearly 58 per cent voted for this plan. The result was just shy of the unfair 60 per cent threshold set by the BC government, but another referendum will be held in 2008.
Quebec and New Brunswick are considering mixed proportional systems. A similar mixed system proposed for PEI was voted down last November, but Islanders may have another referendum in a few years.
One of the best hopes for the big breakthrough is here in Ontario. The McGuinty government has promised an independent citizens' assembly that will likely be sitting by the fall, with a referendum on a new voting system slated for October 2007.
As the dust settles on the federal electoral wreckage, Ontarians should resolve that this heartland province will be the birthplace of Canadian fair voting.