On June 7, 2016, the House of Commons created a Special Committee on Electoral Reform “to identify and conduct a study of viable alternate voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system, as well as to examine mandatory voting and online voting.” This committee’s work contributes to discussions about electoral reform that have been occurring with some frequency across the country since the turn of the millennium. It has resulted in citizen committees and assemblies, commissions, and plebiscites or referenda in provinces such as New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec.
Drawing inspiration from a Canadian Study of Parliament Group conference on electoral reform held in spring 2016, in this theme issue we explore some aspects of this ongoing discussion in greater detail.
Prince Edward Island MLA Jordan Brown, chair of the Special Committee on Democratic Renewal, provides the context and history leading to PEI’s most recent examination of its electoral system, which culminated in a plebiscite held from October 29 to November 7, 2016. Paul Alan, the Director of Communications for Elections PEI, outlines some of the ways Prince Edward Islanders were able to participate, the structure of the preferential ballot and, the results of each round of voting.
A roundtable with three CSPG conference participants (Dennis Pilon, Harold Jansen, and Laura Stephenson) touches upon the history of electoral reform in Canada, including what motivates reforms and how some attempts have succeeded or failed.
Ross Lambertson and Jean-Pierre Derriennic offer two visions of potential reform. Lambertson’s premise maintains the current method of electing federal MPs but adds a new wrinkle to how votes could be counted in the House of Commons. Derriennic suggests two prominent reform models, the preferential/ranked ballot system and a moderate form of proportional representation, could be combined to create a system that retains the best qualities of each system.
Finally, in a revised version of his CSPG conference presentation, Christopher Kam tackles the trade-off between accountability and representation that is often central to debates over optimal electoral systems and concludes it’s virtually impossible to evaluate either concept on a normative basis. He suggests this conclusion should prompt citizens to carefully scrutinize politicians and other proponents who claim that some electoral systems are inherently “fairer,” “more democratic,” “representative” or “effective” than others.
We hope this selection of articles, while only scratching the surface of debate over electoral reform, offers a diversity of perspectives and highlights some of the issues and concepts that arise during these discussions. The Canadian Parliamentary Review welcomes proposals for additional articles along these themes and others for consideration in future issues.