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The Globe and Mail

July 9, 2004

Summary:  Although the effort to switch to proportional representation in Canada at a national level may be blocked, five provinces, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, are considering the adoption of proportional representation. 

The Globe and Mail
5 Provinces Consider Voting Changes
By Noah Love
July 9, 2004

Though NDP Leader Jack Layton won't have much clout to push voting changes on a federal level, they may be on the way in five provinces, and British Columbia could have a new system by May of 2005.

The B.C. government has convened the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform, a group of men and women chosen by random draw to decide in the fall whether to stick to the current electoral formula, or switch to another system, most likely some form of proportional representation.

If the group decides the current system needs to be replaced, the issue will be put to a province-wide referendum during the next B.C. election, which takes place on May 15, 2005. The new system would take effect in the 2009 vote.

Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are also considering some type of voting changes.

"B.C. has set the bar very high for other provinces in terms of how to do a public consultation and decision-making process," said Larry Gordon, executive director of Fair Vote Canada. "None of the other four have gone so far as to turn it over to the public entirely."

Proportional representation basically means that the popular vote in a given election reflects the number of seats the party will receive in the legislature. About 50 countries use one of the many forms of this voting system.

Fair Vote Canada was established in 2000, after the federal election returned Jean Chrą©tien's Liberals to Parliament with a sweeping majority. Its goal was to push a system that would more accurately represent the voters, proportional representation.

"The questions we tended to get were, well, this is a really interesting idea, but you don't think anybody would allow this to happen, do you," Mr. Gordon said.

"Every government of any political stripe once they're in power tend to think that the voting system is just fine."

Mr. Layton favours the proportional representation system. If it had been used to determine the outcome of the latest federal election, his New Democrats would have received 47 seats.

The B.C. initiative was started by Premier Gordon Campbell, who was at one point the most prominent victim of the current system. In the 1996 B.C. election, his Liberals captured the popular vote, but ended up with 33 seats, six less than the NDP, which ended up controlling the House.

Mr. Campbell promised during his next campaign that he would form a citizens group to look for a better system. When the Liberals were elected with 98 per cent of the province's seats, the new Premier came through on his promise, slowly but surely.

But just what type of proportional representation will be used?

In the Netherlands, 150 representatives are responsible for all regions of the nation. In Ireland, representatives are assigned districts. In some countries, candidates are voted in through primary processes, others are picked directly by the party leaders.


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