Medicine for Our Democratic Malaise (2)

By Tanguay, Brian | Inroads, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Medicine for Our Democratic Malaise (2)

Tanguay, Brian, Inroads

Medicine for our democratic malaise (2) The benefits and limitations of electoral reform Paul Howe, Richard Johnston and André Blais, eds., Strengthening Canadian Democracy. Montreal: Institute for Research on Public Policy, 2005. vi + 361 pages.

Henry Milner, ed., Steps toward Making Every Vote Count: Electoral System Reform in Canada and Its Provinces. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2004. 319 pages.

FOR MOST OF THE POST-WORLD WAR II PERIOD, ELECTORAL SYSTEM change was a relatively rare occurrence in the established democracies, with the notable exception of France. This pattern of electoral system stability was shattered in the 1990s, however, as an impressive number of countries sought to change the method by which they translated votes into seats, often in response to political crises that threatened the democratic legitimacy of their regimes. Italy, Japan and New Zealand all adopted new electoral systems in the early 1990s. The Labour government in Britain established regional parliaments in Scotland and Wales in the late 1990s and determined that the members of these legislatures were to be elected by means of a hybrid system (mixed-member proportional, or MMP) similar to the one employed in Germany and New Zealand. Other "emerging democracies" in the former Warsaw Pact countries, such as Russia and Hungary, experimented with hybrid electoral systems, as did a number of Latin American countries (Bolivia, Venezuela, Mexico).

Until recently, Canada's political class seemed determined to avoid a wide-ranging public debate on reform of the electoral system. In 1991, for example, the Lortie Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing issued a four-volume report and published 23 volumes of research studies containing virtually no discussion of the formula used to translate votes into seats in this country. Indeed, the Lortie Commission was specifically instructed, through its terms of reference, not to examine the existing voting system. At that time, much of the political class saw the issue of reforming Canada's electoral system as peripheral to the national unity crisis then afflicting the country. For the most part, electoral reform was a decidedly minor theme in the political debates of the period.

All of this has changed dramatically in the last five or six years. A series of distorted election results at the federal level, growing concern among political elites with the socalled "democratic deficit," and the example of other Westminster countries such as New Zealand and Britain that have broken with tradition and adopted new ballot laws have combined to nudge the issue of electoral reform toward the top of the political agenda in Canada. By 2004, five provinces - British Columbia, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Ontario - were engaged in meaningful efforts to reform their electoral systems. Federally, in early 2003 the Law Commission of Canada submitted to the Minister of Justice a report calling for the implementation of Scottish-style MME The minority Liberal government of Paul Martin established a ministry for democratic reform and charged the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with recommending a process for consulting Canadians on electoral reform. For a country that in the postwar period has been among the least inclined of all the established democracies to change its electoral system, this flurry of reform activity represents a radical departure from politics as usual.

For readers who would like to know how a new electoral system might make a modest contribution to reducing Canada's democratic deficit, or how electoral reforms have played out in other countries, the two books reviewed here provide balanced and accessible introductions to the debate. Both of these books, with some qualifications, accept the proposition that Canada's electoral system is in dire need of fundamental repair. As Richard Johnston writes in Strengthening Canadian Democracy, "Electoral democracy in Canada is sick. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Medicine for Our Democratic Malaise (2)


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.