Voter turnout in the 2016 Saskatchewan general election was at 57.8 per cent, and some say changing the electoral system could yield a more-involved electorate that is better represented in Regina.
Federally, Justin Trudeau vowed to move from a first-past-the-post system that sees a party win a majority, and essentially all control in parliament if they get around 40 per cent of votes, to some kind of proportional representation. Now in power with a majority government after receiving just under 40 per cent of the vote, the Trudeau Liberals aren't planning any changes to how the public is represented in parliament anytime soon.
There hasn't been as much chatter about moving from a first-past-the-post system - where whoever wins the most votes in a riding, even if it's by a slim margin, gets the seat - to some kind of proportional representation in Saskatchewan, but a couple parties are advocates of the change.
The Green Party of Saskatchewan has a change to some kind of proportional representation as part of its platform. (The federal Green Party and other provincial Green Parties are also in favour of scrapping first past the post.)
"We feel that first past the post is an archaic method," said Saskatchewan Green Party Leader Shawn Setyo. "It was essentially meant for a system with two parties, but seeing how Saskatchewan is running up to five candidates per riding, we should have a more proportional system in place so that voters who don't feel that their vote is meaningful can have a say in legislation."
The Swift Current byelection is coming up on March 1, and the Green Party plans on fielding a candidate, as they did in 2017 byelections in Saskatoon Meewasin and Saskatoon Fairview.
Setyo ran for the Greens in Saskatoon Meewasin and received 1.08 per cent of the votes. Taylor Bolin had 1.34 per cent of the votes as the Green Party candidate in Saskatoon Fairview. They both came fifth of five in their riding, with the NDP taking each from the Saskatchewan Party.
One criticism of the first-past-the-post system is that it can lead to strategic voting, where someone chooses not the party they want to win, but their preference of parties that seem to have a good chance at winning. Another is that it hurts voter turnout.
"[It] kind of disenfranchises the voter, when they go to the ballot box and they're in a riding that's been a clear Liberal or clear Conservative, and they say what's the point of voting? So it just gives a voice to the people that want to have their say, and so I think it's about time that not only Canada but Saskatchewan modernize their electoral system to include everyone so that they have a voice," Setyo said.
Everett Hindley is running for the Saskatchewan Party in the Swift Current byelection, and said he's not interested in moving from a first-past-the-post system as he hasn't come across electoral reform as a conversation point while campaigning.
"It's not something that I've heard on the doorsteps as of late, and when I say that, I mean in recent years here."
There are different kinds of proportional representation, and in the January 27 Saskatchewan Party leadership convention a preferential ballot was used so people could rank their preferred candidates.
"I think what was interesting was we had people really engaged in this leadership process, and the preferential ballot voting system that did have some people sort of scratching their heads trying to figure it out," said Hindley. "As we saw on [January 27] at our leadership candidate there was no clear-cut winner... it was quite tight across the top among the top three candidates and it really went down to the final ballot here to decide you the premier would be. I just think we had really good engagement on this particular process."
Hindley added that it is important to review how things are done politically, especially with the increasing role of social media.
Running for the NDP against Hindley in Swift Current is Stefan Rumpel, who is a fan of electoral reform - especially as proportional representation can increase diversity in government. Currently 16 of 58 MLAs are women.
"I'm a fan of whatever electoral reform decision brings more voices to the table," Rumpel said Friday hours after the byelection officially was called. "I think democracies thrive when more people have a say in what happens, and you're not just looking at one voice. When one voice is in control, and in control for a long time, a lot of people get left out. So if we were to look at some reform to our system, I think yeah, a system that allows you to have a candidate in, and feel like your voice mattered, even if your person didn't win in your riding, necessarily. We also have a lot of people who are disenfranchised regarding the electoral process. They don't go out and vote because they think their vote doesn't matter, and that's not good. We want to be engaged, informed voters. So if that means electoral reform, I'm for that... More diversity, and diversity is our strength."
Some versions of proportional representation can allow parties to fill seats available with people that are underrepresented in legislature. That could mean an increase in MLAs or larger constituencies.
Aidan Roy is running for the Liberals in Swift Current, and doesn't see changing the first-past-the-post system as a pressing issue.
"Well, there's the classic saying don't fix it if it's not broken. First past the post has always had it's pros and cons. I like the representation aspect of it because it allows local candidates to make up the legislative assembly. But I can also see why people can dislike it, because it does not represent the overall vote in the end after the election looking at the proportion of the votes. So, in the end, I'm neutral on the issue."
Proportional representation can lead to more minority governments and more coalitions, but Roy said for now the Liberals just have to focus on working under the current system.
When asked about whether proportional representation could give the Saskatchewan Progressive Conservatives more seats, PC Sask President Grant Schmidt said "it's not about power for the PC party, the pc party has new ideas that are good for Saskatchewan, In order to implement those policies we can either get power or we can get other parties convinced and take up our policies."
Schmidt did add that having seats would make it easier to implement their policies, and deliver them.
Setyo doesn't have a specific form of proportional representation in mind, but hopes a referendum could move government in the direction of some kind of change.
"I think it's up to debate, there are so many types of proportional representation systems out there and I think given Saskatchewan's reality of urban-rural demographics we will have to look at other jurisdictions to see what would be the best fit... The preferred ballot could be an option. However we could have a system where the party decides. I think the first step is to have maybe a referendum to see if change is possible and then once that is established to figure out the exact system in place that we should implement in this province."
The next provincial election in Saskatchewan is set for 2020.