The Second Failure of PR

I was really sorry to learn that Prince Edward Islanders massively rejected the electoral reform proposal to bring about a form of proportional representation to that province. But it’s the attitude of people like one Blair MacNevin that really pisses me off. Quoted from the CBC story (no longer) linked above:

Blair MacNevin, who voted no, said it wouldn’t do anything to help solve the province’s main problems of unemployment and growing debt. “It’s not going to change a thing,” he said.

The current electoral system IS a big problem in this country and in every province. It no longer reflect the will of the people in a 21st-century democracy like Canada’s. I’m not saying that PR would fix the politicians; however, it would go a long way towards fixing the feeling voters have that their vote doesn’t really count. For instance, someone living in New Brunswick, whose heart leans towards the NDP, could not so easily be convinced that it would be better to vote Liberal to block the Conservatives. In other words, it would reduce strategic voting (i.e., voting for your second choice to avoid splitting the vote).

Earlier this year, a similar plebiscite was held in British Columbia during the provincial election. But there, I must admit, the system being proposed seemed extremely cumbersome and unnecessarily complicated. It still got something like 56% support, but the bar for adoption was set very high. (If I recall, 60% overall and a majority of ridings in favour.)

Electoral reform is still not off the table in B.C., and it’s being considered in Québec and Ontario. (In New Brunswick, too, I think, although I’m not sure how far the effort has gone on this matter.)

Once upon a time, there was such a thing in Canada as dual ridings in some provinces and, I believe, federally as well—that is, ridings that had 2 representatives. So instead of concocting a complicated system that voters would have to select candidates in order of preference (that’s just a recipe for spoiling a lot of ballots!), why not simply apply as a general set of rules:

  1. reducing the number of ridings by half;
  2. having two representatives per riding;
  3. declaring the candidate who got the most votes in each riding elected as Representative #1;
  4. analyzing the popular vote in each province to determine how many seats would have resulted for each party in a strictly proportional system, weeding out those that don’t attain a certain floor (say at least 5%);
  5. determining each riding’s Representative #2 while taking into account the strength of the Representative #1’s win in that riding.

Of course I realize there would have to be a bit more tinkering to make this equation work, but it would be a heck of a lot better than the system we have now! Some 28% of Nova Scotians voted NDP federally in 2004, but because of how that support was distributed over riding boundaries, this province ended up sending only 2 NDP MPs to Ottawa instead of a more-fair 3 of a possible 11. The end result of a dual system would reflect the popular vote more closely, though certainly not exactly—and that’s just fair to the voters, who should never feel it futile to vote for their candidate of choice because they’re surrounded by supporters of one of the two mainstream parties.

Maybe I’m missing something, but a hybrid system doesn’t have to be so complicated as to require multiple polisci degrees and endless commission hearings to figure out.