Electoral Reform on the Move in Canada

by Devin McCarthy // Published April 16, 2013
Hockey RCV

Things are looking up for electoral reformers in Canada.

A new poll from Environics, a Canadian research firm, shows that 70% of Canadians would favor a move to proportional representation for Canada's Parliament. That support transcends party lines, with at least 60% of Conservatives, Liberals, and New Democrats preferring any kind of proportional representation to Canada's current winner-take-all system. Respondents identifying with the New Democratic Party, which currently controls nearly a third of seats in the House of Commons, were especially enthusiastic, backing proportional representation at an 82% rate.

FairVote Canada has led the movement for fair voting, and the conversation about serious electoral reform is likely to be particularly relevant in advance of the 2015 elections, as national polls show an electorate split among Canada's three major parties.

And it's not just proportional representation - last week, the Liberal Party held its leadership elections using ranked choice voting. The elections went smoothly, though the winner was never in doubt: Justin Trudeau received over 78% of first choice rankings en route to a landslide victory. Trudeau himself has advocated for using ranked choice voting for the House of Commons, and the Liberal Party as a whole voted last January to support ranked choice voting for all future national elections.

The Liberal Party used a somewhat unconventional method of ranked choice voting in its leadership election, as Trudeau was not elected by direct popular vote. Each Canadian federal district (a "riding") received an equal number of points, and those points were allocated to candidates in each riding in proportion to the number of first choice rankings they received. Had no candidate won a majority of points after the first round of point-allocation (as Trudeau did), the voters who ranked the candidate with the least number of points first would have had their votes transfer to their second choices, giving points to those candidates instead. That process would have continued until a candidate had a majority of points, as in a traditional instant runoff voting election.

Regardless of the added complexity of the point system, however, the Liberal Party's use of ranked choice voting allowed voters to honestly express their preferences on their ballots, preventing any possibility of "spoiler" candidates or a candidate winning with a small plurality of support.

Meanwhile, the movement for ranked choice voting is gaining steam in Toronto, where Dave Meslin is leading an initiative to win RCV for Toronto's mayoral elections. With the backing of FairVote Canada, Meslin's Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT) has a strong chance to succeed in advance of the mayoral election in 2014. Toronto is certainly a city in need of voting reform - its current mayor, Rob Ford, won election without a majority of support in 2010.

As the United States makes slow but steady progress toward a fair electoral system, it's nice to see our northern brethren keeping up.