Proportional representation in Parliament

[Pictured] Cabinet of 2015

One of Justin Trudeau’s promises is electoral reform.

According to the Liberal Party website, in 18 months, an all-party parliamentary committee will be formed to discuss our current single-member plurality (SMP)
system and first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting (the most votes in a constituency wins).

Trudeau recommends preferential or ranked ballots, or some form of proportional representation (PR).

The committee will also consider online voting and mandatory voting.

Electoral reform is long overdue. While the first-past-the-post system assures simplicity and majority governments, the disparities between the popular vote and seat distribution are blatantly undemocratic.

In fact, there have only been three occasions in which a majority government also received more than 50% of the popular vote (1940, 1958, and 1984).

In a strange twist, on three occasions the party that received the second-most votes formed the minority government (1957, 1962, and 1979).

Historically, it should be noted, Canada’s leading left party, CCF/NDP, was usually underrepresented by FPTP.

As much as we like to tout that we didn’t elect the previous Conservative government – Harper received about 40% of the popular vote and 54% of the seats – a majority of
Canadians didn’t elect the Liberals either; the numbers played out to be about the same in 2015.

In Ontario, FPTP was hugely beneficial for the Liberals. They received 66% of the seats with 45% of the vote.

The Conservative Party was not that far behind with 35% of the vote but received only 27% of the seats. Indeed, when we compare the national popular votes of the Liberals (40%) and Conservatives (32%), we see that almost a third of Canada still believes in the Harper government.

Assessing FPTP in these terms certainly reflects poorly on representation across the provinces; some provinces appear to value one party when the popular vote suggests something different.

Since the Liberal Party largely benefitted from the unequal system, the question is whether those in power will be willing to give up a share of the seats in future elections.

In 2001, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty (Liberal) established an all-party committee to examine FPTP, and it took six years before it was put to a referendum.

The all-party committee collectively decided that a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system would be best for Ontario, but the effort was in vain: 63% of Ontario voters decided against it. In the days that followed, news articles appeared indicating that many of the voters had little or no idea what they were voting on.

What is the MMP system? In some ridings, seats will be selected by FPTP while other seats are allocated based on the popular vote.

According to a model discussed by John L. Hiemstra and Harold J. Jansen, half the seats in each province would retain FPTP voting:

“The other half would be chosen from party lists provided by the parties and would be awarded to each party in such a way as to ensure that each party’s representation in Parliament matches its share of the popular vote in that province.”

Voters would actually vote twice, one for their riding (thus maintaining community investment) and a second for a party.

MMP thus ensures that every vote may count. We need not vote strategically because our chosen party may stand a reasonable chance of gaining seats, even if their candidate did not win our riding (and we need not even have selected that particular candidate, just the party as a whole).

For many individuals in Peterborough, including myself, this system would have helped us choose more wisely in October’s election.

The support for Maryam Monsef was astounding, but I think many were quite concerned about what her party had to offer.

With the MMP system, we could have voted for Monsef to represent Peterborough as well as a party, such as the NDP, to represent us provincially/nationally. Thus Hiemstra and Jansen argue that MMP heightens a sense of national unity, not just regionalism.

MMP more accurately reflects the will of the Canadian individual, this much seems clear. In Ontario, during this last election, both Conservatives and the NDP would have received more seats.

If the aim of the three major parties is to win seats, it is undeniable that MMP is the better system to support.

However, given the time it took an Ontario committee to decide upon a new system, and the portion of uninformed individuals that voted down their proposal, I fear that Trudeau’s 18-month timeline to form an electoral reform committee is too strategically-timed.

If it took six years to hold an Ontario referendum, any future reform that takes place may not be implemented for the next election.

Or, more appropriately, the decision about electoral reform will arrive just in time for Trudeau to waver on his original promise and then make new ones to appeal to the 2019/2020 voters.

I will remain skeptical on the promise of electoral reform until I see Trudeau in

About Troy Bordun 61 Articles
I’m a recent graduate of the Cultural Studies PhD program. My research includes contemporary film, film theory, and the history of moving-image pornography. In addition to writing for Arthur, this semester I’m teaching in the Cultural Studies department (Intro to Integrated Arts) and Continuing Education (Writing Short Film Scripts). I also work at the Trend (come say hi!), among other small jobs as they come up.