The urgency of reforming the electoral system

The urgency of reforming the electoral system

The results of Québec’s elections, which show large distortions, risk putting more than ever in the spotlight the urgency of reforming the electoral system.

Françoise David will not soon forget the day that François Legault looked her straight in the eye four years ago. “He had expressed to me how important and urgent it was to reform the electoral system,” she recalls.

It was May 2018. The former MP had become vice president of the New Democracy Movement. Thanks to the initiative of this group, the opposition parties, including the CAQ, had signed an agreement in support of a reform. We wanted a more representative system.

The reform would mean that voting would move from the current mode, first-past-the-post, to a compensatory mixed proportional model (rather than purely as in Israel).

The proposed model, in force in Germany and Scotland, would reduce the number of constituencies operating under the current electoral system from 125 to 78. In addition, there are 50 compensatory mandates, which are awarded by region and for the parties that have exceeded the minimum threshold of 5% of the votes in the parliamentary elections.

Promise denied

The result, scandalous and driven by party interests, is well known. After becoming prime minister, the CAQ leader broke his promise days before a pandemic Christmas.

With a surge in major parties risking splitting the opposition after October 3rd, the need to reform the electoral system is becoming clearer.

Even if the CAQ could only win 37% of the vote (according to the latest Léger poll), the party could still win more than two-thirds of the seats.

“Our electoral system is a distorted mirror of the will of the citizens today,” laments Julien Verville, professor of political science at the Collège Ahuntsic, a specialist on the issue.

However, with a mixed relationship there would be more coalition governments, admits Françoise David. “But they would represent a lot more voters and therefore have more leverage to claim power in Ottawa, for example.”

Mr Legault again dismissed the possibility of reform on Tuesday. He promises to work with the opposition parties. That doesn’t impress Ms David because sometimes a government has no choice but to work together in this way.

Mr Legault even claimed that the question only interested intellectuals, Mr Verville recalls. However, the latter notes that “in every survey, and I have it in my book (published in 2020 by Presses de l’Université du Québec), there are always 65 to 70% of Quebecers who say they support a reform of the voting system.

The challenge for the opposition is to keep the issue “alive” after the elections, Professor Verville notes.

Françoise David believes that “everything will depend on the strength of the social movement. People need to be mobilized,” she said, noting that many people are talking to her about this because they believe the current system is outdated.

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