Legislative Supermajorities: Repairing polarization and creating long-term stability

Updated: Oct 23, 2020

Credit: The Economist

Liberal, democratic countries such as our own are facing fierce competition from authoritarian regimes that are proposing an alternative, closed and controlled, system to our open societies. Two major obstacles to our success in this competition are amplified political polarization and inhibited long-term planning. Our current political system incentives these cannibalistic properties.

Political Polarization

Partisanship is a feature of democracies. It is important to debate, have opposing opinions, and ensure a diverse set of beliefs are being upheld to represent all citizens. Yet political polarization is when partisanship feeds off its success. The political system rewards parties when they become for extreme partisanship not moderate.

For Our Future sees many reasons for this. One includes our first-past-the-post system, which proportional representation could abate. This is not the focus of this article though. Instead, it is a process seemingly normal and routine – simple majority legislation.

This process only incentives cooperation until votes reach 50% + 1. In our current system, half of the parliamentary terms are majorities so half the time there is no requirement of cooperation, only partisanship. We should not limit ourselves to rudimentary thinking about democracy. Instead, new mechanisms could incentive greater cooperation beyond the simple majority.

Inhibited Long-term Planning

Elections cycles are another feature of democracies. We all agree that we need regular elections, but what does “regular” mean and how can we adjust our system to improve long-term planning?

Long-term planning is an advantage of authoritarian regimes, they can afford to plan long into the future because they do not expect to be removed from office. Yet increasingly, democracies are experiencing a back and forth, where one party institutes a policy for the future (ie. the carbon tax) and the other party repeals it.

If we could add a new mechanism, that can better protect policies against repeal by new governments that could significantly improve the likelihood that democracies could prepare for future threats and risks. Such a tool should be adding another legislative mechanism other than simple majority legislations – supermajority legislation.

Implementing Supermajority Legislation

To achieve the virtues of greater parliamentary cooperation and long-term planning supermajority legislation (that requiring a two-thirds majority) would incentive cooperation even during majority governments and it would be a mechanism to strengthen legislation against future governments from easily repealing it.

Supermajority legislation once passed can only be undone with another supermajority. Whether a government is a minority or a majority, there will also be an incentive to work with more parties. As a political party, guaranteeing longevity in your legislation to your electorate should build greater political capital whether you are the governing party or a supporting party. This incentive to work together will also ensure longer lasting legislation. The supermajority legislation is inherently harder to achieve and is thus inherently harder to rescind. When a supermajority is achieved, it will be on legislation that has broad public support and should in turn be protected for a long time. Only when it loses broad public support should it be undone.  

For example, the carbon tax is a threat of being repealed by a future Conservative government, yet it maintains broad public support. In the 2015 election the combined popular vote of the Liberals, NDP, and Greens was 62%, their combined seat total was 229 or 67% of the votes (incl. the Bloc Quebecois this increase to 66% and 70%, respectively). If the supermajority legislation was a mechanism, these parties would likely have supported the bill, protecting from a potential future Conservative government from repealing it on their own.

Into the Future

This is only one example, but it displays the power that such a tool could provide. It would significantly improve cooperation and increase the long-term stability of critical legislation. Internationally, this is a mechanism all democracies should adopt. It is a feature that would help us overcome some of the challenges that democracies are facing and repudiate the idea that alternative systems are stronger than ours.

It would need to be passed through constitutional reforms, but such a feat should never be a deterrent. Our founding documents are meant to be reformed when ideas prove to be pragmatic and have broad public support. For Our Future is ready to see this through.