Electoral reform needed nowhere more than in Alberta

Winner-take-all is not a true reflection of the province’s political diversity

CALGARY, Alta. June 27, 2016/ Troy Media/ – Electoral reform is all about improving democracy in Canada by having our Legislatures and Parliament more accurately reflect voters’ preferences. Instead of winner-take-all in each constituency (often referred to as first-past-the-post (FPTP)), we need a system more consistent with the central idea of democracy – the principle of equality.

National Post columnist Andrew Coyne nails it when he says, “At heart, democracy is based on a belief in the equal worth and equal rights of every citizen.” It follows that we need elections that produce results that reflect – are proportional to – how votes are cast.

Our current electoral system denies this democratic equality. This cannot be justified when there are demonstrably fairer ways of running elections. And nowhere in Canada is this type of change needed more than in the province of Alberta.

Under winner-take-all (FPTP), every vote cast for someone other than the candidate who receives the most votes simply disappears and thus has no impact on the election outcome.

Many will speak of our system leading to “false majorities.” For example, in 2008 the Alberta PCs got over half the votes cast (52.7 per cent), but elected a hugely greater percentage of the seats – 87 per cent! In 2012 the last PC government received only 44 per cent of the popular vote but again unfairly dominated the Legislature by holding a full 70 per cent of the seats.

The distortions continued into 2015 when the Alberta NDs got only 40.6 per cent of the vote but 62.1 per cent of the seats. So FPTP served the NDs well in 2015 but historically treated them very badly. In 2008 they got 8.5 per cent of the vote but only 2.4 per cent of the seats. In 2012 it was 9.8 per cent of the vote and 4.5 per cent of the seats.

But a preferential ballot – the Trudeau government’s purported solution to electoral reform – would only make matters worse.

With a preferential ballot, voters rank all the candidates running in their area. With each round of counting the candidate getting the lowest number of votes drops off until there are only two left, one of whom ends up with a “majority” of “manufactured” votes.

The point of electoral reform, however, is not to put in place a system that, after several rounds of voting, elects the voter’s 4th, 5th or 6th choice. The point of electoral reform is put in place a system that has as many people as possible represented in the Legislature by their first choice.

Only proportional representation gives that desired result. And nowhere is PR needed more than in Alberta, where a higher percentage of votes cast disappear under the winner-take-all system. Winner-take-all is not a true reflection of the province’s political diversity, denying Alberta voters who did not vote for the winning party the right to participate equally in choosing their government.

Prior to their win last May, the Alberta New Democrats said they were in favour of ditching winner-take-all in favour of a fairer, proportional system. Whether they still do is unclear, but the NDs must realize that PR is as crucial to them as to all Albertans. Historically under-represented in the Alberta Legislature because of winner-take-all, and with the next provincial election likely to turn out very differently for them, the NDs must keep its commitment to amend the system.

One final thought: There is no need for Alberta to follow the model of electoral reform that is adopted at the federal level, if indeed one is even adopted. We should be open to the possibility that somewhat different proportional systems would better suit the different levels of government.

But whether the solutions are identical, or not, electoral reform is badly needed everywhere in Canada, and nowhere is that need more acute than right here in Alberta.

Janet Keeping is the leader of the Green Party of Alberta.

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