June 29, 2004
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.
Three Parties Squeezed in First-Past-the-Post System Have Chance to Change It
By Amy Carmichael
June 29, 2004
VANCOUVER (CP) - Not every Albertan is a Tory - 40 per cent of them voted for
another party - yet the Conservatives took almost all the province's 30 seats in
the House of Commons.
People who think that's unfair can blame Canada's first-past-the-post system
and join the growing verbal lynch mob vowing to get rid of it. NDP leader Jack
Layton wants a referendum on it and refuses to co-operate with the Liberal
minority government if it puts up a fight.
Layton has fallen in line with the likes of the Green party, the Marijuana
party and fringe groups asking for a system of proportional representation where
parties are awarded seats based on their percentage of popular votes.
Such rules would have made room for as many as 15 Green candidates in Ottawa,
said Bruce Hallsor, vice-president of Fair Vote Canada.
"There's no question about it, the Green party got a significant number
of votes. One in 25 Canadians cast a ballot for them and we don't think those
votes should be entirely shut out of the political debate between now and the
next election," he said.
The Conservative party is even sympathetic, calling in its platform for a
study on the issue to be followed by a referendum depending on the results. The
Bloc has also spoken out about electoral reform in the past.
"Now we've got a minority government with three parties expressing
interest in changing our system and there's only one that hasn't," said
"The Liberals happen to have more seats, but the others combined have a
lot more seats than the Liberals and we are certainly going to be pressing them
to live up to their campaign promises."
Momentum is being propelled by the provinces too, with four governments
British Columbia could have a referendum on it as early as next May.
Most parts of the world have some form of proportional representation.
University of British Columbia political scientist Allan Tupper said that
doesn't mean Canada is doing things the wrong way.
In this election, none of the major parties were seriously burned by the
The Bloc won 17 per cent of the seats on roughly 12 per cent of the vote. The
Tories get 32 per cent of the seats on 29 per cent of the vote. The Liberals get
44 per cent of the seats on the basis of 37 per cent of the votes.
That said, it looks a lot different when you analyse the results province by
In B.C. for example, the Conservatives earned 61 per cent of the seats from
36 per cent of the vote.
The NDP's gains in the province won't be reflected in the House of Commons.
The party won 27 per cent of the vote which only translated into five seats.
The issue is a hot one that plays into the democratic deficit that voters
complained about in this election and that Prime Minister Paul Martin promised
Tupper said that means it's likely Parliament will take a serious look at
alternate systems, which he thinks is warranted.
"The first-past-the-post system makes Parliament look very different
from the population. In some ways, it intensifies the lines of cleavage between
people and exaggerates them.
"But there's a larger debate. The big issue has always been authority.
You need to have capacity to make judgments. The critics say this will impair
the country's capacity to proceed and to make effective policy."
In British Columbia, the government has given a group of citizens appointed
through a lottery a mandate to examine different electoral systems and recommend
one that works best.
There are a variety of options.
In Italy, each party presents a list of candidates and if one wins, say, 30
per cent of the vote it gets 30 per cent of the seats. The representatives are
chosen from the party's national list - there are no ridings.
Things are more mixed in New Zealand elections where some MPs are elected off
a list and some are elected by riding.
A third option is to draw up large, multiple member ridings that are
represented by four to six MPs. People would vote by preferential ballot so the
top four or six candidates would get elected.
"In countries that have that kind of system you get much broader
proportionality. Those ridings won't typically all go one way, you'll have
people picking and choosing from different parties," Hallsor said. A ruling
by the Citizen's Assembly on which of these methods is most fair and effective
is expected to influence governments across the country.