Proportional representation

What Quebec can teach federal parties about electoral reform

Provincial opposition parties’ consensus on proportional representation is an example to follow
Photo: Paul VanDerWerf

While the federal committee on electoral reform struggles to find consensus on what kind of democratic reform should be presented to Canadians, Quebec’s opposition parties are working together to come to a common proposition ahead of the next provincial election.

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In an unprecedented show of unity, representatives from the Green Party of Québec, Option Nationale, Québec Solidaire, the Parti Québécois and the Coalition Avenir Québec have signed an agreement on six principles that should form the basis of a new system of provincial-level proportional representation in Quebec.

The six principles include the following:

  • Distributing seats to reflect the popular vote
  • Ensuring that electors have a significant link to their representative
  • Maintaining the political weight of rural communities
  • Providing stability by enacting rules around non-confidence motions
  • Offering a system that is easy to understand and use
  • Contributing to an increased representation of women, youth and minority communities in Quebec politics

Quebec’s major opposition parties have agreed to work together on this issue because we feel the best way to ensure that proportional representation is adopted is for us to come to a common proposition on as many details as possible ahead of the next election. This process has included input from civil society, labour unions, student groups and women’s organizations.

Our approach is based on a critical analysis of the gridlock that is taking place in the federal electoral reform committee and the failure of the Prince Edward Island legislature to adopt proportional representation despite the favourable results of a plebiscite that gave it the non-binding mandate to do so. On the federal level, the lack of common ground on this issue among the opposition parties during the Harper era has made the act of choosing and adopting an alternative system very difficult, especially considering the strong partisan incentive for the Liberals not to deliver results on electoral reform.

Any reform of the voting system should include provisions to increase the representation of women, youth and minority groups in politics.

Although the six principles may seem vague, they proactively address some of the most common arguments made against proportional representation. Most importantly, we have all agreed that rural communities should maintain their greater political weight. The Green Party supports this principle because it is important for the land, as well as the people, to be represented in the legislature. This is especially relevant when it comes to issues of environmental protection.

The opposition parties have also agreed that maintaining a direct link between voters and their elected representatives is of critical importance. For this reason, we have rejected the notion of provincial-level lists. Under the mixed member system of proportional representation we are proposing, electors would vote for their local representatives and regional-level lists would be in place to ensure that the National Assembly reflects the popular vote. A similar system has been in place in Scotland since 1999.

In situations where the governing party or coalition fail to obtain the confidence of the majority of the legislature, dialogue and compromise should be required rather than a return to the polls for electors. As well, any reform of the voting system should include provisions to increase the representation of women, youth and minority groups in politics.

While democratic reform can be a complex subject, our aim is to present the population with a clearly defined alternative to the status quo that has the support of all opposition parties. We have also been in dialogue with representatives of the provincial Liberal government on this matter and, should they accept, we would be happy to work with them to reform the voting system.

Concerned citizens from across the country should take note of the historic agreement Quebec’s opposition parties signed this week.

Going forward, Quebec’s five major opposition parties plan to continue talking, hosted by a non-profit group dedicated to democratic reform, the Mouvement Démocratie Nouvelle, in order to elaborate as many details of our common proposition as possible. One of the next issues that we will be discussing is whether a referendum would be necessary in the event a well-defined consensus can be formed among multiple political parties ahead of the next election.

Political parties, non-profits and concerned citizens from across the country should take note of the historic agreement Quebec’s opposition parties signed this week. The chances of successfully reforming the voting system are far better when consensus can be reached among the political parties.

Alex Tyrrell is leader of the Quebec Green Party.
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