Although our current electoral system continually distorts the will of the electorate, we have to work with what we have. Fair Vote Canada will be launching the results of its Where They Stand campaign next week and if you’re planning to vote on October 19th, our volunteer Sarah has put together this great primer on party positions on proportional representation.
The partisan debate around electoral reform and proportional representation is usually one between reluctant major parties and smaller ones who are at a disadvantage under majoritarian electoral systems as the Canadian one, known as the “first-past-the-post” or “winner-takes-all” system. However, in the wake of the electoral campaign, both the Liberal party and the NDP have pledged to reform the electoral system.
The Liberals have taken a firm stance on the issue with the slogan “Make every vote count”1 and the pledge to enact electoral reform within 18 months of forming government. Although they vow to set up a non-partisan parliamentary committee to examine the different options, some Liberals, including Trudeau, have been supporting the preferential ballot. (This is also known as a “ranked ballot” because of the ballot on which voters rank candidates in their order of preference.) This voting method is majoritarian — not proportional — because only one candidate per district can be elected. If a candidate does not gather the absolute majority of votes, then the votes for the last candidate are transferred to the second choice on each ballot, and so on.
While electoral reform is not at the front page of NDP’s platform, the party has pledged to “end winner-take-all politics”2 and put an end to the first-past-the-post system if it forms the next government. In December 2014 the NDP presented a motion demanding the adoption of mixed-member proportional representation, which preserves regional representation through MPs elected to represent their district’s constituents, while ensuring national proportional representation of the parties by allocating additional seats to parties who received fewer seats than their popular vote share would warrant. The motion was supported by the Bloc Québécois and the Green party, as well as by more than half of the Liberals, but was defeated by the Conservative party. Historically this system benefits the NDP, as well as for the current election where, under the first-past-the-post system, the party stands in second place in seat share projections despite the fact that it is leading in the voting intentions polls.
The Green party is also a strong advocate of proportional representation. While it proposes to launch a public consultation in order to determine which proportional voting system best fits Canada’s political realm, the party leans toward a hybrid combining the mixed-member proportional system and the single transferable vote system, which is a sort of preferential ballot adapted to multi-member districts where quotas for election are fixed.
The Bloc Québécois has not been very vocal on the question because of its general disengagement from the issues related to federal institutions, but it has supported initiatives toward electoral reform in the past. In fact, the Conservative party remains the most notable holdout in the electoral reform debate. Conservatives seem to have little to gain from change and have come out strongly against it. In June, in the face of the NDP-Liberal front for electoral reform they have invoked public legitimacy to plead the necessity of a pre-reform referendum on the issue. However, the fact that the opposition parties have pushed the Conservatives to comment on the issue shows that the electoral reform debate is moving up the agenda.