A slightly modified first-past-post?

January 6, 2016   ·   0 Comments

IF AND WHEN SOMEONE tells Justin Trudeau that there should be a referendum on electoral reform and he happens to ask why, the answer surely should be, “Because it’s 2016.”

Had the issue arisen 50 years ago, the argument against holding either a binding or non-binding referendum would undoubtedly have been, at least in part, that it would be as expensive as having a general election, with everyone having to go to a polling station and all the counting being manual.

But these days a referendum could surely be held using the Internet and the latest technology, with everyone using their social insurance number as a unique identifier and no need to worry if some of the voters were under-age.

Nor would there be any need for the voting to be on a single reform proposal; the electorate could be asked to choose from among the status quo, a preferential ballot and pure proportional representation.

Normally, one might expect strong support for the status quo, in part because that’s what happened when three provincial governments submitted reform proposals to their electorates.

However, much would depend on just how radical the proposed reforms turned out to be.

Clearly, there won’t be a lot of support for pure proportional representation, which would, as Claire Hoy puts it succinctly this week, assure us that we would never again elect a majority government.

As for preferential ballots, they would almost inevitably require recounts in most ridings, particularly in those where there was a close race involving multiple candidates. And there would also be the question of how much weight should be given to candidates who were almost everyone’s second choice compared with those who were the first choice of four voters in 10 but few voters’ second choice.

Clearly, had a preferential system been in place last October, the Liberals would still have done well and the New Democrats much better, since those who favoured a change in government would have tended to pick anyone else in preference to the local Conservative standard-bearer.

However, that situation would not likely exist in 2019, particularly if by then the Trudeau government’s honeymoon period was long gone and a new Conservative leader adopted a far more centrist position and fielded better candidates than was the case with the Stephen Harper government.

As we see it, there will always be much in favour of the current, first-past-the-post system.

Whatever else might be said, it does tend to produce majority governments, and the 2011 election result was a comparative rarity in that 60 per cent of the electorate actively opposed the resultant majority government’s right-wing agenda. And although the current Liberal regime also won the support of only four voters in 10, the six in 10 who didn’t vote for a Grit candidate included many who supported NDP or Green candidates and likely much preferred the Liberal win to another four years of Mr. Harper remaining in power.

Perhaps something that should be actively considered is what might be dubbed an “optional” preferential ballot, with voters entitled to choose between the traditional ‘X’ and a 1-2-3 ranking of candidates.

Ideally, such ballots would be two-sided to simplify recounts, which would be required if no single candidate won more than half the Xs and first-place rankings. The recounts would be only of the preferential ballots and result in a victory for the candidate with the most combined first- and second-place support.

If nothing else, such a modified preferential voting system would tend to see majority governments elected while also permitting voters to opt for the traditional ‘X’. What’s not clear is whether it would make much difference for the Greens and other ‘fringe’ parties that might emerge.

Whatever the case, it would preserve the ridings and eliminate the need, under a pure proportional system, to have two classes of MPs – those elected in a riding and those chosen by a losing party to make its share of Commons seats represent its share of the popular vote.

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.