Quebec's electoral system continues to alienate voters, experts say, especially in Montreal

Quebec's electoral system continues to alienate voters, experts say, especially in Montreal

Many Quebec voters — particularly Montrealers — are feeling disenchanted in the wake of the provincial election and say Quebec's disproportional electoral system is to blame.

An online petition calling for electoral reform, launched hours after the election, has amassed more than 8,000 signatures.

"We've been demanding change for years and years, and as always, we've been told nice promises that aren't kept," the petition description reads.

The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) managed to increase its majority to 90 seats but nabbed only two seats in Montreal, as it did in 2018 — while opposition parties found themselves scrabbling for what was left.

The Parti Québécois (PQ) ended up with three seats, the Conservatives (PCQ) with none, Québec Solidaire (QS) with 11 and the Liberals with 21, which will allow them to form the Official Opposition.

The PQ, QS and the PCQ failed to qualify for Official Party status at the National Assembly – the minimum is 12 seats or 20 per cent of the vote.

The CAQ won the most seats despite most voters not supporting them

Valérie-Anne Mahéo, a political scientist at Université Laval, says the disparity between the level of support for the CAQ in Montreal and the rest of Quebec shows that Montrealers are not the party's target demographic.

She says the CAQ has been cultivating support among francophone voters in suburbs and rural regions, who are concerned about diversity, rather than trying to woo the residents of a cosmopolitan city.

"What is really clear this time, more stark than what we saw in 2018, is that Montreal feels like an island in Quebec more than ever before," she told CBC's Radio Noon.

For 'a few intellectuals' only

In 2018, CAQ Leader François Legault promised to establish a mixed electoral system in which 45 of the 125 ridings would be distributed based on proportional representation. Quebec's National Assembly has had 125 seats since its expansion from 110 in 1989.

But that promise came and went.

In this year's election campaign, Legault claimed that "except for a few intellectuals," the public was uninterested in electoral reform.

Nelson Wiseman, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, agrees.

"People tend to go with the devil they know as opposed to the devil they don't know," he told CBC's Breakaway. "If the average voter was as interested, then this would have been a bigger issue."

What the results could have been under proportional representation

According to Wiseman, it would take election results that are even more lopsided for voters to realize what's at stake for democracy, such as if the CAQ had won as many as 120 seats — a possibility due to the number of fragmented parties.

"The public would sit up and say, 'Gee, just five MNAs in opposition. What kind of opposition could they run?'" he said. "Then you would have a drumbeat for proportional representation."

Winners are unlikely reformists

Like previous Quebec politicians who called for electoral reform before they won an election, Legault lacks incentives to overhaul a voting system that has given him consecutive majority governments, Mahéo says.

The premier insists he would actively work with opposition parties. But for Mahéo, expecting Legault — or any premier — to change the electoral system is a pipe dream.

"He has a strong majority. It's not in his interest to share power with more opposition parties," she said.

At a news conference Tuesday, Legault repeated that he is "not open to discussions" on the electoral system.

"I said I will not open this subject, so I will respect my commitment," he said.