12.30.2015 11:03 AM

Ten reasons why it’s wrong to change our electoral system in the way the change is being proposed

I was on a CTV panel when the Speech from the Throne was read out.  This part wasn’t a surprise, but I was surprised the Liberals were doubling down on it:

“The Government will . . . take action to ensure that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.”

There are ten reasons I can think of, off the top of my head no less, why they are wrong to ram this through, as they seem intent on doing. Here they are.

1. The government has no specific mandate for any specific change. They need to go and get one. Four sentences on page eight of a glossy campaign document that was likely read by only a few hundred Canadians isn’t sufficient.

2. A change – whether to ranked ballots, or proportional representation, mandatory voting, online voting, or whatever – like this is very big. Any government who wishes to make a change to the way our democracy actually functions needs to be acting (and seen to be acting) in a way that is quintessentially democratic. Refusing to listen to critics isn’t being democratic.

3. The likely changes seem to be weighted in favour of the incumbent Liberal government. That’s wrong. It renders the whole thing illegitimate from the start, and possibly illegal.

4. It’s being rushed. A wholesale and undefined revision of voting laws by 2017? Is any group of people clamouring for that much change, that fast? Is it possible to revise approximately 150 years of voting rules in about 15 months? Maybe – but if you have a solution to a problem, you need to persuade the people (who are the bosses, after all) that they have a problem that is worth solving.

5. Several provinces, including Ontario during an election in which I was involved, have sought a mandate to change election rules. Every one of them went down to defeat. The federal government needs to pay heed to that – but they’re not.

6. It’ll be challenged in court, and possibly hung up for years. In particular, it’ll be noted under section three of the Charter – the document, note well, that was birthed by the current Prime Minister’s father – no government is permitted to override “the right to vote.” What does that mean? Well, our highest court in Figueroa [1 SCR 912, 2003 SCC 37] decreed: “In a democracy, sovereign power resides in the people as a whole and each citizen must have a genuine opportunity to take part in the governance of the country through participation in the selection of elected representatives.” The Supremes are likely to be sympathetic to an argument that a ill-defined, rammed-through gutting of election laws doesn’t give the people “a genuine opportunity to take part.”

7. It is politically unwise. When Stephen Harper tried to rush through changes to election financing laws, ones that he too had made passing reference to in a just-held election campaign, Liberals were rightly incensed – and they very nearly defeated Harper for trying to rig the rules in his own favour. The changes being suggested by Trudeau’s government are far more fundamental – they go to the very heart of our democracy itself. That’s more important than financing of political parties.

8. Proportional representation, in countries which practice it, leads to instability. Majorities become rare, and continual election cycles become the norm. Simultaneously, fringe groups – neo-Nazis and the like – start to win seats, and acquire legitimacy as a result.

9. Ranked ballots – which the Liberals likely favour, because it favours them – is also problematic. Does a ranked system truly reflect a voter’s voting preferences? (Probably not.) Doesn’t it result in more voting errors? (It does.) Does lower turnout happen? (Usually.) Doesn’t it produce lots of run-offs, which paradoxically leads back to the very system that the government is seeking to change in the first place? (Um, yes. Yes it does.)

10. It’s our democracy, not a particular political party’s. It isn’t a perfect electoral system, but it has been at the centre of collective efforts to produce a near-perfect nation. Mess with it at your own risk, Mr. Trudeau.


  1. Geoff says:

    Very well said, and I couldn’t agree more.
    People in the Riding need to be able to choose their candidates, and their elected official. Current system does that.
    Current proposed changes put that power to the parties leadership. They become the ones who decide what official represents the people. It is the people that should decide who represents them, for that is democracy.

  2. John Baglow says:

    “Proportional representation, in countries which practice it, leads to instability.”

    Rubbish. Unless you are claiming that every country in the developed world but four (Canada, the US, the UK and India) are unstable. News to the Germans. News to the New Zealanders.

    • Paul O says:

      Ask the Germans how long it took after their last couple elections to determine who actually won the election. It was the power brokers in the back rooms who ultimately chose the government, not the voters. The voters simply narrowed it down a bit. Hardly a system to aspire to.

  3. Brendan says:

    Where do you draw the conclusions that ranked ballots not necessarily reflecting voter preferences, introducing more errors and lower voter turnout? Is there research you can point to? Each party uses ranked ballot to select leaders, for very good reasons, too. My sense is that ranked ballots are not such a fundamental shift, more incremental and that political parties could no longer afford to pander to a base by abusing people outside of that core following. Seems like a good idea on that level at least.

    • Terence Quinn says:

      True and if you add mandatory voting to the mix I think we would be well served by that method of selecting MP’s

  4. cynical says:

    I agree with many of your points, but unfortunately the details, advantages and disadvantages of all of the reasonable alternatives are not at all obvious to the public. The current system has the virtue of simplicity, and can be transparent if properly organized and supervised.

    That said, we deserve a better system. We’ve all seen the kind of dictatorship that results when the FPP favours one party over all others, and we only get a new election at the pleasure of that dictatorship.

    The problem with a referendum is that it becomes a political campaign, with all the usual interests coming out from under the rug to influence voters one way or another. Referenda don’t lend themselves to the resolution of complex issues, as this one would be.

    I’m not sure Nathan Cullen’s idea isn’t a good one: Put a system in place and evaluate it after the first use.
    Personally I’d like to see a learned panel, informed by both partisan and public interest, present a proposal which we then implement. I’d willingly try any of the alternatives.

    I do NOT like the idea of a predetermined result, based on the presumed advantage to the party in power, even if it would be my personal choice. We’ve had too many years of opaque government not to have learned the lesson that a government that acts in its own interests before those of the citizenry is a bad thing for both our country and our civil society.

  5. Campbell says:

    What about the idea of a) doing some genuine multi-party consultation on the proposed new system, then, b) committing to running the next two federal elections under that system, and then, c) holding a referendum after the second election under that new system to determine if Canadians want to keep it?

    My fear of putting it to a referendum before implementing is that it is very easy to scare people into sticking with the status quo (better the devil you know, etc.). People are typically much more accepting of change after having lived through it for a while. Committing to a referendum after trying something new makes sense to me.

    My personal experience is that I am much more likely to reasonably consider both options once I have tried both. As a child, my parents always forced me to try foods I “didn’t like” before accepting that I wouldn’t eat them. That attitude has broadened my horizons considerably; our country should get to choose the sort of electoral system it has from a limited range of options (determined by a non-partisan committee of experts), but only after being forced to actually try said options.

    • Matt says:

      A multi party committee is what the Liberals are proposing.

      Of course given they have a majority in the HOC said committee will be chaired by a Liberal and the Liberals will have a majority on the committee

      • Mike says:

        Oh the irony.

      • Campbell says:

        What about commenting on the idea? Would it lend legitimacy to electoral reform without a referendum if the government passed legislation binding any future government to holding a referendum after two elections under the new system?

  6. P. Brenn says:

    I think this country has much bigger issues to solve – economy , healthcare , safety , economy , economy…

    if anyone wants to change the voting system…let voters decide ..

  7. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    I favour dumping FPTP but want a genuine consultative process. They need to go slow. Don’t favour a binding referendum for obvious reasons. Let the next election be the political verdict. If Canadians don’t like the new process, they can throw out our asses in the next campaign.

    • Vancouverois says:

      Stop being disingenuous.

      It’s dishonest to pretend we can vote them out after the fact when you know full well that the Liberals favour a ranked balloting system that would make them all but impossible to vote out. That’s the whole point of the exercise, as far as they’re concerned.

  8. Kelly says:

    I have to (mostly) disagree with the post. The only reason I can think of to tread carefully is optics. None of the technical arguments against the move are convincing.

    Canadians are woefully ill-informed about alternatives to FPTP. In the cases where provinces looked at making changes to FPTP the alternatives were either very poorly communicated (deliberately so?) or a threshold for changing was arbitrarily set far higher than normal. Take the last case, in BC. In the referendum in BC 58% of referendum participants wanted to switch to the Single Transferable Vote (sort of a complicated form of preferential ballot). The Liberal government set the threshold for change at 60%. Ironically far more people voted to change the system than voted for the Liberal government, which won a phony majority with 45% of the popular vote (the NDP won 42% and the Greens a little over 8%).

    Referendums are terrible ways to decide almost anything important. They break issues down to a simple binary choice when the world is more complicated. They are also susceptible to moneyed misinformation campaigns (as was the case in BC and Ontario). Also, unless participation is mandatory, voter turnout in referendums is usually poor, defeating the argument that “the people” should get to decide.

    Our current system produces phony majorities. Full stop. We were never given the option to choose this lousy electoral system in any referendum at the time of confederation. Had we been given an INFORMED choice, we almost certainly wouldn’t have chosen it. It simply doesn’t produce the outcomes that people vote for. Ever. Except in the case of pure two-party systems, which are sham democracies in themselves. I can’t think of any new democracies in the modern era choosing this system over some form of proportional representation.

    Over 60 percent of voters in the last election voted for parties that clearly stated they would change the electoral system. If anything, after consulting with Canadians on alternatives to FPTP maybe (just maybe) give people the option of voting for several alternatives such as the STV or MMPR or a simple ranked ballot, as in Australia (sometimes called instant runoff), but not FPTP.

    As for the claim that PR causes chaos, that is no more true than FPTP. The only countries where it does produce chaos are those where the threshold to win seats is set very very low (say 1 or 2% of the vote). Israel and Italy are not the norm. Meanwhile, FPTP in a truly competitive multi-party environment produces unstable minority governments because the outcomes don’t reflect the popular will. As for PR opening the door to radical fringe neo-nazi parties, that is as true as it opens the door to more centrist parties that differ on one or two points. Keep the threshold high (say 7 or 8% instead of 1% of the vote). And besides, the existence of these parties has nothing to do with the electoral system, rather serious problems in society and weak leadership at the government level).

    Personally I think the Liberals should say we will have an open consultation process, operated by an independent body (as was the case in BC), give that consultation body a large budget for communications, then after a method is chosen, say we will try it out for an election, THEN have a referendum whether we want to go back to the old system. That is the only way to ensure people really get to see what they are dealing with, not a phony referendum open to manipulation by vested interests who currently benefit from the phony system we have now.

    My preference is for a ranked ballot (instant runoff). It is simple to understand, chooses a representative of a riding, and prevents the selection of oddball candidates that the majority does NOT want. Yes, TODAY that system would LIKELY benefit the Liberals, but that is not the Liberal’s fault. If anything, parties will have to moderate their positions to make them more palatable to a wider range of voters and will have to behave in a co-operative way. The risk of being thrown out is greater.

    • Carole Hart says:

      The only reason the liberals want to change it is to ensure future liberal governments. I don’t know about you, but if we manage to get through this newest government’s run, I’d hate to try to cope with the same attitude that has been shown thus far.

      I think the Libs figure in a ranked system, everyone who wants anything but Liberal would put Liberal down as a second choice. I would probably put the Green Party as would many others … then we could have the Green Party wind up leading the government.

      The system we have may not be the best system but until all Canadians get a chance to decide, nothing should be done unilaterally by any party. It would definitely be undemocratic and most likely dictatorial.

  9. MississaugaPeter says:

    It really doesn’t matter what you, me, or anyone else says, the less than 40% Majority can and will do whatever they bloody well want.

    • MississaugaPeter says:

      It is 2016 tomorrow. I want a republic before out 150th and before QEII dies and I have to look at Chuck on all the currency.

      • Nicole says:

        There are many people who don’t want Chuck on the money…. I think a referendum on that issue will disappoint the monarchists.

    • Irene says:

      I think the system is okay at this time. What I don’t believe, are the comments made by some people here. I also do not agree with kineslla. He is a poor loser.
      He’s in a huff because the liberals didn’t choose him as a spokesman for their liberal party.

      That’s my Opinion for what it’s worth.

  10. Darren H says:

    Ranked ballots are idiotic, that’s how we got Redford in Alberta. What should be the third place contender often wins. Funny thing is with a ranked ballot the Dippers might not have won in AB.

    The current system isn’t perfect but it’s fine. We bitch and whine when our guy doesn’t win but constant minorities or coalitions won’t work well.

    • gyor says:

      Historically minorities were the only time that anything worth while got done.

      Universal Healthcare, Penisons, Petrocan, the Canadian Flag, ect…

      Majorities we end up with corruption, lies, broken promises, ect…

      Give me PR.

  11. Kaiser Helmets 'n Motorbikes says:

    I knew there was a reason I liked Warren Kinsella… Beautifully stated.

    2016 is time for Jesus Trudeau & his snot nosed brain trust to put down the Kum Ba Yah hymn books and start the day to day business over governing this disparate empire.

  12. billg says:

    They wont change it without a referendum, it would be political suicide.
    Three provinces have held referendums on doing away with FPP, and, were voted down handily in each province.
    Again, for the life of me I cant figure out why so many people want to change what works so well for this Country, its almost like we’re embarrassed to say we’ve got a pretty good system.

  13. Curt says:

    Thanks Warren! Your observation is right on. However I have an 11th.
    I was born and raised in Nova Scotia. When I was growing up there we called people from Ontario “Upper”” Canadians as they always looked down on Maritimers. I went to Alberta when I was 21 and lived through the NEP which was really a tax grab on the oil and gas industry. A change to the voting system as illustrated above would, in my mind, allow Ontario and Quebec to again rule the country as they see fit/bias. Atlantic Canadians and Western Canadians would be left sucking the hind tit. (excuse the language) Ultimately this would likely lead to the break up of the country.

    • SG says:

      Ontario and Quebec represent over 60% of the population. So why shouldn’t they “rule the country”? And I say that as someone who very much dislikes the Toronto/Montreal elitist political culture.

      • Vancouverois says:

        Because it isn’t “democracy” in any meaningful sense for people to be able to pass laws that only affect other people rather than themselves. The vote of Toronto should not cancel out the votes of entire provinces on issues that don’t affect Toronto but do profoundly affect those provinces.

    • Kelly says:

      Actually, proportional representation would ensure that MPs from all major parties are elected in every province thus guaranteeing regional representation in any government, regardless of political stripe.

      See what I mean about Canadians being woefully ill informed about the alternatives to First Past the Post?

      And for Conservatives worried that a Ranked ballot would keep them out of power forever, look at Australia. They have a ranked ballot system and have had plenty of conservative governments (and currently have one).

      • Cory says:

        The problem with proportional representation, in terms of the Canadian constitution, is that it is proportional to population.

        Our constitution actually has disproportional representation built into it (asymmetrical federation) which guarantees certain regions a minimum number of representatives regardless of population. For this reason I believe true PR is unconstitutional in Canada.

        • dean sherratt says:

          You raise an excellent point not taken into consideration in my or other posts. Constitutionally, you need as many MPs as Senators. But MPs don’t need to live in their ridings or even their province. Depending on the system, this might be worked out or the proportionality made up in other provinces than those with a minimum fixed number of MPs.

          • Cory says:

            There is also the unwritten convention that Quebec has a minimum of 30% of seats in the HOC which is why when the new seats were added to parliament recently, Quebec was given more seats even though their population didn’t warrant it.

            You’ll recall that originally the government planned on increasing the seats in BC, Alberta and Ontario with none for Quebec until the Quebec government threatened to go to court over the 30% convention.

            All this underscores that our system of voting is not just some regulation that can be changed by cabinet alone. It is a foundational aspect of our confederation and an unwritten aspect of our constitution and the mandate to change it must be similar (consent of provinces and/or referendum).

            The Supreme Court has recently ruled that laws which have the affect of indirectly changing the constitution are themselves unconstitutional.

        • Kelly says:

          The idea that proportional representation cannot provide for local representation or regional distribution of seats is simply a myth. It’s just factually wrong. There are many forms of proportional representation in use around the world, today including the single transferable vote and mixed member PR. As for the ranked ballot system used in Australia, and which the Liberals are proposing, it works EXACTLY like FPTP except that by ranking preferences we would be conducting an instant runoff in order to ensure that candidates which a majority of voters do NOT want are not elected because of vote splitting.

          Yet again we have an example of the sort of misinformation that demonstrates why a referendum on the matter of doing away with FPTP would be a highly suspect exercise in democracy.

      • Vancouverois says:

        The Liberal party has indicated that they support ranked balloting, not MMPR. And I am sure that any committee they strike to study the issue will push that system above all others.

        In any case, it is completely absurd and illegitimate (and possibly illegal) to impose a new electoral system of ANY kind under the guise of “improving democracy” without a binding nation-wide referendum on it. The fact that the Liberal government would even contemplate such a move gives the lie to the idea that they care about representing the people. If you think Canadians are insufficiently informed about alternatives to FPTP, then the solution is to inform them.

        In New Zealand, they had referenda both before changing to MMPR to endorse it, and AFTERWARD to confirm that the people were satisfied with the results it provided. There is no valid excuse for not taking the same approach here.

  14. Ann says:

    Hi Warren, I liked your 10 points because it was clear and I think clarity is needed if the Liberals intend to change how we vote.

    Although, I’m not a lawyer – and so stand to be corrected, but in an oblique way, I think, there is resonance here with the Supreme Courts’ decision re Quebec leaving the federation. They said, there had to be a clear question and a majority (not specified), greater than 50+1.

    If Trudeau is depending on a majority and his election platform, then 60% and a plank in his election would not meet the test, should land up in court and from what I understand things turn on precedent. And Quebec leaving would be just that, as it is a constitutional issue.

    What is kind of ironic, is that the Liberals crafted the Clarity Act, but yet, in this case, they lack clarity.

  15. Matt says:


    Add to that they feel there is no need for a referendum on the change.

    Trudeau’s arrogant response to a question about it:


    Later on Sunday, in another interview with CTV, Mr. Trudeau was also asked about the possibility of a referendum on electoral reform. He responded by asking the interviewer whether it is necessary for a government to have a referendum on everything that matters to the future of the country.”

    Actually Justin, when you plan on making changes to the bedrock of our democracy – How we elect people to represent us in the House of Commons – YES, there does need to be a referendum.

    • SG says:

      Referendum not necessary. Instead, they should craft a detailed plan, including implementation timelines and additional budget required per election cycle, and declare that their electoral reform plan will be the centrepiece of their 2019 election campaign. If re-elected, they will certainly have the mandate to implement it.

    • Ann says:

      Do you see a role for the provinces in this?

      • Cory says:


        I certainly see a role of the provinces in this. FPTP was decided on as part of the negotiations that led to confederation. If we replace FPTP we are essentially changing the federation and negotiations will be needed to rebalance it. For example if PR is selected the Atlantic provinces may be concerned that Ontario/Quebec will forever outvote them in the HOC. Quebec on the other hand would want concessions as they stand to lose MPs under a true PR system since they currently have more MPs than their population would warrant under a PR system.

        • Ann says:

          Cory, after reading your reply, I’m now wondering if the Senate comes into play as per their allotment within the federation?

          • Cory says:

            IMO, if they change something this foundational, then everything, including the senate, is open for negotiation.

  16. Matt says:


    Trudeau’s preferred change – ranked ballots – would have given the Liberals dozens MORE seats on October 19th.

    Proportional Representation would have given the Liberals dozens FEWER seats.

    • Ron Waller says:

      The idea the Liberals would’ve won a bigger false majority under Ranked Ballot Voting is based on junk statistics.

      It assumes people who sacrificed their votes to back the Liberal party to stop Harper would’ve made them #1 on their ranked ballot. Fact is the NDP was leading half the campaign and half the Harper majority term. Many would’ve voted #1 NDP in support of daycare, reversing corporate tax cuts, killing Bill C-51 anti-terror nonsense, opposing disastrous TPP free trade, etc. RBV is good for NDP voters.

      It also assumes the Conservatives would’ve run the same polarizing campaign, which FPTP rewards and RBV punishes (these simulations show the Liberals picking up seats from the Conservative party.) Obviously, the Conservatives would moderate their leadership and platform under RBV. This is obviously not a bad thing. It’s what Canadians want given how they would vote if Canada was a democracy.

      It also assumes that Red Tories who now vote Liberal would vote Liberal under RBV. But the fact is, under RBV many conservative parties can exist without the Liberals winning due to vote splitting. (Australia has 4 conservative parties under RBV.) The Red Tories would have their own party. Probably the major conservative party. Again, this is what conservative voters want.

      Liberal and Conservative partisans trash Ranked Ballot Voting because they want to polarize the debate and maintain the status quo. A very vocal and powerful minority.

      • Cory says:

        Interestingly Austrailia has a ranked ballot and their natural governing party is on the right…

        • Justin, not the one in Ottawa says:

          That’s because Australia’s Labour party pretty much destroyed the social and economic fabric of Australia. Somebody has to pick up the pieces.

          • Vancouverois says:

            A serious flaw of ranked balloting. It’s theoretically possible to dislodge a centrist party under that system; but how bad do things have to get before that happens?

            At least in FPTP, it’s easier to throw the bums out if they screw up, before they damage the country too badly.

  17. Tiger says:

    I’d actually not oppose straight-up PR, with a 5% threshold. It’d blow up the party system as it currently exists, and that wouldn’t be terrible. Breaks up regionalism, too, which could be good for governance in general. If Nazis can break 5%, the country has a bigger problem than its electoral system. I’m confident that that wouldn’t happen — Canadians are a civil people.

    I think FPTP works just fine — we hire and fire governments regularly, and public opinion gets respected.

    I don’t like the more complex systems. No MMP, STV, etc., etc. FPTP or pure-ish PR with a reasonable threshold. That’s how I’d vote in a referendum, which I agree should be required.

    • SG says:

      What about FPTP with run-off elections?

      First round elections would identical to what they are currently.

      For ridings where no candidate won 50% of the vote, a run-off would be held a week or two later between the top two candidates from the first round.

      Although it adds another layer to our elections (and certainly would make them more expensive), to my eyes it doesn’t seem complex at all, and much fairer.

      • Kelly says:

        What you are proposing is ranked ballot in slow motion. Ranked ballot is sometimes called instant runoff. It is a good compromise between PR and FPTP. The phony majorities the current system produces are barely legitimate (I actually don’t think they are, but technically they were produced by the rules that all the parties have to play by, so whatever…) they literally can never produce a government that was actually voted for. The results are inherently fraudulent.

    • Cory says:

      I think a cut off in PR would be challenged in court. Recall the cut off for the per vote subsidy for parties used to be 10% but the courts lowered that to something like 2%.

      IMO, the courts might find that a 5% cut-off might be too high (doesn’t the Green party only do around 4%).

  18. Anne Marie McGrath says:

    Thank you. To assume that the method for determining the composition of Parliament rests solely in the hands of Parliamentarians is frightening.

    • Kelly says:

      Then why have parliamentarians decide anything? That is the purpose of representative democracy. We elect parliamentarians to make decisions for us. Why not just have referendums for absolutely everything?

      There is no legal requirement to even Change the constitution, for Pete’s sake.

      • Cory says:

        I disagree. Many consider our system to be part of our unwritten constitution.

        I think that since FPTP was the system choses as part of the negotiations that led to confederation, one could argue that it represents a foundational/constitutional aspect of the federation and changing it is equal to a constitutional change.

      • Vancouverois says:

        Reductio ad absurdum is a logical fallacy. As I’m sure you’re well aware.

        Referenda should indeed be rare, and only held on matters of significance and national importance. However, revising our entire electoral system certainly fits both of those criteria. Only the most bloodyminded Liberal partisans would pretend otherwise.

  19. Sean says:


    …agree on every point and I will add:

    – This was one of the specific policies which convinced me that JT’s team wasn’t taking the platform seriously. These policies were not designed for good Government, they were designed for outflanking the Greens and the NDP, to move the Liberal Party from third place to second place.

    -Rumors abound that JT and The Board 2.0 meddled heavily with the Nomination Meeting which made this Minister a Liberal Candidate…. Winning by 9 votes. She is therefore the LAST PERSON…. IN THE WORLD… who should be meddling with Canada’s electoral system.

    – Rumors also abound that this Minister’s Campaign Manager will be one of JT’s first “Non Partisan”, “Merit Based” Senators.

    – If this Minister is sincere about cleaning up elections, she would have Elections Canada run Nomination Meetings for all Political Parties…. Good luck with that.

    – I’m actually not to worried about these reforms… It seems fairly obvious that they are going nowhere.

    • Bill Templeman says:

      Sean, I worked on Maryam Monsef’s nomination campaign as well as her election campaign. The charges you raise require evidence backed by a full name, otherwise they are snide rumours best left to the creative writing talents of Ezra Levant and his true believers. Got a case? Do your research and post it here. Deal? I didn’t think so…..

  20. LarryG says:

    To all my Dipper-Leftist-Unionist friends:
    Now we have a government that is even worse than the previous Harper Conservative government.
    Was it worth the price to get rid of hated Harper and now endure a failing and undemocratic Liberal regime?
    These Trudeau Liberals are even more capitalistic and fascistic than the hated Harper Conservative!
    Choke on your pyhrric victory…. because in 4 years you won’t recognize Canada!

  21. cgh says:

    Warren, I agree strongly with all of your points, particularly point 8. You can add to it that pizza parliaments always mean a lot of hidden backroom dealing producing results entirely unanticipated by the voters who ended up with very different results than they thought they were voting for. In short, the exact opposite of open and accountable.

    An interesting aside, it will be amusing if the Charter put through by Trudeau Senior ends up blocking the parliamentary reform proposals of Trudeau Junior.

    • doconnor says:

      In the current system one group of backroom dealers gain total power with no accountability.

      • cgh says:

        A rubbish drive-by comment. In the current system, you know what you’re getting. With a pizza parliament, you don’t.

        • Kelly says:

          No you CANNOT know what you are going to get with the current system because of vote splitting. Will a candidate win with 47% of the vote?, 37%, 27%? Depends on how many candidates are running and how the votes split out. Our current system simply cannot produce the outcomes that one expects their votes will produce. Only some form of proportional representation can do that. Backroom deals are currently used to get candidates on the ballots in the first place (Warren was going to run to be a Liberal candidate, but was told not to bother by the back room boys, remember?). And what happens in the case of a minority government? How are coalitions formed, or not formed in that situation?

          Sorry, but our current system is phony, basically from top to bottom.

        • doconnor says:

          You may know what you are getting (one of two big-tent, power-at-all-costs parties) but you have much less control over what you get.

  22. W. Whyte says:

    With PR there will be shift of electoral power, away from the rural voters to the urban voters.
    Okay, but if the Liberals push through PR, rural voters may vote with bullets. Watch out!

  23. SG says:

    I agree. I think what the Liberal should do is spend the next few years coming up with a detailed, researched, and probably-vetted model for electoral reform. They should then declare that instead of pushing it through during this mandate, it will be a centrepiece of their platform for the 2019 election. That will then force the Conservatives and the NDP to come up with their own rival plans. We may then witness 2019 become the “electoral reform” election, much like 1988 was the free trade election.

  24. Bill Longstaff says:

    Regarding point 6:

    In the October federal election over half of the votes cast failed to help elect an MP who represented the voter’s views. In other words, for over half of voters the right to “participation in the selection of elected representatives” counted for nothing.

    Under a proportional system, every vote would count and count equally. It will be quite a challenge to convince the Supreme Court to strike down legislation that gives citizens’ participation real meaning.

    Anyone who believes the right to vote is precious ought to be demanding that elections represent the people’s will, not quibbling about a referendum.

    • AK says:

      Bill Longstaff: “Anyone who believes the right to vote is precious ought to be demanding that elections represent the people’s will, not quibbling about a referendum”

      …. I am honestly speechless. Is this meant to be bad satire or do you actually not see the galling irony of what you just wrote?

      • Bill Longstaff says:

        You appear to conflate voting in an election with voting in a referendum. One is a constitutional right that chooses a government, the other an opinion bereft of constitutional status. Now I’m speechless.

  25. AK says:

    I’m no fan of FPTP, but I think to change something this fundamental to our democracy without a referendum is just plain wrong. And what about the precedent it sets? Any government can change the voting system the next election will be held under? So if the Tories get elected in 2017 they can change it back to FPTP (or whatever they deem to benefit them) for 2021? And whomever is elected in 2021 can subsequently change it again? Absurd. If we are going to change the voting system, it should require a constitutional amendment, with the usual amending rules applied.

    • Vancouverois says:

      Also remember that there are those in the PQ who claim that they have the right to declare Quebec independence if they win a provincial election, without bothering to hold another referendum. If the Liberals impose a new electoral system without a referendum, how can they stop that?

  26. godot10 says:

    First past the post in a vast and diverse country as Canada fosters big tent parties that are critical to keeping the country together.

    Be careful what you wish for.

    Changing the voting system may lead to results that one did not quite expect.

    I am not opposed to change, but there should be a referendum.

    The alternative to FPTP that I prefer would require a constitutional amendment. A ranked ballot for the House of Commons. An equal five-region Senate (Quebec, Ontario, BC+Yukon, Prairies+NWT+Nunavut, and Atlantic Canada) where each region’s representation is determined by pure PR for that region base on the vote for the House of Commons. The Senators would come from a list of the highest vote getters (percentage-wise) from amongst the losing candidates.

    • godot10 says:

      The point of the Senate in the way that I have proposed it is to incubate new parties. It would be much easier for a losing candidate of a new party to reach a threshold for gaining a seat in a 5-region PR senate.

      A ranked ballot would lead to strong governments, and a PR Senate would being a new party incubator.

      New parties in Canada have typically formed regionally.

    • Cory says:

      What you’re proposing is pretty similar to what I’d like to see as well which sounds a lot like the Australian system.

  27. Luke says:

    I’m not so sure a preferential ballot would especially benefit the Liberals. It might if we assume that attitudes and parties today are entirely the same as they would be under the new system, but changing the system would change both of these variables. My first choice under a preferential ballot would quite likely be different than it currently is. I normally vote Liberal, in part because I generally like what the Liberals offer, but also because I expect they are the palatable option that is most likely to win. Depending on the factors of the election (i.e., leadership, platform, local candidates, track record in government), there is every chance that I would put NDP and Green as first and second choice and Liberals third on a preferential ballot. As such, I expect this system would actually damage Liberal fortunes, because those in my boat would frequently select options as their first choice that they don’t currently really consider. I am convinced that the Liberals owe their present majority because of (in part) many individuals’ strategic voting choices.

    Surely parties would change their approach in their own interest under a preferential ballot too, unless their strategists are sleeping or something. I doubt the Conservatives much like the idea, because they would have the most work to do to woo second choice voters, considering that probably 6/10 voters don’t really consider them an options at the moment. Never mind they just finished their first winning streak on the strategy of having merged factions, which doesn’t much help them under the preferential ballot system. But I am sure they would adjust their strategy to undo a lot of the alienation of voters they’ve engineered for some time, lest they endure a deserved walloping.

    • Vancouverois says:

      Preferential balloting might indeed turn out very differently; but it’s clear that the Liberal braintrust believes that it would favour the Liberals. And for them to attempt to skew the voting system in their favour is despicable, whether they’re right or not. It’s a fundamental betrayal of Canadians.

      Regardless of the results any change might or might not have, there’s simply no excuse for not holding a binding referendum on whatever proposal comes forth.

  28. dean sherratt says:

    This is a relatively big issue for me.

    First, I think the Liberals are determined to create a system that will cement their hold on power and not hold a referendum. The role of the Senate might be interesting…timing might be important if the Liberals want to make the issue one of confidence for an early vote. .

    Most arguments revolve around the Westminster system versus the need for a referendum. I would frame the argument around what policy option provides “peace order and good government”. On that the Liberals fail.

    One can argue precedent though not every generation needs to be chained to what earlier generations were allowed to do. But this is a big issue…both pre- and post- Confederation elections were run on FPTP. New Zealand had a referendum on electoral reform…they are in the middle of deciding what their flag should be by the same method…Canada has had two referenda…one on liquor and another to release the government of the day from its promise not to conscript Canadians during World War Two. Arguably this is even more important.

    Some argue that because the Greens, NDP and Liberals all promised (some) sort of reform or are thinking about it, that gives a mandate aside from the Liberal majority in the Commons. In my mind a ranked ballot is not reconcilable with PR. If the four options offer A, B, C and D, there is no logical case that options B, C and D should, indeed must be combined to produce a consensus. Of course, in real life, voters voted for candidates and not a ranked ballot…

    There are a number of forms even of a ranked ballot but a central feature is that voters must be coerced to decide on their second, third and fourth choices etc…and these ballots are just as decisive as the first one which was their real preference. Someone who just votes for one party will have his ballot diluted by the second and third choices of other voters. So must I overcome my natural nausea and make my #2 or 3 choice a party that I despise and have never voted for?

    A PR system also has many variations – but they lead to the creation of more and more political parties…some of them represented by just one successful candidate. The need to create a list system puts more power in the hands of party hacks than they already have. And where they place certain people in their list can virtually guarantee their election. So too, a system by like New Zealand must produce either a much larger Parliament or fewer constituency MPs. Larger ridings are not the end of the world but not desirable for a country the size of Canada.

    Finally, I think the idea of “making every vote count” was at least a hope that more votes would be cast at least. A ranked system does nothing to do this…a PR system may…Belgium voters seem to be enthusiastic (and also compelled) in exercising their franchise…even when they can’t seem to produce a government as a result. Switzerland on the other hand has stability produced by some 38.6% marking their ballots in the last election…

    • Greyapple says:

      Make that three referenda, you forgot the 1992 vote on the Charlottetown Accord. Arguably, this was the only true national referendum, as the 1898 vote on prohibition and the 1942 vote on conscription were not legally binding, rendering them essentially glorified opinion polls. The governments of the day to could and did ignore the voters in both cases, but what the voters said went in 1992.

  29. Martin Gomez says:

    Libs only got 40% of the vote. Most Canadians did not vote for this policy that would radically change how future governments are elected. Changes to the election process should be treated as a Constitutional change.

  30. Cory says:

    IMO a change this fundamental to the federation is in fact a change to the (unwritten) constitution. Selecting FPTP was part of the negotiations that led to the fathers of confederation agreeing to found Canada. Changing that is changing the terms of confederation and will require the consent of the provinces.

  31. Yves Quatuor says:

    Harper: “You won’t recognize Canada!”
    Trudeau: “You won’t recognize Canada, bien sûr!”

    • Yves Quatuor says:

      Let me explain:
      If we had a straight up PR voting system you will see 10-12 provincial-territorial parties, plus an aboriginal party, a muslim party, an anti-abortion party, a homosexual party, a Public Service party, a Sikh party, a Chinese party, a Ukrainian party, etc., etc.!

  32. Ron Waller says:

    The only reason Liberal partisans are opposed to electoral reform, which has been adopted by 74% of all 181 democratic nations across the globe: they know, like Conservative partisans, it will make dictatorships on 39% of the vote a thing of the past.

    That’s what disgusts me most about Liberal partisans: they don’t care if radical cons get absolute corrupt power half the time. Just as long as they get theirs.

    Conservatives have a wretched vision for the country. Liberal partisans, on the other hand, are in it for nothing more than getting their hands on empty power they have a sociopathic sense of entitlement to. It’s no wonder every Liberal government implodes in corruption: corruption is the only thing Liberal partisans stand for.

  33. gyor says:

    No system is perfect, but millions of Canadians have no representives, I have never once had my vote in my riding matter, not once has my choice ever been elected, and that is true of millions of Canadians.

    As for instability, Democracy is supposed to be unstable, your changing governments potentially every four years, its a none violent mini revolution.

    Stability comes from public servants, police, courts, and other instituations, Democracy is Ordered Choas.

    That is why trying to build Democracy without building a stabilizing institutions FIRST usual leads to failed states like Libya, Iraq, Egypt.

    And how many people voted for the current system? None, Canadians weren’t even asked by platform.

    Our current “democracy” isn’t a true Democracy at all, its a sham and a lie and as much as I love Canada its far from near perfect.

    I’m no Liberal and I can’t stand Trudeau, but I want my vote to matter for a change, and right now if I didn’t vote at all nothing would change.

    As for fringe groups you cherry picked the worse example that is representive, many fringe parties have alot to offer, more then the mainstream parties honestly.

  34. Steve T says:

    How about just abolishing the “blindly follow the party” approach to government? Let every vote (including the budget) be a free vote. As it currently stands, your local candidate might as well be a trained monkey.

    I laugh when my candidate comes to the door, or delivers leaflets, touting their background and experience. My question always is: So, will you vote your conscience, or will you toe the party line? No one wants to confront this ugly aspect of our Canadian system.

  35. JimL says:

    The argument that ranked ballots favours the liberals is met with charges that FPTP favours the Conservatives and Prop Rep favours the NDP. So none of these can be acceptable at this rate. Since these seems to be the only fundamental arguments on the issue, why not have the best debater for each process put forward the process by which it would work and why that process should be the preferred one. A Personal Identity Number or Code should be sent to all taxpayers who on a specific day could phone, fax or email their choice using a ranked ballot indicating 1st and 2nd choice. The option having the lowest 1st choice would be dropped and those voters 2nd choice used to resolve the issue. Then have a second such referendum after the winning concept has been used in two elections.

    • Vancouverois says:

      The charge that FPTP favours the Conservatives is demonstrably false. If it were true we wouldn’t have a Liberal federal government, and Alberta wouldn’t have a majority NDP government.

      The more accurate claim is that FPTP favours whatever party gets above a certain level of popular support with a non-concentrated distribution. But while you may argue that it generally gives distorted results in any given election, it can break in favour of *any* party that achieve these two criteria.

  36. LarryG says:

    11. Open rebellion in provinces with lower populations losing power, like NL, NB, NS, PEI, MB, SK, YK, NWT.
    12. Provinces will consider separation rather than participate in a stacked parliament with top-down government.
    13. Canada is not a PR melting pot, it’s a multi-culti confederation of distinct provinces.
    14. A strange and disparate HoCs will emerge after PR and nutbar parties will hold the balance of power.
    15. Yes, you won’t recognize Canada after October 2019 !

  37. Jack D says:


    This whole discussion of electoral reform is starting to really piss me off.

    For starters, the Conservatives and their faux outrage over the matter is nothing but pathetic bullshit. They are last people within in Canada to be bitching about democratic integrity after their “fair elections” act. So the indignation coming from the CPC is a fucking joke considering they gave not one shit about consulting Canadians during their mandate and the sweeping reform to democracy in Canada.

    Secondly, reform is unnecessary for winners. Simply put, its always the losers that complain about the system in which they can’t win.

    Thirdly, true representation through electoral reform in the shape of PR, for example, is a fallacy. The notion that having each vote represented through a myriad of political parties would be beneficial to political discourse is misleading. The consequence of such a system would lead to enhanced opportunities for fringe issues to be pushed to the fore. Its merely a method of giving more weight to parties (like the federal NDP) than they have earned.

    Fourthly, if electoral reform is achieved (which I expect it will) under the Liberals, it will likely be a minor change that will minimize the cost to the Grits and increase their chances of holding on to power. Which, as a partisan, I fully support. But regardless of whatever reform is put into place EVERY party will have to re adjust their approach to elections.

    Fifthly, and this is the most important part, we already had a referendum! It was the 2015 General Election in which the Liberals ran on a platform of electoral reform. The suggestion that Canadians didn’t know what they voted for is asinine. The Liberals made no secret of their plan and they won a majority. If the Conservatives are advocating for a referendum they are advocating for a) wasting tax dollars b) undermining the democratic value of an election and c) setting a precedent by which no government will ever want to follow. I find it very difficult to see how the CPC is going to reconcile their pre-October values to their post-October values when trying to convince voters that they aren’t just trying to preserve the system in which they enjoy the benefits of.

    • dean sherratt says:

      Quite a colourful response.

      Perhaps your ballot was devoted to 4 or 5 versions of election processes…mine only contained the individuals seeking election to my district of Ottawa South.

      You say as a Liberal partisan that you have no problem moving forward with a new system that will favour them. That is quite a telling self-criticism. That sort of sentiment is a characteristic of Chicago politics but I rather hope that Canada is not as badly infected.

      It will probably go through but as a Canadian, I can at least lend my voice with those who think it is a bad idea.

    • nobonus4nonis says:

      the only thing cons are good at is fasciness.

      governing democratically while legislating fascism.

    • doconnor says:

      “Its merely a method of giving more weight to parties (like the federal NDP) than they have earned.”

      It is FPP that gives parties more or less then what they earned. PR would give parties closer to the number of votes they got.

    • Vancouverois says:

      The Conservatives’ “sweeping reform to democracy” didn’t change the fundamental form of our democracy. It affected administrative details; it’s absurd and dishonest to pretend that it was anything like a complete change to how we elect MPs.

      In any case, this idea that it somehow sets a precedent for the Liberals to rig the system in their own favour is absurd. If you object to the changes introduced by the Orwellianly-named “Fair Elections Act”, the solution is for the Liberals to repeal it.


  39. Chris Gilmore says:

    There are some strong arguments in the article, and indeed there are legitimate arguments against electoral reform; however, points 8 and 9 are completely false, while point 6 might be.

    Proportional Representation does not lead to “instability” in the majority of OECD democracies in which it used. When you look at countries that have political cultures similar to Canada (Germany, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Norway, the Australian State of Tasmania, Sweden, etc.) you see stable coalition governments and predictable election cycles. Case in point – Germany has elections every five years like clockwork, the likely and preferred coalition partners of the two main parties (Christian Democrats and Social Democrats) are known by everyone beforehand, and sometimes unexpected results happen (a Grand Coalition between the two main parties), but the same can be said of our system. By comparison, roughly 1/4 of the time Canadians elect minority parliaments that barely last more than two years. Little gets accomplished as both Government and Opposition vie for the earliest opportunity to pull the plug early and seek a favourable mandate. Under proportional voting systems, Government and Opposition have no choice but to make a minority legislature work; however, that is not the case under a winner-take-all system such as our own.

    The Italy-Israel argument against proportional representation is weak and shallow because A. it does not account for the numerous and complex reasons behind Italian and Israeli instability and B. it does not take into account the many other democracies in which PR leads to stable and good government. It would be like me constructing the following argument – Pakistan uses First Past the Post and Pakistani politics are insane; therefore, FPTP leads to extremism, rampant corruption and military coups. Not a very sophisticated argument is it?

    Regarding extremist parties, countries such as Germany and New Zealand have a voter threshold that prevents parties from gaining representation unless they can win at least 5% of the popular vote. So far, it has sufficed to keep the Neo Nazis out of the Bundestag. By comparison, France with its winner-take-all, Two Round System has neo-fascists in the National Assembly. Things are not so cut and dry. Chances are that if a party could garner 5% of the popular vote under First Past the Post, particularly if their support were concentrated in one region, they could win seats anyway.

    The Single Transferable Vote, a form of proportional representation that uses preferential ballots and not party lists, also seems to have shut the Far Right out of the Irish Parliament.

    I hate the term “ranked ballot” as it does not describe a particular voting system, but is rather a component of many different voting systems. When most people refer to “the ranked ballot system,” they are usually referring to the Alternative Vote or Instant Runoff Voting. I for one do not like AV or IRV as it does not address the shortcomings of FPTP, and there is no public interest; however, a preferential voting system would not necessarily benefit the Liberals. STV, as I mentioned earlier, is a system of proportional representation in which multimember ridings and quotas ensure multiparty representation. The BC Liberals, also, made the mistake of assuming that AV would work in their favour during the 1952 BC election. Instead, British Columbians elected a Social Credit dynasty, elections are unpredictable under any system, and nothing is cut and dry.

  40. doris says:

    “5. Several provinces, including Ontario during an election in which I was involved, have sought a mandate to change election rules. Every one of them went down to defeat. The federal government needs to pay heed to that – but they’re not.”

    Warren as you know these initiatives were flawed and designed to fail – a puff exercise. Inadequate education, no government support and little public discourse all combined to dissuade the people to change.

    The same people who did this in Ontario are now in charge in Ottawa why should we approach this execise with anything other than disdain and cynicism?

  41. Cory says:

    If the federal government radically alters a foundational aspect of our confederation without a referendum or following the constitutional amendment formula, how can they argue that a province must hold a referendum to leave confederation?

  42. Richard Wakefield says:

    Of course they are ramming this through. They dont want to ever see another Conservative government. They want a perpetual socialist government running the country, for ever. The fact that their method has ruined many European countries (Italy, Greece, to name just two), is irrelevant to them. Somehow Trudeau thinks that he can bring in the same system as those countries, yet get a better result than not only those countries, but our hundred year plus system. There is a term for attempting to do the same thing and expecting a different result. And Trudeau, our selfie Prime Minister, is indeed insane. And liberal voters are just as insane for not seeing this.

    • doconnor says:

      “Waa waa! Conservatives can’t get 50% of the vote, but deserve to be in change anyway.”

      • Richard Wakefield says:

        No party can get 50% of the vote when there are more than 2 parties. Your Liberals didnt get 61% of the votes. Warren is right about his points, specifically, you allow for proportional representation then even the Communist Party of Canada will get a few seats. Unacceptable.

        • doconnor says:

          While no party is likely to get 50% of the vote, as you said, left wing parties will likely get a majority most of the time.

          Most European countries have a form of PR and most of them better lifestyles then ours (and lower debt to GDP ratio). However creating the Euro was a mistake.

          I’m not keen on the Christian Heritage party getting representation either, but declaring people’s views as unacceptable further shows your anti-democratic tendencies. The Communists will probably not reach the 5% threshold as long as they are split with the Marxist-Leninist party.

    • Dan Calda says:

      Cracks me up how some throw around the word “socialism” without a clue to its meaning. The Harper Gov’t was the most socialist in our history…by many metrics.
      Me thinks one dost protest too much. The far right is scared shitless of PR because it will lead to a stronger Green Party, more climate change regs, thus making resource extraction more difficult or even impossible economically.
      Those that supported Harper have no new found fondness for democratic rule, nor do they even understand the term.

      Jack D. nails it.

    • Justin, not the one in Ottawa says:

      Richard you do have a point that seems to be too much for doconnor to handle. The fact is though Trudeau is going to have a tough time trying to ram this through as Warren has noted. So I wouldn’t worry about a Liberal dictatorship just yet.

  43. George says:

    I sensed this authoritarian aspect of Justin Trudeau before the election. It came across in his arrogance and some of the other things he said. Something about his belief that Quebecers made better prime ministers, etc. In my opinion he has no authority to do it on his own considering that the Liberal popular vote was only 39.5% of the actual voters. Over 30% didn’t bother to vote so basically Trudeau is running the show with about 27% of the total eligible voters.

    This could be a real Pandora’s Box if he goes ahead with it. For over 150 years, nobody messed with the FPTP election process, and it has suited Canada reasonably well. Even if he somehow gets it passed and through the Senate, there is no guarantee that the next elected government won’t change it again. I find it hard to believe that it wasn’t better protected in the 1981 Charter.

    I feel a referendum is necessary to approve any changes, and it also confers more legitimacy to the process.

    Just look at how polarizing the long gun registry has been. The Liberals passed the legislation, the Conservatives trashed it. Now there are rumours something else will takes its place. Now amplify that with what could be at stake with this potential change. This will open up a real can of worms, and to my mind, the country has much higher priorities.

    • Richard Wakefield says:

      I dont even trust a referendum. How many will vote? Will the socialist activists vote on mass and swamp the rest of us who want to keep our current system? Will the Unions spend millions on swaying the public, with their lies, to vote for what they want so they can continue the gravy train? This whole thing would open a pandora’s box. Plus I suspect it would never pass a Supreme Court challenge.

      • doconnor says:

        A referendum will fallow the current election law with bans of corporate and union donations. Usually its old conservatives who vote at a higher rate then socialists, in part because our flawed electorial system.

  44. Justin, not the one in Ottawa says:

    It’ll be like Italy or Greece but bigger. Unstable governments and parties doing everything in their power to stay there. Things will change, but for the worse.

  45. Richard Wakefield says:

    Another point to remember. We go with a new system and it turns out to be worse than the current system, we will never be able to go back to our current system. You want to take that risk?

    • doconnor says:

      Maybe we are already stuck with a worse system and are unable to change it.

      • Vancouverois says:

        That’s how politically aware people often feel when their preferred party isn’t in power. However, the more closely I look at FPTP the more I’m starting to think that it is — as Churchill said about democracy in general — the worst system except for all the others.

        In any case, if it’s as terrible as its detractors claim, it should be a simple matter to convince voters to endorse a change in a national referendum. That happened in New Zealand, after all. No excuse for not using the same democratic approach here.

  46. bluegreenblogger says:

    lol, the fact that you got about a million comments should be instructive. I don’t think a referendum is a good idea, and I doubt we will have one. The sun will probably still come up the next day, and our democracy will not crumble into ashes.

    • Cory says:

      No, democracy may not crumble but the confederation may.

      As I said, changing this without a referendum or the approval of the provinces will cause problems as we’re basically rewriting the rules of confederation and reopening the constitution. The federation will have to be rebalanced through negotiations and all things will be on the table (senate reform, number MPs in each province, regional/provincial vetos, minimum number of rep per region/province etc).

      Then it there is the problem that if a general election is good enough to change confederation, then the PQ will claim that a provincial election is all that is required to leave confederation.

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