With the Federal Liberal government considering changes to the first-past-the-post electoral system, it is important to study history to identify possible concerns.
Between 1920 and 1958, Winnipeg voted for their MLA’s in multi-member ridings. Also, voters ranked the candidates. In order for candidates to receive 50% of the votes, lower placed candidates were dropped from the ballot and their voters’ second choices were counted.
In the provincial General Elections between 1920 and 1945, Winnipeg had one seat electing 10 MLA’s. Between 20 and 43 candidates contested these Winnipeg seats.
The ranked voting necessitated between 15 and 37 counts. Out of the 70 contested positions, voter ranking changed only seven results.
In the 1949 and 1953 provincial General Elections, Winnipeg was divided into three ridings, electing four MLA’s each. St. Boniface (not yet a part of Winnipeg) elected two MLAs. The ranked voting changed just two of the 28 results. It seems the extra work of ranking candidates is not worth the confusion and time consuming uncertainty.
Multi-member ridings resulted in large constituencies. In 1945, the 10-seat Winnipeg multi-member riding had 155,824 electors. Since 1958, no riding has had more than 24,817 electors (Riel 1977). Larger ridings eliminate candidates without financial resources. The successful candidates may represent part of the riding well, while ignoring other parts.
Multi-member ridings produce unwanted diversity. In 1941, the 10 MLA’s for the multi-member Winnipeg riding had six different political affiliations. In the middle of 1950, the four-seat Winnipeg South riding was represented by two Opposition Leaders, a Cabinet Minister and a backbencher. I would rather deal on local issues with one MLA even if I did not vote for the person.
Political parties should stop complaining about their vote percentage not matching their seat total. In between elections, political parties should pay more attention to ridings that they do not hold.
The use of paper candidates who have no ties to a riding should cease. In recent Manitoba Elections, the NDP and PC’s have both proven that success can be achieved by winning unexpected seats. In 2007 and 2011, The NDP majorities were helped by winning PC strongholds like Southdale and Kirkfield Park. In 2016, the PC’s current majority includes the NDP strongholds of Transcona and Kildonan.
The last time Manitoba had provincial Liberal Governments was a 15-year stretch between 1943 and 1958, with the last decade of that reign under Premier Douglas Campbell. In his last term, Campbell introduced the first-past-the-post for every Manitoba provincial riding.
Subsequently, the Liberals lost the 1958 provincial election under that new system, and have never held power since.
Now, as a Federal Liberal Government wants to change first-past-the-post, I think it would be unfortunate if any Canadian Government did so.