How far can electoral reform go?

Because it is 2016, the question should be asked: Will we have thorough discussion on the question of electoral reform? Or will the questions be decided just by votes in parliamentary committee and parliament? And the question is important as the Trudeau Liberals are hoping they can find a solution that can be supported by the New Democrats and Greens.

But finding common ground is not all that likely. Trudeau hopes he can sell the smaller parties on a form of preferential voting but they appear to have their hearts set on some variation of proportional voting. Even if the Liberals and the smaller parties do find a place to meet, their next problem is the voters. Changing the way Canadians vote will be a very tough sales job.

When Ontario took a stab at a modified form of proportional voting and British Columbia proposed a modified form of a preferential ballot, it was bad news in both cases. The weakly supported Ontario proposition lost by two to one in their referendum while BC took two tries at reform and did even worse the second time.

What will frustrate all the discussions is that there is no system simpler than First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) voting. All the voter needs to do is find the name of the person they want to elect and make a mark in the right spot. While psephologists (people who study elections and voting) might consider some other methods almost as simple, you also have to know more about the voters themselves.

The statement that all politics is local applies in Canada even more than in some other jurisdictions. It is not often the first thing mentioned but Canadians have local rivalries and regional rivalries, rural/urban rivalries and provincial rivalries, ethnic rivalries and language rivalries, religious rivalries and the lists go on. You have to wander this country as a sponge to absorb just today’s attitudes. And remember that while everyone laughs at the Toronto Maple Leafs, Canadians will pay outrageous amounts to see them play.

Even if the Liberals and small parties can find an accommodation, the Conservatives will be ready to tear it apart. There would be no succour for them if either a preferential or proportional voting system is adopted. A preferential voting system would leave the Conservatives with no allies and little likelihood of every again achieving power. Conversely a proportional system would encourage the development of many breakaway parties and they would be forced to make the deals needed to win the government.

Canadians are hardly warmed to this debate as few have yet to pay much attention. The worst time for them to pay attention is if changes are made before the next election. The wrong time for them to discover the changes would be when they go to vote.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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