On electoral reform: choices, choices…

Election results under instant-runoff voting prove interesting, but what’s the right choice?

Electoral reform was something that’s been dangling in front of us for the past couple of months, and it’s been something many people have wanted for a lot longer than that.

The NDP pitched a mixed-mem­ber proportional (MMP) system in 2014, but after that didn’t go anywhere, the issue didn’t come up again until the election. The NDP kept after its promise to implement MMP. The Greens and Liberals both promised to look into proportional representation (PR) of some kind by forming all-party committees and exploring the issue after being elected.

“We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional repre­sentation, mandatory voting, and online voting,” the Liberal electoral reform policy page reads.

With Trudeau and the Liberals now in power, it’s time for him to start making good on his promise. That gives him until April 20, 2017 to have a new system in place. The clock is ticking, Mr. Trudeau.

Here in B.C., the call for im­plementing BC-STV, a PR voting system where candidates are ranked by the voter in order of preference and where multiple seats can be achieved in some districts. In 2005, 57.69 per cent of voters wanted the system imple­mented, but there was a 60 per cent threshold for the vote to be considered binding. In 2009, there was a second referendum held alongside the provincial election, where 39.09 per cent of people voted in favour. That vote failed, too, however.

But what kind of electoral reform does Canada need, and how will Canada’s political scene change as a result? Obviously the type will be up to the all-party com­mittee to decide. Considering some of my recent reading on the matter, those committees might be host to some hot debates, simply because of which parties the new systems might favour.

Under instant runoff voting (IRV), for example, the Liberals would have significantly bolstered their seat count in the recent election – at least according to reddit user just2410, who decided to use polling data from Nanos on voters’ second choices to simulate an IRV election. Although there are several good rebuttals against the usefulness of the simulated results, they are still interesting. In the simulation, the Liberals stand to gain another 27 seats, bringing their total seat count to 211. The NDP picks up another 10 seats, the Greens stay the same and the Conservatives lose a whopping 29. (Also of note, the Kamloops– Thompson–Cariboo goes from a CPC seat to the NDP.)

Of course, these simulated results don’t mean much when you consider the fact that the parties would not have campaigned the way they did if a preferential/ ranked voting system was in place. They’d likely wouldn’t be as quick to run things like attack ads and everyone would mellow out a little in order to be another party’s second choice. The Liberals, for example, might further affirm their position in the centre and promise policies that appeal to strict fiscal conservatives. The NDP might move further towards the centre to win over Liberals who don’t want to vote Conservative as their second choice, and the Greens might just get somewhere.

I imagine it’ll take Canada awhile to “figure out” how the new system works. For the first election or two, I imagine IRV will be used as it should – a simple ranking of candidates based on their merit and policies (and not motivated by kind of so-called strategic voting). After that, however, I don’t think anything would stop Canadian voters from trying to game the system. How long until parties stop asking for your first vote and start asking for your second? Or to rank another party last? Maybe my lack of PR knowledge is showing here, but it seems like every system devolves into one that can be gamed, and a more proportional system would suffer the same way a first-past-the-post one has.

On the other hand, what if PR creates an even more diverse field of parties and candidates? How long until we see a fiscally conservative NDP candidate, or an especially socially progressive Conservative? Or perhaps a radical Liberal? Plus, what about all those never-elected parties out there? The Pirate Party of Canada comes to mind. Will single-issue parties stand a chance under certain PR systems?

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited and hopeful for change. With this being a democracy, and all decisions in it being made that way, too, not everyone will end up with the system they want, but perhaps this is our best shot at getting a system where the most people possible get what they want. That’s something everyone should be happy about and excited for.