CBC News Online
Summary: Article discusses
various possible motivations for Quebec government to move towards
full representation (proportional 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.
CBC News Online
proportional representation really on the agenda?
With notes from Carolyn Adolph
April 1, 2003
the last election in which Quebec voters check a box beside a
candidate in a particular riding?
Some people certainly hope so.
They live in the Outaouais, the strongly federalist and definitely
Liberal region across the river from Ottawa, and are making it an
They are hoping the idea of proportional
representation takes hold, because it would provide better
representation for a region that has been, in a way, ghettoized by
its continual coronation of Liberal candidates.
The feeling in the
Outaouais is that this unflagging Liberal dominance has cost the
"The Liberals might win again, but it won't
change anything again, and the Outaouais region will still feel
[left] out of Quebec. It's a feeling," says Gatineau city councillor
Because the Parti Quˆ©bˆ©cois knows it has no chance
of getting elected in the highly federalist region, the sense is
that the party won't spend any serious time or money trying to woo
And it's a situation repeated in pockets around the
province, including the West Island of Montreal.
the first-past-the-post system:
A citizen votes for a candidate in
his or her riding; the candidate is usually affiliated with a party.
The candidate with the most votes is elected to represent that
riding. The party with the most candidates elected to the National
Assembly forms the government. Under the form of proportional
representation being discussed now, ridings would disappear but a
sense of the regional is maintained.
For example, the Liberals
wouldn't hold all the seats in the Outaouais, as they usually do.
Instead, based on voter support, there would likely be three
Liberals, one PQ candidate and perhaps one ADQ candidate elected.
So, under proportional representation an area like the Outaouais
would always have a voice from the area sitting at the government
table to speak for the region's needs.
It would work the other way
too, providing better regional representation in opposition parties.
As well, proportional representation would ensure that the party
that wins the popular vote will be the government.
Now this is not
a pure form of proportional representation being discussed. Only the
Netherlands and Israel use such a system. In its purest form, if a
party gets 36% of the popular vote, it gets 36% of the seats in the
The problem with a purely proportional system
is it usually leads to coalition governments, rarely a majority
government, which can reduce political stability.
So why is it
being discussed at all in the Outaouais?
Premier Bernard Landry has
been quoted saying he believes this will be the last election under
the current rules, although whether that means a move to
proportional representation is up in the air. He has been vague
about how much proportionality his party would allow.
PQ government has embarked on a reform of the province's democratic
institutions, considering such things as holding elections on fixed
dates, lowering the voting age, and moving away from the British
parliamentary system’Äîwith proportional representation provided as
The PQ acknowledges that the British system has
provided a stable democracy, but says that doesn't mean it can't be
One of the reasons there's discontent with the current
system can be found in the province's 1998 election results. The
Liberals won the popular vote but lost the election, and are facing
the same predicament this time around.
Even so, the Liberals are
tepid about proportional representation, wary of the potential of a
parliamentary free-for-all if it's applied in its pure form. The
Liberals favour a mixed system that allows one-quarter of the MNAs
to be chosen proportionally.
Liberal candidate Benoit Pelletier
contends that the Liberal plan for a mixed system is the most
credible, partly because his party has failed to form a government
three times despite winning the popular vote.
But Pelletier says
his party would have to make sure any changes are good for Quebec,
not just the Liberals. The danger for them is, if they don't follow
Pelletier's caution, the changes could be seen as a power grab by
his party and might provoke a backlash.
For ADQ candidate Brian
Gibb proportional representation is a pet issue. He's convinced this
movement is at the point of no return.
"This time there seems to be
some staying power," he says. "There's a consensus amongst the
academics, the political scientists.
"There's also a consensus
amongst the political parties. All three political parties have it
as part of their platform. But, unfortunately ’Ä¶ power in our system
is heavily concentrated in the office of the ’Ä¶ premier at the
provincial level. So it becomes the caprice of the premier, whether
or not the change will actually see the light of day."
That the ADQ
is in favour of this system is not surprising. Of the main parties,
it would have the most to gain, because 20 per cent of the popular
vote would translate into roughly 25 seats. That's a result they
can't dream of under the current system.
While the Liberals and the
PQ have not committed to proportional representation in a detailed
fashion, they do say they like the idea. And the fact that all three
parties are contemplating the matter means it may happen, even
though it's not grabbing headlines during the election.
But keep in
mind, the big job of changing the system is left to a party coming
to power under the current system. Once elected, it remains to be
seen whether that party feels a great need to overhaul Quebec's