Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday June 9, 2022
‘A clear crisis’: Ontario voter turnout prompts renewed calls for electoral reform
Advocacy groups are renewing calls for electoral reform in Ontario after Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives were re-elected with another majority last week despite historically low voter turnout and most voters casting ballots for other parties — though experts say it’s likely a non-starter.
In the June 2 election, 40 per cent voted for the Progressive Conservatives, handing the party 83 seats. Close to 53 per cent in total voted for the NDP, Liberals and Greens, but those parties will have a combined 40 seats. The Liberals won nearly a quarter of the popular vote but will hold just eight of the 124 available seats. Turnout was a record-low 43 per cent.
“The Ontario election results were a gross misrepresentation of what voters said with their ballots,” read a Twitter post from Fair Vote Canada, an organization that supports moving to a proportional system. “Majority governments should have the consent of a majority of voters.”
Electoral reform advocates says the Ontario results prove the province should scrap the first-past-the-post system, in which voters pick one candidate in their riding and the person with the most votes wins. The successful candidate doesn’t need to win a majority of votes to take the riding.
Many would like to see proportional representation, under which the percentage of seats a party holds would reflect their share of the popular vote.
Cameron Anderson, a political science professor at Western University, said people are understandably frustrated with the outcome, though he noted that the results could have been murkier if, for example, the party with the most votes didn’t win enough seats to form government.
“It was a fairly decisive victory among those who cast ballots, but the aftermath is what it is, and it’s unpalatable to many, for sure,” he said in an interview.
Amid calls for change, Anderson noted that supporters of the current system can make the case that majority governments offer stability without disruption or fear of snap elections. He also pointed to referendums on electoral reform that have been held in a number of Canadian provinces — including in Ontario — that ended up sticking with the status quo.
In 2007, Ontarians voted against a mixed-member proportional voting system. That model — which the NDP campaigned on this time around — tries to lend some of the stability of the first-past-the-post system to a fully proportional government, by having some legislators elected in local districts and others from party lists.
“Changing the system is not easy and is no panacea,” Anderson said, adding that finding compromise or agreement on a new system is challenging when balancing the interests of citizens and political parties.
Three of the four major parties promised to change the province’s electoral system during the 2022 campaign. But Ford, maintaining that his party received a clear mandate, ruled out the possibility the day after the election.
“I think this system has worked for over 100 and some odd years. It’s going to continue to work that way,” he told reporters.
The federal Liberal government also promised — and failed to deliver on — electoral reform.
While campaigning in 2015, Justin Trudeau said the federal election held that year would be the last to use the first-past-the-post method, a pledge he would ultimately renege on. (CBC)