Let’s Get Proportional

Skewed Election Results Expose Flaws in Quebec’s Democracy

After last Tuesday’s provincial election produced a slim victory for the Parti Québécois, it seems the time has come to re-start the conversation about electoral reform.

Since being posted online on Aug. 25, a petition on activism website avaaz.org demanding that Quebec move towards a mixed-proportional electoral system has already received over 12,000 signatures.

The signatories have a point. Proportional representation is a change that is not only long overdue, but necessary for the preservation of our democracy.

Much like the 2011 federal election, which gave the Conservative Party 53 per cent of the seats and 100 per cent of the legislative power, even though they received only 39.6 per cent of the popular vote, our latest provincial election has revealed the weaknesses of the Westminster parliamentary tradition we inherited from Great Britain.

Our electoral system rewards the large parties at the expense of smaller ones.

Despite only a 0.73 per cent difference in total votes between the PQ and the Liberals, the PQ walked away with four more seats. Although over 27 per cent of voters chose the
upstart corruption-crusading Coalition Avenir Québec, you wouldn’t know that from their distant third-place finish with a meagre 19 seats.

The smallest of the major parties—Québec Solidaire and Option Nationale—will be severely underrepresented in the National Assembly, with two and no seats respectively, despite the hundreds of thousands of voters who supported them.

The final seat count may suggest resounding endorsements of both the PQ and the Liberals, but, in fact, neither of these parties increased their share of the vote this election. Voters flocked to new ideas and new faces in droves.

If our National Assembly actually represented the democratic will of the electorate, each party’s share of the seats would equal their share of the popular vote. Under a system of proportional representation, the PQ would have gotten 40 seats, not 54, and the Liberals would have gotten 39, not 50.

More importantly, the CAQ and Québec Solidaire would have had 15 and 6 additional seats respectively, which they rightfully earned. Instead, our current electoral system perverted democracy by artificially recreating a two-party system.

And the end result of this “democratic” process is a government with the lowest level of popular support in Quebec’s history—31.9 per cent.

Under a proportional system, the PQ, with only 31.9 per cent of the seats, would have had to reach out to other parties to form a coalition, resulting in a consensus-building government with a stronger mandate. Instead, we now have an inherently unstable minority and an election to look forward to in two years’ time.

In the 1970s, René Lévesque tried to get the discussion going on proportional representation. But in the 1980s, successive governments argued over the finer details of electoral reform and no real change ever came about.

Since then, our MNAs have allowed the issue to fall by the wayside. After all, electoral reform would eliminate the false majorities that make their jobs easier.

For many anglophones, the hidden silver lining in the PQ’s election victory is its plan to allow citizen-initiated referendums. Citizen-initiated referendums have their flaws; we needn’t look any further than California’s anti-same-sex marriage Proposition 8 to see how citizen-led referendums can allow the majority to strip minorities of their rights.

However, as PQ candidate Nicolas Girard admitted at a local debate during the campaign, our last hope for meaningful electoral reform may well be a citizen-initiated referendum, considering the lack of political will to change the electoral system.

While we wait for the PQ to pass new legislation on referendums, we must keep the conversation going on this important topic. With any luck, Quebec may finally become the first province to ditch its antiquated electoral system, paving the way for the rest of the country to follow suit.

Quebec has traditionally been fertile ground for progressive ideas.

It is, after all, the province where juries again and again refused to convict Dr. Henry Morgentaler for performing abortions in defiance of anti-abortion laws in the 1970s.

Province by province, the rest of Canada followed suit. It’s now time for us to show the rest of the country how electoral reform is done, too.