A Green Party motion to study and propose options for proportional representation for New Brunswick was panned by both the governing PC and opposition Liberal parties this past week.
Every Thursday afternoon when the Legislative Assembly is sitting, the opposition parties – Liberals and Greens – can bring forward bills and motions for debate and vote. The PC government, with its majority of seats, has the power to skuttle any opposition proposals but Opposition Day is important for bringing new ideas – or re-introducing old ones – into the public sphere.
On Thursday, May 19, MLA Kevin Arseneau (Kent North) proposed a motion to urge the government to “direct the Electoral Boundaries and Representation Commission to propose options for proportional representation as part of its review of New Brunswick’s electoral boundaries before the next scheduled provincial election in 2024.”
Electoral reform to improve political representation in New Brunswick has long been a topic of debate. In 2003, PC Premier Bernard Lord established the New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy that recommended a mixed-member proportional representation system for the province.
In 2017, the Commission on Electoral Reform recommended that while considering how electoral boundaries should be distributed, some form of proportional representation should also be studied.
When introducing his motion, Arseneau said that everywhere in the province, we see “a certain disengagement of the population towards politics in general,” and that since his student days at the University of Moncton, he has been interested in the topic of political engagement. The reason we need reform, he said, “is that we are giving less and less power, and fewer and fewer concrete ways of acting, to the citizens of New Brunswick.”
Arseneau noted that the fewer than 40 percent of New Brunswick voters elected the current PC majority government, and that proportional representation – which would make every vote count – is the current electoral system in most democracies across the globe. A proportional representation system “would mean more collaboration and more minority governments,” he said.
Both the PC and Liberal members who spoke to the motion brought up concerns that proportional representation would encourage the growth of political parties representing a small percentage of public opinion. For example, Liberal MLA Keith Chiasson (Tracadie-Sheila) said: “Think about the more extreme parties, whether it’s the extreme left or extreme right. The fact of having them here at the Legislative Assembly, and giving them a platform to promote their message, is that good for democracy?”
In response, Green MLA Megan Mitton (Memramcook-Tantramar) pointed out that in our current first-past-the-post electoral system, “there are extremists that make it all the way to the White House…let’s talk about President Trump. First past-the-post got him there.” Mitton added that, “Frankly, we see that certain people who are anti-choice, former COR members who we have in this house can become Premier, and I would argue that those are fringe things or should be.”
The debate lasted two hours before the Speaker called the vote. Only the three Green MLAs voted for the motion.
Susan O’Donnell writes for the NB Media Co-op.