01 October 2008

NDP denied voters proportional representation in 1980

An explosive account in a major column today reveals that the federal NDP back in Ed Broadbent's time, rejected the Liberal government's offer to change our voting system to proportional representation.


Because "the MPs were afraid of losing their seats."

The electoral crapshoot would long be a thing of the past had NDP leader Ed Broadbent and his caucus seized a never-before-disclosed offer from prime minister Pierre Trudeau immediately after the 1980 election. The Liberals captured 147 of 282 seats with 44 per cent of the popular vote, but failed to elect a single MP west of Winnipeg despite the support of about 25 per cent of western voters.

A Liberal majority with no western seats ignited western rage. Not only do ongoing unrepresentative and perverse electoral outcomes undermine democratic legitimacy and suppress turnout, they rupture the bonds holding the country together, artificially fomenting regional alienation and fracturing national unity.

Trudeau invited Broadbent to his office for a chat. The NDP had captured 26 of its 32 seats in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and B.C. with about one-third of the vote. Trudeau said he would introduce legislation for proportional representation if the NDP would co-sponsor it.

According to well-placed sources, Broadbent said he would take the proposal to his caucus. The answer was no.

Broadbent told the prime minister NDP MPs were afraid of losing their seats. Trudeau declined to forge ahead alone.

Can't blame Trudeau, having obtained 44% of the vote, being reluctant to change our voting system without support of another party and one which better represented western provinces. The optics would have been bad otherwise, not to mention ethically questionable. ('Tis a shame Harper & Co. aren't so laden with ethical considerations such as these.)

Go. Read. Lots there to chew on.

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