The Liberals’ victory in Québec’s provincial elections this week has sparked a lively discussion on Matthew Yglesias‘ blog about the absurdity of single member plurality voting systems. But, as a reader from Montreal, who prefers to be known as Le Professeur (and should really start his own blog ASAP!), notes, the really strange effects of single-member plurality voting (“first past the post”) didn’t occur in this election, but in 1998.

That year, the Parti libéral du Québec won 43.55 percent of the popular vote to the Parti québécois’ 42.87 percent. In the National Assembly, however, this translated into a large majority for the party that had lost the popular vote: 76 seats for the PQ and 48 for the PLQ. The popular majority also became the parliamentary opposition in 1944 and 1966, as a 2002 report on voting systems reform by the Institutions Committee of the Québec National Assembly points out:

The current “first-past-the-post” system has its proponents, but it has also faced serious criticism for its inability to accurately translate voters� wishes into an appropriate distribution of seats in the National Assembly. Partisans of electoral reform hold that the current system inadequately represents voter choices, as seen in the imbalance between the percentage of votes a political party receives and the number of seats it wins in the Québec Parliament. On three occasions in the 20th century … this imbalance has resulted in the party with the greatest percentage of votes being named the opposition. It has also created disproportionate majorities for the parties in power. Many people in Québec, the rest of Canada, and other countries with similar systems therefore consider the system unjust with regard to voters� true choices.</p> Given his party’s past victimisation by the voting system, it should really be no surprise that in his first post-election news conference, the Liberal premier-elect, Jean Charest, promised to consider “reform of the method of voting in Québec, so that the necessary reforms may be in place in time for the next vote.”