The Pollcast: Green Party Leader Elizabeth May on electoral reform

Is electoral reform a matter of protecting minority rights? That's the view of Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. It's also an important factor for the Bloc. But as we learn in this week's podcast, the two parties have different views on whether a referendum is required for reform.

Latest episode of the Pollcast features Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Bloc MP Gabriel Ste-Marie

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May gestures as she makes an announcement at the National Press Theatre, in Ottawa on Monday, August 22, 2016. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The CBC Pollcast, hosted by CBC poll analyst Éric Grenier, explores the world of electoral politics, political polls and the trends they reveal.

On the latest episode of The Pollcast, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May notes that a lot of the focus of the electoral reform debate has been on what impact it will have on parties.

But her support for changing the way elections are run in Canada is not about how it might benefit the Greens — rather, she says it is a matter of rights. And that makes a referendum, according to May, inappropriate.

"Not that I don't think [a referendum] is unnecessary — I don't think it is appropriate," she says.

"We are essentially talking about a rights issue: the right that every voter knows that their vote will count. Essentially, in getting to a proportional representation system of some kind we're looking after minority rights."

May says she hasn't settled on what kind of reform is needed, whether it be a form of proportional representation or single-transferable ballot. She does know, however, what she doesn't want to see.

"One thing I would not consider is another majoritarian-oppositional system (with ranked ballots or alternative vote)," says May, "because that particular approach is not different from first-past-the-post in terms of the evils I'm most concerned about in our voting system, which is allowing a minority of the voters to confer 100 per cent of power."

"That problem isn't solved by moving to a ranked ballot."

But the timeline is short. Legislation would need to be introduced by the spring and passed before the summer recess in order to provide Elections Canada enough time to implement any reform before the 2019 federal election. Is that likely to happen?

"That's the election promise made by the Liberals," says May, "and I like holding people to their promises. So, realistically, yes."

Bloc wants any change put to a referendum

Gabriel Ste-Marie, MP for Joliette. (House of Commons)

The Bloc Québécois has a unique perspective on electoral reform. From 1993 to 2008, the party benefited greatly from the first-past-the-post system, winning a majority of seats in Quebec in every election without ever winning a majority of ballots cast in the province.

But over the last two elections, the Bloc was penalized by the first-past-the-post system. In 2011, for instance, the party finished second in the popular vote in Quebec, but fourth in seats.

Perhaps accordingly, the Bloc is open to discussing change.

"We would like to analyze a concrete model because the devil is in the details," says Gabriel Ste-Marie, Bloc MP for Joliette. "But we are open, for example, to some kind of proportional [representation]...but we have to see a concrete model before taking a position."

Like the Conservatives, the overriding principle the Bloc is taking on the issue of electoral reform is that any change must be put to voters through a referendum.

"The people of Canada, and Quebec too," says Ste-Marie, "must endorse [the reform proposal], otherwise it is illegitimate."

Featured VideoWe ask Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Bloc Québécois MP Gabriel Ste-Marie what they think about electoral reform.

Listen to the full discussion above — or subscribe to the CBC Pollcast and listen to past episodes.

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Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.