Do not be Tricked again by Promises of Liberal Electoral Reform
Updated: Jan 25, 2022
Ahead of the June election, the Ontario Liberal leader, Steven Del Duca, has pledged his leadership on electoral reform. Del Duca says he would resign if he were unable to achieve a ranked ballot system upon reaching office. This whole situation is eerily similar to Justin Trudeau’s pledge to undergo electoral reform as a major campaign promise in 2015. The Liberal party (both provincially and federally) has often dangled electoral reform come election time as a way to catch young and progressive voters, but when push comes to shove they are hesitant to actually pursue it in a meaningful way.
So far Del Duca has released zero details on if a referendum or commission will be held or the timeline for such decisions. Previously, electoral reform promises have often begun with a bi-partisan committee that researches and proposes the best alternative to our First Past the Post (FPTP) system, but Del Duca appears to have already decided that ranked ballot is the best system for Ontarians.
Under our current system, ridings are won by whichever candidate collects the most votes and the political party with the most elected candidates form government. Proponents of electoral reform often say that this system benefits the largest parties and that millions of votes end up wasted on candidates that have little chance of winning.
A ranked ballot electoral system asks voters to rank candidates from favourite to least favourite. The bottom-ranked candidate is removed, with all their votes being transferred to the next ranked candidate until one candidate has a majority of votes. This electoral system fixes one of the main complaints of FPTP by making sure that the winning candidate receives approval from a majority of voters. But does it fix any other issues?
Ranked ballot still benefits bigger centrist parties because the system is still a race to 51% of the vote. In an experiment by Philippe J. Fournier, he found that if you applied the ranked ballot system to the 2019 federal election there would be little change in seat outcomes. By being in the middle, the Liberals would gain nine seats while the Conservatives would lose 14. Even though the NDP gained a handful of seats as well, their overall political influence remains the same.
It is understandable why the Ontario Liberals would support an electoral system that benefits them. But this blatant “cake and eat it too” strategy should be exposed. By being the centrist party, very few NDP and Green Party voters would rank the right-wing Conservatives above the Liberals. Inversely, while many Conservative voters dislike the Liberals, they are still the closest party on the left/right political spectrum (in Ontario).
There is a reason advocacy groups like Fair Vote Canada and the various independent committees have never proposed ranked ballots. It does not offer a meaningful change to the status quo and does not really address the criticisms of FPTP.
So far, there have been five referendums on electoral reform in Canadian history (three in British Columbia, one in Ontario, and one in P.E.I.) and all have been forms of proportional representation. Proportional representation (PR) electoral systems are ones that attempt to match the percentage of votes to the percentage of seats in the house of commons. These systems most often abolish political ridings and replace them with lists of candidates that are assigned seats based on votes received.
PR systems tend to benefit third parties like the NDP, The Greens, and newer political parties trying to gain steam. Not only are they given more seats based on proportionality, but people are also more likely to give their votes to third parties when their vote has a direct correlation to political power.
Under a PR system, the Liberals would be stuck in a perpetual cycle of coalition governments never able to achieve more than 50% of the vote. Compared to the current system that elects Liberal or Conservative majorities with only 38% of the vote. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have self-interested reasons for rejecting any form of PR system.
The Ontario Liberals are once again putting electoral reform in their Christmas window. A shiny new toy for the election season, but quickly whisked away after capturing young and progressive voters who are drawn to the issue. With a ranked ballot format the Liberals have a win/win situation. Either they deliver on their promise and adopt a new electoral format that actually benefits them or they give Ontarians a referendum doomed to fail.
Across the five electoral reform referendums in Canadian history, all have failed to meet the 60% benchmark for success, and only once has 50% of the population supported the reform. A lack of voter information on the topic reliably results in people opting for the status quo over the fear of the unknown.
Ontario voters should not be tricked by Liberal campaign promises as old as time. Considering the public debt following COVID, the last thing we need is millions of dollars wasted on a referendum that exists only to buy Liberal votes.