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Electoral reform: Here’s the evidence, Mr. Trudeau

The alternative vote is not a significant improvement over what we have now

 by Dennis Pilon

8As the Liberals gear up for October’s federal election, there is much talk of reconnecting with Canadians and remaking the party’s policy profile. One of the party’s big ideas is democratic reform. Justin Trudeau ran for the leadership on democratic renewal, including a specific commitment to champion a new voting system: the alternative vote (AV). In a leadership debate in Vancouver in 2013 he declared that AV would “change the tone of politics completely” because politicians would need to reach out to voters of other parties. Since then, other senior Liberals have echoed his views. In August 2014 Deputy Leader Ralph Goodale asserted that AV “requires you to focus on what pulls people together, not just how much you can vilify your opponent. It would have a very interesting impact on the tone of the political debate.”1

In fact, evidence of broad Liberal support for AV preceded Trudeau’s ascension to the leadership. In 2012, AV was overwhelmingly endorsed at the party’s national policy convention. Former Liberal MP Omar Alghabra captured the sentiments of the delegates in a commentary entitled “The Voting System Canada Needs (and Deserves)” in which he argued that AV would prevent MPs from winning their seats with less than a majority of the support in their ridings. He noted that in the 2011 election the Conservatives turned 39.6 per cent of the popular vote into 53.9 per cent of the seats and that “such disproportionality creates a sense that our system is unfair.”2 Alghabra argued that AV was a “practical proposal” that would retain the good features of the existing single-member plurality (SMP) voting system, namely a directly elected local member, while avoiding the problems he and other Liberals associated with more radical proposals like proportional representation (PR), specifically too much party influence and a potential increase in single-issue politics. 

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About the Author

Dennis Pilon
Dennis Pilon is Associate Professor of Political Science at York University in Toronto. He has published widely on elections and electoral reform. His most recent book is Wrestling with Democracy: Voting Systems as Politics in the Twentieth Century West.


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