So after I wrote that post yesterday, I got to thinking about what sorts of specific democratic reforms I would actually like to see implemented. I surprised myself with just how non-radical most of them actually are, for things which haven’t a snowball’s chance of actually being done. Here’s the list:
- Implement a system of run-off votes for Parliamentary seats, as they do in France: Right now, Canada has what is known as a First-Past-the-Post electoral system; in order to win a seat in parliament, you only need to win a plurality of the votes in your riding. As there can be as many as three or four major parties contesting a riding, it is entirely possible, and indeed common, for candidates to “win” with as little as thirty percent of the actual vote. Which means that someone can be virulently hated by 70% of their constituents but if they split their vote,that person will still end up being their representative. Clearly, this is an enormous problem. By forcing a system of run-offs, no candidate can ever be declared a victor until they attain more than 50% support.
- Abolish the Senate: Canada has two houses of parliament; the first is the House of Commons, which is elected (however imperfectly) by the people. The second is the Senate, whose members are appointed for life by the Prime Minister. Some people claim that the senate fulfills vital functions; I can’t help but notice, though, that all of the provincial government long ago disbanded their upper chambres without any problems whatsoever. Scrap it.
- Automatic Byelections: Right now, when a sitting MP retires or dies, the Prime Minister is given discretion to call a byelection in the vacant riding at any time during the next six months. Needless to say, he almost always tries to time this to his own advantage. I think that when an MP retires or dies, a byelections should automatically be called for approximately two months after the event. I also think that when an MP “crosses the floor” (i.e, goes to sit as a member of a party different from the one as which he was elected), he should be forced to stand in an automatic byelection. Same for any MP found to be in contravention of electoral laws.
- Change the Rules for Prorogation: Right now, the Prime Minister has the power to ask the Governor General to suspend parliament whenever he feels like it (and the GG has no choice but to acquiesce). I think it should take a two-thirds majority to prorogue the house.
- Change the Rules for Closure: Right now, a simple majority of MPs is all that is needed to suspend any debate in the house of commons; thus when there is a majority government (as there is right now), the Prime Minister can effectively order his MPs to silence dissenting voices from the opposition. I think this should require a two-thirds majority.
- Recall Referendums: If enough constituents in a riding demand a recall, a referendum should be called automatically; thus MPs will be responsive to their constituents, rather than just their party leaders.
- Mandatory Voting: Anyone over the age of majority should vote. It works in Australia without any problems.
- Compulsory Civics Classes in All Canadian High Schools: I should hope that this one is rather self-explanatory.
Looking back on this list, I can’t help but notice how similar these proposals are to alot of the ones made by the old Reform Party–the one in which Stephen Harper got his start, in fact. Now there’s a nice bit of historical irony for you.