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Ranked ballots would have given the Liberals 224 seats this past election

Estimate of electoral reform impact

Estimates of the results of the 2015 federal election with the implementation of proportional representation and a preferential ballot. (Éric Grenier) Chart: Source CBC News.

The Council of Canadians is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to implement proportional representation in time for the October 21, 2019 federal election. The Liberal platform this past election promised to review reforms to our current voting system, including ranked ballots and proportional representation. We are opposed to the ranked ballot system.

Ranked ballots, also called preferential ballots or alternative voting, allow voters to rank candidates according to their preference. If a candidate wins more than 50 per cent of the vote, they win their seat. But if no candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the vote, the candidate with the lowest first-place votes is dropped and their second-place votes are added to the totals of the candidates still in the running. This process is then repeated (next with the candidate who has the second lowest first-place votes being dropped and their second-place votes being added to the remaining totals and so on) until a candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the vote.

York University professor Dennis Pilon has stated, “The ranked ballot would benefit the Liberals the most because it would funnel support from both directions to that party.”

Now ThreeHundredEight.com founder Éric Grenier has done the number crunching to reveal the implications of ranked ballots.

Grenier writes, “An analysis of the results of the federal election, combined with regional-level second-choice polling conducted at the end of the campaign, suggests that had a preferential ballot been the method used to elect MPs on Oct. 19, all else being equal, the Liberals would have won an even larger majority. Based on this analysis, the Liberals would have seen their seat total balloon from 184 to 224 seats, a gain of 40 seats over their actual performance. The Conservatives’ seat total would have slid to 61 from 99, a drop of 38 seats, while the New Democrats would have been boosted slightly to 50 seats from 44. The Greens would not have increased their tally, while the Bloc would have dropped to two seats from 10.”

He highlights, “The Liberals benefit from this system because they get almost all of the second-choice support from NDP voters, and are the preferred option for Conservative voters over the New Democrats.”

We believe a fairer system would be proportional representation.

Under that system, parties are awarded seats based on their popular vote. Basically, a party that receives 30 per cent of the popular vote, would receive 30 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons. In the mixed member proportional system, as in Germany and New Zealand, voters would be asked to vote twice – once for a candidate in their riding and secondly for a party. So if a party won 30 per cent of the popular vote, but its candidates only won 20 per cent of the seats, the party would be able to add to its representation in the House of Commons with extra MPs from a pre-determined list.

Grenier writes, “Had a proportional representation system been in place to decide how the 338 seats in the House of Commons would be distributed, the Liberals would have won 134 seats [rather than 184], the Conservatives 109 seats [instead of 99], the New Democrats 67 seats [rather than 44], the Bloc Québécois 16 [rather than 10] seats and the Greens 12 seats [instead of 1].”

As such, it’s not a winner take all system (like first past the post and ranked ballots), but a genuine democratic reform in which each vote counts.

In Prime Minister Trudeau’s Mandate Letter to Peterborough-Kawartha MP Maryam Monsef, the new minister of Democratic Institutions, he called on her to, “Bring forward a proposal to establish a special parliamentary committee to consult on electoral reform, including preferential ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting and online voting.” The Liberal platform had also noted, “This committee will deliver its recommendations to Parliament. Within 18 months of forming government, we will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform.”

Given the 18-month deadline Trudeau has set for himself, we can expect to see his electoral reform legislation by May 2017.