The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

What Type of Electoral “Reform” Might Canada’s Liberal Party Enact?

Liberal party logo

Liberal party logo

Simple enough. Preferential balloting, where you rank your choices.

The Liberal Party, occupying the center, is the second choice of a lot of Canadians.

For example, in the 1997 federal election, the Liberals won 38 percent of the vote but captured 51 percent of the seats. The phoniest majority government in Canadian history. A study of voter preferences in that election projected that the Liberals would have gained 57 percent of the seats with the same level of support had AV been used.

In addition, ranked ballots tend to exacerbate regional strongholds, leaving those who support other parties even more unrepresented.

Canadian elections are often very close, and come down to a few percentage points, magnified massively by first-past-the-post.  Ranked ballots would magnify that even more, but do so in a way that favors the Liberal party.

Trudeau promised electoral reform. This is the most likely “reform.” As usual, reform will mean “giving more to those who don’t need it.”

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  1. De castro

    What about a PR system with compulsory voting as per OZ

    LOCAL elections which are yearly gives power/representation locally.
    General elections which are every 5 years gives seems unfair….and too long.
    1st to change
    2nd to improve
    3rd to excel
    4th to justify why should be given second and final term.

    Now that’s reformation.

    Just saying

  2. Mike

    We’ve got exactly the same issue in the UK, PR wouldn’t have prevented a Tory majority but would have given the Greens a lot more MPS (and UKIP too, sadly, but hey…) but we haven’t even got ‘reform’ on the table.

  3. LC

    I’d like to see the studies/tests/whatever showing IRV (I don’t like using AV, because I always think people mean Approval Voting when they say that) results in more majorities.

    It wouldn’t shock me, but I’d like to see the demonstration to wrap my head around it.

    You mentioned partly regional/partly party list as your preference. The idea, presumably, being to end up with a straight proportional representation of the total vote in some way? (The regional aspect being kept to allow some sort of local control?)

  4. EmilianoZ

    France under Mitterrand briefly went proportional. It quickly reverted back to the old ways. One reason that was given was that prop rep had allowed the far right (le Front National then led by Marine Le Pen’s daddy) to be represented. No liberal could argue with that.

    Today if representation was proportional in France, ze Front National would constitute about 30% of the National Assembly.

    So, be careful what you wish for. It works both ways.

    If you open the window for fresh air, you will also let the microbes in.

    Attributed to Deng Xiao Ping

  5. reslez

    Using the right wing as a scare tactic doesn’t cut it. If the left were more responsive to economic issues the right would have less fertile land to plough. After seeing ranked choice voting in action where I live (Minnesota) I see major advantages over what we have in the US. Of course we don’t have parliamentary representation as you do in Canada.

  6. Ian Welsh

    The linked review in the post includes cites from studies.

  7. Declan

    You may well be right Ian – to your point, Trudeau has been quoted as saying that MPs need to be voted in directly by electors, not just as part of parties, so that rules out most PR options except a ranked ballot (either with single or multi-member constituencies).

    I think a ranked ballot would probably work along the lines that your quote predicts for one election, but after that, things could get quite unpredictable as people would begin to understand the system and adjust their actions accordingly.

    I wouldn’t be too surprised to see the Federal Liberals take a page from the BC Liberals book and use the designed-to-fail referendum as a way to get out of this promise by saying they consulted with the people.

  8. LC

    Ian: Unless there’s something wrong with my machine, there is no link to anything except the twitter conversation. (Which also doesn’t have any link.)

    The pull quote isn’t linked to anything, either. If there is a review, I don’t see it.

  9. JustPlainDave

    The quote comes from a Fair Vote backgrounder linked to on this page:

    The source for the assertion comes from a 1999 article in the Canadian Journal of Political Science by Antoine Bilodeau entitled “L’impact mécanique du vote alternatif au Canada: une simulation des élections de 1997” (needless to say, it’s in French).

    One thing I note from the article is that while the Liberals would have “stolen” votes from the other parties under Alternative Vote (an extra 18 on top of the 155 seats they won in the event), they would have stolen them from principally from the Bloc Quebecois (which would have lost 8) and Reform (13) [with the NDP losing (4)]. Both of the big losers were very regionally concentrated, so I’m having a tough time figuring whether AV would actually result in increased regional blocs in the Canadian Federal context. [The other gaining party would have been the Progressive Conservatives (7 seats) also a party with broad regional representation.]

    I don’t know quite how I feel about AV as a system, but I do know damned sure that I’m not going to take the word of an organization with the stated aim of making sure that all votes have equal electoral weight on it (or anything else). That’s really a shorthand for “make sure urban areas call all the political shots” which I frankly have to say sucks ass as a Canadian electoral principle.

  10. JustPlainDave

    Sorry, forgot to mention – the Bilodeau article is available from JSTOR. Increasingly, public libraries have access to JSTOR so it should be relatively easy to access for those so inclined.

  11. ProNewerDeal

    Ian, what electoral system would you propose for CAN, and why?

  12. Ian Welsh

    Oh, um, oops. A case of “thought I put it in.” Link added, sorry.

  13. Ian Welsh

    I would go half geographical fpp, half open list.

  14. JustPlainDave

    With mixed systems, a central question is whether one deducts the geographical seats from the open list seats or not. Based on what I’ve seen, one is then faced with two choices – either one has a system that has significant potential for being gamed (without deduction) or one has a system that is game-resistant (with deduction), but has no assymetry between regions. Neither is particularly appealing, but I have to say that the latter seems to me to be foolish given the specifics.

    One thing that is not commonly understood by NDP partisans is how recent the phenomenon of the party running competent, adequately resourced campaigns at the national level has been. I haven’t seen any mention whether this campaign was “maxed” nationally in terms of donations (I suspect it was not) but only the two previous campaigns have hit that level – all the others fell short. Add to that the significant upswing in non-partisan effort to get out voting demographics that go disproportionately NDP and I become pretty leery about possibly tossing out the central Canadian political compromise (regionally based inequalities in what a vote is worth) in the name of a “fix”.

    Show me a couple of campaigns where the party runs a truly good, well-resourced, modern technical campaign and still gets bladed and I might change my mind, but right now I’m very suspicious of the unintended consequences. (For context, I am a partisan of the only “big five” party that would do even better out of this type of reform than the NDP.)

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