Electoral reform promised…. what will be the result?

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Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

As part of their

Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

As part of their
platform for last year’s election, the Liberals promised major changes to the election process. From confederation to the present, elections have been based on the first-past-the-post method. The need for change seems fairly obvious. Canadian voters now have to place their X next to one of several (more than two) candidates. The 2015 federal election returned 238 members to Ottawa. Of these, 184 were Liberal party members who hold 54% of the available seats, giving them a comfortable majority in the House of Commons. However, only 40% of the votes cast were for the Liberal party and another 40% of potential voters did not vote at
all. The results suggest the present make-up of the House is not truly
representative of the Canadian population.
This problem is not unique to Canada. Any democracy that allows for more than two parties will experience the problem of determining fair representation and many countries have tried to solve the problem with some form of proportional representation. The challenge starts with determining what voters want. Is it
the individual constituent representative, the party program of policies and priorities, the leader of the party, some combination of these, or some other factor? Perhaps the first consideration is Arrow’s paradox which states that “when voters have three or more distinct alternatives (options), no ranked order voting system can convert the ranked preferences of individuals into a community-wide (complete and transitive) ranking while also meeting a pre-specified set of criteria”. In plain English, there is no perfect voting system that will guarantee good government and true undisputable proportional representation.
Proportional representation may not be the perfect system but it can be a better system than first-past-the-post. There is, however, one further consideration. A proportional representation system often results in no party having a majority of the representatives in the legislature or parliament.  This should result in
a coalition government involving at least two parties, but it doesn’t always happen. For example, consider the recent Spanish elections where a proportional system is used.  In December of last year, Spanish elections resulted in no party having a majority. A coalition would require that some principles of each party would have to be compromised. Unfortunately, this proved to be impossible and Spain is headed for another election in June. And all indications are that the deadlock situation may not be resolved.
Part of the solution to implementing a more representative voting system will lie in the details.  Will the system be a strict proportional representation or a mixture of first-past-the-post and proportional representation? What rules will be used to form a government when no one political party has a clear majority? The answers to what election rules will be implemented will require careful consideration, open discussion and genuine consultation with all Canadians. If the present government is sincerely interested in electoral reform before the next election, they must begin the process now.