Politics - Federal

First Past the Post Hurts Everyone

By Thom Oommen
Published October 17, 2008

Canada's 40th General Election has come and gone. Very little has changed with another Conservative minority government. The one lesson that has come out of this election, as with all recent Canadian elections, is that our electoral system is broken.

According to Fair Vote Canada, an organization pushing for proportional representation in Canadian elections:

The chief victims of the October 14 federal election were:

Green Party: 940,000 voters supporting the Green Party sent no one to Parliament, setting a new record for the most votes cast for any party that gained no parliamentary representation. By comparison, 813,000 Conservative voters in Alberta alone were able to elect 27 MPs.

Prairie Liberals and New Democrats: In the prairie provinces, Conservatives received roughly twice the vote of the Liberals and NDP, but took seven times as many seats.

Urban Conservatives: Similar to the last election, a quarter-million Conservative voters in Toronto elected no one and neither did Conservative voters in Montreal.

New Democrats: The NDP attracted 1.1 million more votes than the Bloc, but the voting system gave the Bloc 50 seats, the NDP 37.

Had the votes on October 14 been cast under a fair and proportional voting system, Fair Vote Canada projected that the seats allocation would have been approximately as follows:

  • Conservatives - 38% of the popular vote: 117 seats (not 143)
  • Liberals - 26% of the popular vote: 81 seats (not 76)
  • NDP - 18% of the popular vote: 57 seats (not 37)
  • Bloc - 10% of the popular vote: 28 seats (not 50)
  • Greens - 7% of the popular vote: 23 seats (not 0)

It's amazing that all of Canada's political parties aren't pushing for a change to our electoral system. All of them lose under the current first-past-the-post system. Anything has to be better than the current system which encourages strategic voting and not being true to one's beliefs.

How many Canadians who might have voted Green or NDP voted Liberal strategically to prevent a Conservative majority?

So how are we going to fix this system? Good question. Well you can start by connecting with Fair Vote Canada and continuing to remind people about how the election could have gone. Then continue to badger your MP and MPP about supporting a new proportional system both federally and provincially.

It's not going to be easy but if we don't change it expect voting numbers to continue to drop. For this election, just 59.1 percent of eligible Canadian voters went to the polls, the lowest ever.

When one's vote is often wasted by our first-past-the-post system, can you blame them?

Thom Oommen is passionate about building truly sustainable communities. But far from technological solutions and other flights of fancy, he believes that the only way to build a just and ecologically responsible community is to embrace frugality and simplicity. He is currently focusing on actively learning the skills that will enable him and his community to face an unknown future with a measure of confidence. Check out his blog.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 17, 2008 at 10:03:14

I'm surprised that you find it 'amazing that our political parties aren't pushing for a change to the electoral system'. Why in the world would the Conservatives and Liberals want to change it? It benefits them immensely (other than this single election in which the Liberals got hammered).

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By heartman (anonymous) | Posted October 17, 2008 at 10:09:41

You wrote "All of them lose under the current first-past-the-post system." But that's not true. The Libs and Cons are NET beneficiaries. They migh lose some seats in some areas (like Tory votes in urban centers,) but they gain more than they lose by winning pluralities in the suburbs and rurals.

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By gullchasedship (registered) - website | Posted October 17, 2008 at 13:21:47

The system is based on regional representation, not on proportional voting. If you move to proportional representation, you lose the regional representation.

A blended system might address the problems inherent in both systems.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted October 17, 2008 at 14:23:38

What like MMP? That didn't play too well in the last Provincial election

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted October 17, 2008 at 19:03:51

Wasn't the figure 290 million dollars for this election? (or $10.00 for every Canadian?)

For this we got....Nothing! Not even any appreciable change. First Past the Post has outlived it's usefulness.

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By gullchasedship (registered) - website | Posted October 17, 2008 at 21:21:02

Cityjoe, I'm happy with the results. We have a slightly stronger Tory party and a Liberal party that's further in debt and in turmoil because of ongoing leadership issues.

It's a war of attrition and Harper is winning hands down.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 17, 2008 at 22:21:49

how exciting. All of us hard-working taxpayers get to pay money so two spoiled brats can have a little feud with each other. Isn't democracy great.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 17, 2008 at 23:30:46

Does it really matter who you vote for?

All political parties understand today that the economy is the driving factor in politics (as evidenced by the lack of support for the "green shift").

Therefore, all parties deliver platforms that are essentially the same.

All governments aim to run a balanced budget, ensure public health care and fund pensions.

Having said that, I think a proportional system would be a lot more fun to participate in.

However, economic issues would still restrain political parties from experimenting in fringe ideas, to the extent that they screwed with people's wallets.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 18, 2008 at 11:15:09

A Smith: The prolbem with our system is that in their calculating, the conservatives only got around 22% of the vote, when one factors in the amount of people who did not vote.

Ensure public health care, are you sure? Why is it then that there have been over 200 services that were covered by OHIP, that now are not and it effects those who the the poor, the working poor, who cannot afford it.

Fund pensions: Pensions for whom, when the percentage of workers who have pension plans is decreasing. Wages have lowered, thus people cannot save for retirement.

You miss the greater picture of what is going on. Soon the poor will have nothing and well the middle class, those who are mortgaged, who are credit card debt maxed, those that live paycheque to paycheque, are about to wake up to the system they have created.

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By Zip (anonymous) | Posted October 18, 2008 at 12:16:43

The number of people who did not vote reached an all-time high this past election. Fewer than 60% of the electorate voted. I think this is the major tragedy resulting from first-past-the-post.

I wonder if anyone feels as I do, looking back over the past 50 years, that interest in political issues has actually increased as a result of directly accessible, digital media, while voting has declined? I does seem to me that those who are turned off voting are, superficially at least, in a demographic most active in new media, while newspapers and television network coverage is increasingly non-issue, "leadership" or scandal oriented.

Should more representational electoral systems have accompanied our slide into the information age? Would such systems bring more people back into voting, or has a generation, or more, been lost?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 18, 2008 at 17:08:02

Grassroots, if you look at where government spends money, the bulk of it goes to health, education and transfers to individuals (CPP, OAS).

I suppose you could always cut back on government ministries, but then people would complain about that as well.

If you were in charge, where would you get the extra money?

Zip, if people decide not to vote, why is this a bad thing? To me, all this indicates is that people are relatively happy with the government of the day.

If this were not the case, casting a vote would take on greater importance and you would see higher turnout. I bet this will be the case in the upcoming U.S. election.

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By what? (anonymous) | Posted October 18, 2008 at 23:13:42

Proportional representation will only result in MP's who have no loyalty but to the party. They already sacrifice the needs of local constituents for the good of the party to some degree but with a new system, they won't even have any constituents to be loyal to. Got a problem and want to talk to your MP? Who is it and where are they? And why should they care about you when they are there for the party's interests and not yours. Maybe we should just have extra MP's to further bloat the government payroll...

Do we really want a system like in Israel where coalitions are put together by pandering to all sorts of extremist parties in order to get enough seats to govern?

People complain about the waste of money with this election but we will surely have elections far more often under a proportional system as governing coalitions fall apart... As for this election being a waste of money, we would have spent the same money in a year anyway so what's the problem? Would people be complaining if the NDP won the day?

There was not a single riding in the entire country where more voters wanted the Green party to be their representatives than any other party. Not even close. How does this complete lack of strong support anywhere in the nation warrant 23 seats in the house?

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 24, 2008 at 22:48:40

A Smith: You are a challenging individual. Let see, if I was in charge, what would I do??? My personality type is ESFP, extrovert, sensing, feeling, preceiving. My training is in accounting.

My personality does not fit with the accounting world, but my skills are important.

I see you as someone who lives a sheltered life, never gone through upheaval.

To be honest, you really have no idea, what the people really think. I have been out and they are not happy, many voices are not being heard.

Sorry but you are the one who is blind, the one, who cannot see the forest for trees. You live in a protective world, outside of those that struggle. You make judgement, don't you!!!!!!

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