June 14, 2024
Possible referendum on voting system in Quebec another letdown for electoral reformers?
There is no reason to extrapolate from anglophone Canada’s electoral reform referendums the inevitable failure of one in Quebec.
There is no reason to extrapolate from anglophone Canada’s electoral reform referendums the inevitable failure of one in Quebec.

Proportional representation (PR) fans have been taking it on the chin in Canada lately. In April, Prince Edward Islanders narrowly voted for the second time against moving to a mixed member proportional (MMP) voting system; the No side won by fewer than 3,000 votes out of 82,000 cast. Last year, 61 per cent of British Columbians voted in favour of keeping the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system — all the more crushing considering 58 per cent voted for a single transferrable vote system in 2005, falling just short of the statutory threshold for victory. That was B.C.’s third electoral reform referendum; no one seems to be contemplating a fourth. At the national level, those naïve enough to have believed Justin Trudeau’s Liberals had any intention of implementing PR are likely still feeling the sting.

After P.E.I., Quebec took over as the great hope. Premier François Legault campaigned on adopting an MMP system, and has a signed agreement with the leaders of the Parti Québécois, Québec solidaire and the provincial Green Party to work together to implement it. A recent Léger poll commissioned by pro-reform organization Mouvement Démocratie Nouvelle found 70 per cent of Quebecers want the Coalition Avenir Québec to follow through. The devil is always in the details, but a strong majority said they wanted popular vote to match seat counts and wanted their vote to “count” in some way even if their preferred local candidate loses. The model under discussion would do that by reducing the number of directly elected MNAs from 125 to 77, offering voters both local candidates and parties to vote for, and distributing 50 more seats from party lists to reflect the party vote.

Legault has ruled out a referendum, which was key to the enthusiasm. PR fans are sick of losing referendums. Many have decided they don’t just want to contest them anymore, but that there’s something wrong with referendums per se that explains why they keep losing them. Not infrequently in PR circles you will hear the ongoing Brexit mess cited as an argument against asking Canadians how they would prefer to vote; not infrequently you will hear PR referendums described as “undemocratic.”

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