Should Canada adopt French-style run-off elections?

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Socialist Francois Hollande defeated conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in a run-off election, Sunday, to become France's new president.

The run-off election system essentially ensures that the victor wins more than 50 per cent of the vote.  In other words, Hollande won an outright majority so no one can question his legitimacy as France's leader.

What if we have had such a system like that in Canada?

What if we adopted a system that worked like this:  if no local federal candidate reached the 50 per cent plateau on the first round of voting, a second round of voting would be called with only the top two candidates remaining on the  ballot.

At the very least, it would stop the constant complaints from the vocal 'illegitimate government theorists' who like to reference the fact that 60 per cent of Canadians didn't vote for the Harper government.

In a column he wrote for the Globe and Mail, polling analyst Eric Grenier puts forward his best guess of what might have happened in 2011, if Canada had a France-like run-off system.

After the first round, he says, the Conservatives would have 107 candidates clear of the 50 per threshold, and therefore elected.   The New Democrats would elect 36 MPs and the Liberals would have been elected in 2.

Then, using second-choice polling results, Grenier deduced that we would likely have another minority government.

"The final result of the two rounds would give the Conservatives 142 seats to 118 for the NDP and 46 for the Liberals, while the Greens and Bloc would manage to elect one MP apiece," he wrote.

"The New Democrats and Liberals could combine in this scenario to form a majority government of 164 seats."

Grenier adds that if Canada did transition to this kind of system, politicians would likely play more to the centre in order to get those second-round votes, shifting the dynamics of Canadian politics even further.

Others argue that a run-off system just wouldn't work for parliamentary elections.

"Runoff elections are a winner-take-all system.  This is perfectly suitable for electing a president where there can only be one winner," Wayne Smith, executive director of Fair Vote Canada, told Yahoo! Canada News.

"However, for electing members of parliament, city councillors, or any legislative assembly, the object is not to separate us into (a few) winners and (lots of) losers, but rather to ensure that everyone has representation.

"For that you need a proportional voting system."

This debate, will no doubt continue.