Steven Del Duca’s crazy promise to reform our elections – or to resign

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“I suspect I know what you are thinking – other leaders have promised a lot on electoral reform and they have not kept their promises. So I want to make it clear to what extent I am convinced of my commitment. “- Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, October 17, 2021

When Steven Del Duca made this statement at his party’s annual general meeting, he had been its leader for over 19 months.

But few voters yet knew who Del Duca was.

So the leader of the Ontario third party was in desperate need of something – anything – to make himself known in the newspapers and on television.

This is exactly what Del Duca has done by promising to “resign immediately” if he is elected prime minister in the elections next June and subsequently fails to keep his promise to reform our electoral system by introducing a preferential voting system.

Del Duca hailed the preferential ballots as a system that will put power “in its place – in the hands of the people”.

What “people” should be asking, however, is who in the world is advising Del Duca?

This is because his promise to quit is a foolish promise about a bad electoral system.

Worse yet, Del Duca is starting to show a disturbing pattern of ridiculous promises in his frantic attempt to gain traction with voters, especially younger voters, and distance himself from Prime Minister Doug Ford and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

The best example of this is his promise made during his leadership campaign to have 30 candidates in the next election who would be aged 30 and under. This promise has rocked many party veterans and potential candidates who see it as a “quota system” that ignores the fact that most voters prefer candidates with substantial professional and personal experience over their resumes.

On electoral reform, Del Duca is not the first leader to make outrageous promises. Justin Trudeau promised in 2015 to replace our current first past the post system. But once elected, he did not keep his commitment.

The system of choice by ranking favored by Del Duca is supposed to work best in elections where there is no majority winner. In a preferential ballot, voters can list the candidates in order of preference, rather than voting for one person. For example, if there are five candidates on the ballot, a voter will have to rank them from first to last.

If no candidate obtains more than 50 percent of the first place votes, the candidate who finishes last is eliminated and the second choice votes of that candidate’s supporters are counted. This continues until a candidate obtains an artificial “majority” of more than half of the votes.

Supporters praise the preferential ballots, saying they will lead to greater civility in campaigns, mean the election of more women and minorities, reduce polarization, end strategic voting, increase turnout and make voters feel that their vote really matters.

In truth, however, preferential ballots are not a change for the better.

Indeed, the Ontario Conservatives and the NDP do not like it. Neither does Fair Vote Canada, which constantly calls for electoral reform. The group calls it a “takeover” that “should be criticized by all Ontario voters who care about democracy.”

Such systems are often too complicated, thereby deterring voters and leading to reduced voter turnout. Nor are they more democratic than supporters suggest. How is that possible in a crazy series of vote counts in which a candidate who, say, finishes fourth in the first ballot actually comes out as the winner?

What’s more, U.S. studies of preferential ballots have shown that many voters don’t even know the names of all the candidates, let alone how they would rank them. In addition, many voters select only two or three choices, which results in their ballots being discarded before the final count. This often results in the eventual winner being supported by less than 50% of all voters, which is often the same outcome as in our current system.

Is it really a better system than the one we have now?

It’s a question Del Duca should have considered before promising to change the rules – or else to resign.

Bob hepburn is a Toronto-based political columnist for Star. Twitter: @BobHepburn


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