Recently, there was an uproar regarding the Liberals not following through with their campaign promise of Electoral Reform. You may ask, “So what?” Followed by, “Politicians rarely follow through with their campaign promises. And they’ve already broken a few of their promises! He was elected because anything was better than Harper!” or maybe “I’m not from Canada.”
Okay, yes. Clearly Canada wanted Harper out no matter what, and Trudeau has several broken or half met campaign promises like politicians before him. And if you’re not from Canada, your country may run on a similar system and these examples may still apply. But, Electoral Reform is a big deal because our current First-Past-the-Post system does not truly reflect the votes and interests of Canadians. Elections do not result in fair representation of a country — especially not majority governments. No matter the party affiliation, people should see this as an issue.
First-Past-the-Post: The Good
There are a few reasons behind why Canada and so many other countries use the First-Past-the-Post system.
A majority government is more likely. Majority governments are seen as stable, and voters are able to hold someone directly accountable for the government’s actions; in minority governments, it is difficult to tell which party is responsible when they are all pointing fingers at each other or taking credit.
The system also allows for clear representation of a community. Each of the 338 ridings has a representative to speak for their local interests.
And the biggest reason we still seem to use it: it’s simple to understand. The person who wins only needs one more vote than their opponents. They then represent the community in the House of Commons. Simple and straightforward.
First-Past-the-Post: The Bad
There are a few major reasons why the First-Past-the-Post system doesn’t work in Canada and needs to be changed.
You can have 60% of your district voting against you and still win by 1%. In the 2015 election, 206 of the 338 candidates won with less than 50% of the votes; in Quebec, four candidates won with less than 30%. In the end, the person who represents your riding, may not be the most desirable candidate; they just got lucky.
The First-Past-the-Post system tends to result in false majorities. The current Liberal leadership only won with 39.5% of the votes while the Conservatives were close with 31.9% making them the official opposition; the other parties followed with the NDP at 19.7%, BQ at 4.7%, and Green at 3.5%. The Liberals have control of the House of Commons which gives them the ability to win nearly any vote, regardless of the fact that 60% of Canadians voted for the opposition parties. Essentially, only 40% of Canadians are being represented.
We also see distortion in the seats won and the votes won. One party could dominate in a region, winning multiple seats, while the other parties could still garner a significant number of votes only to see few — if any — seats. If we look at the 2015 election again, we can see that the Liberals took every single seat in the Atlantic provinces even though 37% of the votes were either Conservative or NDP; the people in those regions who voted against the Liberals now have zero representation.
A winner only needs one more vote than their opponent, so further votes don’t matter. In turn, this discourages voter turnout and alienates others because their votes don’t go towards electing/helping the party win. In ridings where it’s obvious what party will win, people who have an opposing view may feel like there is no point in actually casting a vote considering it won’t help their party anyway.
This also leads to tactical voting: You want the person in third place to win, but you know that won’t happen. So, you instead vote for the second place person because you don’t want the first place person to win; you would prefer neither won, but a vote for your candidate would just be wasted.
First-Past-the-Post alienates voters and does not result in fair representation of Canadian interests.
First-Past-the-Post: The Ugly
What do we change to then? What will provide us with the best representation of our countries issues? There are several options — some more complex than others — that the government needs to consider before they can put forward a proposal to the voting population. The Liberals did put out a survey for Canadians, but it didn’t directly ask what people thought about various voting systems; instead, the survey asked simple statements about how parliament should function which resulted in vague and conflicting answers.
Based on the backlash the Liberals received from opposing parties and citizens, their survey was not the correct way to go about determining what Canadians want out of a new voting system. People want reform, and the government needs to evaluate the possible options before putting out a survey that covers these options. A survey that reads more like a personality quiz for teenagers is not going to result in the change we so desperately need.
You may not have voted for them, but your MP is still there to represent you. So call, email, or visit your MP’s office to ask what they’ll do to support electoral reform.