A Brief History of Democracy

Monday, May 16, 2011

Add Bill 19 as Another Reason Why the Court Should Intervene in the Quebec Charter Challenge of First-Past-The-Post

Last week, the Charest-led Liberal Government introduced Bill 19 in order to have an electoral map in place for the next Quebec general election, which is due to be held within the next two years.

The problem is that the proposed map does not address the fundamental flaw of the existing map that there are a number of rural tidings that do not respect the constitutional requirement with respect to the relative number of electors per riding, no more than a 25% deviation from the provincial average.

Previously, the Director General Elections had drawn up a new map that would respect this constitutional requirement by adding three new electoral districts to the more populous regions outside of Montreal and by removing three electoral districts in the sparsely populated outlying regions.

Unhappy with the fact that the Director of Elections would not comply with Charest's wishes to ignore the constitutionality of a new electoral map, the Premier decided to suspend the powers of the Director even before getting the necessary legislation adopted in the National Assembly.

He then introduced Bill 19, which essentially adds the three new ridings without removing the three targeted ridings. The problem of the inequality of voting power between rural and urban ridings remains: there are a number of urban ridings that have twice the number of electors than their rural counterparts. Consequently, the vote of a citizen in a riding that was targeted to be removed is worth twice the vote of a citizen who casts his vote in a more populated riding.

At the heart of the issue is the inability of the first-past-the-past voting system to accommodate demographic trends in Quebec. People are leaving the outlying regions to live in the more populated urban centers. As well, immigrants also choose overwhelming to do the same. Inevitably, if single member districts are to be used something has to give, and if a change to multimember electoral changes is not implemented, the outlying regions will bear the brunt of the redistribution.

Given the choice of respecting the fundamental democratic principle of the equality of vote or keeping in place an institutional practice that does not have the capacity to adapt to Quebec's demographic reality, Charest is clearly clinging to the outdated voting system that allows him to form a majority government with the support of only a minority of the electorate. Clearly, Charest's desire for political power overrides his responsibility to put and keep in place a democratic electoral system.

Although the question now before the Quebec Appeal Court is larger, the constitutionality of using single member electoral districts in conjunction with a plurality method to determine representation, by striking down the first-past-the-post system the Court would prevent the Charest government from adopting what is without question the most discriminatory electoral map in North America.

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