Electoral reform in Manitoba: Different system would bring very different results

Under a proportional representation electoral system in the last provincial election, Brian Pallister's PC government would be sitting on a razor-thin majority; the Liberals and Greens would benefit the most, a CBC analysis shows.

Under a proportional representation voting system, the PCs would have lost 10 seats

Inside the Manitoba Legislature. (CBC News.)

Manitoba's Green Party would have made history by winning seats in the Legislature for the first time, the Liberals would have benefited from official party status and the Progressive Conservatives would have been sitting on a razor-thin majority.

This would have been the outcome in the last provincial election if Manitobans had cast ballots under a proportional representation voting system rather than the current first-past-the-post approach, according to a CBC News analysis of Elections Manitoba results.

Under this scenario: 

  • Progressive Conservatives under Brian Pallister would have won 10 fewer seats (from 40 to 30).
  • Liberals would have seen their share increase from three to eight.
  • The Green Party would have won three seats in the Legislature.
  • The Manitoba Party would have narrowly won a single seat.
  • The NDP would have gained one seat (from 14 to 15).

Electoral reform coming to Manitoba?

The House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform, is currently investigating reforms to the federal electoral system — a promise made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the last federal election.

At the provincial level, residents of Prince Edwards Island will vote next week in a referendum on whether or not to adopt one of four new voting systems, or to simply maintain the current first-past-the-post system.

But is there local appetite for such a change?
Premier Pallister says he's not big on "appearance of politics," wants to "improve circumstances for people." (CBC)

"The Pallister government is not likely to give this topic much serious consideration whatsoever," said political scientist Paul Thomas.

"The two main parties [in Manitoba] have felt rather comfortable with the first-past-the-post electoral system which has allowed them to win on a regular basis. One of the things we know about electoral reform is that appeals most to those parties that would benefit from changes that would move away from a majority model," said Thomas

Thomas says the NDP under former premier Gary Doer briefly flirted with the idea, but instead opted to focus on changes to the current system, such as longer advanced voting periods and additional polling locations.

A PC spokesperson said in an email: "The people of Manitoba should be consulted in a referendum prior to changing from the current first-past-the-post voting system."

Small or emerging parties have most to gain

Thomas said smaller and emerging parties stand to gain the most from proportional representation.

Green Party leader James Beddome votes Tuesday morning. (Wendy Buelow/CBC)
"[The Manitoba Liberals] always have support spread across the province, but it's not concentrated sufficiently to deliver that many seats," he said.

James Beddome, leader of the Green Party of Manitoba, would like to see a move away from the status quo.

"When we have a multiplicity of parties and we only get a representation of one or two of them in most of our legislatures it doesn't give a fair reflection for people," he said.

"I think if we had a broader representation, more minority governments, there would be a greater incentive for parties to actually work together to getting issues done, rather than grandstanding."

Canadians attached to winner-take-all

Electoral reform attempts have been met with lukewarm responses from Canadians. Referendums were held in Ontario (2007) and British Columbia (2009) and on both occasions the public rejected change with more than 60 per cent of the vote supportive of the status quo.
University of Manitoba Professor emeritus Paul Thomas. (CBC)

Thomas said national polls on the issue have also demonstrated a desire for the current system.

"People are very strongly attached to the idea of having a local person directly connected to their home community representing them in the legislature. To break that link and go to a model where a party selects a list of candidate, it would be very hard for many Canadians to accept," he said.

This electoral system is used federally and in all provinces in Canada. It is classified as a plurality voting system in which voters of an electoral district select one candidate on the ballot. The candidate with the most votes is elected. This system is based on the British parliamentary system.

Proportional representation
Under this system voters select the party of their choice. The number of seats won by each party is proportional to the number of votes received. Parties then determine which candidates will become elected representatives.  A version of this system is currently being used in Israel.


  • Rejected or declined votes were not included in the calculation, as they do not count towards any specific party.
  • There are multiple methods for allocating leftover seats due to downward rounding of the proportion of seats won by each party. The Largest Remainder method (proposed during the 2007 Ontario referendum) was used in our calculation.

With files from Louis-Philippe Leblanc