In a twist on the phrase “when one door closes another one opens” I say “When one election finishes another one is around the corner”. The Ontario Municipal elections are done, the Ontario election is way back in the rear-view mirror and in New Brunswick we finally have the party with the most seats in government. So for those of us that are political, what’s next? Where DO we focus our attentions?
Checking the election calendar, in BC there’s a plebiscite on electoral reform. Remember when Justin Trudeau said “2015 will be the last election using first past the post (FPTP)’? Mail in voting on moving past FPTP to a proportional representation system in BC ends November 30thwith result anticipated shortly after that. The referendum was an election promise made in the 2017 election made the BC NDP and subsequently repeated in defeated throne speech by BC Liberal Premier Christie Clark in an effort to remain in power.
This is not the first referendum on the subject in BC and there have been other votes on the subject in other provinces. The first vote on electoral change in BC in 2005 saw a majority of ballots cast for a change to a BC version of a Single Transferable Vote system (did you just say “huh” like me?) however the vote did not make the 60% threshold required, 57.7% vote in favour of change.
Ontario had a ballot question on electoral reform in the 2007 election asking Ontarians to adopt a Mixed Member Proportional system. The vote for MMP failed dramatically as 63% of Ontarians voted to maintain FPTP. The subject has not been brought up since in the province.
Two years ago, PEI held their referendum. Their vote was a five option ballot with Islanders voting on keeping FPTP, adopting a Dual Member Representation, moving to a MMP system, a FPTP plus Leaders system or going to Preferential Voting. Too many options and having some of them being confusing caused a split in the results with FPTP finishing with 31% of the vote, second was MMP at 29%. This vote demonstrates that too many options just muddy the water – a simple question of change, a yes or no vote makes for a simple and clear question.
Here we are today, with a referendum that asks a somewhat simple question – do you want FPTP or a Proportional Representation (PR) election system? If you vote for FPTP, that’s it you are done – seal the envelope and drop it in the mail and hope Canada Post rotating strikes don’t delay your ballot getting delivered. If you say yes to PR you have to make a choice of what change you want. Here it’s tricky; there’s Mixed Member Proportional representation, Dual-Member Proportional representation and the third option is Rural-Urban Proportional Representation. To make this more complicated, the second question of the ballot will be ranked, a preferential ballot if you like. The system that garners 50% plus one vote of the PR vote becomes the electoral reform in BC. This entire exercise means nothing if a majority of voters say they want to keep FPTP.
All of this demonstrates that change is difficult; getting people to agree on change is another, it’s a greater challenge when what the change looks like needs to be chosen.
At some point there will be a change in how we vote, and the change will start in a province before a change is made nationally. Whatever reason Trudeau gave to “can” electoral reform, it was clear that the reform Canadians wanted was something other than what Justin Trudeau wanted.
It may take several provinces to adopt electoral reform before this can be a national discussion. In fact the push for electoral reform may have to start municipally. In Ontario, municipalities were given the right to decide what type of electoral reform to adopt; only one municipality really took a chance in 2018.
London Ontario moved to a preferential ballot for all seats on their city council this fall. In the end the only complaint about the preferential ballot was the length of time it took to decide the winners. Candidates and voters waited almost 18 hours to have all the winners decided; and in the case of the Mayor’s race it was 13 rounds of counting before former Conservative MP Ed Holder was declared the winner and elected Mayor. A faster computing system easily fixes the issue of time – something I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that London is looking into fixing for 2022.
For the supporters of electoral reform, change rests on not only the outcome of the BC referendum but on which province(s) follow a successful challenge to FPTP on the west coast. Nationally, can Justin Trudeau ever be trusted again to be sincere about electoral reform? Who will be the national catalyst for change nationally?
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