The preferential system
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4 October 2019

The preferential system

The preferential system

Last summer an ad hoc committee made up of a number of Quebec Liberal Party supporters and presided by Yu Cai Tian, was mandated with evaluating the impacts of the CAQ’s proposed electoral reform and suggesting improvements to our current electoral system.

After months of work and numerous consultations with all Liberal supporters, the committee submitted its report to the various bodies within the QLP.

Open Letter

Yu Cai Tian
President of the Ad Hoc Committee on Electoral Reform

The Quebec Liberal Party has always sought to improve democratic institutions. That is why it mandated an ad hoc committee with mobilizing the various bodies within the Party, so that they could reflect on ways of enhancing our democratic system while ensuring the effective representation of all of electors within the province.

Following a thorough study of international alternatives, the committee has proposed to reform the current electoral system via a preferential system.

In this system, electors can have their say about all candidates running in their riding by ranking them in order of preference. If no candidate earns a majority of votes cast (50%+1), the candidate who earned the fewest votes will be eliminated and the votes that they received will be redistributed according to the electors’ second choices. This process will be repeated until one candidate earns an absolute majority.

The committee believes that the obligation for representatives to be elected via absolute majority is an effective means of enhancing democratic institutions, guaranteeing effective representation from the regions and achieving the greatest social consensus possible. In this type of system, each vote really does count and each elected official truly represents the opinion held by a majority of electors.

This system also discourages negative campaigns. It is in candidates’ best interests to appeal to a wider public- including those who support their opponents, in the hopes that they will be chosen as second choice. That means more positive debates, discussions that are more respectful and genuine groundwork during campaigns. Candidates won’t only seek to mobilize their support base, but will want to connect with as many electors as possible.

This type of system doesn’t increase the risk of political instability, as it allows for majority governments to form just as easily as the current first-past-the post-system does. It doesn’t make the democratic system more burdensome either, creating two categories of representatives or changing the size of ridings.

In Quebec’s multiparty reality, the current electoral system is often criticized because a majority of votes doesn’t serve to elect anyone; the division of votes prevents certain candidates from being elected. The preferential system corrects this situation by allowing electors having affinities with a number of parties to assert their choices.

We all know that last week the CAQ government tabled Bill 39 which aims to propose a mixed proportional system that includes regional compensation. However, this kind of proportional system isn’t a solution that is adapted to Quebec’s reality.

First of all, proportional systems lead to more minority governments, coalition governments who don’t have the ability to take quick and effective action to defend the interests of the population.

Additionally, the listed representatives are named by the political parties, to whom they are primarily accountable, although they are distributed according to regions. There is no guarantee that they will defend the region that they represent. It is imperative that Quebecers maintain the ability to directly choose their representatives so that their voices can be carried to the National Assembly. In a number of countries that use the proportional electoral system we find representatives that are virtually entrenched because, despite being unpopular, they are close to the party establishment.

Next, reducing the number of riding representatives will increase the size of ridings as well as the size of the populations for whom the representatives must intercede. For less densely populated ridings, the additional distance to be travelled can be significant, which could hinder a representative’s accessibility. It is important to remember that each year representatives and their teams are called upon to assist with hundreds of files with citizens and municipalities.

In conclusion, we feel that it is important to recall that our proposal aims to enhance the current system, rather than propose a radical change that would distort the very essence of our system. We want the fundamental principles of our democracy to remain: representatives must be directly elected by Quebec’s electorate and the creation of a government must be the elector’s choice.

Yu Cai Tian
President of the Ad Hoc Committee on Electoral Reform