Bermuda needs a new democracy, one which better represents the needs and desires of our people and once and for all ends this Us vs. Them battle that has ensured stagnation in the progression of our nation. On October 10th, 2007, the Canadian province of Ontario will be holding a referendum alongside a general election to put the question of electoral reform directly to the people. The choices shall consist of sticking with the existing winner take all system referred to as “First-past-the-post” or adopting a proposed “Mixed member proportional” system. The decision of which best fits the needs of the people of Ontario will be placed directly in their own hands. Could such an initiative benefit Bermuda and what could you be doing about it?
In tackling the question of how to improve the electoral process, the Ontario government resolved to create a “Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform” to address the questions of how to improve governance. The composure and purpose of this assembly are best described on the assembly’s own website:
The Assembly was independent of government. It was made up of 103 randomly-selected citizens – one from each of Ontario’s electoral districts. With the Chair, 52 of the members were male and 52 were female. At least one member was Aboriginal.
Together, Assembly members examined Ontario’s electoral system – the system that structures how votes get combined to elect Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs).
Members of the assembly met twice a month for 8 months to examine Ontario’s existing electoral system. They learned about systems in place elsewhere and consulted with the public through meetings and written submissions. Using what they learned they recommended that Ontario adopt a new electoral system and submitted a report to the government. The government is now putting the assembly’s recommendations directly to the voters in the referendum scheduled for October 2007.
What were the recommendations? The citizens’ assembly considered many different electoral systems and compared them to their existing “first-past-the-post” system, which is very similar to our own. In brevity, the “first-past-the-post” system is a winner take all popular vote of candidates representing Ontario’s 107 districts (comparable to our own constituencies) with winning candidates each being allotted a seat in parliament. The recommendation proposed by the citizens’ assembly is that Ontario should adopt a “mixed member proportional” electoral system similar to that which has been used in Germany since 1949, New Zealand since 1993 and Scotland and Wales since 1999.
What is a “mixed member proportional system”? A mixed member proportional system is an electoral system where every eligible citizen is provided two votes on election day. One vote is for a representative of their district and the other vote is a vote for a political party. Winning representatives of the district votes then make up 90 seats of parliament. Votes for political parties by contrast would be used to comprise a remaining 39 seats in parliament according to the proportion of votes made for each party with candidates being preselected by each party for this role.
Consider this in comparison to our own island where there has been a growing call for much needed changes to our electoral system. More and more individuals are losing faith in our colonially inherited system and are desperately seeking change. Bermuda needs to undertake a similar initiative to that of the people of Ontario by creating a Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform of our own. One that can independently recommend the changes that will best benefit Bermudians with the question of whether to implement those changes being put to the people.
The real tides of change rest in the hands of our people. What can you do? Write a blog post about it. Write a letter to the editor. Write your representative. Write on facebook. Call the talk shows. Call your representative. Tell your friends. Convince every single Bermudian that it is time for change and that our leadership needs to embrace and be the catalyst to make it happen.
Take action today.
Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform