22. Better Balloting / Un meilleur scrutin électoral

(Policy papers 2012-2013)

The first-past-the-post voting system seems to be losing the confidence of Canadians. Reformers have been promoting workable alternatives such as proportional representation (PR) or a system of preferential balloting called Alternative Vote (AV) for years, but political parties don’t seem eager to take up the cause. Canada can learn from the experience of Australia, which has successfully used an AV system and compulsory voting for decades.

Le système électoral dans lequel il suffit d’avoir une majorité simple des suffrages pour être élu semble perdre la confiance des Canadiens. Des réformateurs promeuvent la représentation proportionnelle depuis des années, mais les partis politiques ne semblent pas pressés de défendre cette cause. Le Canada peut apprendre de l’expérience de l’Australie, qui utilise avec succès depuis des décennies un système de représentation proportionnelle et un vote obligatoire. Un référendum national donnerait aux Canadiens le choix d’améliorer les rouages de notre mécanique démocratique.



Reforming the electoral system is an important step in repairing our parliamentary democracy and restoring confidence in our national government. The clearest path forward is some form of proportional representation (PR), including the Single Transferable Vote, or a system of preferential balloting such as Alternative Vote (AV). But it is easy to be cynical about their prospects.

Commentators always note that political parties or leaders will support electoral reform while in opposition, but the moment they get into power and are in a position to carry through, they blink. They opt for the certainty of power bestowed on them by the first-past-the-post system, rather than the uncertainty of a system that would more accurately represent the popular will but may produce minority governments and ultimately require more coalition-building and compromise across the political spectrum.

Canadians are looking for less cynicism and more principle in our national leadership. And our national politics could do with much more civility and collaboration and much less of the mindless conflict that so often turns Parliament into the equivalent of a hockey brawl. The time has come for a national party to obtain political power and commit to following through on initiatives such as electoral reform that are in the long-term interest of the Canadian people. This means placing change to the electoral system clearly on the post-election agenda for action, establishing the exact procedure to be followed to consult with Canadians on the various options through a parliamentary committee, and then implementing the necessary legislation as expeditiously as possible.

Many alternative electoral systems are worth considering, and Canadians must be given a choice. For example, under Australia’s AV system, voters rank all the candidates on the ballot, from first choice to last. When the votes are counted, if no candidate gets 50% of the first-choice votes, the votes of the last-place finisher are reallocated according to those voters’ second choices. The reallocation continues until someone gets over 50%.

Only a small majority of Canadians, about 60%, turn out to vote at general elections now, a dismal number that makes the recently revealed use of robocalls for voter suppression — efforts to prevent people from going to their polling places — all the more reprehensible.

How can we deal with this important problem? Along with electoral reform, voting could be made a legal obligation of all citizens, as in Australia. Turnout there is above 90%. Those who, for reasons of conscience, do not want to vote can spoil their ballot.