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Friday, 30 October 2015

Electoral Reform: It's Time

The election of the Liberals ten days ago should signify some changes to the way our electoral system works in Canada. In this post, I'm going to talk about the importance of democratic reform being a consultative decision, as well as what I believe to be the best solution - single transferable vote.

Having won roughly the same proportion of the popular vote as the Conservatives in 2011, the Liberals won a majority government with less than 40 per cent of Canadians' support. The Liberals, Greens, and NDP had all promised some form of electoral reform during the campaign, and now that we have a majority Liberal government, the pressure is on.

Trudeau recently mentioned that a solution will be created within eighteen months. It is my hope that the solution will be troven through thorough public consultation. I think it would be an excellent idea to form a commission, engaging civil society in order to establish what Canadians want.

However, my concern is less whether there will be reform; I'm truly concerned that, almost by default, electoral reform will consist of adopting proportional representation. Throughout the campaign, the visibility of proportional representation was very high, to the exclusion of alternatives.

To me the value of proportional representation is that for most voters it is the easiest to comprehend. It also ensures that no vote whatsoever is wasted and that results are parallel to the popular vote. However, I firmly believe that our system is based on value of local representation and this is why I am opposed to proportional representation. Members of Parliament are responsible to their constituents, not the electorate in general. Moreover, voters should be able to select who they are voting for directly, not selecting a party from the list having no idea for whom they are voting directly (this would be true both in closed party lists and open party lists).

This is why I believe that Canada should adopt single transferable vote. This system still uses ridings, albeit larger ones with a greater number of candidates. In this case you have a ballot where you can make a determinate amount of choices, ranked by number. A threshold is set whereby a certain number of candidates must meet this target to win. There will be multiple winners in a riding, reflecting the voting intention of the constituents.

A practical example of this would be looking at New Brunswick's results. The Liberals won all ten of the seats in the province. In this particular case, the Liberals won all these seats by taking at least 40 per cent of the vote. Despite having won more than 50 per cent of the vote on average in the province, they were awarded all the seats. In this particular setup, if we considered using all of New Brunswick as a riding and selecting ten winners, there is no way that the Liberals could have won all ten seats; they likely would have won six. This allows for other candidates to represent the 45 per cent of voters who didn't vote Liberal.

No system is going to be perfect, but I feel that single transferable vote best balances the need for local representation with the need for results that better fit with voter choices. The longer term implications for reform will mean that strategic voting will no longer be a looming problem. Voter intention and voter choice should theorectically be fully correlated. For more information view this explanation or this report.

Most importantly, there is a significant lack of awareness about single transferable vote in Canada. I propose the creation of a non-profit organisation to lobby for its adoption and to educate voters about its benefits. I hope to find other people who are equally interested in this particular reform.


  1. I agree that proportional representation is a bad idea, and for the reasons you describe: the need for local representation is fundamental to our country, and PR is problematic in addressing that. The benefit is that it's a simple concept and serves to identify the differences (benefits and shortcomings) of other systems. It can at least be used to trigger the National debate and hopefully settle on a system that best suits Canada. Which could very well be, in the end, exactly what we have.

  2. I agree, Ron. I think that if people are talking about it that's definitely an accomplishment. We've certainly reached a critical mass - the time to change our electoral system has definitely arrived.