Reforms are still needed

February 9, 2017   ·   0 Comments

IS FEDERAL ELECTORAL REFORM really a dead issue, now that Justin Trudeau has broken his promise that the 2015 election would be the last of its kind? We hope not.

Of course, the issue that inspired the Liberal leader to make the promise was the fact that the traditional “first past the post” system could see one party win  a majority of seats in the House of Commons with less than 40 per cent of the total popular vote.

And the source of that inspiration was that the Conservatives had accomplished precisely that in 2011, winning a solid majority while more than 60 per cent of the voters favoured another party.

We doubt that at the time Mr. Trudeau had given much, if any, thought to the fact that the same thing would happen in 2015, but with his Liberals as the beneficiaries.

He nevertheless did arrange for a Commons committee to study the matter and come up with a recommendation, but when the opposition-dominated committee recommended a referendum on substituting a form of proportional representation, he likely saw that as inevitably leading to voters preferring the status quo.

Thankfully, he didn’t pursue the option of simply proceeding with a preferential-ballot alternative to the traditional ‘X’, knowing full well that it would benefit only a middle-of-the-road party like the Liberals.

But while there’s little doubt that no consensus exists on the matter, we’re disappointed that there seems to be little, if any, interest in a more modest reform that would at least slightly reduce the chances of one party grabbing a majority of seats with th support of only four in 10 voters.

We refer, of course, to the concept followed in many other venues (including leadership campaigns) when voters must choose from a long list of candidates. There, multiple ballots are employed, with the least successful candidate being dropped off after each vote until one finally emerges with the support of at least half the delegates.

Clearly, this wouldn’t work in a democracy with many political parties. However, a single run-off between the top two candidates would guarantee that all the candidates in a federal election had the (perhaps grudging) support of a majority of those who voted in their riding. And if the runoffs took place several weeks after the general election (only in ridings where no candidate got at least 50 per cent of the votes) some of the electors might well change their votes, tending to vote for the candidate rather than the party.

Ideally, a referendum would not take place until after a single election in which the option was tested, with voters being asked which they preferred.

But as we see it, “first past the post” was not as serious a problem as the fact that huge numbers of eligible voters didn’t cast ballots.

One reform we would like to see take place for the next election would be aimed at sharply boosting voter participation. Two options that should be explored are electronic voting and multiple election days.

It strikes us that in an era when many municipalities (including Mono) are moving to electronic voting the federal government should at least be exploring its potential for the 2019 election.

In an era when anyone with a computer and a credit or debit card can safely purchase plane tickets or almost any type of produce online it should be possible to cast a ballot in a general election without having to leave home and go to a central polling station.

Sure, not everyone has a computer, but we suspect all libraries do, and so do most retirement homes. And if polling could take place over a full week (why not?) arrangements could be made to have electoral officials take laptop computers to shut-ins.

We’d love to see an opinion poll asking eligible voters whether such an option would make it more likely that they’d exercise the franchise.

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