Quebec mulls proportional vote system

VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Quebec government will be the first provincial jurisdiction in Canada to advance legislation that would create a new mixed electoral system that includes proportional representation (PR).

The Liberal government led by Premier Jean Charest will introduce in late spring a bill that will propose that 75 to 85 members in the 125-seat National Assembly be selected in electoral districts to be redistributed under a revamped electoral map using the current “first past the post” system. The remaining members would be elected under rules based, in part, on the popular vote received by each party.

Lucie Tetreault, aide to Jacques Dupes, minister responsible for electoral reform, who will hold province-wide public consultations next fall, said the change would not be ready in time for the next election, expected in 2007.

“It will take time to consult the population, which will likely lead to changes to the bill” Tetrault said. “The bill may not be adopted until 2005, and then it will take at least another two or three years to adopt the kind of major changes to the electoral map that will be needed to put proportional representation in place ... We will have to allow the process to take its course and give the political parties time to adapt.”

Six of the country’s 10 provinces – New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, Sasketchewan and British Columbia – are looking at adopting mixed voting systems. In recent years, voter participation across the country has been falling dramatically and it is hoped that the adoption of PR will halt and reverse this trend. For instance, in the most recent Ontario elections, only about half of registered voters bothered to cast ballots.

In a change of heart, the federal government is also considering electoral reform that includes PR. After voting against a motion proposed by the New Democratic Party last year that called for the implementation of PR, Prime Minster Paul Martin has asked a parliamentary committee to look at changes to the Election Act, which includes an examination of PR. This coincides with a recent report submitted by the Canadian Law Commission (CLC) that calls for the creation of a Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMPR) voting system.

The CLC’s report, which has been tabled for discussion, proposes that two-thirds of Parliament be elected by means of the traditional system. Voters would then select a political party from a second list that they want to see form the national government. The remaining members of Parliament would be elected based on the popular vote received by each party. MMPR is used in such places as Germany, New Zealand and Scotland.

“While there is no single magic bullet that will instantaneously stimulate Canadians’ involvement in the political system ... ,” the report concluded, “electoral system reform is a good starting point for energizing and strengthening Canadian democracy.”

The author can be reached at tpelzer@sprint.ca.