Blog | November 14, 2019

Joel French, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta

The dust from the federal election has settled, and Alberta is abuzz with what they the results mean for our province and what our relationship to the new minority federal government should be. As a highly diverse province, the answers are not immediately clear.

A minority government situation means citizens and civil society groups have an even greater ability to influence government policy decisions due to the necessity of inter-party cooperation. So, for those interested in pushing for more forward-thinking policy at the federal level, what should we be doing and what issues should we be focusing on?

There are numerous worthy answers to that question, but I will highlight some areas where there seems to be significant potential for changes that would have major positive impacts on our province and country. Effective advocacy could lead to Canada taking more serious action on climate change, expanding our health care system to make it truly universal, and fixing our broken electoral system.

On climate change and emissions reductions, the Trudeau majority government made some progress, but by attempting to satisfy both the progressive forces pushing for serious climate action and the conservative oil and gas establishment, they fell short. A common refrain of climate activists became, “Climate leaders don’t build pipelines.”

There is more to the climate policy discussion than pipelines, but the issue is critical. Research published by the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute shows that building the expanded Trans Mountain Pipeline and using it for its planned life would ensure Canada misses its international commitment for emissions reductions. The potential for its construction to boost oil prices, as is claimed by its proponents, is minimal.

The pipeline discussion in Alberta has been subject to a huge amount of political spin, mainly focused on job creation. The truth is a pipeline would only create a tiny number of permanent jobs. Most of the jobs would be in temporary construction, and we would be far better off as a province to attract such construction jobs in renewable energy and industries that are not carbon-intensive which have a brighter long-term future for our economy.

On expanding our public health care system, overall Medicare is popular with Canadians, and for good reason. Every person has access to care in hospitals or medical clinics regardless of their ability to pay. However, the system is far from complete. We are the only country in the developed world other than the United States without public coverage of prescription drugs. We should also strive for universal coverage of our entire bodies; a truly universal system would cover optometrists and eyeglasses, dental visits and implements, and access to mental health professionals.

Lastly, we need to fix our electoral system for the sake of both Alberta and Canada. The way Canadians vote should be reflected in the makeup of our representation in Parliament. That means no party should be entitled to a majority government without a majority of the popular vote. As Dave Meslin shows in his illustration of how the 2019 election results should look, the Liberals, Conservatives, and Bloc Québecois were all awarded more seats than they should have. The NDP, Green Party, and People’s Party should all have been awarded more seats in proportion to the votes they received.

The picture is even more stark in Alberta, where 33 out of 34 seats, or 97 percent, were awarded to the Conservatives, even though more than 30 percent of the ballots cast were for other parties. The Liberals received 14 percent of votes in Alberta, yet were awarded no seats. And the NDP, with 12 percent, were awarded 1 seat instead of the 4 they should have received. The Green Party and People’s Party also should have each been awarded 1 Alberta seat based on their vote percentage.

The problem is clear, and the potential solutions have been well-researched and explained by organizations like Fair Vote Canada. The federal Liberals promised to change the voting system after the 2015 election but broke their promise. Now, the NDP and Green Party, both of which campaigned on changing our voting system this time, can push the Liberal Party to finally follow through on their promise, ensuring fairer elections in the future.

The importance of changing our voting system cannot be overstated. A system where the results actually match how Canadians voted would mean one party would be unlikely to wield the immense power of a majority government, and cooperation between parties would be the new norm, by necessity. Nearly every other developed country in the world uses some form of proportional voting system. It is time for Canada to make the switch to a system where every vote counts, no matter where a person lives in the country.

Under past minority governments, Canadians have won remarkable gains such as our existing public health care system, the 40-hour work week, the Canada Pension Plan, and marriage equality for LGBTQ+ people. With the democratic necessity of parties working together in a minority government, we have an incredible opportunity to push for the progressive change we want to see that will help people now, and create a strong foundation for our country’s future.