(You may also be interested in this post for a summary of the most common questions being asked about AV, or this post, which looks at how elections in Western Canada actually worked using AV and the problem of “plumping”.)
This blog has been getting quite a few hits from people searching for information about when the Alternative Vote was used in Canada.
The Alternative Vote (AV) has never been used nationally for federal elections in Canada. As far as I can tell, it was only used in three western provinces, British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba, but no province currently uses anything other than FPTP.
AV in British Columbia
AV was used briefly for provincial elections in 1952 and 1953. Ironically, the story involves a coalition of Liberals and Conservatives plotting to eliminate a third, upstart party.
The 1945 and 1949 general elections in British Columbia were won by a coalition of Liberals and Conservatives. However, by the early 1950s, this coalition was starting to disintegrate, and a new party appeared, the leftist CCF (forerunner of the New Democratic Party). Viewing the CCF as a threat, while the coalition government was still in place, it introduced the Alternative Vote. This was done for purely political reasons. The Liberals and Conservatives believed that AV would hurt smaller parties (which it does tend to do), and using AV would, they thought, eliminate the CCF as a serious threat in the 1952 election.
However, the plan backfired because many voters listed another party, the Social Credit (Socred) party as their second choice, and the Socreds actually ended up forming the government (as a minority).
In 1953, due to the difficulties of governing with a minority, Socred Premier WAC Bennett deliberately forced an election over an education issue. The Socreds were re-elected with a majority government. Bennett immediately reinstated the First Past the Post system, which remains in use today.
AV in Alberta
For the 1921 general election the Liberal government instituted a “block voting” system for the large cities. MLAs from Calgary and Edmonton were elected across the city, rather than in single-seat ridings. Each city elected five MLAs, the winners chosen by plurality (the candidates with the most votes win).
In 1926, the United Farmers of Alberta government maintained at-large voting in Calgary and Edmonton but replaced plurality voting with proportional voting. Voters ranked the candidates in order of preference. The winners were those with the highest preferences. (single-transferable vote or STV.)
For the rest of the ridings in the province, the Alternative Vote was adopted. A single candidate was elected by a preferential ballot, the winner being the one who received 50 per cent plus one vote of the first or subsequent preferences. This system stayed in place until 1959, when the Social Credit government unilaterally abolished the province’s mixed system of proportional and majority voting, returning the entire province to single-member districts with plurality voting (FPTP).
AV in Manitoba
In 1920, the provincial government introduced preferential ballots (STV) in the city of Winnipeg. Seats were allotted to each party per 9% of the vote received.
A second electoral reform bill was passed in 1924 and the alternative vote was used in 1927 for all of the ridings in Manitoba outside of Winnipeg (which retained STV). This delivered 30 years of stable governments, including cooperative coalitions during the war. Because of the less adversarial nature of the alternative vote, cooperation in the legislature was common and helped Manitoba through the great depression.
The 1953 general election was the first election held after the breakup of a ten-year coalition government led by the Liberal-Progressives and Progressive Conservatives. The coalition, which began in 1940, was ended in 1950 when the Progressive Conservatives crossed to the opposition side. It was also the last provincial election in Manitoba to feature multi-member constituencies and election by the single transferable ballot in Winnipeg.
Prior to the 1958 election, following a couple of disappointing by-election results in 1955, the government replaced the alternative vote with FPTP so as to reduce competition in the next election. The province has not revisited the issue of electoral reform since.