I have two things to add to it, though. First, I can't let the wording stand that "a system of proportional representation would effectively eliminate Canada's tradition of majority governments." As I have stated before, most governments produced by voting systems based on proportional representation are majority governments (majority governments consisting of more than one party) and there is no reason to think that this would be any different in Canada.
Second...what can I say? This is simply an extraordinary result. Not just in light of what happened in Ontario last week, but overall. See, the battle all electoral reformers face consists of a) getting people to make the connection between their overwhelming distaste with the way politics works in Canada and the voting system that makes that possible, and b) showing them that there's a tried-and-true alternative used in most of the democratic world that would get rid of a lot of the things they don't like. Some days I'm not even sure these goals are attainable without giving every Canadian the same opportunities to live abroad that I've had. Reformers keep explaining and explaining until we're blue in the face, though, and although sometimes it feels like shouting into a void, this poll is saying that we've had an effect. Extraordinary.
Anyway. Shutting up and turning the floor over to Simon Doyle from the Hill Times, now.
Half support national referendum on PR: poll
Only one-third of Canadians are satisfied with how Parliament works, says a new poll
About half of Canadians support holding a national referendum on changing Canada's electoral system in the next general election, and 45 per cent say that in such a referendum they would vote in favour of proportional representation, shows a wide-ranging new poll on Parliament.
The poll, conducted by Innovative Research Group for The Hill Times, comes on the heels of a failed referendum on proportional representation held in the Oct. 10 Ontario provincial election, in which 63.1 per cent of voters supported the existing electoral system and only 36.9 per cent voted for a system of PR called Mixed Member Proportional.
"A lot of people are looking at PR as dead in Ontario right now, whereas it may just be sleeping," Greg Lyle, managing director of Innovative Research, said in an interview. "The rejection of this particular proposal for PR in Ontario is not the end of the road for change. It just illustrates the challenge in change because it's hard to get a majority in any specific proposal."
The poll shows significant support for a system of proportional representation in Ontario and Quebec, where, respectively, 46 per cent and 52 per cent said they would vote in support of PR if a national referendum were held in the next general election. Still, such levels of support are short of the "super majority" required in recent referenda on the electoral systems in B.C., P.E.I., and Ontario, all of which required 60 per cent majority votes to change the existing electoral systems.
The poll shows a large degree of dissatisfaction with the function and structure of the Canadian Parliament. In total, 41 per cent of respondents said they are dissatisfied with the way Parliament works. Thirty-five per cent said they are satisfied and 21 per cent said neither.
The poll asked respondents whether they believe the structure of the House of Commons allows MPs to represent communities effectively, to which 59 per cent said the structure is not effective and 35 per cent said it is (only four per cent said it is "very effective" and 31 per cent said "somewhat effective").
"It doesn't pick up the role that the MP plays as ombudsman for the community, probably because, although they work like crazy in their constituency offices every weekend or whatever, only a small number of constituents actually benefit from that or see it or go in and buttonhole MPs about things," Stephen Clarkson, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said in an interview. "Once elected, the member of Parliament is representing the community."
Prof. Clarkson suggested that Ontarians may have rejected the MMP proposal because they want strong local representation and did not like the idea of generating "list" members in the legislature to be selected by political parties, as the MMP system proposed. However, Prof. Clarkson acknowledged that momentum for some form of PR seems to be growing.
"It's on the agenda now," he said, adding that effective lobbying has helped identify electoral reform as a priority. "It may be like the Quebec referendum. It'll keep coming back until they win."
When asked whether there should be a national referendum on PR in Canada's next general election, 48 per cent said yes nationally, 32 per cent said no, and 20 per cent said they don't know. When asked how they would vote if a such referendum was held, 45 per cent said they would support a system of PR, 28 per cent said keep the current First Past the Post system, and 27 per cent didn't know.
Innovative Research Group surveyed 1,296 Canadians on a national panel between Oct. 4 and 10. The poll is considered accurate within a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Respondents were not impressed with the jobs their MPs do in representing the views of their communities in Parliament. Sixty-one per cent said MPs are not effective at representing their communities' views and only 35 per cent said they are effective. However, when asked specifically about their own member of Parliament, the number was slightly less negative, with 54 per cent saying their MP is not effective in representing the views of their community and 35 per cent saying their MP is effective.
Prof. Clarkson said that "ruthlessly negative" advertising by political parties is contributing to the negative public view of politicians and their work. He said opinions of politicians are low, with call-in radio shows, for instance, heaping dislike and scorn on elected officials. "It's unjustified given how hard they work and how little corruption there is, but the negativity about individual MPs may be connected to that," he said.
In a report released this month by the Public Policy Forum, one expert describes Parliament as a "media circus," in which MPs are inexperienced legislators who do not fully understand the system and feel as though they have little influence in government decision-making.
The report says that MPs in the backbenches of government are frustrated by their feelings of powerlessness and marginalized by control over caucus by the Prime Minister's Office. Government MPs have a lack of influence in the system, and can do little but become increasingly partisan and vocal in the House of Commons, House committees and the news media. The result is that MPs add to a lack of decorum in the House but little to policy formation.
"It was observed by a number of leaders that the system will continue to deteriorate until the current Westminster model is capable of providing a more substantive role for Parliamentarians in policy making," the report says.
Poll respondents said they prefer majority governments when they are led by the party that they voted for. When asked whether they prefer majority or minority governments, 37 per cent said minority governments, 20 per cent said majority governments, and 38 per cent said it depends on which party forms the government.
A system of proportional representation would effectively eliminate Canada's tradition of majority governments, which are normally formed with less than half the popular vote. A national system of PR would elect parties' MPs to House in the same proportion as the popular vote won by each party, greatly reducing the chance of electing majority governments. The system would make minority and coalition governments the norm.
Prof. Clarkson said that support for minority governments tends to come from the centre-left of the electorate, because minorities have historically given the balance of power to parties such as the New Democratic Party or its predecessor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. "That was an implicit theme in the referendum in Ontario. Maybe it wasn't even realized, but had we brought that in, it would have put the NDP in a position of power for the foreseeable future," Prof. Clarkson said.
The poll also found that only 39 per cent of respondents voted for their current MP. Forty-six per cent said they did not vote for their sitting MP.
Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.
Monday, October 15, 2007