16 November 2011

PR and the courts

The leader of Canada's Green Party is seeking a laudable goal with dubious means: Elizabeth May backs Supreme Court challenge against first-past-the-post elections. From the National Post:
May noted that more than 80% of people vote in Scandinavian countries and some other European nations, but she said the lowest voter turnouts in the world occur in countries with first-past-the-post systems, such as Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, where governments can be elected with majorities despite having received less than 50% of the ballots cast in elections.

The Association for the Advancement of Democratic Rights has failed in a previous legal challenge of Quebec’s first-past-the-post system. Now it’s hoping an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada will be heard and could eventually overturn the previous court ruling, changing elections across the country.

I would be somewhat surprised if the Supreme Court decided to hear this case. Yes, I agree with May: our single-member-plurality electoral system wastes votes, unfairly handicaps smaller principled parties, produces artificial majorities, and depresses voter turnout. But I am most reluctant to see the courts take the matter out of the hands of Parliament, even if the latter is, in effect, stacked against what many of us are convinced is a long overdue reform. If a court imposes electoral reform, even in the interest of enhancing democracy, it will be difficult for Canadians to take ownership of it. Questions concerning its legitimacy will continue to haunt our political life thereafter. Let's not go that route, please.

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