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Electoral Reform In Canada

Updated January 2005

More provinces looking to full representation                                 New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island both make moves towards full representation. New Brunswick will hold a referendum on a possible move to a mixed member system. After the 2003 Prince Edward Island electoral reform commission recommended copying the British Columbia Citizens' Assembly model, an eight-member Commission on Prince Edward Islandĺ─˘s Electoral Future will work to educate the public about alternatives to a winner-take-all voting system.

British Columbia Moves Forward with Electoral Reform: The Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform recommended that British Columbians adopt choice voting (known in Canada as the Single Transferable Vote or STV ) for their elections! Now the decision is up to the voters of B.C., who will cast ballots on in a referendum in the next provincial election, on May 17, 2005. To read more about this exciting development, click here

There has been much progress toward full representation in Canada in the past year. Fair Vote Canada is the leading organization working for voting reform in the country and has summarized recent developments  as well as highlighted upcoming changes in an electoral reform calendar.

Recently, the issue of full representation has gained the spotlight due to Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party.  Layton made the adoption of proportional representation a cornerstone of his reelection campaign, advocating a referendum to reform the electoral system and adopt proportional representation.  Additionally, once winning reelection, Layton has continued to push the issue by making the adoption of proportional representation the number one condition of his support of a liberal minority coalition in the parliament.

Canadian provinces that are currently looking into electoral reform, include New Brunswick, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Quebec  

On the national level, the Law Commission of Canada has an electoral reform project that aims to spark public dialogue on the different choices in voting systems, in partnership with Fair Vote Canada. See also Maple Leaf Web for a guide to voting systems and electoral reform, as well as Democracy Watch, a Canadian group that advocates democratic change. Recent new articles about electoral reform developments in Canada are available on our Full Representation Around the World page.

The New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy was charged with identifying options for improving the provinceĺ─˘s electoral system in order to have an improved, citizen-centered democracy.  The Commission focused on electoral, legislative and democratic reform and produced a report with eighty-nine recommendations, ranging from fixed election dates to independent redistricting, to the government on January 19, 2005. The report recommended that the province's voting system be changed to a mixed-member system. Under this, 36 representatives will still be elected on a winner-take-all basis from individual voting districts. In addition, twenty representatives will be elected a much wider regional basis. These regional seats will be distributed between the political parties so that each party's share of seats in the legislature most accurately reflects that party's share of the popular vote. The commission called for the recommendations to be put to a referendum before the next election. If the people of New Brunswick accept the mixed member voting system, it will be used in the 2011 election.

Ontario is looking into electoral reform and referring to the BC Citizensĺ─˘ Assembly process as a guide. Read the news release

Prince Edward Islandĺ─˘s Commission on Electoral Reform began in January of 2003, when Justice Norman Caruthers was appointed to lead an independent commission to explore electoral reform in the province. He released a report outlining four models for discussion in April of that same year. After some public dialogue, a final report was presented in December 2003, which included nine recommendations to be considered by the government of Prince Edward Island, including that either choice voting or a mixed member system be seriously considered. Read a CBC article about the Commission's Report and view a brief history of electoral reform in the province. On January 18 2005, the Island's Legislative Assembly put out a call for citizens who wanted to be part of the eight-member Commission on Prince Edward Islandĺ─˘s Electoral Future. The Commission's duties will closely mirror those of British Columbia's Citizens' Assembly. The members will be drawn from across the Island's geographical and political spectrum. They will be asked to: 

  • develop and conduct a public education program to increase awareness of the present ĺ─˙first past the postĺ─¨ electoral system and an alternate mixed-member proportional system as discussed in the Report of the Prince Edward Island Electoral Reform Commission;
  • develop a clear and concise plebiscite question on which electoral system Islanders prefer; and
  • recommend when a plebiscite on this matter should be held.

For information on electoral reform activities in Quebec, see the Secretariat for Reform of Democratic Institutions and the Mouvement Democratie Nouvelle, which is dedicated to reforming the Quebec voting system. Also, read a position paper offered by the Committee on Institutions in 2002. 


News coverage of Canada's push for proportional representation


CBC News: New Brunswick commission recommends proportional representation. Overview of the New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy's recommendations, and reactions from politicians. January 19, 2004

Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform: Newsletter #8, Assembly Reaches Decision.  The announcement from the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform of their decision to recommend that British Columbians adopt a new voting system. October 26, 2004

Alaska Highway News: Electoral reform proposes sweeping changes. An analysis of how a possible change to STV will effect the local community as well as an analysis of the merits of STV. October 26, 2004

CBC News: B.C. voters to choose electoral system next May. Announcing The Citizens' Assembly for Electoral Reform recommendation to change to STV elections will be put on the ballot for British Columbia's May 17, 2005 election. October 25, 2004

Vancouver Sun: Assembly opinions devastating for B.C.'s electoral system.  A discussion of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform's current recommendation that a full representation system be implemented in British Columbia.  September 14, 2004.

Island Tides: Citizens' Assembly Faces Decision Time  A report on the B.C. Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform's consultations with the public.  Although various opinions were put forward, the majority favored a move to a full representation system. September 9, 2004

The Globe and Mail: 5 Provinces Consider Voting Changes.  Although the effort to switch to proportional representation in Canada at a national level may be blocked, five provinces, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, are considering the adoption of proportional representation.  July 9, 2004.

Canadian Press: B.C.'s Citizens' Assembly on electoral reform getting close to decision. Discusses the different election systems that B.C.'s Citizens' Assembly considered as well as the way the assembly will arrive at a decision. September 6, 2004

Toronto Star:  Putting a New Face on Voting.  If Canada would have used proportional voting in their recent elections, the makeup of the new House of Commons would have been different, though still divided.  June 30, 2004.

CNewsThree Parties Squeezed in First-Past-the-Post System Have Change to Change It.  Many different groups in Canada want to make the switch to proportional voting in an effort to have a more representative government.  Several provinces in Canada are currently considering election reforms.  June 29, 2004.

Montreal Gazette: NDP's Layton Ready to Play Central Role.  NDP's Layton, who won in a razor-thin victory in own riding, says that proportional representation will be a key issue in the next Parliament. June 29, 2004.

Toronto Star:  Editorial: NDP to Play Key Role.  Canada's New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton hoped to gain coalition support of the Liberals in exchange for a national referendum on the adoption of a proportional representation system. June 30, 2004.

CBC News Online:  Electoral Reform: Changing the Way Government Is Elected.  An analysis of why Canada is exploring adopting a choice voting system for their national elections.  The article also highlights how this new system would work, as well as its impacts on various provinces in Canada.  June 2004.

The Globe and Mail: Proportional Representation Aids Democracy.  Canada's NDP Party is promoting a switch to full representation for Parliament elections.  June 24, 2004.

This Week: Kamloops slated for citizens' assembly. Committee to convene on the prospect of British Columbia embracing full representation. May 25, 2004.

Toronto Star: More than tokens. Women aren't proportionally represented in Parliament, something political parties are scrambling to address. May 25, 2004. 

The Globe and Mail: Voter satisfaction dropping, poll says. Nearly a third of he Canadian electorate wants to switch to proportional representation. May 25, 2004.

CBC News Online: Electoral system blamed for fewer female politicians. Because New Brunswick's Parliament is only 13% female, an independent group has called for replacing the current party nomination system with a party list ballot that would allocate seats in proportion to the popular vote. March 3, 2004.

The Globe and Mail: Panel to recommend proportional voting. The independent Law Commission of Canada will recommend in a March report that the House of Commons adopt a full representation system for electing members of parliament. Critics fear that such a change would result in governmental chaos, while advocates hope that it would solve some of the problems facing the nation, such as low voter turnout and civic participation. February 2, 2004.  
In Is Canada the mature nation the PM says it is?, the same author, John Ibbitson, then raises questions as to how politics would play out among the major parties with a full representation system in place. February 2, 2004.

The Globe and Mail: PR would have saved the PCs. This commentary advocates full representation in Canada as a way to increase the representation of minority parties and get more people out to vote. January 2, 2004.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: Liberals want to change the way Quebec votes. The Liberal Party, which has majority control in Quebecĺ─˘s provincial government, have announced that it plans to introduce some form of full representation in time for the next election. The latest election was on April 14, 2003, and the next election doesnĺ─˘t have a definitive date, as election terms are not fixed in Canada. July 11, 2003.

Elm Street Magazine: The Unjust Society. A womenĺ─˘s group in Canada discusses full representation (proportional representation) as a means to allow more equal representation for women in Parliament, and discuss the state of the womenĺ─˘s movement in general. July 3, 2003.

CBC News Online: Is proportional representation really on the agenda? Article discusses various possible motivations for Quebec government to move towards full representation. Multiple parties are interested, although not committed, and it is not clear how strong of a full representation system will be put in place if there is a change. April 1, 2003.

 


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