Will Electoral Reform Finally Happen in Quebec?

Article excerpt

For the second time in the past quarter century, a bill on electoral reform is on the agenda in Quebec. Between January and March, 2006, a special commission on electoral reform (composed of nine parliamentarians from the three parties represented in the National Assembly and eight randomly selected citizens) toured Quebec to hear from no less than 600 individuals and groups.

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Electoral reform has been a political demand since the 1964 founding of the Rassemblement pour l'independence nationale (RIN), and was submitted as a bill by the Levesque (PQ) government in 1983-84, but it has never made it through parliament.

The 1998 elections revealed once again the distortions caused by the "first past the post" electoral system. With 27,618 fewer votes than the Quebec Liberals (PLQ), the Parti Quebecois (PQ) received 28 more seats (76 PQ versus 48 Liberal seats), while the Action Democratique du Quebec (ADQ) won only a single seat with 12 per cent of the vote.

On February 21, 2003, more than 1,000 participants gathered in Quebec to discuss the status of reforms to Quebec's democratic institutions. They came to the nearly unanimous conclusion that a system of regional proportional representation was necessary. In the following general elections, all parties committed to reform the electoral system. On April 15, 2003, on the day after his victory, Premier Jean Charest (PLQ) announced that such a reform would take place "during the first year of our first mandate." Since then, things have become sluggish and the signal coming from the government is that electoral reform cannot be instituted before the next election!

If this issue has remained in the forefront over that past five years, despite the manoeuvring of neo-liberal politicians, it has a lot to do with the watchdog activities of citizens' movements. Since 2000, at least three organizations have done an excellent job of reflection, analysis, popular education, lobbying and political pressure in favour of a proportional electoral system in Quebec: the Movement for a New Democracy, the Feminism and Democracy Collective and the Democracy and Citizenship Movement. In addition, the Union des forces progres-sistes and Option citoyenne--and, before them, the Rassemblement for Alternative Politics, born in 1998--have made proportional representation one of their key issues. …