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Can the Liberals actually achieve electoral reform?

A Liberal promise to change the electoral system hits a snag—and early cynicism


 
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau leaves the polling station with his wife Sophie, sons Hadrien (L), Xavier (C) and daughter Ella-Grace (R) after voting in Montreal, Quebec, October 19, 2015. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Justin Trudeau leaves the polling station with his wife Sophie, sons Hadrien (L), Xavier (C) and daughter Ella-Grace (R) after voting in Montreal, Quebec, October 19, 2015. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

When Liberals contacted him early last week and airily proposed more co-operation in Parliament, Nathan Cullen wasn’t excited at first. “They reached out and said, ‘We think we can work together.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I heard you the first thousand times,’ ” the NDP MP says. Earlier talk of that sort had led nowhere. In fact, partisan strains only worsened this spring, especially as the government pushed through its doctor-assisted dying legislation. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s strange rush across the House aisle one day last month, during which he accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau aside, left no doubt that Parliament Hill was on edge.

But Cullen soon found that this time, the Liberals meant it. After two days of talks, they agreed to drop their plan to install a majority of Liberal MPs on a key House committee being set up to study electoral reform. In a surprise move, Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef accepted Cullen’s proposal for a committee lineup that would force government MPs to seek opposition support if they hope to carry the day: five Liberals, three Conservatives, two New Democrats, one from the Bloc Québécois, and Green MP Elizabeth May. “This seems to be a much less cynical process,” Cullen says.

Explaining the concession, Trudeau admitted there was something to opposition complaints “that we were perhaps behaving in a way that was resembling more the previous government than the kind of approach and tone that we promised.” Monsef sounded relieved to have a fresh message to deliver after weeks of doggedly batting away NDP demands to give up the committee majority. “We recognize that good ideas come from all parties,” she said. “We recognize that Canadians expect us to co-operate and collaborate.”

Now, though, the Liberals must somehow convert their surprise climbdown into a politically saleable solution for revamping Canada’s voting system. Trudeau first promised about a year ago, as an opposition leader, that the 2015 election would be the last fought in the familiar “first past the post” way, under which the candidate with the most votes in a riding gets to be MP, and the rest get nothing. It amounted to a daring vow to re-engineer the DNA of Canadian democracy, but was overshadowed in last fall’s campaign by clashes over subjects like whether or not to run deficits, or allow veils at citizenship ceremonies.

Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef is joined by fellow MP Mark Holland, left, as they arrive to speak to reporters in the foyer of the house of commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, June 2, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef is joined by fellow MP Mark Holland, left, as they arrive to speak to reporters in the foyer of the house of commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, June 2, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Yet all parties expect Canadians to soon wake up to this sleeper issue. The stakes are too high to ignore, the deadlines too tight. The House committee has only until Dec. 1 to report back on what sort of voting system Canada should adopt. As well, MPs are being asked to hold town hall meetings on the options in their ridings and report back on what they hear by Oct. 14. To have the new rules in place in time for Elections Canada to prepare for the next election, legislation would have to be passed sometime next spring.

Is it possible in only a year to jettison a century and a half of voting history, with no sign of a groundswell of discontent about the system as it stands? The case against first-past-the-post rests on what its critics disparage as “false majorities.” That’s when the winning party gets most of the seats in the House on fewer than half of the votes cast. It happens often in Canada, including last fall, when Trudeau’s Liberals won in 184 of 338 ridings with 39.5 per cent of the popular vote.

Some experts see false majorities as the fatal flaw in first-past-the-post, which is called a “single-member plurality” system. Yet most Canadians don’t seem bothered. A poll late last year by the Ottawa firm Abacus Data, conducted for the left-leaning Broadbent Institute, which lobbies for fundamental electoral reform, asked Canadians to choose their top five from a list of 15 possible goals for a voting system. The top pick, chosen by 55 per cent, was a simple ballot—and marking an X by the name of the candidate you want as MP, the old-fashioned way, is as simple as it gets. Next most popular, at 51 per cent, was a system that produced strong, stable governments—and false majorities accomplish exactly that.

Related: Why serious electoral reform is a hard sell

The status quo’s stubborn appeal is a nagging problem for reform advocates. Among the many alternatives, two broad concepts tend to dominate. One is mixed-member proportional representation (PR), under which voters would vote twice, once for their riding’s MP and again for a party, and seats in the House would reflect that blend. The other is preferential voting, under which voters would rank candidates on the ballot from most to least preferred. If no candidate received more than 50 per cent of the top picks, the candidate with the fewest would be eliminated. If a voter’s first choice were knocked off, their vote would automatically transfer to their next highest choice. This would be repeated until one candidate scored a majority.

The NDP has long favoured PR. Its key selling point is that smaller parties that often can’t win many, or even any, ridings would finally see their vote share converted into seats. The Liberals adopted ranked balloting as party policy in 2012, though Monsef says the government has an open mind. Suspicions linger, though, that Liberals naturally like the look of ranked balloting in traditional ridings, since broad centrist parties like theirs tend to be the second choice of a lot of voters, giving them a chance to pick up extra seats where no candidate is the clear majority winner.

That sort of partisan calculation is the main reason any electoral reform bid is met with suspicion. Back in 2001, three academic experts stressed this point in a paper called “Getting From Here to There: A Process for Electoral Reform in Canada,” published by the Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy. One of its authors happened to be Matthew Mendelsohn, who last year worked for Trudeau as a key platform architect, and was later appointed by Trudeau as a top federal bureaucrat in charge of making sure those platform promises are kept. “Debates about electoral reform led by political parties are fuelled by self-interest,” the IRPP analysis said. “There is, not surprisingly, a close correlation between parties’ positions on the need for change and their expected benefit from any new system.”

Pages and staff prepare the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, December 2, 2015.  (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Pages and staff prepare the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, December 2, 2015. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The likelihood of electoral reform being seen as a bid by the ruling party to strengthen its hand has prompted, in the past, the creation of arm’s-length processes. The two most elaborate tries at non-partisan reform in Canada were the citizens’ assemblies set up in British Columbia in 2004 and in Ontario in 2006. Both brought together large groups of randomly chosen citizens, who met over several months to study reform ideas, and finally recommended sweeping change. In both cases, however, those proposals were shot down in provincial referendums.

Still, for those who took part, the citizens’ assemblies are remembered as shining examples of democracy as it should be. Former Simon Fraser University president Jack Blaney chaired B.C.’s citizens’ assembly. Now retired and living in Vancouver, Blaney still sounds emotional when he recounts how, at the end of 10 intensive months of weekend meetings, the B.C. assembly arrived at the moment of truth. It had come down to two possible models—PR or a complex system called the single transferable vote. In a morning session at Vancouver’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, a meeting space where they sat in banks of concentric circles, they hashed out the final choice. Intensity was written on their faces, Blaney recalls, but the tough final argument was unfailingly civil. “It brought me to tears, actually,” he says. “If Parliament could work that way, it would be a blessing.”

Related: Rapid-fire politics on the surprise electoral reform decision

After all that, the B.C. assembly’s recommendation, the single transferable vote, was rejected. It won nearly 58 per cent support in a 2005 referendum, but B.C.’s government had set 60 per cent as the threshold for pressing ahead. In a second referendum in 2009, status quo forces triumphed with nearly 61 per cent. A similar pattern played out in Ontario, where a citizens’ assembly called for a mixed-member proportional system, but voters opted overwhelmingly to stick with first-past-the-post in a 2007 referendum. No wonder Trudeau recently said, “Referendums are a pretty good way of not getting any electoral reform.”

That remark drove pro-referendum Conservatives to distraction. Tory MP Scott Reid, his party’s critic for electoral reform, said Trudeau’s position amounts to saying, “The voters are never right.” And Reid said the NDP’s enthusiasm over the Liberals giving up their dominance of the committee misses that larger point. “Support of one other party, or indeed of every other party, is not a replacement for the people,” he said, arguing that only a referendum can lend any reform legitimacy.

And Reid argued that the committee’s real purpose isn’t to come up with a proposal anyway; it’s to waste time. He contends that Trudeau has already decided he wants ranked balloting. The other main reform options—including mixed-member PR—likely require riding boundaries to be changed. But the longer the government spends consulting, the less time will be left before the next election to redraw the electoral map. “So how do you get the Prime Minister’s preferred option on the table?” Reid said. “Talk out the clock.”

Although Trudeau and Monsef haven’t ruled out a referendum, making good on the Liberal promise to usher in change before a 2019 election leaves very little time to plan and conduct one. That’s just as well, according to some battle-scarred veterans of the B.C. and Ontario attempts. Blaney doubts most voters would back serious reform. “They simply won’t understand the complexity of the question before them, and they are afraid of change,” he said, adding, “I can understand the hesitancy of people.”

MORE: How the Liberals turned electoral reform into a slo-mo car crash

If a referendum isn’t in the cards, the Liberals must make their consultation process look credible. Queen’s University political science associate professor Jonathan Rose worked as academic director for Ontario’s citizens’ assembly. Like Blaney, he came away convinced that process is “the gold standard.” Still, he says the Liberals have a chance to make the combination of committee hearings and town halls convincing—if they are not dominated by groups already persuaded of one alternative or another.

Rose says the worst outcome would be if the committee hearings look like Ottawa’s annual pre-budget consultations. “If it’s like that,” he says, “then it’ll be people coming to the meetings with an opinion and stating it. There’s not going to be any listening and there’s not going to be any feedback.” Town halls are often no better. For instance, Rose called the meetings held by the 1991 Citizens’ Forum on Canada’s Future—better known as the Spicer commission, after its chairman, Keith Spicer—a kind of “national primal-scream therapy,” dominated by an airing of grievances. “That’s satisfying at a gut level,” he says, “but it’s not really solid policy advice.”

One problem the Liberals face is that PR has by far the largest contingent of well-organized enthusiasts. Along with the Broadbent Institute, PR is backed by Fair Vote Canada, which has been around for 16 years and gained deep experience on the losing sides in the B.C. and Ontario referendum battles. “We used to support referendums fully, and I wouldn’t say that we don’t support referendums,” says Kelly Carmichael, the group’s executive director. “But we’re a little bit skeptical that that’s the best solution.”

This time, Fair Vote is focusing on trying to encourage thoughtful town halls. “There’s a piece of this that is missing from all parties, and that’s the education piece,” Carmichael says. “What will these town halls be? Will they be a free-for-all of fearmongers, or a well-guided discussion, a factual discussion, with some educational tools?” The fearmongering she mentioned is, from Fair Vote’s perspective, the case often made by PR’s opponents that it tends to promote small parties and thus fractured legislatures. Monsef has seemed to allude to this weakness. “Our electoral system must ensure that governments appeal beyond a narrow base of Canadians and encourage the building of a national consensus,” she said. “Elections should unite Canadians and not appeal to narrow constituencies.”

A woman holding a baby enters a polling station to vote in Calgary, Alberta, October 19, 2015.  Canadians go to the polls for a federal election on Monday.  (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

A woman holding a baby enters a polling station to vote in Calgary, Alberta, October 19, 2015. Canadians go to the polls for a federal election on Monday. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

That sounded to some PR fans like a rejection of their preferred reform. Brian Tanguay, a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and lead author of a landmark 2004 Law Commission of Canada report, “Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada,” which called for PR, heard Monsef that way. “[PR] allows niche or boutique parties, or whatever you want to call them, to emerge, to focus on particular ideologies, particular ideas, particular constituencies,” Tanguay says. But he said it’s wrong to dismiss that as divisive. Under first-past-the-post, big-tent parties tend to act as broad coalitions in order to win elections. Under PR, Tanguay says, parties might be more sharply differentiated, but they must forge coalitions with partners after elections if they hope to claim a share of governing power.

By accepting the NDP’s call for the electoral reform committee to reflect roughly the share of votes parties got in the last election, rather than the number of seats they won, the Liberals have made the committee a kind of small-scale PR experiment. Will it splinter along party lines? Or will the Liberals be able to make common cause with at least one opposition party to deliver a majority report?

At the outset, it’s hard to see how. After all, the NDP, Greens and Bloc all strongly favour PR, and ranked balloting, which many presume remains the Liberals’ strong preference, would almost certainly hurt their future electoral chances. The Tories are set on a referendum, and seem bound to reject any proposal from the committee that fails to call for one. Without either cross-party support or a referendum’s seal of popular approval, whatever reform Trudeau tries to implement might face a powerful backlash.

Yet some of the country’s most seasoned electoral reform experts aren’t so sure. Blaney and Rose, for instance, view the sort of citizens’ assembly processes they worked on as the inspirational best practice. Still, they both accept the idea that Trudeau has a mandate to change the way Canadians vote, having run and won on that explicit promise last year. “I think we’ve had a referendum: the election was a referendum on whether or not we should keep first-past-the-post,” Blaney says. Rose agrees that the clarity of the Liberal platform position matters: “In the end, our system of government says if you have a majority, which is one of the benefits of our first-past-the-post system, you are allowed to implement your mandate.”

That points to an irony that will run through the coming months of debate on electoral reform. The Prime Minister presides over a House majority, won on the basis of a minority of the popular vote, which leaves it entirely up to him if he chooses to put an end to the very system that gave his Liberals such unfettered legislative clout. The question is how much opposition support, or public buy-in, Justin Trudeau decides he needs to establish before wielding that power to alter the most fundamental act in any democracy—the way a citizen votes.


 

Can the Liberals actually achieve electoral reform?

  1. I think Single Transferable Vote “STV” in Multi Member Districts stands out as the best pick. (see stvforcanada.com)
    It provides for proportional results at the National level and at the District level which Mixed Member Proportional “MMP” does not do. MMP uses FPTP for 50% or more of the Districts and leaves me and about 60% of Canadians, with an MP who is not aligned to my views.
    STV elects 5-7 MPs in each District. Voters choose by numbering their preferences 1-5 or 7. Simple system.
    STV brings more Diversity than any other system. In Australia it is used in the Senate where 2/5 members are women. The House of Representatives in the same Country has 1/4 women elected with Alternate Vote. “AV”.(AV is not recommended).
    STV also empowers voters by giving them choice of candidates within Parties. As a result there are no safe seats.

    • David, could you please explain how STV is more legitimate than FPTP? It seems to me like through STV, a candidate could get elected by obtaining 30% of first ranked votes, 45% of second ranked votes, and 60% of third ranked votes. How is that a more clear majority than FPTP? 70% would still not want this candidate, otherwise they would have ranked him/her first.

      It seems to me that STV is just a way to rig elections so that they favour centrist parties. As a conservative, I think the NDP and Liberals are both terrible options, but if forced to choose between the two, I would marginally prefer the Liberals to the NDP. That is in no way an endorsement of the Liberals. While I could abstain from ranking either of these parties, choosing not to forgo this option only allows me to better ensure that the candidate that I like the least does not win, while simultaneously hurting the chances of my preferred candidate. How does this improve anything?

      Consider this: with 39% of the popular voter, under FPTP, the Liberals captured 54% of the seats in the House. Do you honestly think that STV would have reduced the Liberal seat count had it been implemented during this last election? I am willing to bet that it would have been rather significantly inflated. Given this, how exactly would STV be a better representation of the will of the people?

      • I am not talking about Alternative Vote AV in single member ridings. I do not like AV as it plays favourites with the Party in the middle of the spectrum. It looks like that is what you think I am proposing. I am NOT proposing Alternate Vote.

        I am talking about, Single Transferable Vote “STV” in Multi Member Districts. A multi Member District is where say 5 MPs are elected. We combine 5 existing ridings into One District. The voters choose candidates in order of preference (12345), all from the same Party or from different parties. It is a Proportional system. STV is not a way to rig elections. In a 5 Member District 85% of voters will get a member of a Party of their first choice. Have a look at this web site. stvfohcanada.com

        With 39% of the votes under STV a Party would gain about 39% of the seats. STV truly is proportional. STV is proportional at the District level and at the National level. It is also more than that. It has votes only for Candidates, not political Parties. This is Direct voting. It also has no single Member seats or FPTP elections as under MMP.
        STV has these advantages:
        Voters have more choice of candidates.
        There are no safe seats as candidates compete with candidates of other Parties as well as their own party.
        The elected MPs are far more representative of the voters.

        My advice is twofold.
        1. The Media needs to do more to educate the public so they are not confused about voting system.
        2. You need to do a little reading.
        Check out that stvforcanada.com site.
        Thank you for your reply.

      • STV is a very complex voting system that happens to use a ranked ballot. We voted on it in BC and I hope that they do not consider it as an option. It is not the same as what Trudeau is talking about.

        Trudeau is talking about just using a ranked ballot similar to what all the political parties use to elect their leaders (most recently Rona Ambrose) because it gives a much more accurate read of the wishes of the broader majority of the voters. The ranked ballot will most likely look like the ballot that we currently use in the voting booth except that instead of marking an “x” by only one choice we will rank choices 1, 2, 3 etc. You can also not choose anyone but your first choice (although Australia has a mandatory ranked ballot where you must rank everyone).

        Contrast your 30% – 45% – 60% for lets say Party A with a 30% – 5% – 10% for Party B. With our FPTP it looks like both parties are equally popular, but with ranked ballot it becomes pretty clear who the majority of voters prefer. If they absolutely did not want somebody, then they didn’t need to rank them. It is a simple change that greatly improves our current system.

        • ‘Ranked ballots’ simply means a ballot where you mark a 1 next to your highest preferred candidate, a 2 next to your second highest preferred candidate, a 3 next to your third choice of preferred candidate, etc. Both Alternative Vote (AV) and Single Transferable Vote (STV) use a ‘ranked ballot’, also known as an ‘ordinal’ ballot (as opposed to a ‘categorical’ ballot, where you merely check a box next to your most preferred candidate. However, Alternative Vote has the fatal flaw in that it does not produce proportional results. It is therefore not only real improvement over our current voting system in this most critical sense.

          STV, on the other hand, produces proportional results, and the degree of proportionality (measured typically by something called the Gallagher Index) is dependent on something called the ‘district magnitude’. The larger the ‘district magnitude’, the more proportional STV becomes. District magnitude under STV means the average number of seats per district. If there is an average of 5 seats per district, then the district magnitude becomes 5. If there is only an average of 3 seats per district, then the district magnitude becomes only 3, etc. STV therefore tries to balance a manageable number of seats per district against less proportionality, so a district magnitude of 5 is quite common for this system where it is used. STV is an excellent system, however, in part due to how different it is from what we currently use, it is typically passed over in favour of some form of Mixed Member Proportional by proportional voting system advocates for Canada. MMP can be made to operate so simply that it would only present a very minor change to the ballot most Canadians are familiar with, while still providing proportional outcomes, which is the single most important improvement Canada requires.

          • One of the reasons STV is passed over for Mixed Member Proportional is about 50% of the seats are still decided buy the existing FPTP system which is a compromise appeal. MMP still elects 50% or more by a system no one likes. The compromise still does not give best results. Political Parties like MMP as it allows them to keep their “safe seats”. Works for the Political Party but not for me, the voter. If I can choose among candidates in the same Party I can eliminate that dud placeholder MP that does nothing for voters.
            STV truly adds more Diversity than any other voting system, which is badly needed in Canada both for First Nations and Women.

        • STV is simple for the voter, if they can count to 5.
          If there are 5 MPs to be elected the Parties will likely run 4 or 5 candidates each in that District. If a voter chooses they can ran all the members of their own Party in order and no other Party. No one votes for the Party but the individual candidate.
          In a 5 member riding one individual candidate would need to get 1/6 +1 or about 17% of the total vote to be elected.

          Australia has Ranked Ballot in the House of Representative and Single Transferable Vote in the Senate.

          I think everyone knows we will not get Ranked ballot and the PM said he was open to what Canadians want. The CPC, NDP and GPC do not want Ranked Ballot. No way the committee will choose it. That is a non issue in my mind. I do not think there is any chance of a Ranked Ballot.

          • I disagree with you , David. STV is not simple. I live in BC and studied the various voting systems extensively before voting “no” in 2005 and 2009. My super riding in Vancouver would have combined 6 smaller ridings into one which meant that I could have easily had 25 to 35 candidates that I would have had to get to know if I am going to make my selections for ranking properly. You are suggesting counting to 5 which is basically how it was pushed to us by the Citizen’s Assembly…”Simple as 1, 2, 3″. It is not as simple as that.

            And the 2005 referendum is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t have a referendum. The vast majority of the 58% “yes” voters did not have a clue what they voted “yes” to. Before you take me to task on that for being arrogant and off base, I would say go out and talk to “yes” voters on the street and see if they know what quotas are, or how to calculate the quotas, and then do they have any idea how to actually tally the results afterwards. I guarantee you that they won’t know. I did talk to lots of people and it was appalling the lack of knowledge about STV. Yet they still voted.

            In my 6 candidate super riding the quota or threshold for being elected was only 14.29% which means that I as a candidate could find some issue that appeals to about 16 or 18% of the population and get elected by those voters selecting me as their first choice. I didn’t have to worry about the opinion of the other 82 or 84%.

            And the math to count and then calculate transfers and re-transfers was beyond reasonable. I don’t think that the members of the Citizen’s Assembly could do the math involved with it.

            From the systems that I looked at, I felt that the ranked ballot was the superior choice. It is simple and it greatly improves how voters’ choices are better and more fairly represented.

            Here is an interesting article from Ireland during the Irish Elections this past spring. I have included the link as well as the quote from that article about STV not being that proportional.

            http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/why-it-pays-to-vote-all-the-way-down-the-ballot-paper-1.2548241

            “Known to one and all as “proportional representation”, in truth the STV is far from that.”

  2. “a system that produced strong, stable governments—and false majorities accomplish exactly that.” Absolutely backwards! The prospect of winning an unfair fake majority (only possible with distorted misrepresentation) is the only reason why minority governments are so unstable. With PR we’ll always have a real majority coalition, fairly elected, making any one decision in parliament. With PR we won’t have the wild hyperpartisan fake-majority swings from left to right every time another undemocratically elected party takes power over our whole government with just 38% of our votes.

  3. During the Ontario Government’s preparations for the 2007 Referendum. I saw the enormous deficit in the level of knowledge that most citizens had about voting systems and their actual effects. Most people don’t understand how powerful voting systems are in providing or denying a truly democratic outcome. Voting systems are like methods of accounting, and just as unscrupulous companies often attempt to finagle their balance sheets using ‘creative’ accounting methods to hide the true financial picture, there are unscrupulous people behind the scenes in Canadian society who are trying to drown out the voices of real democracy, who are calling for proportional representation. These unscrupulous people will do anything, anything to attempt to scare, confuse or downright lie to people. You can tell who they are because they are the strongest supporters of the current, broken system. A system that has denied Canadian real democracy for over 140 years. The current voting system fails on so many counts it would take over ten minutes to explain it even cursorily, but in short:

    1) It does not require that the government possess a real majority of the support of the electorate to be the government, ie. it fails the test of ‘majority rule’.
    2) It does not weight votes equally in determining the outcome of the election. IE, your vote might weigh anywhere from 1/10 to 10 times the weight of another citizens’ vote, depending upon the party you voted for and which riding you’re in. A truly democratic system weights my vote equally with yours, no matter who we vote for, or where we are in Canada. The current system fails that democratic litmus test miserably.
    3) Due to number (1) and number (2), large numbers of voters are disenfranchised. This means they either get no representation in parliament, or they get far fewer MPs than they deserved on the basis of the popular vote. This in turn leads to a two big party dynamic which shuts out vast numbers of supporters of other parties. Under FPTP, the ‘winning’ party always gets inordinately more seats (power) in the parliament than they are supposed to have based on their share of the popular vote. This is unacceptable, because the parliament itself passes (or does not pass) laws on the basis of majority votes of the MPs.

    The First-Past-The-Post system is NOT just fine.It is critically flawed. Alternative Vote is flawed for essentially the same reasons. Both make it far too easy for a small number of elites to control the political (and thereby economic) trajectory of our society. First-Past-The-Post generates a ‘two-party’ dynamic, which means that generally, only two parties trade absolute power back and forth. This makes endemic corruption infinitely easier than under proportional voting system political model, where power is distributed amongst several parties, who must cooperate in order to share power. In other words, political power is more diffuse under a proportional model, and this is what we need. We WANT power to be shared by two parties at a time, rather than for only one to have absolute control by itself. Under PR, you MUST co-operate/collaborate with other parties, you must ‘give and take’, if you want to participate, unlike with FPTP, where one party (and really, one person) gets to do whatever the hell they want for 4-5 years at a time.

    If you believe in that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’, then you are naturally a proportional voting system supporter.

    • I agree we need a system of voting that results in proportional representation.

    • I agree with most systems that gives us proportional representation.

      I also agree that we need much more information to voters so they understand the systems. Many confuse Alternate Vote or Ranked Ballot with Single Transferable Vote. Mixed member Proportional systems have several variations. Direct candidate voting is very important to me so we empower the voters. The P3 system that votes for Party first is not acceptable to me.

      • The March 7th edition of Macleans wrote an editorial with a litany of woes about the ranked ballot usint the Australian Senate as their example. The only problem is, they were describing the problems associated with Single Transferable Vote which is how the Senate is elected down under. It is the lower house that uses the ranked ballot.

  4. “Although Trudeau and Monsef haven’t ruled out a referendum, making good on the Liberal promise to usher in change before a 2019 election leaves very little time to plan and conduct one.”

    This is not a valid excuse to not have a referendum. The government has the option of implementing the new system recommended by the committee, holding the next election under that new system, then in 2 or 3 years hold a referendum on whether to retain the new system or revert to FPTP. This has the obvious advantage of letting us experience the new system first hand and thus being able to make a decision based on more than mere speculation and/or fear.

    • A valid excuse not to have a referendum is that many of those who do not want electoral reform own the major media, and it would be child’s play for them to introduce enough fear and falsity into the debate to ward people off from the most important improvement they’ve ever been asked to weigh in on. Asking people if they’d prefer a proportional voting system is like asking a cancer patient if they want treatment that will definitely, positively cure them. It’s not a moral question in the first place, because the correct answer is so clear-cut.

      Our current voting system fails several critical litmus tests of democracy (does not provide majority rule, unequal weighting of votes), and a proportional voting system that is tried, tested, and true, like New Zealand or Germany’s Mixed Member Proportional voting system, would fix those two, plus many other serious flaws with our current system.

  5. “After all, the NDP, Greens and Bloc all strongly favour PR, and ranked balloting, which many presume remains the Liberals’ strong preference, would almost certainly hurt their future electoral chances.”

    Not true for the NDP. Ranked balloting would end strategic voting and almost certainly result in more NDP MPs. Consider the last election where significant numbers of NDP supporters voted LPC in order to try to ensure the CPC did not win a 4th term. Under ranked balloting, these people would have rank voted NDP first (since vote splitting is not a concern with ranked ballots) and LPC second – the result being more NDP votes and thus more NDP MPs.

  6. “I think we’ve had a referendum: the election was a referendum on whether or not we should keep first-past-the-post,”

    Absolutely untrue. Electoral reform was hardly an issue in the last election. And given that no voters supports 100% of a party’s platform (especially a party with 200+ official campaign promises) it is just not reasonable to equate a general election with an issue-specific referendum. The only possible exception may have been the election of 1988 that was fought largely over free trade.

    Additionally, history has shown Canadians that the LPC won’t be held to specific promises and one would be unwise to vote LPC on the basis of any one issue.
    Specifically:
    – LPC campaigned against the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), but retained it once in power.
    – LPC campaigned against the GST, but retained it once in power.
    – LPC brought down Joe Clark’s minority government over proposed gas tax increases, then increased the gas tax by an even greater amount on winning power.
    – LPC campaigned against wage and price controls, but instituted them when in power.

  7. John Geddes is such a shill and front man for the Conservatives and their desperate attempt to keep FPTP. Ranked ballot is very simple as well but it greatly improves our current system and legitimizes these “false majorities”. If more people prefer a centrist party, well so what? Is that not democracy? The other parties will adjust just like the Conservatives did by changing their stance on same sex marriage.

    In the Abacus poll that Geddes refers to there were only 17% of those polled who felt that our current system needed no changes. In other words, 83% felt that some minor/major changes or a complete overhaul were required. So if he is looking for a “groundswell”, does he mean riots in the street?

    Jack Blaney, who chaired the BC Citizen’s Assembly, should get emotional because they blew it. Instead of giving us something here in BC that was a simple tweak to our current system, they did a complete overhaul and gave us the Single Transferable Vote (STV) and then tried to sell it as “simple as 1, 2, 3” which it was anything but. So we had a referendum in 2005 that had 58% vote “yes” to something that probably 55% of that 58% did not understand. What was clear was that the 58% really wanted “change” (as did many of the 42% “no” voters as well). But what good would it have been if the 60% threshold had been reached and then the voters find out that what they had actually chosen was not simple as 1,2,3. The Citizen’s Assembly could have at least given us a choice between two systems; a ranked ballot or a type of proportional system.

    I don’t know how Scott Reid can go home and look at himself in the mirror at night after some of the stuff that comes out of his mouth. He claims such huge respect for the voters, yet these are the same voters that he and the rest of the Conservatives spent millions of dollars and months of air time reaching out to with very deep topics like “nice hair” or “barbaric cultural snitch lines”.

    It is going to be tough to get some kind of consensus from this committee. But even if the Liberals have to use their majority to make a change, as long as it is actually an improvement I believe that the majority of Canadians will be fine with it, in spite of Scott Reid’s and the Conservatives’ caterwauling.

    • Scott Reid can go home and look at himself in the mirror because he’s a sociopath. He obviously doesn’t give a damn about what’s best for Canada. I met him in person because I was presenting at a parliamentary committee on this very subject – proportional voting for Canada – and he interrupted me for most of my presentation to blather on about utterly irrelevant anecdotes about New Zealand, and how he ‘knew people that didn’t like MMP’, while I had worked on a concise, fact-supported presentation. It got so bad that a senator behind me said ‘Oh Scott! Give it a rest!’ because it was so obvious that Reid was just trying to shut me up and run out the clock. Afterwards, I spoke with him and told him his blatant effort at obfuscation wouldn’t stop this reform from happening, to which he glared at me with a smug, self-satisfied look. It was clear that he thought that he was Mr. Powerful, since he was an MP. When we do get proportional representation, I sincerely hope Mr. Reid is tossed out on his undemocratic ass.

      • Boy, you hit the nail on the head when you describe him. I get such ugly vibes from that guy. I don’t think that he has one iota of concern for the citizens, yet he feigns concern by hiding behind the referendum demand. It is really all about saving this nasty Reform version of the Conservatives’ hides. Electoral reform, either proportional or ranked ballot, will help us steer clear of the nasty Harper/Ford style politics that has developed over the last few years. That type of nastiness spreads like a cancer and that is the last thing that we need in Canada.

  8. Nothing short of the truth will solve the problem of a Canadian consensus on electoral reform. The x-vote cannot prevent wasted voting or strategic voting. Annika Freden shows that for party list systems, not just FPTP. Indeed, elements of FPTP remain in mere party-proportional counts.
    But a preference vote must be proportionally counted or candidates are still elected needing fewer votes than their opponents. This necessary quota-preferential method, as the Australians call the Single Transferable Vote, was the choice of BC Citizens Assembly. Their report is Canadians best education in genuinely democratic elections, that neither Ranked ballots alone nor so called proportional representation, really just an X-vote for a party list, can give them.
    Richard Lung.
    Free e-books: Peace-making Power-sharing;
    Scientific Method Of Elections. (Smashwords.)

    • Richard, you keep posting your comment time and time again. The Citizen’s Assembly (CA) was not truthful with us in BC. They copletely misled us about the simplicity of STV. I have posted in another location above about an ariticle from Ireland. This article had a different opinion about how proportional STV is. I also found other claims of the CA were very questionable back in 2005 and 2009. There are lots of strong points about the ranked ballot and it is simple and easy for everyone to understand.

  9. I am getting so tired of the conservative’s constant whining about electoral reform and the need to have a referendum even BEFORE any proposals are made. I completely understand their fear of anything but FPTP- because when you can’t play well with others, you don’t tend to be their first (or second) choice.
    However a referendum is totally unnecessary- expensive, unwieldy and confusing.We didn’t have one when women got to vote- probably we still would not be since many men opposed it.
    Have the committee do their work, and have the elected representatives vote. (My preference is ranked ballot- because it is simple to understand and effective) However, whatever they decide- we can try.
    If people decide they want to change after the next election cycle or two, by all means. However, we need to have a government that can come together to work on issues; not one that spends half its time trying to oppose everything suggested.
    I am so tired of the negativity we are seeing- particularly from the media. I don’t think I’ll be renewing my subscription to Macleans) and I cannot bear to read the comments sections on CBC or the G&M.

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