Published Oct. 23, 2015, on Policy Options.
One of the more intriguing Liberal campaign platform promises this campaign was a commitment to electoral reform by 2019. Since their victory on Monday, there has been a lot of chatter and excitement among certain circles about this particular promise. I see most of it being optimistic. In NDP and Green circles, it seems to be serving as something of an island in a sea of terrible electoral results. People seem to be hoping that if the Liberals do stick to their promise, it will represent a quick way to increase their influence by translating their “wasted votes” into seats in a the 43rd Parliament. But I think this optimism is näive. I don’t think we’re going to change the voting system any time soon.
There are a couple of reasons why commitments to electoral reform made it into the Liberal, Green and NDP platforms in this election. One, electoral reform is a cheap promise to make and fulfill. Two, opposition parties usually are the ones who suffer the most under single member plurality systems, governing parties gain the most. Three, public opinion polls suggested there was a tight three-way race heading into this election, making a minority parliament likely. In such a situation, both the Liberals and the NDP faced the prospect of finishing third and holding a balance of power. Some form of proportionality is precisely the type of promise a third-party might want to extract from the senior party in any type of accord or coalition. And fourth, electoral reform and proportionality tend to be popular. Famously, in British Columbia, a referendum on a switch to a proportional electoral system won majority support (57%) in 2005.