The Seven Sins of Our System
The wrongs caused by our First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) electoral system are many, and if left unchecked they could severely undermine Canadian unity:
It doesn't have to be this way. A perfect system doesn't exist, and there are criticisms of PR systems as well. But mixed PR systems offer a better solution that let us keep our traditions and still benefit from PR. Read more about it.
- FPTP: Pitting One Region Against Another - Our current voting system rewards parties who concentrate their efforts in only one or two regions. Parties will get more seats that way than having the same number of supporters spread across the entire country. We thus have electoral results that make it seem as if all Albertans are Conservative, and most Quebeckers are either New Democrats or separatists. But this is far from the truth: less than half of all Westerners vote Conservative, and the same is true for Quebeckers voting for parties promoting sovereignty. Worse, as parties become more concentrated in a region, regional-based parties will play to regional issues to gain votes, and tend to pit one region against another for political advantage. The rise of this in recent decades fuels alienation and separatism. Our electoral system is just plain bad for national unity.
- All Votes are Not Equal - Right now, the value of your vote depends on who you vote for. In the last federal election, Conservatives gained a seat in parliament on average for every 35,000 votes. The NDP needed 44,000 per MP on average, and Liberals 82,000 per MP. And 576,000 Green voters elected only one MP. In a democracy where every vote is supposed to count the same, that's not equality.
- Women & Minorities are Under-represented - Canada has an embarassingly low level of representation by women & enthocultural minorities in our legislatures. Federally only 24% of MPs are women, meaning Canada ranks 40th amongst democracies, below countries like Afghanistan, Rwanda, and Pakistan for equality of representation. PR systems are better than FPTP systems for increasing women's representation. Of the 10 highest-ranking countries in terms of women's representation, all utilize proportional representation electoral systems. Winner-takes-all systems have consistently proven to be the worst possible system for women. And the situation is no better for minorities & aboriginals, who are consistently under-represented despite their growth in our society as a whole.
- Phony Majority Governments - In our current system a political party often gets less than 40% of the votes, wins 60% of the seats and reigns with 100% of the power. Electoral accountability is seriously hurt when governments have to answer only to a narrow set of supporters to maintain their absolute power. Even more scandalous is when we get majority governments formed while the main opposition party actually received more votes than the winners! It happens quite often in Canada, for example in the 2006 New Brunswick election and the 1998 Quebec election. This simply does not make any sense.
- Half of All Votes Thrown Away - Right now, our winner-take-all system grants one group of voters in each riding the seat, and the rest get nothing. Their votes (usually the majority) go towards electing no-one to represent them in parliament. They cast wasted votes, and every election almost half of all voters might has well have stayed home. What happens in a system that wastes six million votes? Many voters feel pressured to vote against a party they fear instead of for the party they like, but know can't win. But many more people just stop voting.
- Low Voter Turnout - No surprise that with so many wasted votes, participation rates in elections have been steadily declining. Canadians are tuning out of a political system that disenfranchises them. Just in the last twenty years, voter turnout has gone down a staggering 15% and there is little sign of this reversing. But expereinces in other countries shows that voter turnout actually increases slightly after a switch to a PR-based voting system.
- It's About Confrontation - Instead of building coalitions, political parties today play the politics of confrontation, and it turns voters off. But it's not really surprising: if a system grants one party all the power and yours has none (despite the way people voted), all you can do is criticise. If a system makes it much more wothwhile to play regional us vs. them games than to compromise and negotiate, they'll do what's in their best interest.