Canadian electoral reform process: NDP now says there could be a referendum

Canada’s New Democrats are now willing to support a referendum on electoral-system change, “if it means consensus among parties” on the parliamentary committee, which is to report on Dec. 1.

Previously, the NDP and the Liberals and other advocates of reform have been opposed to a referendum, either because they consider the Liberals’ platform pledge (and that of the NDP and Greens) a sufficient mandate for change, or because they fear a referendum can’t be won . Or both. The Conservatives, on the other hand, have consistently said such a big change must not happen without a referendum. Presumably they think they can defeat it.

The above-linked National Post story refers to this as not “the first time the NDP appeared to have out-maneuvered the Liberals on the electoral reform file.” This remark refers to the NDP having successfully forced the Liberals to make the composition of the committee reflect the parties’ shares of the popular vote instead of their shares of seats. The Liberals have a (manufactured) majority of seats, and the norm for committees is generally proportional representation according to seats.

At the time, I thought the Liberals’ concession to their not having a majority was a clear case of “act-contingency”–not wanting to appear opposed to a potentially popular concept of reform, whatever their sincere preferences on their platform commitment once they (surprisingly) won a majority of seats.

However, in recent weeks, I have thought that the non-majority on the committee was opening up a “perfect” opportunity for the Liberals to declare, “sorry, we tried, but could not get cross-party consensus”, and let the status quo remain. The NDP move may be an effort to head off that outcome and take their chances with a referendum. They might need to get a deal with the Conservatives to make it work.

That may not be quite as far-fetched as it seems. Both parties actually could benefit from a moderate PR system. For the NDP, usually the third-largest party nationally, the appeal of PR is obvious. For the Conservatives, the benefit would be from allowing the party’s disparate wings to appeal separately, either as factions competing within small multi-seat districts* or eventually as separate parties, as they were not so long ago.

The next several weeks may determine whether electoral reform can advance, at least to a referendum, against what remain pretty formidable hurdles.


* I am assuming it would have to be STV or open lists. Closed lists are probably out of the question, even as part of an MMP system. And while the NDP and Greens logically prefer MMP (more highly proportional, even with only province-level compensation), the Conservatives and Liberals would like small-magnitude PR, if keeping the status quo looks uncertain. (And if, for the Liberals, AV is not achievable.)

9 thoughts on “Canadian electoral reform process: NDP now says there could be a referendum

  1. As if on cue, just as I posted this, my news feed picked up this item:

    ‘No consensus’ among Canadians on particular voting system, [Minister of Democratic Institutions] Maryam Monsef writes to committee


  2. Several electoral models have been investigated at the request of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. The report by Byron Weber Becker and Antony Hodgson is available as the latest of the Briefs on the ERRE website:

    Click to access BeckerByronWeber&HodgsonAntonyV4-e.pdf

    The models were subject to three constraints, two of them implicit if a new system should be available in time for an election in 2019 without reallocation of seats among the provinces:
    1 Good proportionality (low Gallagher index)
    2. Each province/territory to have the same number of MPs as in the 2015 election
    3. Any redistribution of seats to be capable of quick implementation by merging of existing ridings.

    The 2015 federal election was replayed, with varying district and region sizes, for the following:
    1. Single Transferable Vote
    2. Mixed Member Proportional — current ridings paired, with 1 MP elected by FPTP or AV, 1 MP to give proportionality (from open lists, or best losers)
    3. “Riding Centric Proportional” — parties nominate a candidate for each riding, preferential ballots include candidates from a multi-riding sub-region, with each sub-region containing one “adjustment” riding to be used to achieve proportionality according to first preferences summed in a region/province. A “tweak’ would ensure 1 MP per riding. There could be some non-clustered single member ridings.

    It remains to be seen whether any of these systems will be recommended by the Select Committee. As to a referendum, “riding centric” would present an interesting challenge for voter education.


  3. I can see Trudeau’s recent praise for Castro (which seems to have ended his Twitter honeymoon) being used as a soundbite by the “No” side. Irrelevant to the referendum issue, of course, but I assume it would hit home (look at NO2AV g bringing up the Fiji example) . Or is Canada even more PC than I had imagined?


      • The Committee on Electoral Reform has reported to parliament. It calls for the government to propose a proportional electoral system to go up against the present FPTP system in a referendum. A supplementary report by the Liberal members (whose party campaigned on a promise that a new system would be in place for the 2019 election) states “Our position is that the timeline on electoral reform as proposed in the MR [Majority Report] is unnecessarily hasty and runs the risk of undermining the legitimacy of the process by racing toward a predetermined deadline.”

        Recommendation 1: that in developing a new electoral system the government should seek a system with a Gallagher index of less than 5%.


  4. Pingback: Canadian electoral reform report | Fruits and Votes

  5. Pingback: Canadian electoral reform: No longer the government’s plan | Fruits and Votes

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