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First Past the Post is hurting Canada’s democracy

By Dan Roibas

Canadians are becoming disenchanted with our democracy.

Over the last two elections, First Past the Post has empowered a party that is no longer the most desired by our country. The Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) has leveraged the “winner take all” power of FPTP to efficiently pick off enough ridings to win the general elections while losing the popular vote by two hundred thousand ballots and decreasing overall participation in each election since coming to power.

The damage FPTP is causing is most obvious when you examine the first election of Justin Trudeau. This election had one of the highest rates of voter participation since 1993, which saw 68% of the eligible voting population participate. People were excited at the prospect of a new, young leader, with a familiar name and new ideas about how to run the country. Particularly, ideas on fixing the broken voting system which historically kept down popular parties like the NDP and empowered ones without broad support, like the Bloc Quebecois. Voters were so excited, in fact, they rewarded the LPC with a majority government, giving them the power to implement these ideas however they saw fit.

However, the LPC had not won more than fifty percent of the vote to match their seat total, laying the first groundwork for them to abandon their promise. Over the next two elections, the Liberals showed yet another reason to keep the status quo, by being rewarded for losing the popular vote with even more seats from 2019 to 2021. Winning political parties will continue to be rewarded until one that wins realizes fixing Canadian democracy is more important than any one party’s ambitions for re-election.

FPTP does undeniably have some benefits for the Canadian context as Canada has always needed to appeal to regional parties to accommodate its sparse population over a vast landscape, such as with the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec and the Reform Party in the West. The power FPTP has given to these parties, especially in the case of the Bloc, offsets Canada’s lack of regional representation at the federal level that, say, a legitimate Senate would. But the requirements to alter the Senate to make it legitimate would mean opening the can of worms that is amending the constitution, a far more difficult path to go down than changing our electoral system.

Ideally, our electoral system must then balance regional interests as well as the broader interests of our democracy, which it could with a more robust system such as Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP). This electoral system has mostly been known for its use in Germany, and while a densely populated smaller nation is not exactly comparable, there are similarities between our two countries.

Germany had similar regional divides as Canada, having been divided into East and West for years, and a diverse parliamentary government system. And here is where Canada could leverage MMP, giving more power to smaller, regional parties, while maintaining the strength of more broadly appealing ones.

Were MMP implemented in Canada, we could address issues in this country that go back further than the Constitution Act. We could create a parliament as diverse as the people of this country, one built on cooperation and compromise, rather than the cynical calculation of how few ridings a party needs to win. Fixing these democratic deficits go towards fixing problems at the very heart of Canadian society.