Electoral Reform

Proportional Legislative Voting System

Complexity and Tight Timeframes

The current federal government is proposing electoral reform be in place by the 2019 federal election. Regarding the issues of overwhelming complexity and impossible time frames, often discussed, a relatively simple solution of Proportional Legislative Voting offers an effective starting point for reform.

The Problem: First-Past-the-Post

The overriding consensus seems to be that the first-past-the-post system fails to accurately represent the voting preferences of the electorate in our representative democracy. A party with much less than 50% of the popular vote can form a majority government. An MP with much less than 50% of the riding votes takes 100% control of the riding vote in the legislature.

Electoral Voting: No Change

In order to minimize the complexities for voters and the tight time frame for Elections Canada to get a new voting system up and running for 2019, absolutely no changes to the electoral process need to occur whereby voters go to the polls and cast a ballot for local candidates representing parties.

Why, no change?

Because voters already distribute their voting preferences proportionally on election night according to the current system. Within each riding different party candidates receive a proportion of the results of the electoral voting population. So, no need to change the part that is not broken.

The Leading Local Candidate Heads to Ottawa: No Change

As per usual, the candidate who wins the plurality or majority of votes in any riding heads to Ottawa to take his or her seat in the House of Commons. So, thus far, no undue complexity, no voter confusion, no impossible time frames.

In the House of Commons: One Significant Change

So to cut to the chase: the one and only change to the process. When the member from riding X votes, he or she does not cast a vote representing the decision of a single member for a single riding. Rather that member's individual vote can only represent that portion or percentage of the riding vote the member actually received from the riding electorate.

For example, let's say he or she got 35% of the vote. The vote of the riding in the House of Commons will be based upon the continued voting engagement of all eligible candidates in the riding. For example, let's assume the other candidates received 25%, 20%, 15%, and 5% of the local vote.

So on any particular voting issue before the House of Commons, the riding vote will be the result of the weighted decisions of all the riding candidates. In other words, the MP who goes to Ottawa is not in exclusive, winner-take-all, control of the riding vote, but, in fact, has become the chair of a local constituency committee of the local candidates, which must come to some majority decision (50%+1) based upon each candidate's proportion of the election results, regarding any voting issue before the House of Commons.

So, any combination of the weighted candidates votes which could garner a 50%+1 majority result, would cast the riding vote in the legislature.

Advantages of Proportional Legislative Voting

  1. Minimal change to the electoral process itself: none.
  2. No more complexity or confusion than understanding the proportional riding result of a general election.
  3. Geographical representation remains a vital part of the political system versus relatively abstract, national, party-based ideologies

MPs are likely to become more representative of their ridings and less exclusively of their parties, insofar as they must continue to negotiate, throughout the life of a parliament, with their fellow local candidates, issue by issue.

Limits on and Costs of More Participants

Regarding too many local candidates signing up, there would need to be various cut-offs based upon voting results.

The current system has various conditions based on votes. For example, a candidate needs to get 10% of the valid votes in order to have expenses reimbursed.

Bottom line, cities support municipal councils. The significance of federal politics at the local level warrants a similar investment.

The population of the federal public service is over 250,000, so investing in a couple of thousand democratic representatives to keep an eye on them and direct them seems like a sensible investment in democracy.

Non-Partisan Local Constituency Office

There could be a non-partisan constituency centre in every riding dedicated to supporting local citizens and their representatives and maintaining communication with the legislative centres. All such riding services and resources would need to be non-partisan and available to all candidates and citizens, like a walk-in political clinic.

National Constituent Assembly

By virtue of such a minimal change, there would emerge, in effect, a constituent assembly of all the eligible candidates who tossed their hats in the ring for a particular electoral cycle. So rather than simply 338 MPs, there would be an active body likely 4 or 5 times that of engaged local participants in the parliamentary process. Through the active engagement of those local participants, citizens could feel they still had influence on issues at the national legislative centre in Ottawa from their local perspective throughout the parliamentary cycle.

One possible amendment: should all candidates be able to aggregate their weighted voting preferences for a legislative vote rather than just having it exercised within a riding vote? In other words, should the larger constituent assembly be able to vote collectively, in proportion to the general election results, rather than simply within and for a single riding vote, on voting issues before Parliament? Well, that can may best be kicked down the road for a later day when, with more experience with the proportional legislative voting system, Canadians could decide when that would be appropriate.

In any case, this relatively simple change (relatively simple in process but not necessarily in consequence) would mean that a more proportionally representative parliament would continue to reform the governing process and tinker with improving it, rather than the current, and apparently last, of the first-past-the-post gangs trying to rig the future game to its advantage.

Pilot Projects

Since this legislative voting system is riding-based, it need not be implemented across the entire country in one go. As a result, pilot projects in one, or a small number of ridings, would be perfectly feasible, since the outcome (casting the riding vote on a voting matter in the House of Commons) remains the same as the current system. So a single riding could easily test-drive the proportional voting system among local candidates without disturbing the operations of the legislature as a whole in any significant way.

Riding Referenda

In conjunction with the development of pilot projects, all ridings in Canada could have a general election ballot referendum asking voters if they wanted to test-drive the proportional legislative voting system. Triggering the test-driving of the pilot project could then be based upon a majority riding result for that question. Adding a question to a general election riding ballot would be a relatively inexpensive and democratic way of proceeding according to local riding wishes, rather than having a system imposed across the country in one go and on ridings which prefer the current system.


A Proportional MP Voting system preserves much of the existing system while simply tweaking the one thing that is at the centre of the problem: a winner-take-all versus a proportional riding voting system in the democratic legislature. The overwhelming consensus is that the first-past-the-post system is broken and unfair. We argue here that that is because someone with less than 50% support of the riding electorate heads off to Ottawa with 100% control of the riding vote. That’s what needs to be fixed.

In the new Proportional MP Voting system all eligible local candidates stay in the system and are integrated into the legislative voting mechanism in a transitional process according to the wishes of local electorates. Voila! You have a new House of Commons proportional voting system, easy to understand, relatively easy to implement and democratically favouring local interests.

~ editor@democracyskitchen.ca