Friday, February 15, 2008

Majority governments make Canadian PM more powerful than a President, U.S. envoy says

Canada's "Winner-Take-All" voting system, which frequently hands one political party's leader (and his or her unelected backroom hacks) all the power, is given a little perspective today by U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins.

Says Wilkins: "In your form of government, particularly in a majority government, your prime minister has much more power concentrated in that one position than our president ever thought about having," the ambassador said...

Canada's system has an executive and legislative branch effectively controlled by one person.

Can you imagine, Wilkins asked, what it would be like for the U.S. president to be able to appoint cabinet members, senators and judges without lengthy confirmation hearings?

"It would change the dynamics (of Washington, D.C.) overnight," he said.

But before he set Canadians' heads spinning too much, Wilkins did add a caveat.

His boss doesn't face the daily grind of question period in the House of Commons.

Wilkins said he liked the Canadian system better "if my guy's in power," but prefers the U.S. system's checks and balances if he's not.

Wilkins' statements are right on the money. Canada's voting system hands all the power to one person for four or five straight years with little or no checks on that power, no mid-term elections, no PR-elected Senate (like in Australia).

Canada needs more checks and balances on the immense power of our Prime MInisters and Premiers. Fair voting reform, where parties win representation in our legislatures based on the percentage of their votes, would accomplish that without fundamentally changing our parliamentary system.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Minority governments produce better foreign policy

For those who continue to believe our antiquated "Winner-Take-All" voting system produces better government by handing one party all the power, please check out this article in today's Ottawa Citizen by writer Adam Chapnick.

As Chapnick points out, minority governments in Canada (where the ruling party is forced to work with opposition parties) tend to produce better foreign policy.

Here's an excerpt:

"Stephen Harper's decision to reach out to St├ęphane Dion's Liberals last week on the question of the future of the Canadian contribution to the mission in Afghanistan is an excellent move, but it is also not as shocking as recent analyses have suggested."

"It is rather evidence that, like a number of leaders of minority governments before him, the prime minister has come to realize that an ideologically bold approach to foreign policy in Canada results in neither tangible electoral gains nor the advancement of Canadian interests..."

"...The Harper Conservatives now recognize that co-operation with members of the opposition (who are willing to co-operate) on this file will only benefit Canadians, the Afghan people, and the government itself."

Of course, based on previous election results in Canada, the Harper Conservatives could walk away with a majority government under our current "Winner-Take-All" voting system simply by winning an additional one or two percentage points in support, far short of 50%. Such a scenario would clearly fly in the face of Canadian interests with regard to foreign policy.

We need a voting system that ensures power is divided in our Parliament proportional to how people actually voted so that one party cannot impose its ideological vision on the majority of Canadians. For those who assume the parties can't or won't work together for the benefit of our country under such a system, recent deliberations in Ottawa over Afghanistan prove otherwise.

Alberta Liberals Promise Citizens' Assembly to Explore Electoral Reform

The Alberta Liberal Party, under leader Kevin Taft (pictured), is promising a comprehensive plan to improve government and democracy in Alberta, if elected in the upcoming provincial election.

Taft will be facing off against Tory incumbent premier Ed Stelmach in a race most observers expect to be called as early as today.

For years, the Alberta Liberals, like all opposition parties in the province, have been victimized by our antiquated "Winner-Take-All" voting system in this country. In 2004, the Alberta Liberals won close to 30% of the vote, but won only 19% of the seats, while the Tories under former premier Ralph Klein won 75% of the seats with only 47% of the vote. In the 2001 election, 27% of the vote for the Liberals translated into only 8% of the seats. The history of distorted electoral results in Alberta, with huge, lop-sided majorities, is well-documented.

Taft has outlined an Action Plan for Open, Accountable Government.

The plan includes a promise to create a Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform to study other voting systems, such as proportional representation. A province-wide plebiscite will follow.

"Democracy has become derailed in Alberta. Let’s put it back on track. The Alberta Liberals will define and shape genuine democratic processes that restore people’s involvement in government," says the Alberta Liberal website.

If the Alberta Liberals form a government and Taft follows through on his promise, it would be provide another opportunity for citizens to revisit our dreadful "Winner-Take-All" voting system and look at alternatives. Taft has got it right with his pledge to leave this issue in the hands of citizens. Political parties have an inherent conflict of interest when deciding how we elect our governments.

Most politicians whose parties frequently seize power under our existing "Winner-Take-All" system have long cherished it and don't want to give it up. It seems Taft, as a longtime Alberta progressive, understands the importance of improving our voting system to make it more proportional to the votes actually cast.

For more on the Alberta Liberal plan, click here.

Many observers are predicting the upcoming Alberta election will be one of the closest and hardest-fought races in decades.

Even former Tory premier Ralph Klein is predicting his long-ruling party will lose seats in the upcoming election.