February 19, 1923 (14th Parliament, 2nd Session)


William Irvine



Perhaps one reason why the Tory House of Lords found it necessary to vote for proportional representation was that they were beginning to see that very soon if they did not get their proportion they would not have any representation at all, and I have nodoubt the time will come when the Conservatives of this House will take the same attitude. Proportional representation is becoming popular in the public mind as a corrective to the present system of voting. I shall mention very briefly two points where the present method of voting is very unfair and undemocratic. In the first place, a minority candidate in any constituency may be elected. Let us take an example. Suppose we have a constituency with a hundred votes. Suppose there is a Liberal, a Conservative and a Labour candidate in the field. We will give the Liberal 30 votes, the Conservative 30 votes and the Labour candidate 40 votes. The Labour candidate will be elected with 40 votes. There will be 60 votes against him, therefore the majority of the votes of that constituency have no representation at all, whereas the minority have the representation. That is one fault of the present system of voting. -Extend that over the whole country and you frequently have a party in power which has not the support of the majority of the voters.
The next point is that a very large minority may have no representation at all. That has just been very ably pointed out by the Minister of Finance (Mr. Fielding). Take the illustration again of a constituency with a hundred votes with two candidates running, one Tory and one Grit. We give the Grit 51 votes and the Tory gets 49, very nearly half. The Tory has no representation; the Liberal has it all. Spread that over all the nation, and you may possibly have almost one-half of the voting population of Canada without any representation whatever. That is possible under the present system, and I believe the hon. member for Brant (Mr. Good), cited a number of instances in Canadian politics where a similar situation to what I have described arose..
This resolution, as again was pointed out by the Minister of Finance, does not mean to isolate the practice to one or two constituencies as the leader of the Opposition (Mr. Meighen), who built up a very elaborate argument on that assumption, seemed to conclude. This resolution asks simply that proportional representation be experimented with in one or more multi-member constituencies created for the purpose at the present redis-

Proportional Representation
tribution. Therefore, the whole argument of the leader of the Opposition falls to the ground, as it presupposes a condition that is foreign to the intention of the resolution.
Proportional representation will ensure that a minority will never rule. It also will ensure that no considerable minority will ever be excluded from having a voice. Is that not democracy? What have the self-appointed protagonists of democracy and majority rule in this House to say about that? Are they opposed to a minority having a voice? Are they opposed to majority rule? If so, they may vote against proportional representation; otherwise, they are voting against the very things which they pretend to be willing to see established. Some of them have advanced the argument that this will encourage groups. The leader of the Opposition very properly admits that this will not and cannot create groups. The best that it could possibly do would be to give the groups already in existence an opportunity of expressing themselves. Is that not British? Personally, I have opposed the idea of direct action. Direct action has been advocated in certain sections of Canada and also in Great Britain. There is no better incentive that I know of to direct action on the part of a section of the people than an electoral system which prevents them from giving expression to their opinions. That is the system which we have in vogue at the present time, and I believe that if the various groups now existing had an opportunity of expressing their opinions and desires, there would be no danger of the development of an unconstitutional method of taking action.
I want briefly to follow two or three of the hon. members who have attempted to criticize this resolution. The hon. member for Vancouver South (Mr. Ladner) seems to get a little mixed between the federal government and the British system. He distinguishes between the British system as applied in municipal government and the British system as applied in the federal government. I do not know why he makes that distinction; but may I ask-since when has a mere method of marking a ballot determined the system of government in any country? Will the mere system of marking a ballot alter the form of government in this or in any other country? That is a question which I would leave to the hon. member for Vancouver South. His next point was that this would dissipate cabinet unity. He says that the keystone of the present system of government is the Cabinet. We say that the keystone of the present system of government
is democracy, the people, and so, if that is true, then I fail to understand his claim that he stands for democracy.
Another hon. member advanced the argument that proportional representation would prohibit canvassing; that it would be almost impossible for him, indeed, it would take him years to canvass his constituency, providing it is a group constituency as is called for by proportional representation. It might be a very excellent thing if members were prohibited from canvassing, if this method of voting were adopted. If it threw upon the people themselves the responsibility for political organization, if it gave to them instead' of to politicians, the responsibility of running elections, that would be a very decided advance. In view of this, I do not consider the canvassing objection as constituting an argument against proportional representation. The hon. gentleman's second point was that this might interfere with members of parliament carrying on theii* correspondence during the year. That again, I submit, is rather a lame argument to advance against a principle so needed to correct the weaknesses of the present system of voting.
Another hon. gentleman opposed proportional representation because it was not pro-, portional. If that is really his argument, I wish, as a student of proportional representation, to assure him that we will make it proportional. He need not fear for that at all. Indeed, when we are dealing with proportional representation, we are dealing with mathematics, and there is no doubt about getting the proportion. I am of the opinion the hon. gentleman must have made some grave mistake in his figures to arrive at such a conclusion.
A number of hon. members opposing this have said, calmly and seemingly in their right minds, that we have group government in Ontario, and that the adoption of proportional representation would give us group government in Canada. Let me point out to those hon. gentlemen that we have not group government in Ontario. There is not group government in any province in the Dominion of Canada; there is not group government here; there is not group government anywhere that I know of in the English speaking world, There is, in Ontario not group government, but a coalition system of government, which might indeed be said to be the most pernicious form of the present party system of government which we have. I do not say that the Ontario government is a pernicious government, by any means; I hasten to say, on the contrary, that it has been a very excellent

Proportional Representation
government. But the coalition makeshift of government has grown out of the British .system under certain conditions, and we had it in full force in the government which preceded the present government. If that is group government, then the leader of the Opposition (Mr. Meighen) introduced it into this House. That is not group government as I understand it; that is coalition government.
Another hon. gentleman seemed to think that proportional representation had something to do with horse-racing, and that if he had a lame horse in a race, by proportional representation he might get it in first. That is how I understood his argument. But he seems to me to want to deny the right of considerable numbers of people in a consti-* tuency to run after a fad if they want to. He prefers that they should run after his fad; that he should be allowed to state to the electorate what the real issue is, and when he has done that, to get them all to follow him. That is perfectly democratic; that is perfectly in line, as he sees it, with the British system of constitutional government! But to allow Dick, Tom and Harry to say what they think the issue is, that would never do at all, because if you did that, you might not elect the Tories! That is very clear reasoning, and I am in sympathy .with the hon. gentleman's position, but not with his point of view.
That is a summing up of the opposition to this motion. I conclude by reiterating that this is merely a change in the form of marking a ballot and a corresponding rearranging of constituencies to make that possible. Its aim is to give expression to every considerable group in a nation and it prevents minorities from having power as they sometimes have to-day. It would ensure the continuance of majority rule, and, therefore, those who claim to be such ardent supporters of democracy and majority rule should find themselves bound to vote in favour of this resolution.

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