Support for electoral reform spikes after federal election, new poll suggests

Support for proportional representation has spiked after the last federal election, according to a new poll by the Angus Reid Institute

Nearly seven in ten people polled who support the Conservative Party of Canada say they want electoral reform, according to the non-partisan public opinion research group. 

In 2015, less than a third of conservatives who answered a similar poll supported changing the voting system. 

"It's not terribly surprising," said Réal Lavergne, president of Fair Vote Canada.

The Angus Reid Institute conducted the online survey from Oct. 29 to Nov. 4, 2019 among a representative randomized sample of 1,965 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum. A probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

He pointed to the results of the 2019 federal election, where the Conservative Party won the popular vote but the Liberal Party took power with the most seats.

"That shifted the thinking of a lot of Conservative voters," said Lavergne. 

Support for proportional representation by party Jan. 2016 versus Nov. 2019

Alvin Yu/CBC

But the poll also found that the majority of Candians surveyed want electoral reform, regardless of the political party they support. 

"It's going to happen eventually because the problems are so obvious," said Lavergne.

"The question is when is this going to crack."

Discussions about electoral reform in Canada stretch back nearly a century, but with few concrete results. 

That's because governments who advocated for proportional representation when they were in opposition tend to struggle to keep the momentum going once they're in power. 

During the lead-up to the 2015 election Justin Trudeau promised to do away with the first-past-the-post voting system in favour of alternatives like a ranked ballot system or proportional representation. A special committee on electoral reform was set up shortly after the Liberals came to power to study the issue but the government announced in 2017 that reform was no longer on the table. 

"There comes this ambivalence, if not opposition, to proportional representation after you've been elected," Lavergne said. 

"What that suggests is politicians are in a very, very profound conflict of interest when it comes to electoral reform and it's time to hand this over to the citizens."