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Preferential Ballot System Benefits Not Only The Liberals

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MARYAM MONSEF
Chris Wattie / Reuters
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It has been pointed out that if the last election results had a preferential ballot system in place, it would have resulted in 50 more seats for the Liberals.

Looking at a previous election to predict the next one is what my friend Stephen Carter calls "being a Semenko."

Now, Stephen has a flair for these sorts of analogies, this one I thought was brilliant. The context of "being a Semenko" is relational to "being a Gretzky," skating to where the puck will be, not where it is.

Now, when it comes to electoral reform, much of the Canadian media, the opposition parties and most pundits are skating to where the puck is. To understand the electoral reform debate, we have to understand where the puck will be in 2019 when the next election rolls around.

Two of the last three prime ministers made substantial changes to the electoral system without much fuss.

Is it a power grab?

Some are calling the process a "power grab," claiming the Liberals have no mandate to make this type of change.

Is it an abuse of power?

Some go even further and make the case for this being undemocratic and "monarchistic" behaviour.

Before we continue to lose our minds over this issue, let's look at Justin Trudeau's track record and the history of electoral reform in Canada.

Justin Trudeau on reform

Senate reform has been debated in Canada since, well, forever. It actually predates confederation itself. Long before he became prime minister, Justin Trudeau severed ties with the Senate Liberal caucus and changed the landscape of federal politics. It wasn't a popular decision, it won't make his job easier as prime minister in passing legislation, but he did it anyway because it needed to be done.

Recent electoral reform

Two of the last three prime ministers made substantial changes to the electoral system without much fuss. Jean Chretien eliminated corporate and union donations and introduced a public per-vote subsidy which began in 2004.

A per-vote subsidy is largely seen as the most democratic of the ways political parties are allocated public funds. Knowing that a party will receive a specific dollar amount for each vote can encourage party/brand loyalty and reduce what can be deemed as undemocratic strategic voting. Chretien changed these rules without a referendum.

Stephen Harper did away with the per-vote subsidy system starting in 2012, and by 2015 it had been completely eliminated. Perhaps my memory fails me, but I don't recall these columnists expressing outrage then. When the Conservatives had a massive and consistent lead in fundraising, they eliminated the per-vote subsidy that kept other parties competitive, and they did it without a referendum.

Strategic voters won't need to choose between voting for the party they like and voting for the party they think can beat party/candidate X. They can do both.

Preferential ballot

A preferential ballot system levels the playing field for all candidates. Like the per-vote subsidy, it will promote more party/candidate loyalty on the first vote. Unlike the last election, strategic "anybody but Harper" voters won't need to choose between voting for the party they like and voting for the party they think can beat party/candidate X. They can do both.

This will be good news for independents and green party candidates who will get more loyalty from voters, because even if they aren't seen as competitive people will vote for them and give their number two, three and four to the parties/candidates they can also live with.

What Justin Trudeau and Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef are trying to do will actually be very good for democracy, and not necessarily benefit Liberal candidates exclusively. It will benefit inclusive and respectful candidates and parties who try to reach beyond their partisan base.

If Liberals benefit disproportionately from being inclusive and respectful, that may be upsetting to some parties, I understand. A system that rewards the very characteristics we teach our children should not be under attack.

Only one thing is certain about the next election -- it will be nothing like the last one. So, I say to the pundits, media and opposition parties: stop being Semenkos about electoral reform, be a Gretzky.

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