A Brief History of Democracy

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Pathetic Ploy to Reform Quebec's Electoral Map

Back in 2003, Jean Charest made the electoral promise to introduce elements of proportionality into the voting system. Thereafter, draft legislation was tabled and a special commission struck to consult the public with regard to the proposed changes to see if they respected the two principles of equal voting power amongst voters and representation for the regions. The report from the commission rejected the flawed model and the matter was then referred to the Director General of Elections, who delivered a report that offered the means to improve the model, which was then quickly shelved.

In the meantime, the Director General of Elections was given the onerous task of drawing up a new electoral map using the first-past-the-post method in which it was obvious that to respect the constitutional limit of the relative number of electors per riding that there would be seats lost in the peripheral regions and seats added to the more populous regions surrounding Montreal.

While this was being done, the Liberal government introduced legislation that would have maintained the number of ridings in the peripheral regions -- essentially turning them into the equivalent of rotten boroughs -- but would have surely brought on litigation challenging the constitutional legitimacy of such a move.

Undeterred, the Director General of Elections went ahead and drew up the new electoral map respecting what he believed to be the constitutional parameters guiding the exercise, delivered his map to Quebec's National Assembly, only to be accused by two Liberal Ministers of betraying the regions and to have performed his work in a manner beneath the dignity of the institution he represented.

As could be expected, showing himself to be a man of honor, Marcel Blanchet, the Director General of Elections tendered his resignation.

Since then, the Premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, went on to make a public declaration at a meeting that regrouped Quebec's municipalities to the effect that if the outlying regions didn't want to loose any of their deputies they would have to make some noise in order to put pressure on the Parti Quebecois to change it position so to support the legislation that would keep the number of seats there but at the price of giving Quebec what would be without question the worse electoral system in North America.

What I find truly pathetic in Charest's gesture, over and above the fact that the Director General of Elections's resignation made no impact whatsoever on his understanding of the situation, is that he transfers the responsibility of avoiding the negative consequences of his government's failure to change the electoral system to the people that are the most adversely affected by maintaing the first-past-the-post system.

In short, by maintaing single member districts without changing the number of seats in Quebec's National Assembly means that it is inevitable that given Quebec's demographic changes that there will be a loss of seats in the regions experiencing a loss of population. Moreover, the affected regions bear the brunt of the loss without any compensation.

What the "protesters" haven't been made aware of is the fact that if Quebec were to adopt a proportional electoral system, any loss of single member districts would be made across the entire electoral map and those seats lost would be transferred to a national list from which the peripheral regions could gain additional representation.

But this would require Jean Charest to come clean about his failure to respect an electoral promise, something as unlikely as his government calling a public inquiry into the relation between the construction industry and the financing of political parties in Quebec.

Vivre le Quebec. Vivre le Quebec sans Jean Charest.

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