Once again, democracy triumphs. Or does it?
Liberal leader Shawn Graham was quite rightly elated by his party's win in the New Brunswick election, triumphantly announcing "My mandate tonight is to change our province, to bring back the pride and restore the hope."
But how much of a mandate to change his province does he have? His party won with 29 seats to 26 for the Tories, compared to Liberals 26, Tories 28, at dissolution. Not much mandate for change there. Furthermore, the Conservatives got more votes, 47.7 per cent of the total compared to 47.0 per cent for Mr. Graham's party. Not much mandate there, either.
But we mustn't be churlish about the premier-designate's promise of "a bold, new, activist government." This is, after all, commonplace with our voting system. Parties come to power with the support of a minority of the electorate and then govern as if they had an overwhelming majority. Thus the call from many quarters for a proportional representation (PR) system.
But would that have enhanced Mr. Graham's mandate? With both parties at about 47 per cent, i.e. without a majority, under PR one would have to form a coalition with the NDP, who got five per cent of the vote, and that would almost certainly have been the Liberals. But this would have swung the government further left, leaving the 47 per cent who voted Conservative even more alienated from their government. One might sensibly argue that further alienating almost half of New Brunswickers offers even less of a mandate.
PR is clearly necessary to ensure each vote counts equally, the essence of democracy, but while it ensures all voters are equally represented in their legislature, it doesn't ensure they are equally represented in their government. A second reform is needed, one that includes all elected representatives equally in governance. Only then will democracy rest easy in this country.