A vote to assure Quebec’s future?

Sometimes you have to shake your head, throw up your hands and admit nobody understands Quebec politics. The latest confusion is the promise of four political parties in the province to ditch first-past-the-post voting. They are promising that if one of those parties is elected to power later this year, the party will implement mixed-member proportional voting for Quebec.

What is so confusing about this idea is the fact that historically, this form of voting could only help the liberals in Quebec. The liberals in Quebec are traditionally under-represented in the National Assembly. This is because of the traditional liberal voting support in the Montreal Island area Proportional representation would help to increase their number of seats.

And, at the same time, the change would tend to make majority government a rare event. Yet it was the leaders of the Coalition Avenir Quebec, Parti-Quebecois, Quebec Solidaire and the Green Party of Quebec who brought their proposal to the news media at the national legislature.

Mixed member proportional is not full proportional voting. It is, as mixed member implies, a partially first-past-the-post election and a partially proportional system. It was this type of voting that was proposed in Ontario in that province’s 2007 referendum. In that case there would have been 90 MLAs elected in large electoral districts and 30 appointed afterwards by their political parties according to a complicated formula. The idea was that with this system the numbers of voting members of the legislature would more closely reflect the popular vote.

Proportional voting is designed for countries where large numbers of the voters are illiterate and have to vote for party symbols as opposed to names. It is also why proportional voting is the most used system.

The most serious objection to proportional voting is that when people are appointed to represent a party, they represent their party rather than the voters. More recently the federal liberals tried to do away with first-past-the-post voting and no suitable replacement was agreed to by the all-party committee of the House of Commons. The federal liberals gave up.

And that is what seems to happen. British Columbia has had two tries at referendums to replace first-past-the-post voting and has failed both times. The current Green Party backed NDP government in B.C. wants to take another try but all-party agreement of the legislature seems most unlikely.

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