Green MLA calls for proportional representation, not a smaller legislature

Green MLA Megan Mitton

Local Green MLA Megan Mitton is calling on Premier Higgs to implement far-reaching electoral reform instead of musing about cutting the number of seats in the New Brunswick legislature.

“Frankly, I’m disappointed to hear that type of discussion happen as if democracy is the problem here,” Mitton said during a year-end interview in Sackville last week.

The member for Memramcook-Tantramar was commenting on a recent report in the Irving-owned Telegraph-Journal in which Higgs is quoted as suggesting that since MLAs can be “barriers” to economic prosperity, it might be a good idea to reduce their numbers in the legislature.

The newspaper adds that although Higgs isn’t seriously considering chopping the number of MLAs from the current 49, the issue concerns him because it’s a “struggle” to persuade politicians to support economic development initiatives if they don’t garner votes in local constituencies.

Mitton suggested that having less representation in the legislature would do nothing to solve the province’s real economic problems.

“Some of the major problems we have in New Brunswick have to do with the monopoly we have around the press, around industries, and it’s not about the people working in those industries, it’s about how the power and wealth is distributed in our province,” Mitton said.

“Frankly, if we’re going to look at electoral reform, I’d like to see proportional representation,” she added.

Mitton pointed out that a Progressive Conservative government led by Bernard Lord established a commission to study legislative democracy in 2004 and when it recommended a system of proportional representation, the premier promised to hold a referendum on it during the municipal elections of 2008.

However, when Lord lost power in the 2006 provincial election, the Liberals scrapped the idea. (To read Professor Paul Howe’s study of proportional representation in New Brunswick, click here.)

“The idea for proportional representation has been around for a long time,” Mitton said, “so I’d like to see Higgs do that.”

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9 Responses to Green MLA calls for proportional representation, not a smaller legislature

  1. Harold says:

    Here is a note from history:
    No democracy that used first past the post fell to dictatorship during the period [1918-1939].
    “During the inter-war period, many European democracies fell into a similar pattern of events. Politics exacerbated the divisions within society, coalition governments failed to effectively address the pressing issues of the day, and finally authoritarians stepped in to denounce democracy as a failure. Did proportional representation have a role to play in these outcomes?”
    https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2018/09/09/what-history-can-teach-us-about-proportional-representation.html
    First-past-the-post has a tendency to force parties toward the centre.

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  2. Sally Cunliffe says:

    MLA’s are paid $85,000 per year. I would like to see less MLA’s in New Brunswick if it saves money. Conservatives are usually looking for ways to save money and balance budgets. That’s not so surprising to me. I have suggested that they are overpaid; just as the Federal MPs are overpaid at $178,900 per year. No politician would advocate for a pay cut however… shush.. just keep talking about how poor people are becoming but do nothing about it is Megan’s plan. Great. Her party wants us to get off oil and gas; perhaps we need to get off green politicians.. they’ll have us all living in poverty if they have their way.

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  3. Mike Gallant says:

    Before changing the structure of our parliamentary system (PR/MMR), we could consider making voting mandatory as they have in Australia – over 90% voter turnout. That would be a good starting point. Changing from “first past the post” to PR seems futile if we continue to have poor voter turnout? Get rid of the Senate or make it elected – it seems offensive in a mature democracy, that we still have legislators appointed.

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    • Sally Cunliffe says:

      We have all kinds of unelected people in commissions and countless bureaucrats in all levels of government so why single out the Senate? I actually like they are there to be honest because of how they are selected and what they bring to the process… some of them that work in the Senate do take their role very seriously for instance Sen. Lynn Beyak who I had the good fortune to speak with last year for about an hour on the phone. I’m just not sure how it would all look without a Senate but I agree more people should get off the couch and vote but before they vote I would really appreciate it if they would read the party platforms and make an informed vote… and not vote the way their unions tell them to and such other sorts of shenanigans.. studying policy and understanding a bit of basics about the spending habits of certain parties would be really advantageous.

      “Although legislation can normally be introduced in either chamber, the majority of government bills originate in the House of Commons, with the Senate acting as the chamber of “sober second thought” (as it was called by Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister)”

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  4. Les Hicks says:

    Reply to Harold’s and Peter’s comments :

    Harold, first past the post works fine if there are only 2 political parties – whichever party gets the most votes wins – simple and uncomplicated. The fact that there are now 5 parties in the House of Commons is exactly the reason that the simplistic first past the post system does not work and that some form of proportional representation is needed if the votes of the electorate are to be more accurately reflected in their representation in parliament – same goes for provincial legislatures.

    The federal liberal party’s 2015 platform promised to implement electoral reform (Trudeau’s preference was a ‘ranked ballot’ system), and the liberal government did in fact form an all party electoral reform committee which heard evidence from many experts, as well as members of the general public. After months of hearing from these expert witnesses and members of the general public (and the large amount of money that it cost to hold these hearings), 88% of the experts recommended some form of proportional representation, and 87% of the general public witnesses recommended proportional representation. The five Liberal MPs on the special committee wrote a minority report that made no mention of a preference for a ranked ballot. In fact, they said “nobody wants the ranked ballot.” The results of the federal government’s on-line survey showed that 70% of those Canadians who took part in the survey preferred that parties share power and share accountability. Regardless of these results, because the committee did not come up with a recommendation of the ‘ranked ballot’ system that Trudeau wanted, he ignored the results and in effect said that a consensus hadn’t been reached and that Canadians were not ready for change – in other words, he lied to the Canadian public.

    The current first past the post system definitely favours the Liberal and Conservative Parties, which has resulted in either Liberal or Conservative federal governments for as long as I have been voting. It’s obvious why Trudeau would not let proportional representation be implemented. In essence, there are really not that many differences between these parties – they are both beholding to the corporate money that keeps them in power. At the risk of sounding simplistic, for a lighter look at this issue, I urge folks to check out the speech about Mouseland by ‘The Greatest Canadian’, Tommy Douglas : (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqgOvzUeiAA)

    Peter, Fair Vote Canada (https://www.fairvote.ca/) is a valuable source of information for any Canadian who is interested in learning about the pros and cons of proportional representation and they do address the concerns that you have raised. Rather than repeat all of the information that this organization provides, I again urge all interested voters to check out the information that this organization provides in order to become more familiar with the concept, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of this form of voting for national and provincial representatives. The Council of Canadians (https://canadians.org) is another organization that supports the implementation of some form of proportional representation and provides information on it.

    Regarding Donald Trump and Doug Ford, who both gained power with less than 50% of the vote, it is true, as you mention in your article, that they can be tossed out of power in the next elections, but how much damage will they be able to do (and how much have they already done) before that time?

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  5. Peter Love says:

    Reply to Les Hicks

    Les, I want to thank you for the courtesy of replying to my comments, and for the the civilized way in which you make your arguments. I also apologize for not replying earlier.

    I am very familiar with the positions of Fair Vote Canada and the Council of Canadians on this issue. I followed, closely, the debates that were swirling at the time of the B.C. referendum on PR, and also the hearings that followed the 2015 election that brought the Liberals into power. (I spoke at a number of public gatherings on electoral reform at the time.) I, for one, was disappointed with the way the matter was dealt with by the federal government. None of the major parties championed the Ranked Ballot option (the option that I think would be best for the country), with that result that supporters of PR monopolized virtually all public discussion, and naturally had their preferred option garner the most public support in surveys. Opposition members on the all party electoral reform committee were solely interested in embarrassing the Liberals and pushing for the electorate system that would best benefit their own interests.

    Regardless of the political parties’ positions, the fundamental question should always be, “What is best for Canada?” The best indication we have, on how Canadians feel about that question, is found in the B.C. referendum results.

    Personally, I think anyone who examines, closely, the way PR is functioning now, in continental Europe, and how it functioned in the interwar period, should have serious concerns about how risky it is. Spain, for example, had 4 elections using PR in 4 years (2015 to 2019) because the various parties refused to cooperate with each other in choosing who would be the Prime Minister. (That sort of thing happens all the time in PR countries.) The result in Spain was growing support for a brand new right-wing extremist party, that won seats for the first time last year.(It is now the 3rd largest.) That has never happened in Canada, Thank God!

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