Canada needs a new voting system
NationalPost.com – fullcomment
Apr 22, 2012. Stephane Dion
Our voting system weakens Canada’s cohesion. It artificially amplifies the regional concentration of political party support at the federal level. With 50% of the vote in a given province, a federal party could end up taking almost all the seats. But with 20% of the vote, it may end up not winning any seats at all. This is how Ontario appeared more Liberal than it really was, Alberta more Reform-Conservative, Quebec more Bloc, etc.
I do not see why we should maintain a voting system that makes our major parties appear less national and our regions more politically opposed than they really are. I no longer want a voting system that gives the impression that certain parties have given up on Quebec, or on the West. On the contrary, the whole spectrum of parties, from Greens to Conservatives, must embrace all the regions of Canada. In each region, they must covet and be able to obtain seats proportionate to their actual support. This is the main reason why I recommend replacing our voting system. The issue now is to come up with an alternative.
I propose the “proportional-preferential-personalized vote,” or “P3” for short (not to be confused with P3 construction projects!).
We would elect three to five MPs per riding rather than one. The number of seats would remain the same; what would be reduced is the number of ridings. This would provide moderate proportional representation, which corrects the regional distortions of the current electoral system.
Indeed, the party that gets the most votes in a riding would probably win three seats out of five or two out of three. Thus, seats would be truly up for grabs in all ridings, even in the most Conservative ones in Alberta and the most Liberal ones in Toronto and Montreal.
However, using this moderate proportional voting system would be less likely to result in one-party majority governments. And should a coalition government prove necessary, it should be stable and coherent. One way to prepare parties to such eventualities would be to use preferential voting. Under this system, voters are invited, when casting their votes, to rank the parties in order of preference.
The great advantage of preferential voting is that it promotes cooperation among the parties. It is actually in each party’s interest to persuade those who support other parties that it represents a second acceptable choice. The parties are thus encouraged to highlight similarities in their objectives and platforms.
By seeking out the transfer of subsequent voting preferences from their respective voters, parties would better prepare themselves to govern together. Thus, these coalitions would be predictable for voters, and even influenced by them, and, as a result, likely coherent.
Finally, voters should be allowed not only to rank parties by preference, but also to select a candidate. They would choose the candidate they prefer from among those put forward by the party they select as their top preference. In other words, voters would choose only one candidate in the party of their first choice. This would allow Canadians to continue voting for real live candidates, not just for parties. Hence, voting would remain personalized.
This is how the ballots would be counted: First, the voters’ first party preferences would be tallied. If one or more parties failed to obtain enough first choices to win a seat, the party that got the smallest number of votes would be eliminated and its voters’ second choices would be transferred to the remaining parties. The second and subsequent choices of the eliminated parties would be allocated until all of the parties still in the running obtain at least one seat. This would produce the percentages of votes that determine the number of seats obtained by the various parties.
Then, the voters’ choices as to their preferred candidate among those attached to their preferred party are counted. If a party obtained two seats, that party’s two candidates who received the highest number of votes would win those two seats.
We would thus get a voting system that enhances our political parties’ Canada-wide presence, reinforces the level of cooperation that should exist between parties, makes every vote count and ensures that there are seats truly at stake throughout Canada. P3 voting is a perfect fit for Canada, a great tool to promote cohesion in our vast, decentralized and diverse country.
Stéphane Dion is the former leader of the Liberal party and federal Liberal MP for St-Laurent and Cartierville. A longer version iof this text is available on www.ideefederale.ca
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