SKEENA - Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen hosted a town hall meeting in Terrace Sept. 7 to discuss potential changes in how Canadians vote for their Members of Parliament.

Northwest B.C. MP wants to ‘mix’ up voting

NDP MP Nathan Cullen says his preference would be more democratic

Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen says his choice for new voting method to choose Members of Parliament is the same one his party endorses.

Speaking to a town hall meeting here to discuss potential changes Sept. 7, Cullen said his preference and that of his party is to have a mixed member proportional (MMP) system rather than the current winner takes all first past the post method which has been in effect since Canada was formed.

“It’s the system we are most familiar with and the only one Canada has ever had,” he said of first past the post.

All it takes to win is getting one more vote than the second place candidate, even if that extra vote doesn’t necessarily mean a majority, Cullen added.

In the federal election of last October, the victorious Liberals only received 39 per cent of the popular vote but it was enough to give them 184 out of the 338 parliamentary seats, (54 per cent) and put them in power, said Cullen.

It also leaves the voices of Canadians who didn’t vote for these candidates or this party silent, he added.

“We live with the bias built into the system we have now because we just accept it,” said Cullen.

MMP gets its name from its inclusion of elements of the current winner take all system and proportional representation which gives it the “mixed” name within its title.

It gives voters something a little different: the opportunity to vote for a candidate of their choice and the party of their choice – solving the problem of voters liking a candidate in a riding but not the party or vice versa, and the problem of the winning party often not getting half of the cast votes but getting all the power.

The winning candidate is the individual who gets the most votes and the party section establishes how many seats a party will be allocated overall and to elect “district” or “list” members.

Voters then elect two types of representatives: a local member and a regional or party list member.

First the winning candidates are awarded their seats and if a party’s share of seats is less than its share of the popular vote, as determined by the party voting results, then it is awarded seats from the district or list vote and topped up until its overall share of seats matches its party vote.

This ensures that the number of seats a party wins is proportional to the vote that party receives, while also giving voters a local voice that is responsive to their local needs and concerns.

To fill the extra party seats, Cullen supports the idea of giving the second-most-voted-for candidate that extra seat.

The problem of doing that is making the ‘extra’ MPs seem legitimate as opposed to being seen as second class MPs or as being appointed like senators, said Cullen.

But another advantage is that no one party can pass laws all on its own and it gives voters who choose to cast ballots for smaller parties more incentive to vote, he continued.

The way to implement this system if the people want it would be to run the next election using it, see how that goes for four years and then in the subsequent election ask voters to decide if they want to stay with it or go back to the current system, said Cullen.

Countries that use the MMP system include New Zealand and Germany.

It is also used in the regional Welsh and Scottish assemblies which enact laws specific to Wales and Scotland within the United Kingdom.

Cullen also spoke of other potential voting methods and encouraged those in attendance to state their own preferences on a questionnaire provided.

The move to consider potential changes to the federal voting system follows on a promise made by the Liberal government.

Cullen sits on the parliamentary committee considering changes. Its report is due Dec. 1.

All MPs have been holding meetings similar to those being hosted by Cullen. His list includes sessions in Smithers, Prince Rupert and in Kitimat.