CBC News Online
Summary: 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.
CBC News Online
Electoral Reform: Changing the Way Government Is Elected
By Justin Thomas
A growing chorus of voices in Canada is calling for electoral reform that
would change the way Canadians vote in federal and provincial elections. The
concern is that representation in government under the current electoral system
is not an accurate reflection of the actual vote. Currently, all provincial and
federal elections use the first past the post system whereby a candidate runs in
a riding, generally as a member of a political party, and if he receives the
greatest number of votes he is declared the winner.
First past the post (a.k.a.
Proportional representation refers to an electoral concept in which
political representation is a closer reflection of actual votes cast. In
its purest form (rarely used), the electorate vote for political parties
instead of candidates and representation in government is an almost
exact reflection of votes cast.
Awards a seat to the person who runs in an election and wins the most
votes in an electoral area. A majority vote is not required to win ’Äì
the candidate just needs to get more votes than his opponents. This is
the primary concern of electoral reformers. They say candidates can be
elected even though the majority of the electorate did not vote for
Countries where in place
Countries where in place
- New Zealand
- United States
- Great Britain
Critics argue the system is flawed because it allows candidates (and, by
extension, their parties) to win a disproportionate amount of representation in
provincial or federal parliament. The system enables the current Liberal
government to lead the country with 57.1 per cent of the seats in the House of
Commons, even though the Liberals garnered only 40.8 per cent of the popular
In a report to the federal government in March 2004, the Law Commission of
Canada said the present system produces "exaggerated majorities" and
contributes to regional disparity, leaving large areas of the country with few
representatives in the governing party.
According to the LCC and a number of voters groups, the answer is
proportional representation ’Äì a type of electoral system used in various forms
by most Western democracies with the notable exceptions of Canada, the United
States, Great Britain and India.
Proportional representation ’Äì PR for short ’Äì is an umbrella term used to
describe a family of electoral systems in which representation in government is
tied, in part at least, to the percentage of votes won by each political party
in an election. Along with the LCC, which is looking at electoral reform at the
federal level, five provinces are investigating what it would take to adopt some
form of proportional representation in their own provincial elections (see list
Many variations of PR exist and we’Äôll explore some of more popular forms
below, but the system which seems to be gaining the most acceptance in Canada is
the mixed member proportional model which is being used in New
Zealand. This system combines proportional representation with the
first-past-the-post system; so 41 percent of New Zealand’Äôs 120 members of
parliament are indirectly chosen by proportional representation; the rest are
elected directly using first-past-the-post.
Here’Äôs how it works:
Voters are presented with one ballot with two votes on it. The first asks the
voter which political party he or she would like to see form the next
government. The percentage of the popular vote won by a party dictates the
number of seats it gets in this section. So if a party gets 25 per cent of the
popular vote on this section of the ballot, it gets 10 seats. The seats are
filled by members chosen by the party. These are known as "list MPs."
On the second part of the ballot, the voter chooses the candidate he or she
would like to represent their electoral area as member of parliament. The winner
of each electoral area is decided using the first-past-the-post method, meaning
the candidate with the greatest number of votes is elected. In New Zealand,
there are 69 MPs elected this way ’Äì they are known as "electorate
Proportional representation at the provincial level
The B.C. Citizens’Äô Assembly on Electoral Reform was legislated into
existence in April 2003 to conduct public consultations into the electoral
process in that province. Comprised of two citizens from each electoral
district, the assembly is an independent body that will take until the end of
2004 to study proportional representation around the world. Any recommendations
will be put to the B.C. voters in a referendum in 2005.
The McGuinty government is looking into the possibility of adopting a
modified form of proportional representation. Ontario’Äôs minister responsible
for democratic renewal, Michael Bryant, says the idea is to keep the
first-past-the-post system and add in an element of proportional representation.
In March 2004, Bryant told the Globe and Mail the proposal would be "a way
of improving the chance of having [the] voter’Äôs choice reflected in the
During the 2003 Quebec election, all three major parties came out in support
of adopting some sort of proportional representation. In his inaugural speech to
the Quebec National Assembly in June of that year, Premier Jean Charest said he
was committed to introducing a more proportional system of representation. The
government is expected to introduce a mixed member proportional electoral system
The province established the Commission on Legislative Democracy to conduct
public consultations and examine the possibility of reforming its electoral
system. The commission is due to release its report late in December 2004.
Prince Edward Island
In 2003, the provincial government established an independent commission to
look into electoral reform. In its report, the commission said the mixed member
proportional system (modelled after New Zealand’Äôs system) would be the best
fit for the province. During P.E.I.’Äôs 2003 election, the NDP said it would
implement proportional representation if it became the next government.
Other forms of proportional representation
PR (Open list): Voters choose political parties based on
candidate lists fielded by each party. They can then choose candidates from
those lists. Seats are allocated to each party based on the proportion of the
popular vote received.
PR (Closed list): Voters choose political parties based on
fixed candidate lists fielded by each party. As with the open list variant,
seats are allocated to each party based on the proportion of the popular vote
Single transferable vote (Ireland, Tasmania, Australian
Senate election): Voters rank candidates on a preferential ballot, allowing them
to vote simultaneously for candidates of different political stripes. This
method has the potential of pitting candidates from the same political party
against one another.
This system has already been used in Canada. At the provincial level, Calgary
and Edmonton MPPs were elected this way from 1926 to 1959. And the new
Conservative Party of Canada used a single transferable ballot in electing its
new leader, Stephen Harper, in March, 2004.