The CAQ plan to bring in proportional electoral representation is going down a complex path that has been visited many times before. For example, BC has had three separate attempts at electoral reform and all attempts were rejected by the voters; PEIs 2019 effort was similarly rebuffed by the electorate; Ontario’s 2007 proposed revision was soundly rejected as was the Federal All-Party Report of 2016.
For all of its perceived faults, First-Past-The-Post (Winner Take All) is simple and easy to understand. That is, the person who garners the most votes in an Electoral District wins – that’s it, that’s all. There is no fooling around with lists and percentages — the most votes clearly declaring the elected person.
Currently, Quebec (population 8.5 million) has 125 MNAs while Ontario (population 14.5 million) can seemingly quite easy govern itself with 124 representatives. Nonetheless, the CAQ proposal would see the current 125 MNAs elected via a “split” regime. That is, 80 members would be directly elected by popular vote in redrawn Electoral Districts with another 45 members determined by vaguely defined by “voting percentages” based on “party-lists”.
The anchor of every democratic system is that each voter is treated equally with no one vote carrying more political weight than another; with no ED more politically important than its neighbour
Winston Churchill best described the issue of voter balance:
“The principle of ‘one vote, one value’ is in itself an orthodox and unimpeachable … The only safe principle… is that for electoral purposes all…[voters]…are equal, and that voting power… should be evenly distributed among them.”
Unfortunately, Quebec operates under a different philosophy dictating that some votes are worth a great deal more than others! Further, the notion that any form of proportional representation will balance the scale is fraught with the main difficulty that those proportionally selected from lists will have no direct connection/responsibility to specific electors.
In a landmark 1991 Supreme Court of Canada split decision [Reference Re Provincial Electoral Boundaries (Sask.)], the Court formally rejected the notion of the “one vote, one value” philosophy widely held by most world democracies including both the United States and the United Kingdom. Instead, the SCC instituted a somewhat Canadian compromise of “effective representation” which was never defined in law or practice
This decision (before the Internet and e-communication) allowed EDs to deviate from an average elector norm by as much as twenty-five percent. Therefore, the SCC opened the door to all manner of electoral gerrymandering by allowing Electoral Districts to be based – not on the fundamental principle of equity of voters – but geography, communication, history, minority representation, and/or community interest.
Quebec embraced this SCC ruling by delineating its provincial EDs so as to protect remote/rural and francophone enclaves at the expense of urban citizens and, specifically, anglophone and allophone areas.
As presently constituted, Quebec has the most wide-open ranges for voting representation amongst all Western democracies! There is no democratic justification for maintaining Les Iles-de-la-Madelaine as a separate ED at 11,000 voters or Abitibi-Est at 34,000 while Saint-Jean consists of 60,000! Such voter numerical ranges make a mockery of voting intentions and clearly anoints rural and other targeted citizens with more electoral clout than others.
The CAQ plan does not address these disparities and vaguely implies that a regionally based party-sponsored representative slate of candidates will dissipate inequities.
Proportional representation is not a panacea that will solve our electoral ills. It carries with it its own imperfections; the most fundamental being that the tangible connection between individual voter and his or her elected representative is shattered.
Political leaders must craft an electoral landscape that equally respects all voters in this evolving modern age. Protected enclaves and other ill-defined forms of representation must become visages of the past so as to guarantee all citizens an equal electoral voice.
Authors:Sam Allison is a retired secondary school history teacher while Jon Bradley is an Associate Professor (retired) with the Faculty of Education at McGill University.