Electoral reform could mean few changes for the North

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says it’s possible nothing will change for Yukon and the other territories if the federal government changes the Canadian voting system.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says it’s possible nothing will change for Yukon and the other territories if the federal government changes the Canadian voting system.

May and the other members of the House of Commons special committee on electoral reform were in Whitehorse on Monday to discuss the issue with Yukoners, as part of a series of hearings taking place across Canada.

“All Canadians are going to get fairer voting,” May told the News. “But I think the likelihood is that the Yukon and Northwest Territories and Nunavut will be less affected than other areas. That’s my guess.”

That’s because each territory only has one member of Parliament, which makes it difficult to introduce a new voting system that would better reflect the share of the popular vote each party gets in Northern ridings.

“There are a number of proposals that have come before us where nothing would change at all in the territories,” May said.

Former Whitehorse city councillor Kirk Cameron addressed the committee on Monday, in part to voice his concern that the North might lose out if proportional representation were adopted.

Cameron is worried that if list proportional representation were introduced — where voters choose a party and candidates are selected from a pre-determined list based on the percentage of the popular vote each party receives — there would just be one list for all three territories.

“We are completely different in terms of our character and our nature, the three territories, so I can’t imagine having a member off a list that’s uniformly representative of northern Canada,” he said.

But that is unlikely to happen, according to Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia, the committee’s chair.

Both Canada’s Constitution and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act mandate that each of the three territories have one MP, even though that means the North is over-represented in the House of Commons based on its population size. There are currently 338 MPs in the country — roughly one for each 104,000 Canadians.

“I can’t see the three territories not having one seat each, regardless of what system is adopted,” Scarpaleggia said.

Cameron said he supports a proposal from Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former chief electoral officer of Elections Canada, which would see rural ridings stick to the existing first-past-the-post system and urban areas adopt a form of proportional representation.

“Let’s have proportionality when it comes to the deep populations across southern Canada and let’s deal with the North in a different kind of way,” he said.

Scarpaleggia was skeptical about having different voting systems in different parts of the country. But he said it might be possible to retain the three northern MPs and to add one or two representatives for the whole North that would be selected from a list.

That model is called mixed-member proportional representation. Under that system, voters choose both a local candidate and a party when they go to the polls. A certain number of seats would then be filled by individual candidates voted in by their constituents. The rest would be allocated to the parties according to their share of the popular vote, and the candidates would be selected off a list.

Scarpaleggia said it’s conceivable that a pan-northern seat could be designated for an Indigenous representative.

The Yukon would be affected if Canada adopted ranked ballots. Under that system, voters rank the candidates instead of just selecting one. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, then the lowest-ranking candidate is eliminated and his or her votes are redistributed to the second choices on those ballots until one candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the votes.

But Fair Vote Canada, a nonprofit organization advocating for electoral reform, says incorporating ranked ballots into a first-past-the-post system “would continue to waste about half of votes cast.”

The various forms of proportional representation require votes to be distributed among different candidates in a riding or a larger jurisdiction. Under a list system, for instance, each province might have its own list.

But that doesn’t work when there’s only one member for the entire jurisdiction. Unless there were pan-northern MPs added to the House of Commons, therefore, it’s difficult to see how proportional representation would work in the North.

The committee on electoral reform has until Dec. 1 to make recommendations to the House of Commons.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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