In October, just a few weeks before the federal election, Why Should I Care was happy to welcome two electoral reform experts to discuss the importance of electoral reform and what (if any) changes would be brought about if this system was adopted in Canada.
Mr. Antony Green, an Election Analyst for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation discussed the Australian context, (which uses what they call “Alternative vote”: ranked ballots in single member ridings) while Dr. Dennis Pilon, Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science at York University, and academic expert from Fair Vote Toronto discussed the Canadian context and opportunities for the future.
Why Should I Care would like to thank the representatives from Fair Vote Toronto for their observations from the event, which informed the post below.
Many audience members expected Mr. Green to explain how the Australian context is vastly different than the current Canadian context, however, this proved not to be the case. In talking about the Australian context, Mr. Green noted that Alternative Vote almost always results in majority governments in Australia and favours the major parties and keeps smaller parties out. AV, like FPTP, generally results in a 2-party system. Very surprisingly AV generates the same results as FPTP 90% of the time
Perhaps more interestingly, Mr. Green noted that AV does little to improve cultural and gender diversity among MPs (however, parties can do so by putting quotas on nominated candidates).
The origins of AV came about in Australia when party systems came into being; Labour Party was the first party to form; fearing domination by the Labour party, right wing parties wanted to stop vote-splitting (cross-party co-operation preceded AV, not the result of AV).
Another unique attribute of Australia is mandatory voting. Mandatory voting favours major parties as the uninformed voter follows traditional voting patterns. Mandatory voting requires parties to adopt policies favouring the less wealthy; over a century, mandatory voting has resulted in more progressive economics policies and strong social safety net. Mandatory voting requires parties to reach out to less wealthy; extensive advertising that is not policy-related.
However, there are some aspects that are similar in both the Canadian and Australian contexts. It is evident that parties will never disappear, as only parties can formulate policies, share resources and exercise enough power to enact platform; parties inform voters. As such, Voting is a collective exercise to collaborate; parties are how that is accomplished: MPs are party representatives.
Another noteworthy fact from both countries is that municipal voters are the least informed because there are no formal parties to communicate policies; municipalities rely on senior governments for funding; parties would create friction with senior governments.
In terms of Canada adopting a new system, both scholars agreed that electoral reform is driven by politics, not weighing the pros and cons of different voting systems.
It could be argued that the NDP are motivated to implement PR because, even with a majority government, they cannot enact desired policies due to bad press and outcry from the wealthy; with PR, NDP would be able to influence policies
Another noteworthy fact is that Trudeau is not the first PM to promise electoral reform: Mackenzie King promised PR as did several other Liberal administrations; PR dropped after election.
Why Should I Care would like to thank both Mr. Green and Mr. Pilon for the fascinating discussion.