Quebec's chief electoral officer has pressed his thumb firmly down onto the scales of our political life with a formal recommendation that the province move to a form of proportional representation.
PR, as it is known, would have both advantages and disadvantages, but we defer that interesting debate to some other day. Today there is a different point to make: The man and the office in charge of running elections have no business trying to hustle the government into any such reform. His job should be to make sure that elections are run honestly and fairly, and beyond that to do what he is told.
But in mid-December, Chief Electoral Officer Marcel Blanchet produced a 400-page report calling for an overhaul of our traditional system, "to compensate for the lack of proportionality." He claimed that the idea behind this exhaustive and costly project was "to give legislators the most comprehensive tool possible to help them make the right choice." Oh yes? But surely it's up to legislators, not civil servants, to make fundamental decisions. The National Assembly is not a bureaucrat's rubber stamp.
True, Blanchet's mandate allows him to analyze and assess electoral procedures, to study what he wants, and to make recommendations. But not everything legally legitimate is desirable. He might have done better to be discreet.
Proportional representation, common in various forms in Europe and elsewhere, has little public support in Canada. Politicians cannot be trusted, it's true, to handle this issue with perfect detached objectivity; their first concern tends to be not fairness but partisan advantage.
But despite the efforts of numerous earnest professors, there has been no public enthusiasm for PR in this country. Voters in British Columbia and Ontario have killed such proposals in referendums; the Ontario plan was similar to what's proposed for Quebec. In this province, lawmakers have studied the idea for years; there is even a cabinet minister whose duties include electoral reform, Benoît Pelletier. There have been National Assembly hearings. And yet there has been no such reform.
Blanchet should have kept his technocratic musings to himself. Before he tries to change the system, he should make sure that the one we have is working smoothly, and as we have said with exasperation on more than one occasion, that is not the case. Simple fairness should have Blanchet besieging his political masters with demands that Quebec's 125 National Assembly constituencies be redrawn to have equal populations. As things stand, rural ridings are far below the average population, while urban and fast-growing suburban ridings are much bigger than the average.
Quebec's politics are distorted by this over-empowerment of small-town Quebec. (Federal riding boundaries come much closer to population equality.) Until Blanchet remedies this glaring injustice, Quebecers will have little confidence in his sense of fairness in other matters.