Why electoral reform would be bad for Canada
On February 1st, Democratic Institutions Minister, Karina Gould, announced to Canadians that the Trudeau government would no longer be pursuing electoral reform, a position that was a focal point of their 2015 election campaign.
In his first throne speech following the election, Trudeau himself promised that the Liberals would work to ensure that “2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.” The Trudeau government has faced a great deal of backlash for repealing this decision, though it can be argued that the world in 2017 is a vastly different place than it was in 2015 (re: Trump).
Aside from the ethically dubious nature of the broken campaign promise (politicians, right?!), like many Canadians I am disheartened by the broken promise, though I am not particularly upset by this change in position itself.
Canada currently uses a first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system, where politicians are elected based on the percentage of the vote they receive within their respective ridings. The party with the most elected representatives becomes the governing party, with their leader serving as the head-of-government (in our case, Justin Trudeau).
The issue with this system lies within the disproportionate ratio of the popular vote gained by the winning party, and the number of seats that that party holds in government. For example, the Liberals currently hold 54% of the seats in parliament, despite having only gained 39.5% of the total nation-wide vote.
Switching to a proportional representation system—the most likely outcome of any sort of electoral reform—would drastically change the way we elect our politicians. However, it is argued that the other proposed system, a ranked-ballot, would give a disproportionate advantage to the Liberal party—thus, still not solving the issue at hand.
In a proportional representation system, the amount of seats that a party holds in government is directly correlated to the portion of the vote that they receive. If in the past election we used the proportional representation system, the Liberal government would currently hold 40% of the seats in parliament.
In Canada, there is one main issue with this. We are a very large, relatively sparsely populated country with a wide range of, often competing, interests. The main complaint with the FPTP system is that it silences parties not considered to be mainstream (the Green Party, Bloc Quebecois, and arguably the NDP) who often receive a much larger portion of the vote than a portion of the seats in parliament. For example, the NDP received 20% of the vote in 2015, and 13% of the seats in parliament.
However, it is a largely-held assumption that a PR system would give rise to many special interest parties, who would then be forced to form coalition governments potentially representing an even smaller portion of the population than the current FPTP system inadvertently does. As an example, think of a parliament where a more powerful Bloc Quebecois would be forced to coexist with a federal version of Alberta’s Wildrose party.
After staying fairly silent regarding this broken promise, Trudeau finally spoke out this week on his reasoning behind the decision—saying that he scrapped his planned reform in the name of “national unity,” and that he “will not compromise on what is in the best interest of Canada.” While this can be viewed as the typical Trudeau-style spin tactics, he does have a point.
With the Conservative leadership race in full-swing, where divisive and Trump-like candidates Kellie Leitch and Kevin O’Leary hold prominent positions in polls, it is all too easy to imagine how a reform of our electoral systems could lend more power and influence to fringe voices such as theirs. I think we can all agree that that would be undeniably bad for Canada.