Electoral Reform: Your Vote should Count
By: Gabriella Maddalena
Canada’s electoral system is riddled with flaws. Despite having 6 parties at the federal level—though you can’t vote for the Bloc Quebecois outside of Quebec, we only ever have one of two parties form government: The Liberal Party of Canada or the Conservative Party of Canada. Have you ever stopped to consider why that might be? Well, the answer is quite simple: our electoral system only cares about large parties, and if you aren’t voting for them, your vote may not count as much as it should.
Since Canada is a democracy, everyone hearing that statement is confused by what it means. In Canada, we have a first-past-the-post system (FPTP) where we vote for our representative in the House of Commons within our ridings. Whichever party candidate wins a riding, wins a House seat, and the party with the most seats forms government. So, how does this equate to some votes not counting? This method worked well when Canada was a two-party system. As our country has seen the emergence of new parties fighting for power, the FPTP system becomes more outdated as the smaller parties receive well near millions of votes but aren’t adequately represented.
2019 Election Results (FPTP System)
In a FPTP system, the seats allocated to each party are disproportionate to how Canadians voted, and we can see easily this when looking at the popular vote. Take the 2019 Federal election as an example. The Liberals formed a minority government with 157 seats, despite only claiming 33% of the popular vote. The Conservative party won the popular vote with 34% yet is the official opposition in the House based solely on the fact that their House Representatives didn’t win ridings fast enough.
These results get even more disproportionate when looking at the smaller parties in Canadian Politics. The Green party won 3 seats with 6% of the popular vote, not even gaining official party status in the House. The Bloc Quebecois (The Bloc) is currently the third largest party, but only accounts for 7% of the popular vote. When you compare that to the New Democratic Party (NDP), who currently have 24 seats but held 15% of the popular vote, something doesn’t add up with how Canadians voted and the number of seats each party received.
To even further this notion, the Green Party of Canada received 1,162,361 votes in total across the nation 2019, but somehow only ended up with a mere 3 seats in the House. These 3 seats do not adequately represent the 1.160 million Canadians who voted for this party. This is a distortion of the relationship between the popular vote and the seats in the House of Commons.
Another downfall of the FPTP system is that it encourages strategic voting, where votes vote for a specific person and their party to prevent another party from being able to gain power. In a FPTP system, many Canadians feel they cannot vote for what they want because the seat allocation is distorted, which is an unfortunate message to send in a democratic state. So, the question at hand is what’s the solution?
In order for all votes to matter, Canada needs to seek electoral reform and adapt a variation of a Proportionate Representation system (PR). Under a PR system, Canadians would cast their votes, and parties would win a percentage of seats in the House based on the percentage of the popular vote they won. This would eliminate the problem of parties receiving millions of votes and a chunk of the popular vote but ending up with little to no representation.
2019 Election Results in a PR System
Under a PR system, the 2019 federal election results would dramatically change the party presence in the house. In the hypothetical situation, The Liberal Part would have 112 seats, which is equal to 33% of the seats in the House of Commons. The Conservative party would walk away with 117 seats rather than 121, giving them a minority government. The Conservative Party should be the party in power because they won the popular vote, and a PR system adequately reflects that.
The smaller parties see an even more dramatic change in representation under this system.
The NDP would receive more than double the number of seats with 54, and the Bloc would end up with 26 seats, which equate to 15% and 7% of the seats in the House, respectively. The Green Party receives 6% of the seats, a major increase to 22 seats. This is seven times more than their current amount and grants them well over the number for official party status. Even the People’s party would see representation with 6 seats, instead of having none.
In a PR system, the distortion between the popular vote and the allocation of seats disappears. Of course, under this system we would see an increase in minority governments — unless Canadians vote for a specific party in overwhelming numbers. However, between 2004-2011, Canada has produced 7 years of minority governments. 2015 was the first majority government in seven years, and it only lasted for one government term. Of the last 20 elections, 9 of them resulted in minority governments.
This is nothing new for Canada, and the country can function with a minority government. With the notion that we have multiple parties in the House—many of which fall on the left side of the spectrum, it is likely that those parties would support each other in confidence vote (as we have seen this year with the NDP preventing the Liberal Government from losing confidence) thus preventing Canadians from having to go to the polls after a minority collapse. Perhaps it might even be easier for parties to work together to achieve what Canadians want from the government, as their political ideals would be accurately represented in the House.
The bottom line here is that Canada’s current electoral system is a poor representation of how the country votes. It is unfair to allow Canada to remain a mostly two-party system when millions of Canadians vote for the smaller parties in our political system. The first-past-the-post system is outdated and disproportionate. It is time for electoral reform, and it’s time for all Canadian votes to matter.
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.
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