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opinion

Jean Chrétien, you promised that, if you became prime minister, you would bring in proportional representation to decide the outcome of future federal elections.

You may have forgotten. Others haven't. And the written record is there to bear witness and to jog your memory.

Mr. Chrétien, look up The Globe and Mail for May 9, 1984. Recall: Pierre Trudeau had announced two months earlier that he was stepping down. The race to succeed him was hotly contested, and the two leading candidates were John Turner and yourself.

You held a press conference in Brandon, Man., and what you said there was reported in The Globe: "Energy Minister Jean Chrétien said yesterday that one of the first things he would do if elected prime minister would be to introduce a system of proportional representation for federal elections.

"Mr. Chrétien told reporters the federal election system has to be reformed to help end Western alienation, which he said has been fuelled by a chronic lack of Western representation in the federal government.

" 'If I were the prime minister, I would do that right after the election,' he said."

Well, that's quite clear, isn't it? True, you weren't chosen Liberal leader at the convention the following month. It was John Turner who emerged as the prime minister -- though not for long.

You had to wait your turn. But you did become leader six years later and, in 1993, Prime Minister at last. So did you bring in proportional representation right after the election in which you defeated Kim Campbell? Not on your life.

You seem to have forgotten about Western alienation and how to remedy it by modernizing our archaic electoral system. Now, you seem content with the least-democratic voting regime of any democracy on the face of the Earth. It gave you three majority governments, by about 40 per cent of the vote. That's good enough for you.

And yet, back in 1984, you were on to a good thing. You were even specific about how proportional representation would work.

"Mr. Chrétien," The Globe reported, "said he would like to see an additional 22 or 23 new seats created in the 282-seat House of Commons. He said these additional seats would be filled by the losing candidates in a federal election who had the highest percentage of the vote. The other MPs would be elected as they now are."

Right on.

"The new seats would be divided among the provinces according to population. For example, of the 22 or so seats, British Columbia would get three seats and Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba would get two seats each."

That was good policy then, and it would be good statesmanship now. Western Canadians still feel alienated, especially in Alberta and British Columbia. And if the Liberals continue to rule with a majority government when 60 per cent of the people have voted against them, alienation will spread.

Our first-past-the-post system worked reasonably well when elections were fought between two national parties. But that ended with the First World War. Since then, we've kept a system meant for two parties while three, four and -- at present -- five official parties are elected to the Commons.

Elections have become a crap shoot. The first casualty is democracy. The second consequence is regional alienation, especially in Western Canada.

Mr. Chrétien, you have 17 months to make good on that long-forgotten promise. What a legacy that would be, your gift to the people of Canada -- straight from the heart.