Canada Needs a New Electoral System

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Justin Trudeau © Art Babych

October 23, 2017 12:30 EDT

Considering the problems associated with a first-past-the-post system, the time has come for Canada to change its electoral model.

Over the years, there has been much debate on whether Canada should keep its current system of first-past-the-post or move to another form of electoral system. Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign platform raised this issue, the promise to deliver has since failed. In 2016, the Special Committee on Electoral Reform’s decision to not move forward with a new model disappointed young Canadians who were passionate about this democratic change.

With the election of the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) Jagmeet Singh and his campaign promise to change the system, electoral reform has once again become a big issue in Canada. With the next federal election in 2019 and young political contenders waiting to jump into the ring, it is important that Canadians know what electoral reform is and what it would mean for the country.

So, what is electoral reform?

With the current electoral system, there is no proper or “true” representation of Canadian diversity at the national level. Our current system is that of first-past-the-post, which means that the candidate who gets the most votes in a riding — an electoral district — becomes a member of parliament in the House of Commons.

But this may not inherently reflect how Canadians feel about their political representation. If we look at how the Green Party performed at the last elections, we see that although they got more than 605,000 votes — which should be 3.5% of the total — they only got one seat or a 0.03% stake in the Commons.

To even the everyday Canadian, this would seem like an unfair political system — one that allows bigger parties like the Liberals and Conservatives to get an undue advantage at every election. In fact, studies have showed that satisfaction with democracy depends on true representation in the legislature. That is why political parties such as the NDP have since campaigned on the promise to deliver on a more just and fair system or one that allows for mixed proportional representation.

Could mixed proportional representation be the solution?

Canadians are willing to change the electoral system as long as  it does not become more complicated. A mixed member proportional (MMP) system — like the ones used in Scotland, New Zealand and Germany — is often described as a “best of both worlds” electoral system. The MMP system is not that much more complex than the first-past-the-post system. It requires citizens to vote on two choices instead of one: the candidate they like the most and the party they prefer the most.

Even though this might seem trivial, there are instances that voters may like the party and the candidate in their riding, or they may like a candidate but prefer a different party in their riding. However, with our current system, there are chances of sending mixed signals through how we decide to vote.

Strategic voting in the 2015 election

One such instance was that of strategic voting in the 2015 election, which ultimately led the Liberals to victory. A good analysis of this is an article by Bryan Breguet in The Huffington Post. Breguet talks about how the current system encourages this mixed behavior and is, therefore, less likely to reflect how people really lean in their political ideologies.

In the current system, the larger parties benefit because they can win majority governments, even by receiving less than 50% of the popular vote. However, with smaller federal parties such as the NDP and the Green Party, this system works to their disadvantage. This is seen when they may get the popular vote, but do not necessarily get the amount of seats they deserve according to this vote.

One may argue that having strong majority governments is important because it helps to get things done, yet it is also important to keep any government in check. If the government receives a majority of the popular vote and has a majority of seats in the House of Commons, then its views will hopefully represent those of its constituents. However, if there is a majority government that received less than 50% of the vote, the MMP system would help keep governments accountable to their electorates. With MMP, there would be more voices and greater representation in Parliament, whether or not it is through a majority government.

An MPP electoral system for the win

No matter how large Parliament gets, there will always be a certain individual or group that may feel underrepresented. It is here that an MMP system might do a better job at representation than first-past-the-post. With MMP, this might mean more seats, but it could allow underrepresented groups such as women (who currently only account for 26% of MPs in the House of Commons) to truly represent the 50% of females in Canada. If more members of parliament were added to certain ridings through the MMP, it might also help improve the number of women in Canadian politics overall. It is still disconcerting that developed countries like Canada do not have equal representation, whereas nations like Rwanda and Bolivia had over 50% representation in 2015.

Electoral reform that switches the system to MMP would allow for better representation in Parliament. Of course, there is no perfect electoral system, as every country looks to other nations to help improve their own, but it is obvious that an MMP system would truly represent a diverse Canada.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Art Babych /

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