When our Liberal government was elected eight months ago, it campaigned on the promise that the election would be the last one under the current 'First-past-the-post' system. It promised to establish an all party committee to look at fairer ways of electing governments that would reflect the will of the population.
Now that they are elected, many of us are skeptical about their reasons for wanting to change the system, and I suspect they likely proceed to one that will give them political advantage in future elections for endless majority governments.
There are several options being considered, all of which have their flaws. So, in a nutshell, I'm hoping to hear from people about their own electoral systems and how well they work. What would you recommend? Also, I'd like to hear about what people think would improve the voting system to make it more fair. What would it take to motivate people to actually want to vote instead of staying at home because they feel disenfranchised?
The other thing I found disturbing about this process to change the voting system is that it can all be done through Parliament, without any constitutional amendments or referendums involved. The Liberals kept their word and they set up an all-party committee to study reform and submit its recommendations to Parliament, but initially the committee was stacked with a Liberal majority, meaning the results would be skewed to the government's preferred option. They were shamed into giving up their majority on the committee after being rightfully accused of overriding democracy for the purpose of political gain. However, there's no guarantee they will act on the committee's recommendations, and simply use their majority to vote for the system that benefits them the most. After that it goes to the Senate for approval.
Just to set the framework here, Canada has a multi-party system, representing diverse interests across the country. Our Conservative Party is the right of centre party, the Liberals are considered to be centrist, and the NDP is relatively leftist. In the last election, the Liberals 'shifted' to the left and stole enough votes from the NDP to get into power. We also have the Bloc Québécois, a party which represents the interests of Québec, and the Green Party.
The systems that are being considered by the committee are the following choices:
First Past the Post
The current system in Canada since Confederation. Under this system, the candidate who gets the most votes wins, regardless as to whether he or she has received 50 percent of the vote. To me this system is a disaster. I can see how it would have worked well when our country was young and there were only two parties, but our Parliament has a differentface now with five different parties in the house. In more recent times this system has produced mostly 'false majorities' meaning that we elect governments with massive majorities, even though they have received less than 40 percent of the popular vote.
Under a preferential ballot or ranked ballot system, voters rank their choices in order of preference. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, the last-place contender is dropped and the second choices of his or her supporters are counted. The process continues until one candidate emerges with more than 50 percent.
This is the system our current Liberal Prime Minister has indicated he would support and for good reason! In a multi-party system, the Liberals are most often the second choice of both the Conservatives and the NDP. If a voter is either far left or right on the political spectrum, it is only natural they would select the centrist party as their second choice, rather than the party that is farthest from their political beliefs. Many Canadians speculate that this whole process is nothing more than a political grab by the Liberals to set themselves up for a lifetime of political wins through this system. My other concern with this system is that it would lead to a Parliament of second or third choices winners, which hardly sounds inspiring.
There are a number of proportional systems used around the world. Under this system, voters would cast two ballots, one for a local candidate and one for their preferred party. Each riding would continue electing one candidate using first past the post, while another set of members would be drawn from party lists, apportioned to each party's share of the popular vote.
This one sounds like it would be an administrative headache on voting night, but overall, it's the one that sounds the most appealing to me so far. This would help ensure the smaller parties like the Green Party would be adequately represented in Parliament, instead of being marginalized by the mainstream parties and completely shut out of Parliament. In that respect, I think Proportional Representation would encourage people to vote for the parties they want, instead of the constant 'strategic voting' that takes place, where we're forced to vote for candidates we don't really want just to keep out the candidates we really despise. This system would likely result in more minority governments which I hope would foster a sense of cooperation amongst the parties, since they would have to rely on each other's support to get their agenda through Parliament.
The other issue that's been discussed for the past decade is that perhaps it's time to 'merge' the progressive parties, particularly the Liberals and the NDP. We only have one Conservative party, and it has secured power for nearly the last ten years. This can be attributed, in part, to the vote-splitting that occurs amongst the progressives, allowing the conservatives to 'come up the middle' and win under the first-past-the-post system. I'm one of those people who has been discouraged by these outcomes, and have sometimes thought it would be advantageous to bring progressives together under a single, united party. This would essentially then become a two-party system, similar to the US. When I see what is happening in the US in this year's election, however, it appears that both sides of the political spectrum are disgusted with their respective parties and have nowhere else to turn in a two-party system. Both parties appear to have ignored their own political bases for decades and I see a lot of anger and apathy from both parties. After watching what is happening there, I don't think I would want to see that kind of system here (A Canadian Donald Trump? God help us all!).
I'm really hoping to hear how people feel about their own electoral systems, the benefits, the outcomes, and the positive or disastrous results, and what, in your view, would be the most fair system possible.