Friday, May 22, 2015

Dream Electoral Reform

Electoral Reform is something I've been thinking about, and working on, for a good 15 years. When I make posts like this one, it comes from years of seeing Canadians reject one proposal after another at the polls. Seeing proposals, like the recent one from 308, makes me wax nostalgic for the old days.

In short, I see his proposal as a "dream" proposal. Something that would be awesome if Canadians wanted it, but something Canadians would never support.

I have my own set of "dream" proposals, but perhaps my most interesting is also my most simple.

What is Government?

What is a Government? What do we expect when we go to the polls? How do we look upon the people we elect?

In modern times, we look at a vote in the ballot box as being one for a money. Taxes, spending, funding programs, and all that. We also take care to pay attention to the administration; if we feel a certain party is corrupt, we'll replace them.

This, unfortunately, does not jive well with the way our Parliament is designed. It works well when electing a group of people who decide what is a crime, what is legal, and what is illegal, but does not work well when electing a group of people to "run the country" 

How to change?

The key here is that we need a simple change that takes advantage of a quirk of our modern political system; a minor quirk that has existed for centuries, and defines the entire way we look at elections in the modern period.

Political Parties.

Proportional Representation already does a good job at this, especially nationwide-PR lists. The problem with this is that it frequently produces minority governments. As I've tried to hammer into fans of PR, Canadians do not want minorities. They do not want to "have to" vote 50%+1 for a party for it to become a majority. Canadians are fine with a party winning a majority on 40% of the vote. This is why all those arguments that so-and-so should not have won a majority on 40% of the vote never seem to appeal to anyone except those already in favour of PR. 

Change to what?

This is where it gets interesting. I propose we simply do away with the idea of seats being decided based on local vote, or even national vote, and distribute them according to a seemingly strange formula. 

First of all, we combine the idea of a nation-wide PR with that of STV. 

Next, we remove the whole idea of votes-for-seats. 

When the voter goes into the ballot booth they would see a list that looks like this:

[  ] Conservative
[  ] NDP
[  ] Liberal
[  ] Green

and so on. They would fill it out with the numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.

Thus a ballot may look like this:

[4] Conservative
[3] NDP
[2] Liberal
[1] Green

When it comes time to count, we begin with a simple FPTP count. This may produce a result like so:

CPC - 40%
LIB - 30%
NDP - 25%
GRN - 5%

Since no one party has taken 50%+1, we begin to distribute the votes in an STV manner. Lets jump to the final round in this example:

CPC - 49%
LIB - 51%

In this sample election, the Liberals win. For that victory, they get 55% of the seats in Parliament. It does not matter if they win by 51-49 or 55-45 or 90-10, winning nets them 55% of the seats. So what of the others? Well whomever ends up facing them in that final ballot wins the Official Opposition, and as such, wins 30% of the seats. Again, regardless of their vote, for finishing second, they win 30% of the seats.

The remaining parties share equally the remaining 15% of the seats, so long as they meet a threshold - say 2% of the vote - in the first round.

Canadians think they are going to the polls to elect a government. Lets let them do that. If a party "wins" the election, they get to be the government. They get a majority strong enough to overcome a few defections, but not so strong as to overcome a backbench rebellion.

Ideally, this system is coupled with a major change to how Parliament works. All money bills would have to come from the Commons, and need to be passed by the Senate without delay.

The Senate meanwhile would take over as the law chamber. It would probably look like our modern commons, but all members would be independent of the commons parties. Their main role would be to discuss laws, things like long guns and terrorist convictions and the age of consent.

This would remove that from the whole idea of "governing" as we, in modern times, see it. This is, IMO, how it should be precisely because this is how most Canadians think of it being.


This system is not perfect. Crafting a coalition would be difficult; for that reason I propose allowing petitions (IE the public signing things) the power to add specific minority combinations to the list. Exactly how to do this can be determined later on; the important changes are already done, and supposed "loopholes" could be closed later. The main objective here is to make elections do what people think they do - elect a new government - and to make them do that well. That is already done. From there, we make things better, but once this simple change is in place, we already have a far better system.

Of course, it would never get support; hence why it's just a dream.


  1. You asked for my thoughts, so here they are.

    Its interesting, and I see how it could work. However, I disagree with your notion of how to restructure the legislative branch, and how Canadians see what governing is and what government does. I also think there are quite a few laws with the system that you can't just leave to be addressed later, the main one being the issue of powers and the interplay between these two bodies.

    You say the House would cover money bills and the Senate would cover laws, but what makes that determination, and which one has primacy over the other? What if the Senate *refuses* to pass a budget, can they do that? If not, and if the House can pass a budget and force its approval through the Senate, does the Senate then become unable to create new laws that enact programs which require budget lines to be allocated to it (i.e., healthcare, transfers)? Can the House parties vie for influence or coalition-making in the Senate in an effort to push through or keep down specific programs, or hold the budget hostage if they don't like what they see? If Canadians want to have an influence on social policy but feel the all-independent Senate is too quarrelsome or too left/right-wing, do they then vote for House parties that will defund Senate-originated programs?

    Lets also talk about programs, taxes, and regulation for a second. Which body can introduce, then implement, a carbon tax? Is it a money bill, or is it a law? If its both, as I said, what if one body approves it but the other does not? Who can approve a drop or hike in the GST? Who sets out the provincial transfers? Whose which body governs First Nations affairs? Which body contains the "Government of Canada," and what powers does the Government actually have if it can't legislate to a full extent? What role does the Crown play in all of this?

    Essentially, I see your plan becoming an even worse clusterfuck of legislative obtuseness and circular argumentation than the relationship between the US House and Senate. These are issues, along with many more, you need to address before I'd ever even look at this.

  2. Interesting proposal though I think it might be a bit too outside the box for the vast majority of Canadians.