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Canadians favour proportional represention

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A new environics poll released today by Fair Vote Canada has some interesting results.

It shows a majority of Canadians, of all political stripes, actually favour changing our voting system to incorporate proportional representation.

That would mean instead of just being elected based on winning the most votes in a riding,  at least some MPs would be elected based on the share their party gets of the popular vote. Canada's first-past-the-post system is one of the last of its kind in the world, with most other developed nations using some form of proportional representation.

The Environics poll was taken by phone March 18-24, of 1,004 adults, and has a margin of error of three per cent.

It found 70 per cent of Canadians strongly (24 per cent) or somewhat (46 per cent) support moving towards proportional representation.

Green and NDP voters were most likely to support the idea, (83 per cent and 82 per cent respectively) followed by Liberals (77 per cent) and Conservatives (62 per cent).

Eighteen per cent overall strongly or somewhat oppose the idea. 

The other thought-provoking question in the poll is one asing if the NDP, Liberals and Green Party fielded a single candidate in some ridings, who would people vote for. This idea is one being espoused strongly by Liberal leadership contender Joyce Murray, who is now considered to be running second for the Liberal job behind Justin Trudeau.

According to the poll, 70 per cent of Liberals, 72 per cent of NDP and 64 per cent of Green voters would vote for the joint candidate. The Conservatives would pick up six per cent of Liberal support, five per cent of NDP support and two per cent of Green support. Another 16 per cent of Liberal and NDP voters would simply not vote, while nearly a quarter of Green voters would stay home.

If that actually happened, it's likely those who want the three parties to cooperate to keep Conservatives from being elected, might actually have their day. But if it contributes to as many as one-in-four voters for those parties staying home, democracy doesn't exactly win its day does it?

The interesting thing about proportional representation is it would likely see an even stronger devotion to partisan politics and even less individualism from MPs. That's because MPs wouldn't be elected directly by the voters, they'd be elected through their party and clearly be representing the party.

A mix of first-past-the-post and proportional representation is often seen as the best compromise -- allowing voters to still pick an individual MP but including a system that doesn't allow for one party to walk away with all the power, despite not getting a majority of the votes.

One possible solution could be to reduce the number of ridings per province which still elect people by first-past-the-post, and then add additional MPs based on a party's share of the popular vote.

Just as a reminder of why there is a push to amend our system:

In the 2011 federal election, the Conservatives won 53.8 per cent of the seats and a majority government with few checks on its power, with just 39.6 per cent of the votes. Much the same as the Liberals in 2000 won 57 per cent of the seats with 40.8 per cent of the vote. Or how provincially in 2011 the NDP earned 46 per cent of the vote to the Tories' 43 per cent, but the NDP walked away with 65 per cent of the seats, while the Tories won only 33 per cent.

At the federal level, the distortion is even more profound within each province.

In Manitoba for example, the Conservatives did win a majority of the votes -- 53.5 per cent. But that netted them 78.6 per cent of the seats. The NDP had more than a quarter of the vote but just 14 per cent of the seats while the Liberals had a 16.6 per cent vote share and just seven per cent of the seats.

In Saskatchewan, the NDP got almost one in three votes, but didn't win a single seat. Meanwhile the Conservatives took home 93 per cent of the seats in Saskatchewan with 56.3 per cent of the vote.

You get the idea. 

The full poll results are available on Fair Vote Canada's website.

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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.

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