Canada's government system was drafted at the Quebec conference by the so-called “Fathers of Confederation.” In this system, the Queen of Great Britain has the formal executive power. This in effect made the Canadian government system loosely based on the system being used by the United Kingdom (One Stop Canada, n.d.).
Up to now, the Queen is still the head of the state, but just like any other parliamentary democracy, her powers are extremely limited. It is still the Parliament that drafts and approves the country's laws, and then the Queen would give the final approval, so to speak, known as the “Royal Assent.” Whenever the Queen is not in Canada, the Governor General acts as her representative and performs all her ceremonial and administrative duties. The Governor General is always chosen by the Queen by virtue of the Prime Minister's recommendation. The Governor General normally stays in office for 5 years (One Stop Canada, n.d.).
The seat of power lies in the House of Parliament, but specifically, in the House of Commons. It is them who make laws for “make laws for the peace, order and good government of Canada”, and this includes defence, international policies, criminal law, immigration, border control and customs. They are being elected every 5 years.
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Mixed Member Proportional Government for Canada
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The present system in the Canada is the single member representation, commonly known also as first past the post or plurality system, wherein the whole country is divided into constituencies (total of 308) and during elections, whoever gets the most number of votes in any particular constituency represents the constituency, and take a single seat in the Parliament (One Stop Canada, n.d.).
This system is now being challenged by many because of the presumed “lack of real representation” of this system.
Challenges on the current system and call for a change
Statistics from last year's election show that in British Columbia, the Liberal Party gained 77 of the 79 seats for that province with only 58% of the votes, compared to the former ruling Democratic Party who only gained 2 seats despite getting 22% of the vote. (The Democratic Party held 52 seats during the elections before last year, with only 39.5% of the vote.)
The Green Party, although they have won 12.5% of the total votes, got no seats at all. This recent election has proven to many that there is a need for a change in their electoral system. Adriane Carr, the British Columbia Green Party leader, leads the initiative to change the existing first-past-the-post system of Canada. Carr launched this initiative to encourage the government to consider her drafted legislation on the mixed member proportional government (Caron, 1999; Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, 2002).
In this proposed system, the benefits both electoral schemes will be combined. A voter will choose a candidate that he or she likes, and at the same time, vote for a party also. In this way, all constituencies will be represented, and at the same time, a proportionate number of seats will also be given to parties receiving a certain percentage of votes, thus, ensuring the representation on the interest or cause that it represents.
It was also argued that this new system will maximize voter turnout as all votes will be taken into consideration, unlike the case of a first-past-the-post system where only the winning votes, so to speak, are represented in the parliament. This means that in this system, it would not only mean that the leading party would have seats in the Parliament, but also the minority party or parties, depending on the percentage of votes that they have won (Caron, 1999).
This scheme is also said to increase the representation of women in the Parliament. In many countries in the Europe, proportional representation increased women representation by more than 10% (Caron, 1999). Such condition is something being advocated by parties like the Democratic Party in Canada. If proportional representation will be adopted by the Canadian political system, it is forecasted to increase the voter turnout from all levels of election, and at the same time, also increase the representation of other interests in the Parliament. Theoretically, this scheme will make all votes count.
The ultimate question: Will this work in Canada?
Many advocates of first-past-the-post system believe that if the system is not broken, then, do not fix it. But it appears that while it is not broken, there is a better way of doing it. Even cynics do not disagree with having a need for electoral reform.
The current system of electoral process in Canada is based on a winner-take-all principle, which means that the only representation happening is the winning vote, i.e., the popular partisan viewpoint. This also means that the other vote, the losing view, lose their right to political representation. This system has produced a government with a winning party winning majority of seats, without really wining majority of the votes (Gordon, 2003).
Canadians have only enjoyed true majority governments, elected by a majority of voters, four times since World War I (Gordon, 2003). The recent election show how “unrepresented” the voters are. And with the idea that they really have not attained a true majority government yet, still, they are using the first-past-the-post system despite the theoretically good outcome of a proportional representation system, or at least, the mixed member proportion. In all aspects of the theory, from the idea of being truly representative, to the idea of increasing voters' turnout, we know that this mixed member proportion will work.
Since World War 1, only four times have the Canadian people attained a true representative majority, which means for only four times have the people been truly represented. This new system will in almost all certainty, reduce the control of the reigning party in the parliament. The system has worked or is still showing potential benefits in all countries which have tried this. Canada will not be an exemption. So, more than just asking if this system will work in Canada, the ultimate question is: Will the existing government give this a chance to work?
Caron, Jean-François. “The end of the first-past-the post electoral system?” Canadian Parliamentary Review, 22.3 (Autumn 1999): 19-22.
Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, 2002. Rod Donald exports MMP to Canada. Press release (28th March 2002).
Gordon, Larry. “It’s time for fair voting in Canada.” Economics at About.com (15 October 2003).
One Stop Canada, n.d. Canadian Political System. http://www.onestopimmigration-canada.com/canadian_political_system.html
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