I’ve had the distinct pleasure to be the Member of Parliament Skeena-Bulkley Valley for 12 years this June. It is a place that grounds me both personally and in my work. I always try to remember the discussions I’ve had with the people of Northwestern BC when I’m facing dilemmas and decisions in Ottawa. And one of the recurring conversations I’ve had over the years, with folks of all political leanings, is the condition of our democracy and how our voting system doesn’t reflect their voices at the national level.
It’s not a new charge that the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system too often produces false majorities. Our current voting system is broken. Too many Canadians simply feel their vote does not count. Something is deeply wrong if our very voting system encourages people to tune out of our democratic process.
However, if there was one thing that Jack Layton left with me, it was to tackle problems with an open mind, a sense of optimism and, most importantly, a desire to find solutions.
Earlier this session I proposed a solution in the hopes of inoculating against some of that cynicism. My proposal was to tweak the process that will be used to consult Canadians about how we fix our voting system. By default, it would be driven by a Parliamentary committee made up of MPs from recognized parties in the House of Commons. This process would leave the Greens and Bloc out of the discussions in effect silencing the 1.4 million Canadians that voted for these parties.
I suggested that the composition of the committee should reflect how Canadians voted in the 2015 federal election – five members of the Liberal Party, including a committee chair, three members of the Conservative Party, two members of the New Democratic Party, one member of the Bloc Quebecois, and one member of the Green Party. In short, a committee that would represent the true voting intentions of Canadians in the last election.
The Liberals have not yet indicated if they will agree to this proposal or what process they do favour.
I hold out much hope that the process can produce constructive results. This is an historic opportunity to engage Canadians in our democracy and empower particularly disenfranchised groups to re-engage with their civic role.
Our role, as the progressive opposition, is to remind the new Liberal government of the more progressive commitments they made to Canadians. Moreover, it is our duty to hold them to account.
After ten long years of a destructive Conservative government, progressives must repair the damage done. With the Conservative leadership searching, Canada needs a strong and unified NDP team in Ottawa ensuring progress is measured with action not words. That means pressing the new government at every opportunity to bring the fairness and justice that has eluded too many Canadians for the last decade. New Democrats have our work cut out for us – we can’t afford to spend the next year in the wilderness allowing a new government to go unchecked.
Our task is to reverse the growing inequality between the rich and the poor, make meaningful steps towards reconciliation and renewal with Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and to close the gender gap in all aspects of our society. These are the very themes NDP leader Tom Mulcair touched on at our recent caucus retreat. His clear and principled path forward is the reason why I am supporting Tom as our leader.
Bringing fairness to Parliament is a serious undertaking that faces a monumental set of hurdles. Every effort I make towards that goal I am reminded of the conversations I have had with folks who have given up on our voting system. I’m reminded why I’m doing this. And I am reminded of the dedication I share with Tom in achieving this goal, and the support he has lent to me in its pursuit.
Leadership is about setting a path, building a team, and trusting that team to do their job. It is about understanding the urgency of changing Canada for the better – including how we elect governments in our country for generations to come.
Nathan Cullen is the NDP critic for Democratic Reform and the Environment. He has been the Member of Parliament for Skeena-Bulkley Valley since 2004.