Image via LouisRoyQc, Wikimedia Commons.
The result of the October 3 Quebec election makes a powerful case for replacing our electoral system. This case appears to be catching on with young people: a new group known as Mobilisation Citoyenne pour une Réforme du Scrutin (MCRS) is planning a big protest march in Quebec City. They are, however, coming up against a stone wall in the form of Premier François Legault, who came out of the election stronger than ever.
Legault wasn’t always an obstacle to electoral reform. In 2016, as leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), he joined the other opposition parties in a joint public statement calling for Quebec’s adopting a mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system, similar to the one used in Scotland. In the 2018 Quebec election, CAQ won an unexpected majority, 74 of 125 seats (59 per cent) with 37.8 per cent of the popular vote. Living up to his commitment, in October 2019 Legault promised a referendum to decide whether Quebec should adopt MMP. But pressure from the CAQ caucus led the government to water down this proposal and delay its consideration by the legislature. When COVID struck, it provided a pretext for ending the process.
Which brings us the election that took place on October 3. As predicted, it was a landslide victory for the CAQ, with 40.97 per cent of the popular vote and 90 candidates elected (72 per cent of the seats). Four other parties divided the remaining 60 per cent of the vote almost equally. The Liberals received fewer votes (14.37 per cent) than Québec Solidaire (15.42 per cent), but with 21 they had nearly twice as many seats as QS. The Parti Québécois had 14.0 per cent of the vote – just 9,507 fewer votes than the Liberals – but won only three seats. Conservative leader Éric Duhaime was able to break through in the popular vote, with 12.92 per cent, but his party was shut out of the National Assembly.
Apart from the representational injustice, the result starkly illustrates another, increasingly worrisome, dimension of the negative consequences of our venerable first-past-the-post electoral system. Outside the Montreal region, the CAQ averaged around 50 per cent of the vote and won almost all the seats, while its roughly 20 per cent on Montreal Island won it just two seats at the island’s extreme east end. So CAQ speaks loudly for Quebec sans Montreal, and the other parties speak, mutedly, for Montreal. The Liberals are the official opposition, but will have a hard time acting as anything other than an Anglo rights pressure group, with their supporters in francophone districts entirely unrepresented.
The regional metropolis/hinterland divide is a result of developments noted well beyond Quebec. Congressional elections in the United States again manifested a red/blue cleavage, with contested elections limited to a small number of “purple” states and districts. Blue voters in red states and red voters in blue states not only are unrepresented but were essentially ignored in the campaign. In Canada there is a well-established literature among political analysts tracing the link between regional voting patterns and the electoral system we imported from Britain.
In contrast, consider another election that took place earlier in the fall, in which Swedes elected the 349 members of the Riksdag under a system of proportional representation with a 4 per cent threshold. Regional voting patterns were discernible. The left alliance won by large margins in big cities and university towns, with major gains in the Stockholm region, where the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD) had their lowest score, 10.67 per cent. SD’s highest score was 28.75 per cent in Skane in the south, where Islamic immigrants are concentrated. Overall, the right made significant gains in industrial regions in the hinterland and northern Sweden.
All of this was reflected in the seats won by each party. But the outcome in terms of composition of the Riksdag, as well as coverage of the election and analysis of its implications, did not magnify these regional differences.
And while many, including this writer, bemoan the result, the new government’s priorities accurately reflect the evolution of public opinion, resulting from a period of effectively uncontrolled immigration followed by a significant rise in violent crime (see Sweden Opens the Door to the Right elsewhere in this issue). Unlike the heavy CAQ majority in Quebec, no one can say that Sweden’s move to the right is an artificial product of the electoral system.