A simpler road to electoral reform in Canada

First step: have fewer ridings but more members per riding


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electoral reformRED DEER, Alta. Feb. 3, 2016/ Troy Media/ — One sure-fire way to make certain nobody is happy with our government is for it to keep its promise on electoral reform.

Certainly, putting a stronger dose of democracy in the formation of our Parliament is pretty well the most wished-for change we could see in Ottawa.

But achieving that will result in a process that everybody hates.

We know Canada can do better than first-past-the-post, which almost always gives us majority governments built on the strength of a minority of voters.

But change the system? Make a to-do list and you’d find Canadians would rather everyone donate a kidney.

That’s why reform referenda have failed in the past. The difficulty of explaining options for change outweighs dislike for the current less-than-perfect voting system.

So how can we make Parliament more accurately reflect the diversity of today’s Canada? And how can we do that with a voting system simple enough not to scare people away from the ballot stations?

When you look at the options that will face the all-party committee soon to be announced, you can be forgiven for saying “none of the above.” The Sainte-Lague method of voting? The revised Sainte-Lague method? Who the heck is Sainte-Lague?

He’s not the patron saint of voters. Andre Sainte-Lague was a French mathematician who came up with a formula for deciding proportional representation in elections. His formula says the quotient is equal to the number of votes, divided by two times the number of seats plus one (Q=V over 2S+1).

After the votes are tallied, successive quotients are calculated. The party with the highest quotient gets a member, then the formula is run again for the next seat … in today’s Parliament, 338 times.

Imagine watching TV all election night waiting for that to transpire.

You should be able to vote for the candidates and policies of one’s choice without needing a math degree. And you should expect that everyone’s voice is fairly represented in Parliament without needing a system of charts and statistics.

So here’s an easier solution:

First, have fewer ridings but more members per riding. The major cities could each be one riding, with multiple members per riding according to population. Outside the major cities, divide the provinces into a few ridings, with as many members to elect proportionally as the big cities get. That shouldn’t be hard.

Then, get as many votes for as many MPs as there are in your riding. For instance, Edmonton has eight MPs now, Red Deer has two. So each party would be able to nominate that number of candidates, along with as many independents as can get themselves nominated.

Voters may really like one candidate from a particular party, but not another. You would be free to pick the Tory you like, plus a Liberal you like — or go totally Green. Or just vote for the few people you really know about in what could become a long list while ignoring the ones who couldn’t make an impression.

An Edmontonian who really hated one candidate could cast eight votes for anyone but that candidate. Or if you just totally love the person, mark one vote and none for anyone else.

This is how we choose city council in Red Deer, and we get a pretty broad spectrum of views represented. They have to learn to work together or nothing gets done.

I know in the last federal election, there were candidates I wished I could have voted for but I was in the wrong riding. So enlarge the riding and increase voters’ access to representatives they want, regardless of party affiliation.

In places like Greater Toronto, that might create too large a ballot, so divide some major cities to make it manageable.

This system rewards candidates who can appeal to a broad spectrum of voters and gives independents and minor parties a fair shot.

It would also tend to eliminate extremists who could not rally enough support to overcome the split votes of people who don’t want them. If an extreme candidate does win, he or she would just be one of several representing that riding.

The end result: fewer ridings, more MPs per riding, in all likelihood from differing parties, representing a broad range of views. Without getting all mathematical about it, isn’t that what we really want in government?

You’re welcome. And no need to name the system after me. I’m no saint.

Greg Neiman is a freelance editor, columnist and blogger living in Red Deer, Alta. Greg is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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2 Responses to "A simpler road to electoral reform in Canada"

  1. Wilfred Day   February 4, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Is that really how Red Deer votes? Your Act says:
    57(1) “an elector in an election may vote once for each of the persons the elector chooses to vote for.
    (2) An elector may not vote for more than the number of persons to be elected to the office.”
    The cumulative vote, as you describe, is an interesting option, but does any place in Canada use it? Does any country use it for national elections?
    We don’t need more voting system options. Many countries use PR. The Law Commission of Canada designed a made-in-Canada system. We need to adopt it, while making all MPs personally accountable to voter.

  2. Antony Hodgson   February 4, 2016 at 10:41 am

    Greg Neiman nails it. The best way to ensure that virtually all voters are represented by an MP they’ve voted for is to have fewer ridings electing teams of MPs. The most robust way to do this is with the voting system called the Single Transferable Vote (STV). STV was once used widely in most of the major cities across western Canada, including Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge (as well as in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Saskatoon and other cities). Though we have for the most part forgotten about this (Calgary only stopped using STV in 1974), in most of these places STV was eliminated because the powers-that-be didn’t like having to deal with more diverse voices. Now that there’s much broader consensus that diversity is valuable, it’s time to reinstate what we once had completely right – a voting system like STV that gives almost all voters a voice in Parliament.