|Electoral reform was launched into the news last week when Ontario Liberal leader, Steven Del Duca, announced his plan to add a ranked ballot to the province’s First Past the Post system should he become premier next year. That his party is likely to be the primary beneficiary of such a change was not lost on the public who made their displeasure clear across social media.
Furthermore, Del Duca’s announcement flew in the face of his party’s own public consultations which found only 10% support for his proposed change, whereas 91% of participants preferred moving to a more proportional system. The decision seems to indicate a substantial disconnect between the Ontario Liberal party and the people they aim to represent. What’s really going on here?
For starters, it’s worth noting Del Duca’s ranked ballot proposal (also known as the Alternative Vote – AV) isn’t all that different from First Past the Post given it continues to exclusively use single member ridings. In fact, AV would make it easier for one party to obtain absolute power in Queen’s Park specifically due to the ranking process funneling votes from smaller parties to larger, more established ones, effectively eliminating political diversity in the legislature.
Del Duca defended his position by saying AV will reduce polarization and reward parties who find common ground. We need only look at Australia – where AV is used to elect its lower house – to see such a claim does not hold water. In fact, the end result of Australia moving to AV was the establishment of a two party system: Labour vs the Liberal-National Coalition (this “coalition” being permanent and not the kind referred to in proportional systems).
In addition, the rivalry between these two factions is anything but cordial and Australian politics is plagued by the very toxicity Del Duca claims AV prevents.
That being said, the Liberal leader also promised a citizens’ assembly (CA) to look at additional changes that could be made to the system after prioritizing AV – ostensibly his own preferred outcome. Such an assembly was actually struck by the Ontario Liberals back in 2006 by then-premier Dalton McGuinty. That particular CA proposed a switch to mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) with 92% support, 94 votes to 8.
While the CA’s MMP proposal ultimately failed in the ensuing provincial referendum, it’s incredibly telling that every citizens’ assembly on electoral reform in Canada has proposed a form of PR. Ranked ballots in the form of the Alternative Vote have never been recommended.
At the end of the day, First Past the Post and AV are simply two sides of the same coin: they both keep one party in power at the expense of a majority of voters wanting to be represented by somebody else. A system that stacks the seats in favour of one party isn’t what Ontarians want, but with Del Duca, it might be the one they get.