Ranked Ballots for Canada

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The benefits of single-member constituencies

Do you know who is your MP in Ottawa, the person whose job it is to represent you? The odds are that you do. Wherever you live, there is one person who is your representative, and is accountable to you.

Do you know who represents you in the Senate? Unless you live in Yukon, NWT, Nunavut, or Quebec, the answer is no one in particular. This is because Senators represent multi-member constituencies. These are usually provinces, and there can be 4 to 24 people all representing the entire province. Any of those representatives of a multi-member senate division can send you away saying it’s probably the job of one of the others to represent you personally. None is individually responsible, individually accountable to you.

Single-member constituencies such as we have in the House of Commons are the cornerstone of a representative democracy that is accountable. Geographic constituencies fit well with Canada’s realities, but some countries also divide constituencies in ways other than geographic ones. However Canada’s diversity is well represented, with ridings that have large proportions of rural, urban, or suburban dwellers, ridings that are principally French or English speaking or even non-official languages, communities that depend on specific resources or specific employment sectors, and so on.

In Canada, there are about 100,000 people in a riding, about 40,000 households. Speaking with each of them for an average of one minute per year takes two hours per day. An individual can do this. Just as importantly, convincing at least half of them to vote for someone else takes one hour per day for a year if you have a good case.

We intentionally give sparsely populated areas fewer constituents per MP to allow them the time to go see people individually. Some say that means their vote counts more, but does your vote count at all if you and the MP can never speak, or if a competing candidate has no realistic chance of trying to convince you to vote otherwise?

An MP is compelled to represent a clear, non-overlapping group of constituents, every single one of them. They are also the conduit for providing services and resolving problems that individuals have with the federal bureaucracy. In addition, whether that is for voting on laws and amendments, or influencing budgets, local facilities, or other things that will affect their constituents, they are the legitimate voice of the group of people that they represent.

This legitimacy is what is addressed by ranked ballots. It’s great if there are lots of candidates for a chance to represent you, it means that democracy is healthy. But with a plurality voting systems it’s not always clear that the MP is the people’s choice. The more candidates there are and the more mainstream their views, the more likely that someone whose views are disliked by a large majority of constituents will become their representative. Ranked ballots solve this. You can only win by getting at least 50% of the votes.

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