Expert simulations show Trudeau’s preferred electoral system would skew results further in favour of Liberals

We need a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform

A new simulation by electoral systems expert Antony Hodgson, President of Fair Voting BC, shows that using Trudeau’s preferred voting system (Alternative Vote) for the 2019 election would likely have significantly increased the number of seats won by the Liberal Party. In fact, it could quite plausibly have delivered them a solid majority of as many as 186 seats — a 70 seat winner’s bonus compared to the 116 seats we estimate they would have won with 33.1% of the popular vote under a proportional system.

Previous simulations showed a similar pattern of bonus seats for Liberals and distorted regional representation. CBC Senior Writer and Polls Analyst Eric Grenier showed that if Alternative Vote had been used in 2015, the Liberal Party would likely have won an even bigger majority government. The Liberals would have elected 224 MPs with AV compared to 184 under first-past-the-post (picture below). This would have represented a 90 seat winner’s bonus compared to the 137 seats they would have won with 39.5% of the popular vote under a proportional system.

Earlier research by Janson and Siaroff (2004) shows a similar pattern in Canadian federal elections from 1997 to 2000. Under our existing system, the Liberals won 38 percent of the vote but captured 51 percent of the seats in the 1997 election. With Alternative Vote, the Liberals would have taken 57 percent of the seats with the same level of support. Similar projections of the 1980 and 2000 federal elections showed the Liberal Party gaining larger majorities under Alternative Vote than first-past-the-post. 

During the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised to deliver a new electoral system for Canada in 2019, to “make every vote count,” and to use an evidence-based approach to policy-making on electoral reform. Among the experts who testified before the ERRE, 88% recommended proportional representation. Only 4% recommended Trudeau’s preferred system, Alternative Vote (ranked ballots in single-member ridings).

When Trudeau broke his promise in 2017, he stated about Alternative Vote: “I’m not going near it, because I am not going to do something that everyone is convinced is going to favour one party over another.” As quoted in a 2019 book by Aaron Wherry, Trudeau later said, “If I had it to do over again I would’ve been making an aggressive case for a preferential ballot.”

Alternative Vote does nothing to solve the problems of winner-take-all elections, such as divisive rhetoric, people’s choices being ignored by the results of the election, and people settling for a “lesser worst choice.” Its only selling feature appears to be to give an even bigger advantage to the centrist party — in Canada’s case, the Liberal Party.

What is “ranked ballot”?

A ranked ballot is not a voting system – it is just a tool where voters can indicate their preferences by marking 1, 2, 3, etc. A ranked ballot can be used in either proportional or non-proportional systems. 

Under Single Transferable Vote (PR-STV), voters elect diverse teams of local MPs in multi-member ridings. STV was recommended by the BC Citizens’ Assembly in 2005. STV is used in Ireland, Tasmania, Australian Capital Territory and was used provincially in Winnipeg and Edmonton between 1920 and 1950. Ranked ballots can also be used within Mixed Member Proportional or Rural-Urban Proportional. For example, in the UK the Jenkins Commission recommended an MMP system with local MPs elected by the ranked ballot.

A ranked ballot can also be used in a non-proportional, winner-take-all electoral system using single-member ridings. This is called the Alternative Vote system.

Fair Vote Canada Calls for a National Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform

Although the Liberals claim that electoral reform was abandoned due to a “lack of consensus,” a September 2019 Angus Reid poll showed that the vast majority of Canadian voters (77%) still support it. 

A National Citizens’ Assembly is a tried-and-true mechanism for establishing consensus on complex issues and puts voters back in the driver’s seat. “We need to take electoral reform out of the hands of politicians and put it to a National Citizens’ Assembly,” says Fair Vote Canada’s President, Réal Lavergne. “Canadians want action on electoral reform based on a process we can trust.”

Angus Reid found that 84% of respondents supported a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform and 79% agreed that the government should commission one after the election.

Citizens’ assemblies are chosen by random selection to ensure that participants truly represent the Canadian public. Citizens learn about an issue in depth, consult fellow Canadians, and produce consensus-based recommendations for Parliament’s consideration. 

Around the world, Citizens’ assemblies are being commissioned by governments to tackle important but difficult issues. A recent example was the Irish Citizens’ Assembly which examined a range of issues from elder care, environment to abortion. Two important citizens’ assemblies are set to begin next year: the UK’s Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change and Scotland’s Citizens’ Assembly on the future of Scotland. 

More information about a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform can be found at www.nationalcitizensassembly.ca.

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* For more details on the modeling assumptions and estimated results, please contact Antony Hodgson, President, Fair Voting BC.

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