Quebec electors – or at least those who manage to convince a registration official that they have the right to vote – are going to the polls on April 7th. For those who have something to do that day, Le Directeur des Elections du Quebec has generously scheduled 2 advance polling days, campus polling, and voting at the office of the returning officer!
This election season is heating up and includes so much drama, scandal, and controversy that ABC could make a television series from it. Back and forth from candidates about language issues, cultural values, the economy, and “notre question nationale” have created sharp divides in Quebec, which has lead to a passionate and engaging election.
But I’m about to tell you a little secret. The “election” is only important in a couple of ridings. Don’t get me wrong, go out and exercise your democratic right (as long as you fit under the domicile umbrella), but, in the grand scheme of things, the politicians care more about certain areas of Quebec, and that’s where the problem lies.
Take for example my electoral region of D’Arcy McGee, named after the famous Father of Confederation. It is composed of the districts of Cote St. Luc, Hampstead, and parts of Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace (a district which must set the record for most hyphens).
With numbers averaging eighty percent, the district is basically guaranteed for the Quebec liberals. The only time this seat was highly contested was back in 1994 when the Liberals only managed 65.37% of the vote.
The sad truth is that, if you ran a red towel as the liberal candidate in D’Arcy McGee, it would win.
So, are all members of this coveted Liberal electoral district actually Liberal? While major differences between the party platforms exist between the federal and provincial Liberals, no one would go as far as to compare them to any other political party in Canada. In federal election, the district on Mount Royal, compromising most of D’Arcy McGee, has also voted to have a strong Liberal MP for the past 74 years. But, in recent years, the district has started to change. In the 2011 federal election, only 41.41% of voters chose Liberal incumbent Irwin Cotler, while 35.61% voted Conservative.
Just to demonstrate how far the Liberals have fallen in Mount Royal, when elected, Cotler held 91.98% of the vote. No one can say that the voters in this region are ultra-Liberal. The numbers are very misleading, and the real problem is that, with no other real choice, Liberal is our only option. The Quebec conservatives are not running a candidate in D’Arcy McGee and the CAQ just doesn’t fully blend with the concerns of a predominantly Anglophone population, never mind the Quebec Solidaire.
Therein lies the true problem with this provincial election. There just isn’t enough choice for individuals who fall under the category of federalist, bilingual, and multicultural. Maybe choice isn’t the right word. Let’s go ahead and blame our electoral system as a whole, which relies heavily on district based elections while pretending that political parties do not exist. If we imagine a system where political parties are actually involved in our election system (ahem… Mixed Member Proportional), then maybe the serious issue of Quebec gerrymandering would be eliminated. Alas, because we vote for members and not parties, the true representation of what the people want will always be disproportional.
Gerrymandering is not a new idea. Electoral districts are put in place so that we have more representatives in government. The problems with gerrymandering are also well known. Draw the lines too straight and you might split up a community. Draw the lines too crooked and you risk grouping voters of the same background in one area. Put all the Anglophones in one riding, and that riding is safely Liberal. When the outcome is expected, what fun are elections?
Let’s create an imaginary election between the Liberals, the PQ, the CAQ, QS and an imaginary party we will call the True North Democratic Workers Party of Quebec (TNDWPQ for short). In the riding of D’Arcy McGee, the PQ, CAQ and QS have very little influence because their ideas for Quebec are far from what they want. The Liberals are close to what they want, but the TNDWPQ caters to their every whim. Sadly, the True North Democratic Workers Party of Quebec doesn’t have such a strong following and will mostly likely not win an election. In this case, the electors of D’Arcy McGee are forced to vote for the Liberal candidate to ensure the other parties don’t win. However, if you double the seats in government, allow the voters to then choose which party they prefer, and then allow the remaining seats be split by the percentage of party votes, you would end up with a much more realistic view of what the people actually want.
But, as long as Canada has been a country, the Westminster system of district based voting has been the one true tell all for voters. Even though nearly 70% of the province did not vote for them in the last Quebec Election, the PQ still won a minority government, and that’s not right.
On April 7th, a Liberal MNA will win the D’Arcy McGee riding. Due to little presence from the CAQ, and zero presence from the Parti Quebecois or Quebec Solidaire, everyone already knows the outcome. However, the opposition will continue to run candidates in the riding, and, come Election Day, television coverage of the election will spend 25 seconds on D’Arcy McGee. It raises the question, if the outcome is so expected, why vote at all? In a perfect world, I want candidates visible and accountable for their constituents. I want to see spirited debates between my candidates. I want ideas being brought forth, issues being discussed and real work being done. Sadly, with the way our electoral system works, this is just a faraway dream. In the meantime, D’Arcy McGee will just keep waving the red flag.