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Uncovering the Truth About the First-Past-The-Post Electoral System

By Jason Kalbfleisch

The Current System in Canada

Since its conception, Canada has modelled its electoral system after the British system of governance. Even though Canada’s system has deep historical roots, its blatant disregard for Canadian voters means that it needs to change.

Canada uses a first-past-the-post electoral system that sees candidates with the highest number of votes win an election. The system of ridings ensures that candidates are elected from across Canada and considers the wide variety within Canada’s unique political landscape. But the current electoral system encourages the creation of one ruling party and one opposition party by suppressing its citizens’ diversity of thought and diminishing the value of our vote.

Diminishing the Value of our Vote

By its nature, the first-past-the-post system encourages two-party dominance and suppresses smaller parties’ success. Through a phenomenon known as tactical voting, voters are often discouraged from voting with their true political beliefs and give their votes to a larger party with views most similar to theirs to prevent opposition parties’ from being elected.

Alarmingly, studies suggest that 42% of Ontarians’ votes cast in the 2018 Provincial Election were not cast to elect the candidate of their choice but to prevent a less desirable candidate’s election. Those who cast these “strategic” votes discard their political expression to compensate for the electoral system’s deficiencies.

Looking at Alternatives- Proportional Representation

To ensure accurate electoral representation and expression, Canada should look for an alternative electoral system. One proposed solution is Proportional Representation. Under a system of Proportional Representation, the proportion of the votes cast for a party in an election would directly translate into the representation of those parties in the House’s composition. An election that resulted in 30% of votes being cast for the Liberals would result in the Liberals making up 30% of the House.

Additionally, Proportional Representation would result in creating more political parties that would allow voters to vote according to their beliefs without the fear of having their vote wasted.

A System that Fits Canada’s Needs

Any alternative system needs to consider the unique factors that define Canada’s political system. For example, one of the challenges that Proportional Representation would need to overcome is how it would address Canada’s immense geography, political differences, and riding system.

The model that works best for Canada is the Single-Transferable Vote. Under a Single-Transferable Vote, voters would elect their representatives under a preferential ballot. In this system, voters would vote for multiple members from multiple ridings, under a preferential system, voting for as many or as few candidates they would like. Candidates must receive a predetermined number of votes to get elected, and votes cast for a candidate after going over this number will be given to the second choice listed on the ballot. This process continues until the required number of candidates is elected.

This way, every vote would impact an election, and Canada’s political differences would be accurately represented. This transition would provide an incentive for all voters to vote for candidates who genuinely represent their political opinions.

Weaknesses as Opportunities

Critics of Proportional Representation often note that the system’s biggest weakness is its creation of relatively unstable coalition governments. By enabling voters to vote for what they believe in, rather than the largest parties, there will inevitably be fewer majority governments, and more political parties will have a seat at the table.

Instead, this perceived weakness could provide Canada with a new opportunity. Coalition governments could become the new normal, and there could be increased collaboration between political parties. With the House truly representing an election’s outcome, policy coming out of these collaborative governments would consider multiple parties’ agendas, creating more conclusive and effective policy. Under this system, environmental concerns, social concerns, and economic concerns would have to meet and work towards Canada’s future.

What is the Next Step?

The topic of electoral reform is not new in Canada. Justin Trudeau ran an election with the promise of it being the last under the first-past-the-post electoral system. Yet when electoral reform is proposed with a formal vote, it fails. The next step for Canadians is to educate themselves on Proportional Representation to remove any fears that come with this change. The next time it comes to a referendum, Canadians need to take the opportunity to embrace an electoral system that restores their votes’ value.