When the Trudeau government agreed last week to adopt an NDP motion which populates the election reform committee on the basis of the votes each party received in the last election, it set up a working model of proportional representation. Andrew Coyne writes:
Strictly speaking, it does not matter whether a majority of the members of the special parliamentary committee on electoral reform are Liberals, or whether a majority are drawn from the opposition parties. The committee may be tasked with consulting the public, studying different models of reform, and advising the government how to proceed, but nothing says the government has to accept its recommendations.
On the other hand, symbolism matters in politics. Whatever influence the committee has will rely less on its formal authority than its moral authority, depending on how genuinely it is seen to have consulted, how warmly its recommendations are received — and how legitimate the committee itself is perceived as being.
The committee will give Canadians an accurate notion of how proportional representation works. And, if it works well, the going should get easier:
The whole issue of electoral reform is rooted in the divergence, common under the first past the post system, between the parties’ representation in the House and their share of the popular vote. If the Liberals’ rhetoric about the current system “distorting the will of the electorate” exposed them to ridicule for having set up the committee along those same distorted lines, the committee as now designed is a working model of proportional representation, “a lab rat,” as Conservative commentator David McLaughlin has put it, “for how PR might work in the House of Commons.”
It's impossible to predict how things will work out. However,
already the possibilities are intriguing. A majority on the committee could be formed by any combination of the Liberals and the Conservatives (with three votes) or the NDP (with two) — or both the Bloc Québécois and the Greens, each of whom has one vote. Assume for the moment that the popular assumptions about each party’s position are true: the NDP and the Greens favouring PR, the Conservatives and the Bloc the status quo, while the Liberals plump for ranked ballots. Do the Liberals work out a deal with the NDP, some sort of hybrid of PR and ranked ballots? Do the Conservatives cut their own deal, perhaps with the Liberals, perhaps with the NDP, offering to vote for either’s preferred reform in return for the referendum the Tories hope will kill it?
Whatever happens, it's always easier to sell something -- and generate return business -- when people know what they're buying.