How to change how we decide Canadian elections?

Maple Ridge MP's town hall meeting hears airing of ideas about voting system

B.C. has twice voted on a similar

Talking about how politicians are elected isn’t the easiest thing to draw people on a midsummer’s night, but more than 100 showed up to the MP Dan Ruimy’s town hall meeting on the topic Sunday.

“Everybody wants their vote to count,” said Ruimy on Monday.

“I won with 34 per cent of the vote. The party won with 39 per cent of the vote. While I’m happy to be MP, it would be nice to have a system that would deliver more representation – whatever that system looked like.”

Ruimy was elected as part of the Liberal wave in November under the first-past-the-post system, earning 17,673 votes – 1,300 more than Conservative Mike Murray.

That meant Ruimy had 33.9 per cent of the votes, with the Conservatives earning 31.4 per cent, and the NDP earning 29.6 per cent.

Canada currently follows the first-past-the-post system, in which the candidate with the largest number of votes wins the riding.

But the Liberals promised to change that system during the election and formed the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, which will make recommendations in the next 18 months.

Ruimy hasn’t settled on a new system that he’d like to see.

“Whatever that system is, I want it to be fair. If there’s a way to have better representation, what are we afraid of?”

The current system creates strong, decisive governments, even if that occurs with 30 per cent of the popular vote, said one of Sunday’s panelists, SFU professor Eline de Rooij.

“The key thing about this system is … is that it is actually designed to provide the winning votes.

“So the system is designed to do that.”

A preferential system allows people to rank different candidates. That can require several counts of the ballots to eliminate the candidate with the fewest number of votes. The second choices of that candidate’s supporters are then counted – until one candidate earns 50 per cent of the votes and is declared the winner.

B.C. has twice voted on a similar, but more complicated system, called the single transferable vote, in 2005 and 2006, in which candidates were ranked in order of preference.

One system proposed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion would involve creating larger ridings than now exist and electing five or 10 MPs, of differing parties, based upon the actual percentage of voting.

The number of MPs in the House of Commons would remain the same, but the party composition would reflect voting choices.

Mary Leong, with Equal Voice B.C., said proportional systems tend to elect more women over time and pointed out that only 26 per cent of Canada’s MPs are women.

Megan Dias, with the UBC Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions, said a proportional system would require parties to appeal to a wide range of voters and that, historically, youth voter turnout is lower than that of the general population. Young voters often have a “don’t know, don’t care, don’t like politics, all the parties are the same” perspective.

The town hall meeting involved several other politicians, including panel member MP Mark Holland, who’s parliamentary secretary to Minister of Democratic Institutions, Maram Monsef.

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read along with Coun. Bob Masse showed up, as well, as did Surrey MP Ken Hardie.

Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton also attended and said later that any new voting system should first be approved in a national referendum, a position followed by the Conservative opposition.

Dalton sought the Conservative party nomination last year for Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge, but lost to Mike Murray.

Approval in a referendum would give a “stamp of approval on whatever system goes forward,” Dalton said.

He doesn’t support any one system, but said the first-past-the-post system “has served Canada well,” with more stable democracies.

The current system tends to make governments more responsible for their actions, he added.

“I’m not saying I’m married to one of the other. I’m saying take it back to the people.”

People do get interested in such topics, he said.

Read asked the panel what can be done about federal money that’s dispersed to the provinces, but then not fairly distributed to cities.

“Our community has been badly passed over in terms of funding,” she said.

Ruimy said there was no one consensus that emerged from the evening.

Comments filled out at the meeting, at Open Door Church, will be sent in to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, which will recommend changes in the next 18 months.

Ruimy added that the Liberals have given up their majority on the parliamentary electoral reform committee.

The parliament committee delivers its report in a year and a half.

Ruimy held another town hall meeting on the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal on Monday.

 

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