CAQ government could soon change the way Quebec votes

The new Coalition Avenir Québec government has promised to change the way Quebecers vote in provincial elections, and two opposition parties — the Parti Québecois (PQ) and Québec Solidaire (QS) — support adopting the same electoral system used in Germany and New Zealand.

When the CAQ won the election at the beginning of this month, it set a Canadian record: the party won nearly 60 per cent of available seats with only 37 per cent of the popular vote — the lowest popular support ever for a majority government.

“Never has a majority government been supported by so few people,” said Louis Massicotte, a political science professor at Laval University.

This begs the question: is Quebec’s first-past-the-post voting system really democratic?

However, despite his large majority, Premier François Legault has promised to reform the system to make sure that every vote counts.

The proposed system, called mixed-member proportional representation, is commonly referred to as MMP. Here’s how it works:

Out of the 125 seats at the National Assembly, 75 MNAs would be elected in geographical ridings similar to the way they are now. The other 50 seats would be distributed to the parties based on the popular vote.

Under an MMP system, the CAQ would have won closer to 50 seats during this year’s Oct. 1 election, rather than the 74 it actually won. The party would have formed a minority government, while the PQ and QS would have each won about 20.

It’s a system that is more representative of how Quebecers actually vote, but Massicotte said Quebec’s anglophone minority would certainly be impacted because ridings would become larger, pointing to the island of Montreal as an example.

If that were the case, representation of English-speaking Quebecers would be diluted. However, Massicotte also suggested there is another way minorities could be heard.

“It would increase the likelihood that anglophones create their own party, instead of supporting the Liberals,” he said.

This could potentially allow them to hold the balance of power in the case of minority governments.

Massicotte pointed out that minority governments become the norm under MMP. The professor was a technical adviser for the Jean Charest government when it proposed electoral reform in 2003. Quebec’s Liberals abandoned the idea two years later, just like governments in other Canadian provinces.

“An MMP model was presented to Ontario voters and Prince Edward Island voters and was rejected in both cases,” Massicotte said.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government also backed down on its 2015 election promise to bring in proportional representation at the federal level. British Columbia is holding a referendum on the issue to be determined at the end of November.

One of the reasons is that it makes it harder to form a majority government. Massicotte said Legault will likely face resistance from his own caucus when his 74 MNAs start to reflect more deeply on the idea.

“And they realize that lots of them will lose their seats,” he added.

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