Electoral reform: So that every vote counts!

One of the most important institutional decisions a democracy must make is that of choosing an electoral system. The choice is seldom made consciously and deliberately. Québec is no exception to this rule.

In September 2019, the Québec government introduced Bill 39: An Act to establish a new electoral system. The event was described as historic, because the current system has not changed since 1862. The system is no longer in tune with the expectations of Québec society, according to CSQ president Sonia Ethier. “Significant changes need to be made so that the system promotes real proportional representation,” she said.

Distortion of the popular will

One of the main shortcomings of the current voting system is its distortion of the popular will. For example, in 2018, the CAQ won 37% of the popular vote, but it obtained 59% of the seats in the National Assembly. The Parti Québecois and Québec Solidaire each won 8% of the seats, even though they obtained a vote of 17% and 16%, respectively. This scenario is repeated from election to election.

Parity is not a long quiet river   

Another shortcoming of the current voting system is parity. In the past 20 years, only 30% of elected MPs have been women, on average. The last election was a significant step forward, with 53% of women elected. It is important to protect this progress, which is not guaranteed for the future. 

What does the reform entail?  

If the Québec government does not implement the new voting system for 2022, it will be reneging on its promise. The next general election would therefore take place under the old system. The people of Québec would then vote by referendum on the question of establishing a system of mixed member proportional representation and if the vote is in favour of it, the system would only be implemented for the election of 2026.

Proposed changes   

Concretely, the proposed changes would mean that on election day, Quebecers would vote to elect 125 Members of  the National Assembly (MNAs), as they do now. However, they would fill out two separate ballots:

  • one vote on a ballot for a candidate running in the electoral district
  • one vote on a ballot for a candidate for a seat in the electoral region

As is currently the case, 80 National Assembly seats would be chosen by majority. As for the 45 remaining seats in the 17 electoral regions, they would be elected using a calculation method that would convert the number of votes obtained and districts won by a party into a number of seats.

To be eligible for this regional compensation system, a political party would have to obtain at least 10% of the votes across Québec. Each party would present a regional list of candidates (the choice for the second vote) to indicate who would occupy regional seats if they are eligible for this compensation.

What the CSQ recommends   

The CSQ supports the reform of the Québec government. However, Bill 39, which was introduced by the Legault government, limits the improvements that a mixed proportional voting system could bring to Québec. It should therefore be modified in order to:

  • respect gender parity
  • guarantee parliamentary access to the political party that obtained 2% to 5% of the vote across Québec
  • ensure better proportionality by reducing the number of regions in the redistribution of seats
  • avoid holding a referendum under any circumstances during an electoral period so as not to undermine the importance of such a societal choice

Despite the pandemic, the bill to establish a new electoral system is still active and led by Minister Sonia LeBel. It may be referred for further study in the National Assembly during the next few months. This is what the CSQ is hoping for.

“The time has come to walk the talk. Let’s get closer to the ideal where every vote really counts,” concludes Sonia Ethier.


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