View bloggers



Saint Paul University

223 Main Street
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
K1S 1C4


Toll free



Follow us

Electoral Reform: the Clock is Ticking

April 05, 2016

Front and centre in the Liberal Party platform was the commitment “to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post system.” Justin Trudeau has repeated this commitment in several speeches.  This commitment has also been repeated by the Democratic Institutions Minister, Maryam Monsef.

Moreover, the Liberal Party platform clearly states that a Liberal government will convene an all-party committee that will study a variety of voting methods, deliver its recommendations to Parliament and that the Liberal government will “introduce legislation to enact electoral reform.”  All of these things:  the formation of the all-party committee, the committee’s study of voting methods, the report to Parliament and the introduction of legislation on voting reform  -- all of this will to take place within “18 months of forming government.”

The Globe and Mail has recently reported that six months into the Liberal mandate, Minister Monsef has admitted that the committee has not yet even been formed.  This now leaves about 12 months for what was originally designed to take 18 months.

It is easy to be distracted by a standard partisan reaction and counter-reaction.  Critics would say that the Liberals were deliberately deceiving voters with an unrealistic promise and are now dragging their feet to avoid delivering.  Defenders might admit some initial—and innocent—unrealism, but that the job of electoral reform is important and time is needed to get the job done right.

Of course both positions could be right.

Nonetheless, it is critical to realize that the stakes are quite high here.  There is no such thing as a perfect voting system, that is, a system that truly captures the electorate's voting expression without deforming it in any overall way.  The first-past-the-post (FPP) system captures clustered or concentrated votes, which explains why the NDP, whose voters are often scattered about the country, has had more difficulty gaining seats than the Liberals or Conservatives, whose votes are often clustered.  The Green Party also has a scattered vote.  But the most extreme example of this was when the Bloc Quebecois was the official opposition even though it had a far lower percentage of the national vote than the NDP.

But what should replace FPP?  There are a number of options of varying complexity.  Here is where the time factor plays a crucial role.  Some options, such as preferential balloting, where voters rank their suggestions, would be relatively straightforward to implement.  Other options, such as proportional representation, are more complex to administer, and would require some modifications to pre-existing riding boundaries.

Now, preferential balloting tends to drive votes towards centralist parities.  Think about it: whatever your first preference is, the second one will be the party closest to it.  If you lean heavy left, then a centrist party would most likely be your second choice.  If you lean heavy right, then again, a centrist party would most likely be your second choice.  It might not be entirely coincidental that the Liberal party is typically the centrist party in Canada and that Prime Minster Trudeau has remarked that he prefers preferential balloting.

Still, Minister Monsef has noted that she was selected for overseeing electoral reform precisely because she is recognized as “having no preconceived notions” Minister Monsef has remarked that “it’s quite liberating to bring that level of objectivity to a file like this one.”

It is indeed true that decisions, when made with less initial bias, tend to be more objective and just than decisions made under different conditions.  But the point is that the clock is ticking and objectivity and study take time.  It may very well be that the time before the next election will simply wind down and the result will be a broken promise of reform and that the 2019 election will be decided via FPP.  Or, it could be that there will be hasty government movement on this front, trying to avoid breaking the electoral reform promise by implementing a new system, but that there will not be enough time to implement proportional representation, but preferential balloting—again, a system that will favour the Liberal party.

It is difficult to say at this point just what is going on, why there are these delays in calling the all-party committee to study electoral reform.  But what is very clear is that every day, the chances of having a well-studied and objective reform of our current voting practices for our federal government are slowly slipping away—at least for this government’s current mandate.

0 comment

Bookmark and Share


The views expressed in the posts and comments of this webpage are those of the bloggers and those providing comments and may not reflect the views of Saint Paul University.

Comments will be removed for the following reasons:

  1. Use profanity and offensive language;
  2. Include a personal attack towards another user;
  3. Harass or embarrass other users;
  4. Are an infringement on a copyright law or University policy;
  5. Advertise a specific commercial service;
  6. Include a threat of violence;
  7. Are not appropriate for all ages;
  8. Encourage intolerance toward a particular group;
  9. Are included numerous times in a single thread and;
  10. Knowingly mislead other users.