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Steps Toward Making Every Vote Count

Steps Toward Making Every Vote Count: Electoral System Reform in Canada and its Provinces

edited by Henry Milner
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: 2
Pages: 200
  • Book Info
    Steps Toward Making Every Vote Count
    Book Description:

    Steps Toward Making Every Vote Countbrings together the best analyses from the best qualified observers on developments in the growing movement to reform Canada's electoral system.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-0271-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. 7-8)
  4. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 9-10)
  5. Preface
    (pp. 11-14)
    Henry Milner
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 15-18)

    Among the political institutions inherited from our British past is the system by which we elect people to office. This electoral system is still commonly referred to by a metaphor whose origins lie in the British passion for horse-racing: first-past-the-post (FPTP). Yet FPTP is on the defensive even in Britain and the lands settled by the British—with the exception of Canada. Britain, as Andrew Reynolds’s article reveals, has made important changes and is contemplating others. Even in the us, as the article by Rob Richie and Steven Hill shows, proportional representation (PR) systems are being discussed and, at the...

  7. ONE A Brief Introduction to Electoral Reform
    (pp. 19-34)

    A state’s electoral system is the set of rules and practices by which votes are cast and counted, and the occupants of legislative seats determined. Because of their importance in liberal democracies, electoral systems have frequently been the focus of intense scholarly debate. How should citizens vote? How should those votes be valued? How many representatives should be elected from each constituency? Should a representative be required to obtain a majority of the votes cast, or is a simple plurality sufficient? How do we represent women and minorities in the legislature? What role should political parties play in the electoral...


    • TWO The Case for Proportional Representation in Canada
      (pp. 37-50)

      The principles of electoral democracy had been accepted by 1867, when three of the remaining British colonies in North America federated to form the Dominion of Canada. This was the same year Britain extended its suffrage to 10 per cent of the electorate. While Canada’s founding fathers accepted a form of American-invented federalism, they, in contrast with their Australian counterparts two generations later, took for granted the electoral system inherited from Britain, failing to ask if it suited a federal country dispersed over far-flung regions. Provincial elections in the West were conducted under different systems of election earlier in this...

    • THREE How to Renew Canadian Democracy: PR for the Commons, FPTP Elections for the Senate, and Political Financing by Individuals Only
      (pp. 51-62)
      TOM KENT

      It is now seven years since the Lortie Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing published its report. Its many detailed recommendations were, for the most part, the kind of small steps that are supposed to appeal to the current prime minister. That they have nevertheless been ignored is a distressing indication that the government—content with its election and re-election, however much is owed to the confusion and weakness of opposition parties—is complacently indifferent to the disarray of our political system.

      Small though most of the reforms proposed by the Commission are, taken together they would appreciably...

    • FOUR New Challenges Demand New Thinking About Our Antiquated Electoral System
      (pp. 63-78)

      The first-past-the-post (FPTP), single member district electoral system, which we inherited from Britain rather than choosing for ourselves, has produced a startling record of distortion, misrepresentation, and impaired governance in Canadian federal elections. Its ill effects on our political system are well known and well documented, yet we seem chronically unable to initiate a serious and sustained national debate on possible alternatives.¹ By contrast, newly democratizing nations which have debated the matter of electoral systems have rarely opted for British-style institutions, and others such as New Zealand which have implemented fundamental electoral reforms have deliberately moved away from this model....

    • FIVE MMP is Too Much of Some Good Things
      (pp. 79-84)

      There is no question that Canada’s first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system has some major defects. It almost always punishes relatively small parties with widely diffused support (the New Democratic Party, and the Progressive Conservatives since 1993), and under-represents women, Aboriginals, and visible minorities. In addition, Canada’s electoral system frequently causes governing parties to be shut out almost entirely from regions where they fail to win district pluralities, exacerbating a sense of regional grievance and exclusion from power (most notably the weakness of the Liberals in the West under Trudeau). Occasionally, regionally oriented and regionally concentrated parties receive a higher share of...

    • SIX The Alternative Vote: An Electoral System for Canada
      (pp. 85-90)

      I agree with other contributors to this book that changing the federal electoral system in Canada would be a good thing. My reasons, however, are, in part, not the same as those of some observers, and, as a result, my proposal differs from some of those advanced here.

      First, I care not at all for the complaint that women and visible minorities find it hard to get elected under our single member plurality or first-past-the post (FPTP) system. That situation has been changing gradually and will continue to change due to larger social trends. Trying to sell electoral reform as...

    • SEVEN Electoral Reform and Canada’s Parties
      (pp. 91-100)

      The sentiment expressed in the opening quotation could well have been written of the Canadian general elections of 1993 and 1997. Instead it was part of a critical analysis of the results of the federal election of 1921, an election which bore a striking number of parallels to those of the 1990s. The Progressives, like the Reform party later, emerged almost overnight and drew their support from disaffected voters in much of rural and Western Canada. In 1921 and 1997 each of the new populist protest parties emerged from the election with the second largest number of seats in the...

    • EIGHT Electoral Reform is Not as Simple as it Looks
      (pp. 101-108)

      The spate of recent proposals for changing Canada’s electoral system, including those in this volume, reflect a discontent with the Canadian electoral system for reasons apparent in the 1997 election results. The Liberals formed a majority government on the basis of only 38.4 per cent of the vote, and only 18 MPS (of their 155 total) were elected west of Ontario, while nearly two-thirds of the Liberal caucus comes from that one province. The Conservatives won only 20 seats (6.6 per cent of seats) with 18.9 per cent of the vote, while Reform, with only 56,000 more votes, won 60...


    • NINE The History of Voting System Reform in Canada
      (pp. 111-122)

      There is a largely forgotten story to be told of Canada’s experience with voting system reform with lessons relevant to current discussions of the idea about when, why, and how new voting rules are adopted. The historical record has much to teach us of social conditions conducive to change in voting systems. Indeed, we shall see that in many ways the Canadian trajectory of voting reform paralleled that of Europe where social upheavals were key.

      Generally speaking, though Canada’s provinces and municipalities have discussed many types of electoral systems, and experimented with a number of them, an eerie uniformity emerges...

    • TEN Will Canada Seriously Consider Electoral System Reform? Women and Aboriginals Should
      (pp. 123-132)

      For some time, Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system has been subjected to criticism for increasing the regional distinctiveness of the party caucuses in Ottawa¹ and contrasted unfavourably with PR, which attempts to maintain a closer correspondence between the percentage of votes for a party and its seats. Although academics and political commentators have periodically raised the electoral system question, only rarely has FPTP been seriously addressed in the political arena. For a brief time in the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, the issue did generate some political interest, but even that quickly subsided.² The election results of 1993 and 1997...

    • ELEVEN Electing Representative Legislatures: Lessons from New Zealand
      (pp. 133-144)

      Since Confederation there has been much discussion of the struggle between two competing visions of representation: representation by population versus representation of the constituent units of the federation, be it the representation of regions or provinces, on an equal or equitable basis. Of interest here is a third vision of representation now fighting for recognition the representation of non-territorial groups. This version of representation is gaining strength and voice in Canada. We see it in the demands for Aboriginal self-government, in the recommendations of the Lortie Commission, in the Charlottetown Accord’s provision for a PR-elected senate, in the people’s demands...

    • TWELVE From Westminster Plurality to Continental Proportionality: Electoral System Change in New Zealand
      (pp. 145-156)

      For more than 150 years, New Zealand’s political institutions and processes—its political culture—have been essentially British. The only notable departure from British practice was the creation in 1867 of four territorial Maori electorates¹ spanning the entire country and constituting a second tier of representation superimposed on the single-member electorates characteristic of Westminster politics.

      With the advent of universal voting and the consequent development of organized, mass-based parties, representative government in New Zealand evolved in the twentieth century into the classic Westminster model. Its essential features were a plurality electoral system (first-past-the-post or winner-takes-all), two dominant political parties, an...

    • THIRTEEN The Defects of its Virtues: New Zealand’s Experience with MMP
      (pp. 157-170)

      As Peter Aimer relates in the previous chapter, New Zealanders voting in the 1993 referendum chose mixed-member proportional (MMP) over first-past-the-post (FPTP) by a solid, though not overwhelming, majority of 54 per cent to 46 per cent. Three years later, on October 12, 1996, New Zealand held its first election under the new system. The results fulfilled key predictions of MMP advocates so well that they might easily have been seen as a brilliant confirmation of the reform’s virtues. Within a short time, however, many New Zealanders soured on MMP. A month after the election, polls revealed that a majority...

    • FOURTEEN Electoral System Reform in the United Kingdom
      (pp. 171-178)

      The First-Past-the-Post (FPTP), single-member constituency elections, which are so strongly associated with Great Britain, did not in fact come into widespread use for House of Commons elections until 1884-1885—a full fifty years after the First Reform Act of 1832, which marked the beginnings of representative democracy in the UK. Up until 1867 most members of the British House of Commons were elected from two-member districts by the Block Vote, which served to compound the seat bonuses given to the larger parties. In 1867 the Second Reform Act introduced the Limited Vote (in which electors had one fewer vote than...

    • FIFTEEN This Time Let the Voters Decide: The Proportional Representation Movement in the United States
      (pp. 179-188)

      In reflecting upon the movement for PR in the United States, one might ask the classic question: is the glass half empty or half full? On the one hand, important strides have been made. Educational partnerships with key reformer organizations and funders have been forged, influential and popular magazines and newspapers are debating proportional representation, and activist endeavours are increasing every day. On the other hand, the PR movement has not had an electoral or legislative victory since the 1950s, and most us citizens know little about PR.

      Time may be on the PR movement’s side. Few nations are in...

  10. APPENDIX: Electoral Systems in the Democratic World
    (pp. 189-195)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 196-200)