Don’t go chasing waterfalls

The case against a one-time pact to bury first-past-the-post

by Aaron Wherry

Andrew Coyne has another go at making the case for a one-time electoral cooperation pact among the opposition parties to achieve electoral reform, as Elizabeth May has also recently proposed. I still think this is a crazy idea.

Andrew notes that the New Democrats, Liberals and Greens are variously interested in replacing our first-past-the-post system for electing MPs. He then builds his case thusly.

It will be objected that much of this is merely an expression of the parties’ self interest, or more charitably that their principles show a remarkable tendency to align with their self-interest: under proportional representation the Greens would win many more seats than the one they have now, as until recently would the NDP, while the alternative vote tends to favour middle of the road parties like the Liberals. Fair enough. I happen to think these are also useful reforms in the public interest. But it is to those parties’ supporters I address myself here: to their self-interest as much as their ideals.

Because none of this is going to happen as things stand: neither the Conservatives’ defeat nor the democratic reforms each proposes would follow. It is not going to happen so long as the Conservatives maintain their apparently unshakeable hold on 35% to 40% of the voters that have stuck with them for much of the past decade. And it is not going to happen so long as the rest is divided up more or less evenly amongst two or three opposition parties…

So the long-term answer to the opposition’s dilemma is electoral reform, based on some form of proportonal representation. But that isn’t going to happen until they can figure out how to beat the Conservatives in the short term. The obvious answer is for the three parties to cooperate in some way at the ballot box: to combine, rather than split their votes.

The premise here seems to be that it is unlikely the Conservatives will win anything less than another majority mandate in 2015. If you were taking wagers right now, approximately two years away from the next vote, the odds would obviously have to favour the Conservatives. But another Conservative majority is not nearly a sure thing. The Conservatives polled at 33% in December. And the two years between now and the next election leave plenty of time for unforeseen developments. Incumbents at the federal level have a tendency to hold power for awhile, but they also have a tendency to eventually lose.

Could the New Democrats or Liberals win a majority government in 2015? It looks unlikely now, but the NDP was ahead of the Conservatives and in the mid-30s a year ago and the Liberals were ahead of the Conservatives and in the mid-30s in 2009. If the threshold for a majority government is around 39%, the possibility of an NDP or Liberal majority can’t be entirely dismissed.

Eight and a half years ago, the Liberals won a minority government with 36.7% of the popular vote. The Conservatives took 29.6%, the NDP 15.7% and the Bloc Quebecois 12.4%. How possible is it that the New Democrats or Liberals could win 36% of the popular vote in 2015? Could we see something like a 35-30-25 split with the Liberals or New Democrats in first and the Conservatives in second? Maybe you wouldn’t wager your life savings on it happening, but you’d be unwise to wager your life savings on it not happening.

But then, the opposition parties don’t even need to “win” the next election, do they? If the Conservatives are reduced to a minority and the House of Commons math works for the other parties, some combination of the New Democrats, Liberals and Greens could form a coalition government. How possible is a coalition government taking power in 2015? (We nearly had one in 2008. And with that experience, the parties might now be better prepared to pull it off.) Once again, you might not want to bet on it, but you can’t discount the possibility entirely either.

So an NDP or Liberal minority or a NDP-Liberal-Green coalition are within the realm of possibility (and not merely as far-fetched scenarios). And either scenario, I would posit, could result in a government interested in electoral reform. Andrew might be right that the long-term situation seems, right now, to favour the Conservatives. But I don’t think that means the next election result is assured. And therein lies a real opportunity for change.

Andrew proceeds to consider the options. He rules out a merger as unrealistic (I agree). He writes that a “formal coalition” also wouldn’t work (I disagree). He then arrives at his preferred option.

As it happens, however, an alternative has emerged that has found significant supporters in all three parties. It is to forge a purely temporary alliance, a one-time electoral pact. Party riding associations would agree to run a single candidate against the Conservatives, on a platform with essentially one plank: electoral reform. Were it to win it would govern just long enough to reform the electoral system, then dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections.

There are a lot of questions to ask about this proposal. Andrew acknowledges as much.

A favourite counterargument is to rattle off a number of obvious practical questions in quick succession — How would these common candidates be selected? Would this apply in all ridings, or just some? Could voters be persuaded to turn the election into a referendum on electoral reform? — in a tone that implies they could not be answered. Which is certainly true, as long as no one bothers to try.

Let’s allow that some of the finer details could be worked out. I think there are valid questions to be asked about how the parties would sort this out amongst themselves, but let’s imagine that those questions could be answered and those problems solved. Let’s just deal with that third question: could an election be turned into a referendum on electoral reform?

Are enough voters so interested in electoral reform that they would support turning the next election into a referendum on that subject? Could enough voters be convinced to momentarily suspend their concerns about other issues? Could enough voters be convinced to ignore the other policy differences between the NDP, Liberals and Greens? Could enough voters be convinced to ignore the possible ramifications of all other policy debates between the parties to vote with the hope that a real election would then be run in short order?

I’ll try to answer those questions: No. Granted, I can’t predict the future with certainty (and have just finished arguing against making such predictions). Perhaps the New Democrats, Liberals and Greens could persuade voters to make this a singular focus. But this strikes me as implausible. I don’t think voters, in general, are so interested in electoral reform that they’d go along with this. At the very least, it seems like a remarkable gamble for the three parties to make. (And, keep in mind, the Conservatives would be keen to explain, loudly and repeatedly and prominently, why this was such a terrible idea.)

But only here now do we reach what is, for me, the deal breaker. Let’s say another Conservative majority was, under the status quo, overwhelmingly likely. Let’s say voters (or enough voters) were keen (or could be convinced to be keen) to turn the next election into a referendum on electoral reform. Let’s even say that an NDP-Liberal-Green pact would win that referendum.

What then?

Fundamentally overhauling the electoral system would probably take more than a couple days. Legislation would conceivably have to be passed through the House. Legislation would conceivably have to be passed through the Senate (how would a Conservative majority in the Senate handle such legislation?).

Even if you imagine this proceeding as expeditiously as possible, this would take some period of time (A month? A few months? More?). Someone would have to be Prime Minister while this was happening. Someone would have to be governing. How would that work? Conceivably they would have no mandate beyond changing the electoral system. Would they promise to not touch anything else for as long as they were in government? Would they promise to just carry on with Conservative policy until another election could be held? (Would anyone believe them if they promised as much?) What if something bad happened? What if something came up that required government action?

This is not a rhetorical device. I’m not trying to bury the idea in questions. I honestly want to know how this would work because I honestly don’t understand how this is supposed to work. What kind of government would we have for however long it took to change the federal electoral system and what would be the ramifications of having such a government?

I basically agree that the way in which we elect MPs could be improved (I recently came down with a crush on the ranked ballot). But I don’t like complicated solutions. Complicated solutions are usually the least achievable. Which is not to say they shouldn’t ever be pursued. But, in this case, I think there are less complicated options that might be entertained first.

Don’t go chasing waterfalls

  1. Oddly enough, I don’t recall a similar level of hand wringing when Eddie Goldenberg held the reigns of power…

    • Do you really not recall all of the “Unite the Right” movement, and article after article about how the Liberals would be in power forever unless the PCs and Reform merged? Because I do – it occupied many column inches. Of course the difference between 2001 and 2013 is that we now have the all-seeing Internet (which was still in its infancy then as regards the MSM).

      But to say that the media has only become concerned with democratic governance issues now is disingenuous at best, but blatant revisionism at worst

      • I wouldn’t say the media has only become concerned with democratic governance issues now; but I would say that Liberals, New Democrats and other left-leaning Canadians have only become concerned with those issues since Harper came along. Those same people were mostly mute when Chretien reigned.

        • Those same people were mostly mute when Chretien reigned.

          I’m sure that there is at least some truth to that statement….but how much truth? Which is to ask, have you come across any studies or surveys or some such that could quantify those feelings?

          And more fundamentally, what do you see as the major drawback of PR? Also, in your opinion, does FPTP have any drawbacks?

        • Nope. I supported electoral reform then, too.

          Because either the right would remain divided and there would be a dirth of electoral competition in Canada, or the right would unite and there would be a dirth of electoral competition in Canada once they took power.

    • “The Friendly Dictatorship” was the best-selling book Jeffrey Simpson ever wrote, which is sad because he wrote many better. The National Post was essentially founded to ensure Chrétien would not rule eternally. I covered three national conventions devoted to hand-wringing over Eddie Goldenberg, with dozens of speakers and thousands of delegates at each. Stephen Harper did little from 1997 to 2002 except complain about concentration of power in Chrétien’s PMO.

      So yes, it is odd that you don’t recall that.

      • “The NP was essentially founded to ensure Chretien would not rule eternally………………“ Perhaps.

        And Macleans is essentially on course to ensure Harper wil not rule eternally………….fair is fair…perhaps.

        • Wait, what?

          Didn’t this magazine endorse Harper?

      • Paul, mea culpa. Along with twenty members of my graduating class who didn’t have enough “Experience” to obtain entry level IT jobs in Canada, I was working at Microsoft in the States during that period. While I did keep up with events back home, most of that time ( era and beyond) are a bit of a blur. Ironically, my nickname came about from our PM stating that there was not a “Brain-Drain”.

    • So, remind me, why are Stephen Harper and Peter McKay in the same party today again?

      • Exactly, in order to defeat the Liberals. Why, Mulcair and Marth Hall Findlay could be in the same party…………………………………… order to defeat the Tories.

        • Who gets to play the role of the person who gets either Mulcair or Hall Findlay to promise, in writing, to not merge the two parties, only to shortly thereafter discover that the promise wasn’t worth the paper it was written on? LOL

          • It`s still early in the process. One never knows what may happen in due course. It seems to me that the field is wide open out of which such a letter writer might appear. Oh, and signatures have been added unconvincingly in other cases besides the one you mentioned. LOL

  2. we always get this fluff from talking heads.why arent we talking about the $600,000,000 deficet,F35s,bloated harper goverment full of plumb political appointments to the senate.if you talking heads are so good at politics,why dont you guys run ? armchair politics at its best.give this crap up.there will be no coalition or a red tory,i will disown the libs if they give up power to the dippers.the cons will defeat themselves in 2015.

  3. Does anybody who’s proposing this “referendum on electoral reform” ever both to look up the results of such referendums that have occurred in Canada previously? Because they’re not favorable to the Dip-Lib coalition. If the status quo vote (read CPC) were to be at the historical average of 60%, what grounds would the Dip-Lib coalition have to argue that Harper’s CPC government lacks legitimacy? That’s not to mention that those electoral reform referendums took place in Ontario, BC and PEI, not exactly Conservative strong-holds. So it strikes me that the idea might actually result in the CPC winning more seats than any government in Canadian history.

    • While it’s inevitable that it will be, due the the circumstances likely needed to make it happen, I wish electoral reform wasn’t always framed through a partisan lens.

      I believe that there are many conservatives who would like to see electoral reform. There CERTAINLY were when it was the conservative vote being split between the Tories and Reform/Alliance. And there likely could be again when the conservatives find themselves out of power again some day. The partisan nature of the issue comes about, ironically, because of the strange effects of FPTP. That 60% of the populace might get behind some form of electoral form is difficult to turn in to practical reform when less than 40% of the vote can get a party a majority government. Once you have a majority government with less than 40% of the vote, suddenly a system of voting that better represents the will of the majority of Canadians doesn’t seem like such a great idea (and this is the case no matter who’s in majority… I’d bet that even Elizabeth May would change her tune if suddenly the Greens were getting 38% of the vote!).

      I’d also point out that at least in one of those B.C. referendums 57% of voters supported reform, but enacting the reform actually required a 60% super-majority. In the second B.C. referendum, public opinion polls showed 60% support for reform, but ridiculously low awareness that there was a referendum on reform going on.

      The problem is that while there are many voting systems that would more accurately reflect the democratic will of the citizenry of Canada than FPTP does, no government, of any stripe, that gets 54% of the seats in the House with 40% of the votes cast in the election WANTS the democratic will of Canadians to be more accurately reflected.

  4. It’s odd that Andrew Coyne just blithely dismisses the concept of ‘Alternate Voting’, or as I prefer to call it ‘Instant Run-off Voting’. The great complaint that I’ve noticed, and Coyne articulates, is that both Chrétien and Harper achieved ill-gotten parliamentary majorities via popular-vote pluralities.

    I would wager that most people who complained about unfair percentages under both Chrétien and Harper would be enthused about ‘Instant Run-off Voting’ – a system which guarantees a 50%+ result is needed for a candidate to win a riding. The ballots/infrastructure that we currently use wouldn’t even need to change, just the way we mark the ballots. Instead of a single X next to one name, we put a ranking number into the circles instead. So instead of this:

    Conservative [ ]
    Green [X]
    Liberal [ ]
    NDP [ ]

    We’d have this:

    Conservative [2]
    Green [1]
    Liberal [3]
    NDP [4]

    Or, you could just rank your top two or top single choice, or you could rank all in order (depending on how many are running in your riding).

    It’s currently implemented in some form in several Australian jurisdictions (both federally and at the state level), it’s used in the selection process for the House of Lords, and both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland use it for their choice of President and in by-elections, respectively. Papua New Guinea, who also uses a parliamentary system similar to our own, makes use of IRV. Parties can still compete against one another,
    but hopefully it will also encourage people to read competing party
    literature so people are more informed when they make their rankings. From my perspective, using the ‘Instant Run-off Voting’ system would be a
    simple, cost-effective and otherwise elegant solution to a thorny issue
    of electoral legitimacy.

    • First, a simple one-off ranked ballot is not at all the same as an instant runoff ballot. A one-off ranked ballot gives the voter a choice between their preferences at a single go, without any guaranteed say over the final round choice. The counting system takes that choice away from the voter and locates it in the blind mechanics of the counting process. More on the poor way a simple ranked ballot actually reflects voters’ true choice, later.

      A runoff always gives the voter the chance to make a final choice between the (usually) two final contenders. Though neither may have been their first choice, they get to vote for the least offensive (or against the most offensive).

      The ranked ballot you are talking about doesn’t give the voter that opportunity, so it’s misleading to call it an “instant runoff” ballot. A true instant runoff ballot would cross-tabulate the candidates on the left side of the ballot with the same list along the bottom. The voter can choose their preferred candidate in one of the boxes where the same name intersects on both axes either as a single choice, an ordinal (1, 2, 3…) ranking or a set of scores (e.g. n/5, n/10) along the diagonal intersection line.

      After making their first choice or ranking (brute order or score), they have the option to decide for each possible final round pairing, which candidate they want to win over which other one. It’s as simple as marking where the name of the candidate they want to win (in the column on the left) intersects with the one they want to lose (in the bottom line). They can do this for as many situations as they feel are likely (and usually there aren’t many likely final choices). This way, they are able to influence the runoff no matter which two candidates are in it. A plain ranked ballot doesn’t let the voter do this, so calling it an instant runoff ballot is misleading. You can’t have an instant runoff ballot without cross-tabulating all the candidates’ names against each other on two axes.

      Now, simple ranked ballots have three other problems. First, they wrongly assume that every candidate prefers candidate A over B to the same degree as B over C, C over D, and so on. That’s an unlikely “perfect” distribution of preferences, whether for a single voter, for the electorate as a whole for each seat, or even for the same voter/electorate for the same candidate list in different elections. A pure ranked ballot doesn’t let the voter say whether it’s a toss-up between A and B etc. or whether B is waaaay down the line compared to A, and so on. Again, a truly responsive design would leave that choice up to the voter.

      The second problem is that a simple ranked ballot is really only appropriate for single- position elections, not for legislatures, which is part of the reason the only countries in the world that use it for elections to a legislature are Australia and two obscure former dependencies in the Pacific. It’s not even necessarily an improvement over First Past the Post. Guaranteeing a 50%+ result in each riding may *seem* to give the winner more legitimacy, but remember that for a *very* significant proportion of voters, their second-choice vote is a reluctant, hold-your-nose second choice.

      Where have we seen this problem before? Ah yes: the NDP-Green-Liberal electoral cooperation proposal being bandied about lately. There are many people who don’t want this because they don’t want their vote to be corralled into supporting a party they don’t agree with. And that is exactly the problem with ranked ballot voting (or even true runoff voting, two-round or instant). Voters who settle for an unenthusiastic second choice find those votes treated as if they were full endorsements of the winning candidate equal to the first-choice votes of the candidate’s partisan supporters. Result: a winning candidate can claim a ringing endorsement when in fact much less than a majority of voters really wanted them. Voters get *corralled* this way, where FPTP at least honestly shows what they really wanted and didn’t want.

      This kind of voting hasn’t distinguished itself any more than FPTP in Australia: it has led to a polarised essentially bipartisan system with little opportunity for voters with more nuanced choices to get together and vote people in who represent their views. In Canada, it would do simply nothing to address the way FPTP distorts and amplifies regional differences. Only a system that integrates proportionality can take care of that: there is no other way for the true voice of the electorate to be heard in each province and across the country.

      This doesn’t mean a list proportional system like in the Netherlands or Israel (or Italy until they moved to a better system). That is an atypical example, rightly criticised for allowing small extremist or one-issue parties to dominate the agenda and produce instability. There are several other ways to introduce proportionality that avoid these negatives, including the systems used in strong, stable and prosperous democracies like New Zealand, Germany, Sweden, Scotland or Switzerland.

      These are the kinds of systems proposed for Canada, and the only kinds that can address the very basic problem of exaggerated regional differences that give the false impression that a given party has no support in region X, Y or Z, when in fact they have enough to give them a significant minority of seats for any one of those regions.

      • “First, a simple one-off ranked ballot is not at all the same as an instant runoff ballot.”

        I apologize for having to point this out so bluntly, but the bulk of your post seem to hinge on wanting to correct my fallacious assertions on ‘Instant Run-Off Voting’. However, the standard definition of ‘Instant Run-Off Voting’ bears closer to my description than your provided clarification. Your first sentence is patently false; IRV is *a form* of ‘one-off ranked ballot’. The construction of your first sentence required a logistics failure to create and it almost invalidates your whole post.

        “A one-off ranked ballot gives the voter a choice between their preferences at a single go, without any guaranteed say over the final round choice. The counting system takes that choice away from the voter and locates it in the blind mechanics of the counting process.” That is some solid criticism of IRV, but it’s not changing the fact that IRV is a form of ranked balloting.

        “The ranked ballot you are talking about doesn’t give the voter that opportunity, so it’s misleading to call it an “instant runoff” ballot.”

        So, you think that it’s misleading to call something by its universal definition? See where my ‘logistical leap’ theory comes back into play? It seems as if you’re just trying to come off as well-informed and exhaustive on the subject when really you seem to want IRV to be redefined as a two-round, or second-ballot voting system. This would eliminate many of the benefits I described from “Instant Run-Off Voting” because we’d need to develop an entirely new means of conducting elections, including changing the ballots we use and where we hold our balloting (is it feasible to rent gyms for two days to hold two ballots? Would we need two days [or more] for balloting with this system?) and
        tentatively doubling (or more) rental/personnel costs that go along with

        Was my original post light on the details? AB-SO-LUTELY. But you’re starting to conflate criteria and procedure. The criteria we were trying to satisfy was, “How do we get 50%+ results (aka: a majority) in elections?” Not, “What procedure ensures we elect the person who would win a majority of times against every opponent.” The very issue at hand is majorities who have electoral minorities!

        “The second problem is that a simple ranked ballot is really only appropriate for single- position elections, not for legislatures, which is part of the reason the only countries in the world that use it for elections to a legislature are Australia and two obscure former dependencies in the Pacific.”

        Yet you never explain WHY. …you do know how ridings work, right? Every federal election is 308 single-position elections and only one person gets to be the MP?

        “It’s not even necessarily an improvement over First Past the Post. Guaranteeing a 50%+ result in each riding may *seem* to give the winner more legitimacy, but remember that for a *very* significant proportion of voters, their second-choice vote is a reluctant, hold-your-nose second choice.”

        I’m glad you know every single voter’s rationale and mind-set for elections. Ranked balloting still allow for having as many (or as few) ranks as you wish. Hold your nose at your second choice? Why even bother rank them if they rankle *you* so? Specious reasoning, friend, and not a credit to your cause.

        You have plenty of sound criticism of IRV, and can we quibble about
        which procedure and criteria we use to count a preferential ballots, but
        IRV is a ranked, one-off ballot. Since you’ve been tilting at windmills on my behalf I’ll just say I
        do prefer a ‘weighted Borda’ count to your two-round ballot. If we were to use a ‘Weighted Borda’ method we’d eliminate many of the issue you seem to have. Theoretically, I prefer
        the first vote to be valued at 100%, second vote at 50%, third at 33%,
        fourth at 25%, and fifth at 20%.

        I guess you don’t like the cheaper, infrastructure retaining method I’ve suggested than the method you’ve proposed, which would require greater changes to existing ballot production and infrastructure procurement. But then again, this isn’t a Committee on the Restoration of Democracy and we weren’t given official parameters to work around, so these types of disputes (which you’re both right and wrong on many counts) can happen.

        Hopefully I’ve shined some more light on both my thoughts and your own misconceptions, Chris, because you’re doing some great thinking but connecting your dots wrong.

  5. If so-called “progressives” cannot build a big tent before an election, why would one have any expectation that they could govern competently after an election.

    The strength of our system is that one has to demonstrate the competence to govern by building a big enough tent to win an election.

    The extremists are forced to moderate and compromise in our system before they can gain power.

    Look at Layton’s and Mulcair’s attempts to lean to the centre.

    • People would be forced to moderate their positions to control over 50% of the seats in a system other than FPTP too, perhaps even more so. I don’t see how the moderating effects of legislators needing to compromise between parties to get 50% +1 support is any different from the need for legislators WITHIN a party to so compromise.

      If anything, FPTP provides LESS incentive to compromise and moderate. If you can get total control over the legislature by only appealing to 40% of the electorate there’s no need to compromise in order to secure the support of that other 10-12% of Canadians.

    • The strength of our system is that one has to demonstrate the competence
      to govern by building a big enough tent to win an election.


      Amazing what people can read into things.

  6. Re: what would the Electoral Reform Government do about governing — are you serious? They would govern! They would issue Orders in Council. They don’t need a mandate, they only need the GG’s tap on the shoulder. That is what the present government is doing. None of Harper’s ministers have any say in policy. You think there are big roundtable brainstorming sessions happening in Langevin?!? You only need to issue a few decrees and the public service does the rest. This is Canada. We’ve never needed or wanted policy leadership before, why would we need it now?

    Re: the Senate, if it were to block electoral reform approved by the democratically elected House, you would have a constitutional crisis in which the Electoral Reform PM would be quite justified in arresting fifty CPC Senators via force majeure.

    Re: the need for a merger / non-competition, you can’t go by the raw percentage of the vote. This is Canada, Wherry! The country whose dysfunctional system you’ve been relentlessly covering for the past eight years! We have no national vote. It’s only about who gets what in the ridings, namely in Ontario and the Lower Mainland (and Quebec, whatever wacky way the chips fall this time ’round). Either the LPC or NDP could be polling at 40% and the CPC could still have a strong minority.

  7. Is NOT going to happen. CPC will have a majority again.

    • I agree. And the CPC may have its flaws (it does) but the opposition is pushing in directions to secure such CPC majority. The thing is, they themselves don`t realize it. Would they realize it, then perhaps either the Liberals or NDP would have a shot at minority government. Being merely anti-Harper ain`t gonna help the opposition regain power. Canadians are not that dumb.

      • Yes, CPC needs to improve in many ways and we can’t rest on our laurels and ignore what it does, they need a ear (or two) pulled.

  8. Some day someone will write the history of how the shadowy interest group FVC almost succeeded in taking over the public agenda despite a resounding 0-4 record when the population is consulted.

    What the NDP and what the Liberals are proposing are two opposite electoral reforms. The NDP wants to strengthen parties by making voters give their democratic proxy to the abstract entity of the party, who can then wield legitimacy and apply it how they like, while the Liberals want to weaken the hold of parties by ensuring the individual mandates that MPs get from their constituents has more legitimacy.

    Right now nobody votes for parties, they vote for individuals, and the reason they do may include their party affiliation, but even to the degree that it does there is no information to say that they consent to have their vote transferred to the party, or that its control should be aggregated. Anyone who tells you this party got that percentage of the vote is lying to you, and it’s sad that media are part of this.

    Which type of electoral reform you support depends how much you trust parties rather than individuals, and which of the several available democratic values is most important to you. FVC values proportionality, that magic ratio whereby votes for candidates can be attributed to parties, then summed at a larger geographic level, and used to allow parties to determine which individual gets a seat. Others value representative democracy where the people of a riding vote to give an MP a personal mandate to represent them, with care to draw boundaries so diverse communities are heard.

    Given the failure of all four previous referenda, it is doubtful that the population would give the candidates of two parties a blank cheque to change the way votes are counted in a self-serving exercise whereby attending to the interests of political parties becomes the only problem worth solving in the next election.

    • You are right, this won’t sell to the public.

      It is not that it doesn’t have some valid points but for the public/voters to take a leap of faith this big, they need to be feel strong about the actors involved AND Mulcair, May and Trudeau (yes,he’ll win) are not exactly prime time material.

    • a resounding 0-4 record when the population is consulted

      I’d call it a resounding 0-3. I don’t think it’s fair to count the B.C. referendum in which 57% of voters supported electoral reform as a “resounding defeat” just because the threshold for adopting the reform was a 60% super-majority.

      I also don’t think that voters voting against specific electoral reform X, or specific electoral reform Y, in the specific political context of province A or province B, necessarily tells us much about how voters might respond to electoral reform Z in the context of federal politics.

      Right now nobody votes for parties, they vote for individuals

      I believe that, practically speaking, there are literally millions of Canadians who would disagree with this statement. I’d be pretty surprised if the majority of voters even know who their local candidates are until they’re standing at the polling station with the ballot in their hand.

      • That first referendum in BC achieved 57% support – that is a level of support that very few majority governments ever achieve.

        Strikes me as a bit odd we are willing to grant majority government status to a party that often times (more often than not?) can’t even manage to get above 40% support.

    • Do you see the objectives of “proportionality” and “representative democracy” as mutually exclusive?

  9. Good overview by Wherry. His concerns are entirely realistic ones.

  10. This is why electoral reform probably won’t happen, but I wonder if the best scenario for it would be an NDP majority. A few years of that, if it looked like it might hold, might get the Liberals and the CONSERVATIVES talking about electoral reform. ;-)

    I can kinda see a scenario where a Liberal-Tory coalition/partnership gets electoral reform underway, and that they could sell it to the public, but unfortunately what I can’t see is a scenario in which a Liberal-Tory coalition/partnership forms, lol.

    • Not under Harper or his lot. He’s certainly poisoned the well. But a Red Tory could do it. Just look at the UK.

  11. Although I haven’t always agreed with Coyne’s ruminations, I’ve usually found them to be reasonable and thoughtful.

    This one, however? Absolutely loopy, with as much practical relevance as a map of the Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup parade route.

  12. It strikes me odd that there is no mention of Quebec’s anticipated response to any proposed change to the first past the post system. Also would this not automatically represent a change to our constitution. Remember all that fun and misdirected energy to craft a document that cements Quebecs strangle hold on any constitutional change in perpetuity. If a proposed change to the FPTP did not get a ringing endorsment from Quebec, it would surely die. The NDP will soon find out how deep their support is in Quebec. The Liberals would do well to bide their time.

    • I could be wrong, and someone will correct me quickly if so, but I don’t believe that the FPTP electoral system is in the constitution. Legislation would need to be changed, yes, but not the constitution.

      • I don’t think the electoral system is mentioned in the Constitution, but ianal! I suspect the Elections Act would cover voting regulations. And Quebeckers are progressive, by and large. PR would ring true for them.

        Interesting times, eh?

  13. Thanks for this Aaron! You’re a brilliant voice of reason in a murky sea. Yes, I want to see our democracy fixed. But Coyne’s way won’t work.

    Besides, there are other questions to be asking. What impact will Idle No More have on the next election? With a more engaged Aboriginal community from coast to coast to coast will we see higher voter turnout from that demographic? I think it’s possible. And I think that vote would go to the opposition parties, for obvious reasons.

    During the NDP leadership race here in Saskatchewan, we’ve seen an influx of new members from the Aboriginal community. It seems to be a result of not only candidates’ policies but also their participation in INM events. All leadership camps will work to turn those memberships into votes in March. I suspect similar activity is taking place federally, that MPs who are engaged in their communities and in INM are building relationships that will bring votes in the next election. So, presuming we will have a more engaged electorate, my concern then turns to what PM Harper will do to reduce the likelihood of them getting to the polls in 2015.

  14. An equally crazy, fresh idea: Action for Proportional Representation by the Voters. This initiative does not involve any of the big parties, Conservatives, Liberals, NDP, Bloc or Greens. It needs support from the Voters, which in recent polls appear to strongly support any form of PR. Visit

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