17 January 2014

The Conservatives turn on PR

It's not that all Conservatives are opposed to proportional representation. Senator Hugh Segal is onside and Conservative MPs Peter Braid, Stephen Woodworth and Scott Reid have presented Fair Vote Canada petitions to the House of Commons on behalf of their constituents.

Even Stephen Harper complained about our electoral system in a 1996 essay entitled "Our Benign Dictatorship" he co-authored with Tom Flanagan. "First-past-the-post voting encourages parties to engage in a war of attrition," he wrote, "Although we like to think of ourselves as living in a mature democracy, we live, instead, in something little better than a benign dictatorship." But that was then. Now Mr. Harper is the dictator and has put PR on his enemies list.

A Conservative pamphlet declares "Conservatives say NO to proportional representation" and suggests that it is to be rejected equally with Tom Mulcair and Elizabeth May. The pamphlet claims that "Our country was founded on the principle of Equality of Ridings first and foremost." This will come as a surprise to historians. Democracy, of course, is about the equality of citizens, not the equality of jurisdictions.

That the Conservatives should be frightened of PR is hardly surprising. If we had a fair voting system, truly representative of the Canadian electorate, a party that couldn't quite get 40 per cent popular support would never have been able to unilaterally form a majority government. In his essay, Harper prophetically stated, "Our parliamentary government creates a concentrated power structure out of step with other aspects of society." He has, it seems, decided to prove the truth of his own words.

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