Over the past five years, three different governments – run by two different political parties – set out to change the way you vote.
So far, only one of them succeeded in bringing about changes, and those alterations were just declared unconstitutional by Nova Scotia’s highest court. Another is struggling to generate voter enthusiasm about the issue of electoral reform, but still hoping to make it a ballot question in the next election. And a third, your federal government, just shrugged off the electoral reform concept.
Let’s begin here in Nova Scotia, where the province’s Court of Appeal has sided with a francophone-rights group which insisted that the new electoral map launched during our last provincial election violated the rights of Nova Scotia’s Acadian community. That map expanded the former ridings of Richmond, Clare and Argyle to take in more voters and a larger geographical area.
It’s often forgotten that when Nova Scotia’s Electoral Boundaries Commission issued its first interim report in mid-2012, the independent body stuck to its guns and demanded that the three Acadian ridings remain intact. Ross Landry, the attorney-general for Nova Scotia’s NDP government at the time, tossed out that report, declaring it “null and void.”
The new map passed by a 26-22 margin in a raucous legislature vote held six months later, with Premier Darrell Dexter giving Fisheries Minster Sterling Belliveau an opportunity to vote against the bill on behalf of his constituents in the soon-to-be-altered Shelburne riding. (No such leeway was afforded Antigonish MLA and Natural Resources Minister Maurice Smith, who – unlike Belliveau – was defeated the following October, as were Landry and Dexter.)
Seconds after the boundary vote, the executive director of La Federation acadienne de la Nouvelle-Ecosse (La FANE) handed Landry the court documents that launched the legal action which finally came to a close a few weeks ago.
The timing is awkward – after all, the Electoral Boundaries Commission only meets every 10 years, and even if they’re to be reconvened in the weeks to come, they’ll only have 18 months to redraw Nova Scotia’s electoral map before the current Liberal government’s mandate runs out. (They may not even get that long, as Premier Stephen McNeil has hinted at an early election call for the past eight months.)
Whatever happens, one certainty remains: We’ll elect our next government the same way we always have, with the governing party formed of MLAs chosen in dozens of individual races across the province.
That’s also the case in Prince Edward Island, but it may not remain that way for much longer. Premier Wade MacLauchlan tabled a legislature motion in November to hold a province-wide referendum on electoral reform as part of the next provincial election, which is slated for the fall of 2019. The motion calls on one of that referendum’s ballot choices to be mixed-member representation, which was the preferred choice of Islanders who voted in a plebiscite on the issue three months ago.
It’s still unclear as to whether the majority of PEI residents consider this a vital issue – only 36 per cent of them actually participated in the plebiscite – and whether we’ll see true change in the province as a result of MacLauchlan’s motion, which has yet to come up for formal debate. But I credit our neighbours across the Northumberland Strait at least giving this a try, as opposed to the about-face carried out by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week in Ottawa.
In a letter sent to newly-sworn-in Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, Trudeau insisted that the electoral-reform process launched only two months earlier, a key plank in the Liberals’ election platform, would not proceed due to a lack of consensus among its participants and general disinterest among Canadians.
This abrupt reversal came weeks after an all-party electoral reform committee issued a 333-page report recommending a national referendum which would offer Canadians a choice between the current electoral system, commonly known as the “first past the post” system, and a proportional-representation model that would more evenly distribute votes received by parties of all sizes. The report itself followed the participation of 336,000 Canadians in the government-sponsored Web site: MyDemocracy.ca.
So, to recap: Canada’s smallest province, the cradle of Canada’s Confederation, seems more committed to electoral reform than Canada’s Prime Minister, while Nova Scotia still has no idea what their electoral map will look like in the months to come.
It remains to be seen whether our individual votes will carry the impact we’ve always desired in the next round of elections, or whether these votes could spell trouble for a party leader that once seemed so intent on overhauling the system.