We Need to Fix Canada’s Electoral System

by JG

I live in Canada, a country that just had its 41st Federal Election. A quick explanation on how our government is formed (with links to Wikipedia articles for those interested in learning more):

Canada’s system of government is called a “constitutional monarchy“. Though there are many aspects to our government, the most significant in terms of legislative power is called the House of Commons (or the Lower House). There are 308 seats in the House, each representing a riding/district in Canada, similar to the United States Congress. Whenever there are elections (we don’t have fixed election dates like the U.S.), Canadian citizens cast a single vote, for whoever they decide should represent their riding in the House. If a candidate does not finish in first place in their riding, it’s almost as if they never ran at all. This system of voting is called first past the post, or FPTP.

While that may seem all well and good in a two party system, that’s not how Canada is run. Five different parties won at least a seat in the most recent election, all of them receiving over 3% of the 14,720,580 total votes cast. How many seats they each won however, is far from proportional. A quick summary of the results for these five parties is below, take a second to look it over.

Source: Wikipedia

There is more, actually much more, below the jump. I encourage you to read it.

As you can tell, the percentage of seats won vs percentage of votes cast is not very proportional. It may not be as obvious here as in past elections, but it is still noticeable. Here’s another chart, one that shows how many seats the party won under FPTP (2008, 2011) versus how many they would’ve won under a proportional system (2008A, 2011A).

Since this year’s election was quite different than those of past years, 2011 isn’t the best example to use. Instead, I’ll just talk about the similarities of the past few years (excluding this year).

The usual scenario was the popular vote going in this order: Cons, Libs, NDP, Bloc, Green. The allocated seats usually went in the same order, if you switched the NDP and Bloc and gave the Greens no seats. This was (key word: was) due to the Bloc’s strength in Quebec giving them much more seats than their nationwide percentage (after all, they only had candidates in Quebec). Meanwhile, the NDP finished second or third in almost every riding, at least outside Quebec, but was able to win only a few seats. Lastly, the Greens were never (until this year) able to finish first in any given riding, despite finishing in the top five in virtually all of them (I’d assume).

Given everything I’ve said so far, it is clear that first past the post is not the strongest system to accurately represent voters. Many people would agree with that. But that does not mean a perfectly proportionate system would be great. The chart just above only accounts for national votes, not regional. To reflect regional votes, let’s look at some more stats from the past election.

Source: Wikipedia

If each province decided to use its popular vote to determine seat allotment, which is something I think should be explored, the results would look like this:

This scenario, potentially one of the more fair and realistic electoral reform options, would result in a minority Conservative government with a strong NDP opposition. Oddly enough, the projected NDP seats, combined with those of the Liberals, would result in exactly 155 total seats, or enough to potentially form a majority coalition government, with Jack Layton as Prime Minister, and a cabinet mixed with both Dippers (NDP) and Grits (Liberals).

I’m not here to tell you that the potential results of my suggestion would be better for Canada, merely that it would be more fair. Each vote would actually contribute rather than be wasted.

Please feel free to comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts and spark some discussion.

P.S. This post was originally supposed to be a very short description of FPTP, and then a showing of a video. So here’s that video, created for a British referendum on the voting system.