By Vanda Schmockel
With Regina’s municipal election behind us, the business of getting on with running Saskatchewan’s capital city will soon be in Mayor-elect Michael Fougere’s hands. But when Fougere is sworn in, he’ll be taking the job without the support of the majority of Regina’s voters.
Of the three leading candidates, Fougere won with 42.4 per cent of the vote. Marian Donnelly and Meka Okochi followed behind, making up 31.8 and 17.5 per cent of the vote, respectively.
A tally of 42.5 per cent does not a majority make and yet, with that, Fougere has won the mayor’s seat. That’s how it works in the so-called first-past-the-post electoral system that most of Canada uses. But there are other voting systems to choose from and, many argue, fairer ways of making sure that all voters feel represented. In the existing system, it’s common for a voter to cast a ballot and never see their choice make a difference.
“If you voted for the person (who won), you’re represented by someone you voted for. But if you voted for somebody else, well too bad for you. You take what you get,” said Wayne Smith, executive director of Fair Vote Canada. “Proportional systems are designed so that everybody can be represented by somebody they voted for. It’s a win-win system.”
Fair Vote Canada advocates for proportional representation systems of voting. Most of the time, when proportional representation is talked about in Canada, it is usually within the context of a provincial or federal election. But some say there are ways to get a fairer - and more representative - result at the municipal level, too.
“One electoral tweak would be to have a run-off election,” said Jim Farney, a professor of political science who teaches a course called Electoral Systems and Voting at the University of Regina. “To get around the problem of whoever winning with a minority vote, you do the first run of the election, and then the top two candidates run against each other and whoever gets more than 50 per cent wins.”
Wayne Smith, who lives in Toronto, said another problem with the existing system is that, too often, city councils are not adequately representative of the communities they’re elected to represent.
“In Toronto, we have a problem where we have an enormously diverse city and that diversity is not reflected on our council." he said. "The number of women doesn’t adequately reflect the population, let alone our various minority communities. There’s something like 11 per cent minorities represented on council, whereas the population is close to 50 per cent. And that has something to do with the kind of voting system we have - you’re going to end up with the least common denominators - so it’s really hard for anyone who’s a little bit different to get elected."
It’s hard to say what kind of impact such a system might have had on Regina’s recent election, but advocates of electoral reform say it’s worth considering. Farney said other voting systems, such as the Single Transferable Vote (STV) might have had an impact on the election at the ward level. The STV system is a ranking system where candidates are ranked on the ballot, so if a voter’s first choice doesn’t make the cut, their second or third choice still has a shot at winning that seat.
“You could have the STV with ward councilors where you have a list and every voter ranks the first eight or 12 or however many (candidates). That would work fine with our existing system,” he said.