Living, Working, and Wasting Time in Southern Manitoba

Remove Party Names from Ballots

With the election of a Liberal government on Monday, it looks like we may finally get electoral reform in Canada. Some pundits don’t think that a majority government will do it, but I believe that there is enough evidence that strategic voting got the Liberals their majority that they may actually follow through, knowing that they will lose those votes by the next election if they don’t do something.

My top priority for voting reform if of course the ranked or preferential ballot. My second priority, something I haven’t discussed before, is the removal of party names from the ballot. It seems like a small change, but I think it is vital.

There is a law in Canada that party advertising is not allowed in a polling place. The idea is that it may affect the outcome of the vote as people may be more inclined to vote for a candidate after seeing an ad for that candidate. Makes sense to me, keep the playing field level.

But then, once you get to the ballot, the name of the political party appears next to each of the candidates. It can be argued that this takes away the “level playing field” between candidates, making what is supposed to be a local decision into one based on national party. And that is really the crux of this. In our system, you vote for the local candidate, not the national leader.

The idea of voting for a local candidate is so that that person, who has a personal knowledge of the riding, can make decisions based on the wishes of the electorates in that riding. A party only gains power in our system when enough of those local representatives give it the confidence of the House. Many of the problems we have had of late have been because the national party dictates to the local member instead of the other way around.

If you remove party names from ballots, what you do is make it more important for the local candidate to become known. A candidate like Brandon-Souris’ Larry Maguire would have done just fine on Monday because he ran a locally focused campaign based on his own personality and with a catchy local slogan, “Rehire Maguire.”

Inky MarkIf you look north, to Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa, there may be an example of a riding that may have had different results had party name not been on the ballot. In that riding, you had Inky Mark, former Conservative MP, running as an independent along with the other regular party representatives. As it stands, Mr. Mark only got 8.1% of the vote on Monday night, versus over 40% for his Conservative opponent. I have no way of proving it, but I suspect that had there been no party affiliation listed on the ballot, Mr. Mark’s numbers would have been higher, and Mr. Sopuck’s (Conservative) would have been lower. Both men are known to stand for small “c” conservative values, and both have won the old riding of Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette with over 18,000 votes.

Perhaps I am wrong, but if I am then removing the party name will have no affect on the outcome of an election, no harm, no foul. If I am right, then party name on a ballot is affecting the outcome, essentially acting as advertising inside a polling place.

Some would argue that removing party affiliation from a ballot would impede the ability of some people to vote. If, after 36 to 78 days of a campaign, if you are not informed enough by that point to be able to identify your local candidate’s name that will best represent you, then perhaps you are not informed enough to vote. The only reason to have a party name on a ballot is to help “direct” you to which candidate that you should vote for. It amounts to an advertisement for the party, something Elections Canada should not be helping parties do.

Advertising inside a polling place is illegal for a reason.


  1. Brian Marlatt

    Preferential ballots and proportional representation are not options, of course, even though decades of the usual lobby misrepresentations continue to make them popular – until reasonable people think about the outcomes that would result. Preferential ballots are fine for clubs or conventions in small groups where the candidates for election within the group are well-known; PR replaces the voter and constituent representation with party, and of course is a gift to separatists who would be supplied by legitimate grievance through the disenfranchisement of voter support.

    Returning to the practice observed until the late 1960s of voting with ballots bearing the candidate names only, and ending the practice of fixed date elections introduced in 2007, are high priorities, however.

    Party is not the key to democracy, democracy is about the demos, the people.

    Voting party is encouraged by ballots identified according to party and is likely a key point in the history of electoral distortion in favour of party which has reduced the independence from party coercion of the Members of Parliament we elect. Fixed date elections have introduced the year-long pre-election campaign and months long campaign which make money more important than democracy during elections and neuters the Opposition during parliaments when in session.

    So-called electoral reforms, like putting party names on the ballots and fixed date elections have had consequences those who promote them choose not to see or do not see because they are blinded by advocacy.

    • Sean

      I don’t see large problems wit a preferential ballot, other than vote counting taking longer. There is no reason that the bar needs to be set at 50% of the vote, you could make 40% the bar to reach for example.

      The current first-past-the-post system means that in a five way race, it is mathematically possible to win with 21% of the vote. That’s just not acceptable.

      PR could be harder to implement, and we would need to find a way to fill the proportional positions without resorting to “party lists”, which puts the power back with the party. The last thing you want is an un-electable backroom operative given a seat in the House of Commons. I’m sure there are ways we could mathematically build it into the election.

  2. Inky Mark

    Interesting, true , if voters were forced to learn something about the candidates,my he outcomes would be a lot different across canada, we would have MPs who would have to answer to the constituents and not the party or leader

  3. Stephen Garvey

    Very good point Inky. However, the Liberals will only make changes that they view in their best interests and the interests of the old partisan politics. Removing the Liberal Party name from the ballot seems counter to their interest and the old partisan politics. I can’t see this change happening. In contrast, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was the reverse: the three old boy parties and their candidates listed first on the ballots followed by everyone one else. More control and entrenchment.

    We have to be realistic.