If there is one area where every Canadian political party agrees it’s that the current system of government isn’t working. Harper’s Conservatives want to see the Senate reformed while Thomas Mulcair’s New Democrats want the Senate abolished. The Liberal Party, as usual, doesn’t really know what it wants; however, the party recently approved a policy to push for preferential voting (voters would rank candidates 1, 2, 3, etc. instead of marking an x). Everyone understands the system is broken, but no one can agree on a solution.
Inability to change the way our government works is a political reality. To change our system of government requires a change to our constitution and changing the constitution is incredibly difficult, as it should be. Altering the constitution requires approval from the House of Commons and the Senate, as well as approval from at least seven provincial Legislatures (and those provinces must represent at least 50% of Canada’s population). Previous attempts to change the constitution resulted in the Meech Lake Accord (1987) and Charlottetown Accord (1992); both failed and, Meech Lake in particular, energized support for Quebec sovereignty. Today, opening up the constitution is considered political suicide.
Alas, I am young and impetuous. I think Canadians deserve a government that is willing to have hard conversations, compromise, and make decisions. It’s time to renew our belief in democracy and change the way things are done in Ottawa. If I was designing our system of government, here is what I would propose:
A House of Commons based on representative democracy and representation by
population. MPs would be elected by first-past-the-post (our current system), and directly accountable to the people who elected them. The number of ridings/province would be based on the population of the province, with each province and territory receiving at least one MP. As the Table above outlines, under the current system (see Current # MPs) the six smallest provinces (MB, SK, NS, NB, NL, and PEI) and QC are over-represented in the House while the fastest growing provinces (ON, BC, and AB) are under-represented. In the Fair Representation Act, the Harper Government has proposed adding 30 additional MPs to the House (see Proposed # MPs) to account for population growth, at an additional cost of $14.8-$18.2 million/year (plus $11.5 million/election). My proposal (My Proposed # MPs) uses a fixed number of 308 ridings, redistributed after each census by a non-partisan committee (appointed by the Governor General). I understand this would reduce the power of the maritimes and the prairie provinces, but that’s where the Senate comes into the picture.
An equal, elected, and effective Senate based on proportional representation. Senators (nine per province, one per territory) would be elected based on each party’s proportion of votes in each province. This would provide a major boost to the maritime provinces (who would hold thirty-six Senators), as well as the provinces west of Ontario (another thirty-six). Ontario and Quebec (who would hold a majority in the House) are minor players in the Senate, with only nine Senators each. Moreover, rural interests would be protected in the Senate with predominantly-rural provinces holding a majority. Elected Senators could also provide political parties with representation from every province (the Liberals would have elected a Senator from Alberta in 2011!).
I admit: this is a simplified solution. It doesn’t examine the extraneous demands provinces will make once the constitution is opened. It also ignores the inevitable outcry from Quebec. I truly believe Quebec holds a special place within Canada and that their heritage and language deserves protection; however, I don’t believe Quebec should be afforded extra influence within our federal government. That being said, I believe the system I have presented is fair, balanced, and easy to understand. Perhaps the best part of this idea is that voting system would not need to change: we still used first-past-the-post for our MPs and use the proportion of those votes for Senators. One ballot, one vote. Everyone is represented by a specific person in Ottawa (their MP), and everyone’s vote “counts” (at least for Senator).
I’m happy to hear what people think: leave a comment with any questions or suggestions you have!
Edit (April 25, 2012, 10:30am) - A couple people have asked what the Senate would look like right now given the results of the 2011 Federal Election. Based on a quick check of the provincial-breakdown of results the Senate would include 42 Conservatives, 25 NDP, 22 Liberals, 2 Greens, and 2 BQs (a majority would be 47).