Commentary by Rosaire L’Italien, Interim Leader of the New Brunswick New Democratic Party which appeared in The Daily Gleaner.
Our voting system has been with us since before 1867: before the automobile, before the lightbulb, even before tin cans. Virtually every aspect of daily life in New Brunswick has changed since then, yet the foundation of our democracy, how we choose our elected leaders, remains for the most part unchanged.
In our last election hundreds of thousands of New Brunswickers went to the polls to elect their government. However, due to the distortions caused by our First Past The Post election system, the results people voted for weren’t the results they got. In 2014 nearly a quarter of the electorate voted for parties that weren’t the Liberals and PCs.
Premier Gallant made an effort to address this when he convened the New Brunswick Special Commission on Electoral Reform earlier this year, however this did not look at the electoral system which has been proven to work best in other countries: proportional representation.
Proportional representation is an electoral system designed to ensure that the number of seats a party wins closely matches the percentage of votes it receives. Proportional Representation is used by more than 90 countries, including over 85 per cent of the wealthier OECD countries. It is not an obscure system – it is trusted and valued worldwide.
However when Premier Gallant set up the Commission on Electoral Reform he did not empower the commission to look at proportional representation, but rather a something called preferential, or ranked, ballots.
Preferential ballots are not used frequently around the world, and even right here in Canada Prime Minister Trudeau distanced himself from preferential ballots when he looked at electoral reform, saying: “I have heard very clearly that people think it would favour Liberals too much. And therefore I’m not going near it, because I am not going to do something that everyone is convinced is going to favour one party over another.”
The New Brunswick Special Commission on Electoral Reform’s report stated that there was widespread support for proportional representation based systems. This is what we need in New Brunswick: a system that will make every vote count.
This is not currently the case in New Brunswick, and this democratic deficit is leaving voices not heard and values not represented.
If the NDP gets elected we promise that an independent citizen’s commission will develop a model of proportional representation to ensure that every vote counts in provincial elections, and will present that model to the Legislative Assembly.
One of the other things the commission looked at was lowering the voting age. The NDP feels that if young people vote in their first election they are much more likely to vote in future elections. As part of a comprehensive civics program the NDP will reduce the provincial and municipal election voting age to 16.
Now more than ever we need our democracy to work for everyone. It is time for change in how our votes get counted in order to make every vote count.