How to improve the functioning of democracy in Quebec and Canada? (3)

By Rébecca Morency (Laval University)

What is the story?

On April 8-9 2015, MEDW co-organized a conference on the state of democracy in Quebec and Canada. Its goal was to assemble professors, politicians, and specialists from various associations of the civil society and from the media to discuss various issues related to the functioning of democracy. In a series a blog posts, we will sum up some of the main arguments and recommendations that emerged out of this conference.

In previous blog posts, we described the arguments made by the participants regarding various ways to increase turnout and decrease political apathy of young citizens (see here), and to regulate party advertising (see here). In this post, we sum up the discussions of another panel where participants discussed the possibility of replacing the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system used to elect the Quebec National Assembly by some sort of proportional representation (PR). The participants were: Jean-Pierre Charbonneau (former Quebec deputy, Parti Québécois), Marc André Bodet (Professor at Laval University), Yves Boisvert (journalist at La Presse), and Jean-Claude Rivest (Canadian senator, independent).

The case for PR in Quebec

Charbonneau reminded the audience that, in Quebec, the FPTP system has been questioned for about 100 years.

He and Bodet agreed that a PR system would favour a more diverse representation of the various ideological groups of the population. It would reduce the unfair distortion between vote and seat shares that we sometimes observe in Quebec elections. Although FPTP tends to favour the formation of stable majority governments, it is important to remember that these governments are rarely supported by a majority of voters.

As a consequence, citizens may positively perceive the introduction of a PR system in Quebec. In this case, as Boisvert and Rivest argued, it may potentially help addressing the problems of declining political participation and growing political apathy.

The case against PR in Quebec

Bodet emphasised the ineluctable trade-off between FPTP and PR. PR systems ensure the fair representation of a diversity of opinions and ideologies in the parliament, but also reduce government stability and policy efficiency. FPTP has the exact opposite effect. The choice between FPTP and PR is then a matter of priorities.

Bodet, Boisvert, and Rivest expressed some concerns regarding the introduction of a PR system in Quebec. This system would further increase the domination of party leaders over their back benchers, as these leaders would be in charge of forming party lists. In the same vein, this might increase political patronage and other malpractices.

Bodet also argued that the replacement of small constituencies by large districts in case PR is adopted would also harm the link between citizens and their representatives.


The participants of this panel did not agree on whether it would be a good idea to replace the FPTP system by some sort of PR system to elect the Quebec National Assembly. In any case, given that political parties have an ambivalent relationship with the electoral system through which they are elected, a referendum, potentially with a qualified majority, would have to be organized in case of reform.

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