Conservative Party of Canada leader Rona Ambrose has criticized the government for its refuting of a report from an all-party House of Commons committee looking into electoral reform.
The committee’s majority–made up of opposition party members–released its nearly 400-page report Thursday morning, recommending proportional representation as the most ideal alternative–if the electoral system is to change–to our present first-past-the-post system. The report also urged that a referendum should take place before any change is implemented.
The Conservatives have been calling on the federal government to hold a referendum, which the Liberals have said is less valuable than their own consultation process.
In a dissenting report, however, the committee’s Liberal members recommended that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau abandon his promise to change the system before the next election.
The Liberal report says Canadians have not been sufficiently engaged in the issue, and recommends “a period of comprehensive and effective citizen engagement” before recommending a specific voting system, going so far as to say it likely couldn’t be completed before 2019.
Trudeau previously promised that the most recent federal election would be the last under the first-past-the-post system, but has eased up on calls for change in recent months, saying that there’s less of an appetite for reform now that his party has formed government.
Speaking to AM980’s Andrew Lawton after the report was released, Ambrose said it is Trudeau who needs to explain why he thinks the current system is broken, and get Canadians to endorse any change.
“(The Liberals) put out their own sort of dissident report saying ‘No, we can’t have a referendum. This is too complex of an issue to take to Canadians,'” Ambrose said in the interview. “And well, you know how I feel about that. I think it’s really condescending to tell Canadians that this is too complex for them to manage, and so it has to be a decision by Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. It can’t be something we take to the people.”
How proportional representation works
The new system would be a form of proportional representation. Although the details would have to be determined by the government, this voting system comes in two main flavours and it’s likely that whatever is proposed would resemble one of them.
One way proportional representation works is a voter casts a ballot for a party, as opposed to voting for a prospective MP under a party banner, as the current system prescribes.
Once all the votes are counted, parties are awarded a number of seats in proportion to the percentage of votes each received.
A form of this type of proportional representation is used in Sweden, though parties must receive at least four per cent of the vote to get a seat in the national legislature. There are currently eight political parties represented in the Swedish parliament. Coalitions and alliances between different parties are common.
However, the Special Committee on Electoral Reform recommended that Canada not adopt this model as “such systems sever the connection between voters and their MP.”
The second model, called “mixed-member proportional representation” is more complicated. This is a hybrid system that combines the above with some single-member ridings. In 2007, Elections Ontario proposed the province adopt this system, but it didn’t pass a referendum.
As described by the electoral body, the system would allow voters to cast one ballot for a candidate in their riding and a second ballot for their preferred party. The first vote determines, more or less, who sits in the legislature based on the second ballot which determines how many seats the party will fill.
In the end, if a party ends up with fewer seats than it should have based on its overall popularity, they would get some “top up” members from an already established party list.
Proponents of proportional representation say that it’s fairer than the existing first-past-the-post system. If a party gets 25 per cent of the votes, it would get 25 per cent of the seats.
If we apply that rule to Canada’s last federal election, we’d end up with significantly different results.
Right now, the party standings are:
Bloc Quebecois: 10
Green Party: 1
If each party had the number of seats that corresponded directly to its share of the popular vote — the simplest form of proportional representation — smaller parties with broad national support would benefit. It would look more like this:
Bloc Quebecois: 16
Green Party: 11
We can’t know yet what electoral system will be proposed, and whether it will gain support from the Canadian public, but it’s possible that future elections and election results could look quite different under proportional representation.