|CAQ's François Legault could win majority with only 30% of votes|
It's worth noting that in every emerging democracy in recent decades, proportional voting systems have been put in place in order to keep extremist minority impulses in check.
Yet here in Canada (as well as Britain and the United States), our archaic Winner-Take-All / First-Past-The-Post voting systems persist. In Canada and the U.K., parties win seats by simply taking the most votes in the seat. So one entire seat can be occupied by one party for an entire parliament simply because it won as little of 25% support in it, as long as all other candidates splintered the remaining 75%. One party has regularly been able to win a majority of seats despite winning well under 40% of the overall vote in a province or country.
Similarly in the U.S., as we know, the electoral college elected Donald Trump because he won achingly close victories in just the right number of key states, even though Hillary Clinton had overall won 2% or almost three million more votes across the entire country.
As Andrew Coyne (long an advocate for proportional representation too) states here, Winner-Take-All / First-Past-The-Post tends to produce results wildly disproportionate from the actual voting when three or four major parties are competing.
Clearly, electoral systems that distort voters' wishes should be replaced. Yet those who control any processes for change of course have conflicts of interest as they won power because of the current system.
It was little surprise that Justin Trudeau turned his back on his electoral reform promise when it was clear the only change he wanted would be unacceptable to all other parties and most reform advocates.
Other referendums have been held in Canada, including in Ontario in 2007 when the McGuinty government also lost its zeal for change after winning a big majority under the current system in 2003. In that 2007 referendum, the Grits determined that 60% support was needed for change (a similar and unfair high mark has been the norm in most Canadian referendums on this topic.) The McGuinty Liberals also refused to fund education campaigns that might explain to voters the real weaknesses and strengths of both systems. Into that void jumped the private sector media including the Toronto Star which was more than happy to misinform the public with scary stories about Italian pizza parliaments and chaos. Thus, cautious Ontario voters had little information and overwhelmingly backed the status quo. It's been that sense that Canada, as well as the U.S. and U.K. seem to be strong societies and economies (at least for the privileged and white majorities), so why do we need to fix something that may not be broken?
Of course, I'd argue that any system that elects Donald Trump as president despite him winning 3 million fewer votes is broken, and the dire consequences are now obvious. If our societies are strong, it's despite of our voting systems, not because of them.
In New Brunswick last Monday, the governing Liberals took 38% of the vote, versus 32% for the Conservatives, as well as about 10% each for a new party called the People's Alliance (PA) and the Green Party.
But this translated under First-Past-The-Post into 22 seats for the Conservatives, 21 for the Liberals, 3 for the PA and 3 seats for the Greens. The governing Liberals under Brian Gallant pledged to try to win the confidence of the House at their first opportunity, as would be customary after a result like this. Yet that didn't stop New Brunswick Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs from claiming a "mandate to govern" which actually doesn't exist. The fact that his party shrunk in voter support from the previous election and now lagged behind the Liberals by 6 points meant nothing to him.
Tomorrow is voting day in Quebec's provincial election as well, and there too it seems that First-Past-the-Post will distort voters' intentions. Polls show the moderately conservative party Coalition Avenir Quebec (or CAQ) slightly ahead of the governing Liberals, with both hovering around 30%. The separatist Parti Quebecois seems to be on the ropes now well back at 20%, and the upstart far-left Quebec Solidaire just behind them.
Because of this four-party splintering, it makes it hard to predict. However, the CAQ has a clear lead among francophone voters who make up the vast majority in 100 of the province's 125 ridings, while the Liberals have weak francophone support (but still have overwhelming support from anglophones and allophones who live mostly in Montreal.) So analysts predict this will lead to a bounty of seats for the CAQ, perhaps even enough to win a majority of seats in the province. Thus we could end up seeing a majority government with only 30% voter support. That's repulsive.
Is there hope for change? One better hope for a CAQ minority government with the Quebec Solidaire and the PQ holding the balance of power, I say, as all three of those parties have pledged they will move toward a proportional voting system after this election. A minority government would keep the CAQ government's feet to the fire, perhaps forcing change. A majority CAQ government would likely abandon changing a system that gave it all the power, I predict.
Even in Alberta, where the NDP finds itself in power for the first time ever, you'd think that Premier Rachel Notley would seize this opportunity and bring in proportional voting. I'm shocked that she hasn't, frankly, as her party has long been shut out of any decision-making prior to 2015 because of the current system. It now looks likely that the united Conservatives there will romp back into power in 2019 and leave the NDP back in the wilderness for decades. That's a shame. (Remember that every time a sanctimonious New Democrat chastises the Trudeau Liberals for not implementing electoral reform - ask them why Notley's NDP in Alberta didn't bother when they had the chance.)
There is one major glimmer of hope on this issue in British Columbia, where the minority NDP government was able to take power with the support of three Green Party MLAs, ousting the conservative Liberals last year. The Greens made the NDP agree to hold another referendum on changing the voting system, which will happen this fall. This time, the rules are fair with 50% needed for victory. Polls there show PR slightly ahead of First-Past-The-Post, with almost as many undecided.
If British Columbians can finally embrace a fair voting system, it will give the push for change a huge amount of momentum across the country. If Quebec also moves to proportional voting, it will help even more. Suddenly the cynic in me could be replaced by an optimist on this issue again.
But I'm not naive about any of this. For various reasons, this issue does not seem to inspire much interest in most voters (which is another reason change has been so difficult to achieve.) When I write about it on this blog, I find that I get the least number of reads. I predict this post will be no exception (so if you read this far, I personally owe you a drink - private message me to arrange ;-))