Fairvote Canada calls for national referendum on PR

Fairvote Canada, in a press release, says “no more evasion on electoral reform” and calls on the next government to:

    1) initiate a public consultation on instituting a more proportional voting system, and

    2) provide Canadians with a referendum process to choose the best voting system.

Of course, if current polling trends are more than a temporary post-debate blip, the next government could be a Conservative majority based on a mere 40% of the vote–with the two left-of-center parties having up to 45% of the vote.* In that case, any reform away from FPTP is dead. Why would a Conservative government that owes its very existence to the current electoral system seek reform?

Even a minority government–still the most likely outcome, I suspect–is not necessarily good for electoral reform. In fact, in work I am doing, I find that none of the serious moves towards electoral reform** in plurality systems in the last 20+ years has followed from minority government, despite many occurrences of minority governments. All reform processes–whatever their ultimate outcome, and several remain ongoing–have resulted from an alternation in government that followed a spurious majority (one party winning the most votes, but another obtaining a majority of seats) or a period of grossly lopsided majorities despite the two leading parties being relatively close in votes.

Neither of those conditions applies in Canada currently, though I applaud the efforts of reformers to educate the public to generate a push from “below” in favor of fairer electoral systems in Canada and elsewhere.

*In some respects, the Bloc Quebecois, which is a separatist party that competes only in its own province and will win an overwhelming majority of Quebec’s ridings despite less than 50% of the vote, is also “left.”

**Appointing a formal commission, convening a citizens’ assembly, calling a referendum, etc.


Note: Fairvote Canada’s President, Wayne Smith, has a blog about Election Canada 2006, which I just added to the F&V blogroll for the duration of the campaign.


0 thoughts on “Fairvote Canada calls for national referendum on PR

  1. I found this:

    In fact, in work I am doing, I find that none of the serious moves towards electoral reform in plurality systems in the last 20+ years has followed from minority government, despite many occurrences of minority governments.

    a fascinating observation that should give us in the British electoral reform movement pause for thought. There is a tendency to see a hung parliament/ minority government as being the best situation for making progress on reform which needs to be questioned.

    I think as long as minority government is perceived as a temporary phenomenon (as it has been in Canada and the UK) that can be reversed by calling an election after less than a full term, parties have an incentive to hold out in the hope of an overall majority next time. Some reformers here think that the second minority government in succession will be the turning point, particularly as the range of outcomes that delivers a hung parliament is so wide. Perhaps the optimal outcome for reformers is a succession of wrong-winner Labour victories and the eventual conversion of the Conservative Party?

  2. I agree with Lewis’s observation:

    as minority government is perceived as a temporary phenomenon … that can be reversed by calling an election after less than a full term, parties have an incentive to hold out in the hope of an overall majority next time.

    However, my data suggest that even series of minority governments as long as three elections in a row and six of eight (Canada, 1957-79) or two in a row and three of four (Ontario, 1975-85) “serious” formal consideration of PR does not typically result. This surprised me, as I assumed that once hung parliaments become more than a one-time aberration, recurrences would be propitious to PR (or AV/IRV). Apparently not.

    On the other hand, almost every time there is a spurious majority since around 1960, there has been the appointment of a reform commission (or citizens assembly, or other device by which reform may get on the formal agenda), provided that there is alternation in an election immediately after the spurious majority (or “wrong winner”).

    Before long, I will have a paper to circulate about these findings, and I will post a link here at F&V.

  3. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. In 1986 the Canadian province of Saskatchewan had a “wrong winner” election where the Progressive Conservatives, with fewer votes than the New Democratic Party, got more seats and formed a “phony majority” government. The NDP won the next election in 1991, but took no steps toward electoral reform, perhaps because, in their last two previous victories, they had won a majority of seats with 48.12% (1978) and 40.07% (1975) of the votes. At their most recent convention last November, they have belatedly begun consideration of an MMP system for Saskatchewan.

    But what accounts for the Ontario government living up to its promise to hold a Citizens Assembly on electoral reform? A Premier who actually remembers why he made that promise — because Ontario voters had seen an unrepresentatively conservative government win back-to-back majority governments with 45.1% of the vote (1999) and 45.0% (1995), and wanted to fix the system.

  4. The New Democrats promise an Every Vote Counts Act.

    to change Canada’s federal electoral system to a mixed electoral system that combines constituency-based MPs with proportional representation.

    Ninety percent of the world’s democracies – including Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Germany – have abandoned or significantly modified their electoral systems to address exactly the same kinds of problems of regional, ethnic, gender and political balance that Canada now faces. As the Canadian Law Commission recommended, fairness requires a mixed electoral system that combines individual constituency-based MPs with proportional representation.

    The Liberal government, on the other hand, has stonewalled on a motion presented by Ed Broadbent. A Standing Committee called for a citizens’ consultative process to work in parallel with a parliamentary initiative on electoral reform, beginning in the fall of 2005. Nothing has happened. So much for Paul Martin’s concern about the “democratic deficit.”

    It may be in the interests of the Liberal Party of Canada to block progress towards electoral reform. It is not in the interests of Canadians. Our changes will make sure each Canadian’s vote counts.

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