Alberta’s forgotten experiment with electoral reform: the hybrid single transferable vote/alternative vote and the quasi-party system
A persistent yet understudied aspect of Alberta’s “quasi-party system” is the role of the electoral system. While many authors have rightly pointed out that a majoritarian single-member plurality system has helped Alberta’s ruling parties produce disproportionate majorities, the province has not always operated under this electoral arrangement. From 1926 until 1955, Alberta had a “hybrid” system, consisting of the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member constituencies in Edmonton and Calgary and the Alternative Vote in single-member constituencies in the rest of Alberta. This unusual attempt at electoral reform played an important role in the dominance of the United Farmers of Alberta and the early Social Credit Party (until 1955). AV acted as an essentially majoritarian system in rural Alberta, producing statistically indistinguishable results from FPTP. This contrasts the Albertan case with other attempts at implementing the Alternative Vote. On the other hand, STV benefited the UFA and Social Credit in two distinct ways. STV increasing proportionality in Edmonton and Calgary, as it has in many other jurisdictions. However, due the hybrid system, the urban opposition in Edmonton and Calgary to the UFA was fragmented by a proportional system like STV. Social Credit, with its larger urban base, used STV to maximize its urban vote through a process of voter transfers. Finally, rural malapportionment is a key feature in both the hybrid system and the subsequent return to single-member plurality. Rural seats, operating under both AV and FPTP, have been the electoral bedrock for Alberta’s long lived political dynasties. The unique case of Alberta’s hybrid electoral system serves as an important potential case study in debates surrounding electoral reform in Canada and around the world.
Please be aware that a revision to this article was submitted on April 30, 2021. Therefore, there may be some differences between the online version of this submission and the print version.
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