Voting on voting
By Chad Ingram
Published Aug. 18, 2016
We exist in a political culture that has become quite cynical, so when a federal government talks about changing the electoral process, it’s difficult to tell if that change is really about making voting more fair or about the governing party trying to keep its grip on power.
Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale is holding a second “constituency referendum,” sending mail-out ballots to residents asking if they support a national referendum on electoral reform.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the 2015 federal election would be the last to use the first-past-the-post system and a special committee is currently conducting consultations with Canadians, consultations some critics say amount to little more than a charade feigning democratic decision-making.
Many believe the Liberals are gunning for ranked ballot voting, where voters rank their candidate choices from most preferred to least preferred. In a ranked ballot system, if a candidate achieves a majority – more than 50 per cent of the vote – that candidate wins. If the leading candidate does not receive more than 50 per cent of the vote, then the least popular candidate is removed from the running and the second-choice votes from the ballots of people who chose that candidate are allotted to other candidates.
This process repeats until a candidate has more than 50 per cent of the vote.
Because the Liberals occupy the middle of the Canadian political spectrum, one could argue a ranked ballot system would be favourable for the party.
In the same way, one could argue the first-past-the-post system – single-member plurality – is the one that works best for the Conservatives, keeping them in power for most of the past decade. It’s also only ever allowed the Conservatives (and their predecessors) or the Liberals to form government in Canada.
It’s the method preferred by many Conservatives, including Schmale, and if the party felt another system would suit it better, it could have used the Harper majority of the last Parliament to change the electoral process. Instead, it left the existing system intact, but did try to pass a series of voting rule changes through its Fair Elections Act that experts agreed would have been advantageous to the party.
The NDP and the Green Party are both advocates of proportional representation, a system wherein the makeup of the House of Commons would actually reflect the proportion of Canadians who vote for each party.
Certainly, the argument that the first-past-the-post system is flawed because it allows a party that receives 39 per cent of the vote to form a majority government has merit.
However, proportional representation would also benefit both the NDP and Green Party, increasing their seat numbers in the House.
So, when it comes to electoral reform, it’s challenging to discern where the quest for the fairness ends and partisan self-interest begins.
County residents may want to take some time to refresh themselves on various voting systems and their potential outcomes as they await their ballots from Schmale in the mail.