We’ve covered the exciting moves towards fair votes in British Columbia and Prince Edward Island – two Canadian provinces looking to ditch the broken ‘Westminster model’. But the usefulness of First Past the Post has been questioned in other Canadian provinces as well.
Ontario – Canada’s most populous province – held a referendum on electoral reform in 2007. The impetus for the change was the experience of two majority governments elected with less than 50% of the popular vote.
Similarly to British Columbia, Ontario’s referendum process followed the recommendations of a Citizens’ Assembly comprised of 103 randomly selected citizens, the great majority of which (84%) advocated the adoption of Mixed Member Proportional representation (MMP).
When ordinary, randomly selected citizens have the time to discuss and understand the options, they overwhelmingly support electoral reform.
In Canada’s largest region by population, voters were asked ‘Which electoral system should Ontario use to elect members to the provincial legislature? The existing electoral system (First-Past-the-Post) or The alternative electoral system proposed by the Citizens’ Assembly (Mixed Member Proportional)’.
As in British Columbia, in order to pass, MMP needed to gain 60% of support in the province and a simple majority in 64 of the 107 ridings. Unlike British Columbia, however, the impetus for reform was weaker – only 37% of voters chose to switch to MMP.
Reasons adduced for this result include the lack of adequate information and understanding of the proposal. As Cutler and Fournier found: “Just before voting day, two-thirds were aware that a referendum was taking place and the same proportion said they knew something about MMP. But useful knowledge about the proposal was rare. Less than one-third knew MMP makes multiparty governments more likely. Less than half were aware that MMP makes votes and seats proportional, that it would give seats to more parties, and that it involves two votes.”
Much like in the UK’s Alternative Vote (a non-proportional system) referendum in 2011, low levels of political knowledge helped the pro-First Past the Post campaign.
Furthermore, two features of the proposal had not been well-received: the increase in the number of members in the legislature and the fact that parties would control the composition of party lists. These are both problems that could have been fixed, as around the world there are MMP systems where parties don’t control the lists and the size of the chamber could have been capped.
Though electoral reform is not officially back on the agenda in Ontario, some think that the outcome of the latest provincial election could change that.
In that election, the Progressive Conservatives, led by Doug Ford (the brother of Toronto’s crack-smoking former mayor), won 60% of the seats on 40% of the vote and 52% of voters essentially elected no one at all. This makes the province prime hunting ground for activists hoping to reform the electoral system.
Québec has a more limited experience with electoral reform and no referendums have been held on the topic, though two minority governments have been produced by First Past the Post since 2007 (the UK has also seen two Parliaments with no single winner in that time).
The election of 1 October 2018, however, is seen by some as a major step towards a fairer voting system. With the exception of the Liberals, all main parties promised to scrap First Past the Post.
In May 2018, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), the Parti Québécois, Québec Solidaire and the Green Party of Québec signed an electoral reform pact pledging to implement Mixed Member Proportional (or the Additional Member System as it is known in the UK) representation, if elected.
And the day after the election, Premier-designate François Legault of the CAQ pledged to reform the voting system and committed to tabling a bill within a year. With 71% of voters backing a party that signed the pledge to bring in electoral reform, the plan is not conditional on a referendum.
Though both provinces have a more limited experience with electoral reform, developments in Ontario and Québec show that First Past the Post is being questioned across Canada, given dissatisfaction with the results it produces – such as artificially inflated majorities and minority governments.
See the rest of our Spotlight on Canada series