Canada’s experiment with single-member districts — where each vote is worth two votes in the runoff in which each candidate receives one vote — has encouraged the ruling party to undercut the opinion of voters in some areas.
Here is a look at two examples of what results from under-representation in single-member districts.
When Allan Hubley served in the Ontario parliament, which has more single-member districts than any other provincial assembly in Canada, he protested. Hubley ran for a seat in the 2001 election and failed, but he later ran for the Ontario legislature again in 2005 and in 2007.
He was defeated in all three elections and that failed to prevent the Liberals from gaining power after those elections.
Democrats Against War
Since Hubley lost in his bids to represent his home town of Port Hope, Ontario, and the electoral district of Wellington County, which he vacated before the 2005 election, Canadians haven’t voted for one of his picks.
But that didn’t stop Liberals from selecting Hubley’s successor, Conservative Stephen Harper, as the prime minister in 2006 and again in 2008. The Liberals and Conservatives of both Hubley and Harper are to blame for their problems. Conservatives have used key Hubley supporters as polling-station employees to cast additional ballots, Hubley said.
When Harper took office, he made it impossible for Hubley and other single-member district members to win office. Harper changed the vote thresholds used to choose party leaders, turning ridings that had given Liberals an advantage into wins for the Conservatives. A substantial number of Hubley supporters had been party volunteers and organizers.
In addition, when Harper was elected in 2008, his minority government was forced to fight off requests from political parties to use non-English-speaking members to ensure the minority government had a majority of support.
While Harper secured a minority government, Hubley said, he shouldn’t have been allowed to govern when he was elected with only one-third of the vote because another political party had what’s called a “free run.”
Hubley’s district gave Liberals 47% of the vote and was filled with supporters of the Liberal party. By diluting the support, Hubley said, the Liberals and Conservatives were able to manipulate voters’ perceptions and become a strong enough force to change the rules.
“They used it to get in the way of another leadership campaign,” he said.
In 2008, the Conservative Party and Liberals teamed up to require that single-member district members participate in a leadership race. Hubley was turned away after the 2007 election. The Tory candidate in his district didn’t participate in the 2008 leadership election.
In 2009, Stephen Harper was re-elected to a minority government and in the vote that followed, the Liberals and Conservatives clashed over single-member district members who couldn’t vote for their own candidates. Hubley, a Liberal, was one of the few who won.
Another Single-Member District in Upper Canada
The Canadian government is currently trying to bring back a system that is commonly used in Upper Canada, where voters get two votes for each candidate.
In some Upper Canada ridings, the leading Conservative and Liberal candidates had equal support in the 2008 vote. In the 2010 vote, though, just 45% of the votes were cast for the Liberal candidate and 57% were cast for the Conservative.
Liberal and NDP leadership contenders have been calling for a system that better reflects voters’ wishes, and for voters to have a larger say in their governments.
“The confidence that is required that a constituent has with the elected government, that he should have an ability to express that in a meaningful way is a much bigger issue,” Liberal candidate Lise St-Denis said in a interview.
“If there is one strong message here it is that a politician needs to answer to voters.”