Member Of Parliament for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan
January 14, 2016

Weigh in on the electoral system

What electoral system should our country use? 

We currently use a system often called First Past the Post, where voters cast one vote in their constituency, elect one Member of Parliament per constituency, and send that person to Ottawa to represent them. Like any system, it has advantages and disadvantages. While simple, and providing clear representation, it is not proportional. Both our current and previous governments won a majority with just under 40 per cent of the popular vote. 


A range of other systems has been proposed, with different and sometime contrary effects. Some favour a system of proportional representation. Such a system could strengthen political parties, weaken the direct connection between an MP and their constituents, and increase the chances of a minority government. A lot depends on the type of proportional representation system pursued, as well.

A second possible system is instant runoff voting. In many ways, it is the opposite of proportional representation. This system has voters rank options on a ballot; and then, it counts their second choice vote if their first choice comes in 3rd position or worse. Such a system might lead to cooperation between candidates in an election but it would also likely make the system even less proportionate — leading to much larger so-called “false majorities.” As such, I see this reform as the inverse of proportional representation.

There is nothing wrong with leading a national conversation about the kind of voting system that Canadians want to have. However, I am concerned that the Liberal government is proposing to fundamentally change our electoral system and not give Canadians a direct say. Changes to the voting system should always go to a direct referendum.

The government says that they have a mandate to make change without direct consultation because it was in their election platform. However, they failed to give any indication in their platform as to the kind of change they would implement, or even the direction of that change (for example, to a more or a less proportionate system). How could they possibly claim to have a mandate for changes that weren’t specified?

Since the election, I have received many e-mails from constituents expressing concern about the government’s unilateral approach to electoral change. Electoral reform is not a new idea in Canada. However, in every instance where reform has been proposed, it was put to a vote, including in Prince Edward Island and British Columbia in 2005, and Ontario in 2007. So if our provincial governments trust their own people to make the right decisions on electoral reform, why is our new Liberal government so distrusting of Canadians to choose what is best for them? 

I was studying in Ontario during their electoral reform review process. They had a process put in place by a provincial Liberal government — they had a citizens’ assembly, which made recommendations, and then had a province-wide referendum at the time of the next election. It was not a perfect process, but it created space for open discussion, and then a decision. I hope this federal government will listen to public concerns, and allow a referendum to take place.

I will do my best to ensure that you, the voters, have the final say on the shape of our electoral system.


Garnett Genuis is the member of Parliament for Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan. He can be contacted by e-mail at Genuis was first elected in October 2015.


Published: January 14, 2016


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