Proper Electoral Reform in Canada

Posted on 20. Apr, 2014 by in Politics

People are afraid of change. And it’s this fear that’s keeping Canada from taking the necessary steps towards changing the way we elect Members of Parliament. The current First-past-the-post (FPP) system is a hugely flawed electoral system that has been used in Canada for far too long, and is in need to replacement. This replacement comes in the form of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting, a system which eliminates essentially all the faults found in FPP.

While it might seem that FPP is a simple and fair way to conduct elections there are actually many problems with this system. FPP elections often results in a minority governance because the winning candidate need only have the most votes, and not a majority of them. When you consider this happening in each of the riding across the country it can easily result in a majority of voters being unrepresented in parliament. This winner-take-all problem means that voters have to consider not only who they would like to win, but also who they would least like to win. With voters having to consider making a strategic vote, over time the elections tends towards a two-party system. The FPP system is also the extremely susceptible to gerrymandering, where the strategic division of electoral districts can result in a political advantage. FFP is also affected by the spoiler effect, which is the result of vote-splitting between ideologically similar candidates such that a third, less-popular, candidate ends up winning.

Thankfully Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) is an alternative to the FPP system which avoids all of the negative aspects that can be found in FPP. MMP works by first doubling the number of seats in the House of Commons. The first half of those seats are used for the election of local candidates using the existing ridings and FPP system (although in a perfect world one would use Instant-runoff voting). The second half of the seats are party seats which are assigned to each political party, starting with the most under-represented, and being assigned until each parties seat percentage is slightly over-representative compared to their percentage of the popular vote. When voters go to the polls on election day they get two votes instead of just one. The first vote is to elect a local Member of Parliament (using FPP) while the second vote is for a particular political party. Voters, using this second vote, can choose to support parties that they know will not necessarily win in their local riding, but would have a better chance being elected based their support across the country. With people now able to vote for whatever party they want using their second vote, parties that may never have had the critical mass of supporters before, can easily get seats. MMP is also able to avoid gerrymandering and elections being won based on seats and not the popular vote because the assignment of seats the second half of the seats to parties corrects for any such representation discrepancies.

While this system sounds promising in theory, only real election results will be able to show any real success. While it is not possible to exactly replicate what a vote would look like in Canada using MMP because there would be different voting choices, It is, however, possible speculate on just how much things could change using just the existing data and applying this new system. While this speculation will not be able to account for the changes in voting choices, it is still a good test of what our election landscape could look like in the future.

Using the results of the 2011 federal election I have created the following chart which outlines what would have happened if the election had been conducted using MMP voting. Looking at the Disparity column you can see that the Conservatives and the NDP are over-represented while all of the other parties are under-represented. The second half of the seats are assigned by adding seats to each parties’ New Seats column, with seats assigned in order of highest New Disparity until the last seat added makes them over-represented (negative New Disparity value). Seats are then added to each following party with the highest under-representation until all 308 party seats have been assigned.

Party Current Seats Current Seat Percentage Popular Vote Popular Vote Percentage Current Disparity New Seats New Combined percentage New Disparity Total Seats
Conservative 166 53.90% 5832401 39.62% 14.28% 79 39.77% -0.15% 245
New Democratic 103 33.44% 4508474 30.63% 2.81% 86 30.68% -0.05% 189
Liberal 34 11.04% 2783175 18.91% -7.87% 83 18.99% -0.08% 117
Bloc Québécois 4 1.30% 889788 6.04% -4.74% 34 6.17% -0.13% 38
Green 1 0.32% 576221 3.91% -3.59% 24 4.06% -0.15% 25
Independent 0 0.00% 63340 0.43% -0.43% 2 0.32% 0.11% 2
Christian Heritage 0 0.00% 19218 0.13% -0.13% 0 0.00% 0.13% 0
Marxist–Leninist 0 0.00% 10160 0.07% -0.07% 0 0.00% 0.07% 0
No affiliation 0 0.00% 9391 0.06% -0.06% 0 0.00% 0.06% 0
Libertarian 0 0.00% 6017 0.04% -0.04% 0 0.00% 0.04% 0
Progressive Canadian 0 0.00% 5838 0.04% -0.04% 0 0.00% 0.04% 0
Rhinoceros 0 0.00% 3819 0.03% -0.03% 0 0.00% 0.03% 0
Pirate 0 0.00% 3198 0.02% -0.02% 0 0.00% 0.02% 0
Communist 0 0.00% 2925 0.02% -0.02% 0 0.00% 0.02% 0
Canadian Action 0 0.00% 2030 0.01% -0.01% 0 0.00% 0.01% 0
Marijuana 0 0.00% 1864 0.01% -0.01% 0 0.00% 0.01% 0
Animal Alliance 0 0.00% 1451 0.01% -0.01% 0 0.00% 0.01% 0
Western Block 0 0.00% 748 0.01% -0.01% 0 0.00% 0.01% 0
United 0 0.00% 294 0.00% 0.00% 0 0.00% 0.00% 0
First Peoples National 0 0.00% 228 0.00% 0.00% 0 0.00% 0.00% 0
Total 308 100.00% 14720580 100.00% 17.09% 308 100.00% 1.13% 616

With the distribution of the second half of the seats based on the overall popular vote, rather than just taking the FPP winner, the assignment of seats in Total Seats is a much better representation of the Popular Vote than that of the Current Seats. This better distribution of seats is shown by the significant reduction in New Disparity (a reduction of 15.96%, from 17.09% to 1.13%) which indicates that each parties number of seats in the House of Commons more closely represents their representation in the Popular Vote.

Taking into account that these numbers do not necessarily represent the voting intentions of people, had they been give the choice to vote for a local candidate and a party, it’s still a very interesting exercise. The overall winners in this test were the Liberal’s, the Bloc, and the Green party, each of whom were under-represented by 7.87%, 4.74%, and 3.59% respectively. For the Green Party, this correction translates into their presence in the House of Commons going from just one to 25. While this is only equivalent to 12.5 seats using the current total of 308, this 12x increase in seats just goes to show how much of a disparity there is between what party people voted for and who is actually representing them in Parliament.

So while Mixed Member Proportional is in no way a perfect system for electing members of parliament, there is no doubt that it’s advantages over a First Past the Post would make it a great improvement to elections in Canada.

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  1. Ontario Election 2014 | Hayward's Site - June 13, 2014

    […] Having managed to gain 10 seats from the PCs, Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals managed to pick up a majority. What makes this win interesting though is that she was able to do so with only 38.7% of the popular vote. With voters quite evenly split between the three major parties (Liberal, PC, and NDP) one would think this election is a perfect example of why Ontario (and most places that rely on First Past the Post election systems) needs to introduce some electoral reform. […]

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