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Federal New Democrats were cock-a-hoop with joy at the sweeping victory of their provincial cousins in Alberta. They would have been pleased, but somewhat less joyous, had Alberta been using the electoral system that the federal NDP espouses.

The Alberta NDP got 41 per cent of the vote, but 62 per cent of the seats, a crushing legislative majority. No deals. No coalitions. Just four years of an NDP majority under the existing first-past-the-post voting system – the one the federal NDP (and Liberals) wants to banish.

The federal NDP favours something called mixed-member proportional representation, akin to the New Zealand system whereby every elector gets two votes, one for a local MP, another for a party list. (MMP was once recommended by the Law Reform Commission of Canada.) Says the New Zealand website explaining MMP, election results generally produce a Parliament with parties whose share of the seats "is about the same as its share of the party vote."

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MMP and other proportional-representation systems are quite democratic in the sense of matching shares of votes and seats. What would have happened to Premier Rachel Notley and her New Democrats under MMP?

The Alberta NDP, lacking a majority of seats under MMP, would have needed to cobble together an arrangement, perhaps even with the party it defeated, the Progressive Conservatives; or, it would have remained in opposition. Or it could have tried to govern month-to-month as a minority.

How could the victorious NDP have remained in opposition? Under MMP, the Progressive Conservatives, with 28 per cent of the vote, and the Wildrose Party, with 24 per cent, would have together eclipsed easily the NDP's 41 per cent share of the popular vote.

Since these two parties likely had more in common than either had with the NDP, they could have ganged up to defeat the NDP and formed a coalition with a solid majority for the next four years. Or, they could have had a looser arrangement to keep the NDP out of power, because together they would have had a parliamentary majority.

The provincial NDP would have howled at this prospect. They would have claimed, "We won the largest share of the popular vote. We deserve to govern and not be overthrown by the second and third parties." Under the existing system, yes; under MMP, not necessarily.

Maybe the NDP could have stitched together some kind of joint statement of policies with the Progressive Conservatives, but their agreement certainly would not have looked like the policies the NDP has already introduced courtesy of its majority government. Or, the NDP could have refused any agreement with another party, informal or otherwise, and tried to govern as a minority.

This possibility of the second and third parties getting together to overthrow the party with the largest share of the popular vote and seats is exactly what the federal NDP might face after the Oct. 19 election. The NDP is already talking privately of joining with the Liberals to defeat the Conservatives should that party have only a minority of parliamentary seats.

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It would appear, the Alberta results notwithstanding, that Canadians are heading for a debate, if not a change, to the existing first-past-the-post system. The NDP has favoured proportional representation for years. Now, the federal Liberals declare this should be the last election held under the existing system.

They want a national debate on proportional representation or preferential voting, as in Australia, where voters mark their ballots in order of preference for candidates. Ontario has announced a favourable opinion for this method of voting in municipal elections, but not provincial ones.

In Prince Edward Island, Liberal Premier Wade MacLauchlan just handed a legislative committee a White Paper on Democratic Renewal that includes reviewing PR and preferential voting.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says he's interested in exploring a preferential-voting system.

Schemes for changing first-past-the-post have been put to electors in British Columbia, Ontario and PEI. They all lost – in Ontario by a whopping 63 per cent to 37 per cent. Ideas for change were debated and died in the legislatures of Quebec and New Brunswick.

Around the country's barbecues this summer, start flipping over ideas for a new voting system. While flipping, do ponder the NDP's "majority" victory in Alberta and what would have happened to that "majority" under MMP.

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