Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Conservative senate would kill PR bill

Just imagine if the dreams of PR reformers come true after the 2015 election. Somehow, we manage to get a government to pass a bill that makes PR law. If a party runs on that platform — which the NDP appears to be doing — it will have its mandate. There’s no requirement to hold a referendum.

How it could happen

There are a number of ways this could play out. The NDP could win a majority government. The NDP could win a minority and get pro-PR Liberal MPs to side with them in passing a PR bill.

Who knows, the Liberals — who voted 73% in favor of PV ranked ballot at their 2012 convention — could have a change of heart. So could Liberal leader Justin Trudeau who currently rejects PR.

How it could all go wrong

But what happens when the bill gets to the senate? The senate controlled by Conservatives appointed by Stephen Harper?

According to the Constitution, both the senate and House of Commons are equal in power (except in some rare cases.) The senate is supposed to restrain itself because it’s comprised of partisan crony hacks. Yet every once in a while, it weighs in and kills legislation.

Technically the House could pass a PR bill 20 times and the senate could reject it 20 times.

Role of corporate media

What side would the corporate media take — which usually ignores the issue of PR, except to occasionally rant it will destroy the country?

Clearly they would laud the senate’s decision to stop the “unfair, unwise and anti-democratic” legislation that would turn Canada into a “laboratory for electoral reform.” (Which is what Martin Regg Cohn said about RaBit — the ranked ballot initiative for the Toronto mayoral election.)

Even if a 50% threshold referendum is held and won, the senate could reject it claiming a 60% threshold is required. (That’s in designed-to-fail territory: New Zealand, for example, won two PR referendums by less than 60% — 54% in 1993 and 58% in 2011.)

Conclusion

As PR supporters formulate strategies to bring the reform to Canada, they should take the senate into consideration. It could turn out to be a bigger obstacle than legislating PR itself.

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