Canadians today sit nearly one month removed from a monumental election in our country’s history.
We witnessed a dramatic shift in parliamentary power, as the Liberals were elected into a majority government, receiving an almost 60% increase in support from the 2011 election in which they did not even achieve official opposition status.
We elected the most diverse Parliament in Canadian history to date, with the most First Nations, Muslim, Sikh, and female MPs ever being sent to the House.
We had the highest voter turnout in 22 years. The 11-week campaign has caused left wing political strategists around the globe to turn their heads. Abandoned were tactics of fear and controversy; instead, Trudeau ran on a message of hope and (some would argue overly-) ambitious promises of change. One of these promises was a commitment to reform Canada’s electoral system, an issue that has been gaining traction in the country for the past decade.
This has particular relevance to the Peterborough community, as recently elected MP Maryam Monsef was appointed to Trudeau’s cabinet as the Minister of Democratic Institutions, the Ministry that will be responsible for electoral reform.
Trudeau plans to create a parliamentary committee of MPs from all parties to evaluate the current system and to propose alternatives, and he has promised to propose legislation based on the committee’s findings. Canada’s current electoral system has its share of fans and critics. First-past-the-post is based on an ideology of localized representation.
With 338 small ridings across the country, voters can vote for an MP they feel will truly represent their local needs, rather than simply fall in line with the national party.
However, after a decade of the Harper government exerting increased control directly from the PMO, fewer MPs are voting outside of party lines. Canadians increasingly feel they are voting for a party rather than a local representative.
Currently with first-past-the-post, votes cast for losing candidates are effectively discarded. Prior to the 2015 election, all votes were at least tokenly represented as parties received a per-vote subsidy of $2. As of April 2015, this policy has been abolished.
The October election reveals the extent of the problem. The Liberals won 184 of 338 ridings; however, their 55% control of the House was won with less than 40% of the popular vote.
The NDP with 44 seats and 13% of the House received just under 20% of the popular vote, and the Greens hold only one seat or 0.3% of the House despite having received 3.5% of Canadian votes. There is increasing frustration in Canadian politics with the distorted results the current system produces.
While electoral reform is complex and there are dozens of possible systems, two alternatives recur in the Canadian context. The first alternative would be to adopt a party-list proportional representation system, a drastic shift from the status quo.
Under this system, the House of Commons would be divided between the parties based upon percentages of the popular vote. Citizens vote purely for parties instead of candidates, and parties submit an ordered list of candidates.
Candidates are elected for every portion of the popular vote their party receives. In addition to truly representing the popular vote, some argue this system would have the potential to increase voter turnout, as every vote could mean the difference in the number of seats a party wins. Its most obvious and serious drawback is that it eliminates the idea of local representation.
The second alternative is a ranked ballot. This requires voters to rank candidates rather than cast a single vote. Candidates require more than 50% of the vote to be elected.
In cases where no candidate receives 50% of first choice votes, candidates are eliminated from the bottom of the ballot, passing their votes to remaining candidates until one achieves more than 50%.
The ranked-ballot system deals with the important issue of vote splitting, which played such a significant role in this election.
In a country with multiple parties representing a center-left position and only main one representing the right, there is concern that the unified right gets a stronger voice than the split left. Ranked ballots would eliminate some of this problem as second and third choices would be significant in deciding close ridings.
Interestingly, we could see ranked ballot system begin to pop up around the country outside of federal politics.
Most recently, electoral reform has grabbed the attention of municipal politics in Toronto with the possibility of the next election being held under a ranked ballot system.