Three of Ontario’s four major parties say they support electoral reform

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Three of Ontario’s four major parties are promising to change the province’s electoral system, a lofty goal that some political science experts say is falling short.

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The NDP and the Greens favor forms of proportional representation, while Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca has pledged to step down if his party forms government but does not introduce a ranked ballot system after a year.

Only Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford remained silent on the issue, although he indicated he was not inclined to overhaul the electoral system.

“We need politicians and leaders to figure out how to collaborate more, work across party lines, instead of getting stuck in the old way of doing things,” Del Duca said during a stop by campaign in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Sunday. “Doug Ford might want us to be stuck there and trying to push people back, but we want to make sure our political system – our democracy, the way we choose our parties and our leaders – keeps pace with the times.

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But Cristine de Clercy, an associate professor of political science at Western University, said that while electoral reform is a popular topic on the campaign trail, it’s easier to talk about change than to implement it.

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“If we look at the history of electoral reform over the past 20 years in Canada at the provincial level, the evidence is not positive as to the likelihood that we will achieve electoral reform even within the next 20 years,” said she declared.

British Columbia has held several referendums on the issue, but de Clercy noted that proposals for change have not been successful.

The federal Liberal government also promised electoral reform and did not keep its promises.

Justin Trudeau ran on the promise in 2015, saying the federal election held that year would be the last to use the first-past-the-post method, a promise he would eventually renege on.

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Under the system, voters choose a candidate in their constituency and the person with the most votes wins. The elected candidate does not need to obtain a majority of the votes to take the constituency.

Ford’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on electoral reform, but de Clercy said there were good reasons to stick with the first-past-the-post system.

“Ontario has a competitive multi-party system,” she said. “If we brought in electoral reform that looked much more like pure proportional representation, it would be highly unlikely that we would have majority governments in the future. So we would be perpetually in a state of minority government, which is inherently unstable because at any time coalitions can crumble, and we’re back to the polls.

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She said it also made sense that Ford would hesitate on electoral reform given the nature of his party.

“The Conservative Party ideologically tends to be the party of tradition in Canadian politics,” she noted.

The other three parties said the current system simply does not work.

Andrea Horwath’s NDP favors a mixed member proportional voting system, which attempts to give some of the stability of the first-past-the-post system to a fully proportional government.

Under the NDP’s proposed system, some legislators would be elected from local ridings and others would be elected province-wide from party lists.

The system was designed by the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, which a previous Liberal government created in 2006.

“It was really the people of Ontario, in the constituency assembly, who recommended the mixed member proportional system, and that’s why we passed it,” Horwath said Saturday.

But when the proposal was put to a referendum in the 2007 election, the province voted against it.

The Green Party, meanwhile, prefers a fully proportional system but suggests in its platform that it would create an assembly of “diverse and randomly selected” citizens, this time with a mandate to create binding recommendations.

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