The politicians campaigned, Canada voted, and Stephen Harper was thrown out of office. Indeed, as someone living in England I woke up and found that Canadian brothers and sisters had pushed that insufferable race-baiter out of the limelight; my day was going to be a good one. Don’t misunderstand my joy at Harper’s defeat as enthusiasm for Trudeau’s success though, he, although better than Harper, is still supportive of a capitalist economic system that exploits the poor for the benefit of the rich. However, it would be stupid to say that Trudeau is equally as bad. As much as it would be fun to continue wallowing in the Tories’ misfortune, this is not the purpose of this piece. This piece is addressing a point that I have constantly been complaining about since the UK general election in May 2015: the voting system.
Due to British imperialism (sorry about that) Canada is lumped with a political system that can only be described as undemocratic and unrepresentative. Much like many other former colonial possessions, when decolonised Canada, much like Australia, New Zealand, India etc., adopted the Westminster system in order to govern itself. Whilst this was seemingly logical to do as the political systems under British rule were modelled on the Westminster system, either because of devolved rule or directly from London, it does mean that as well as having the Canadian equivalent of our corrupt House of Lords, Canada also has the first-past-the-post voting system. Not only is this system not representative, it stifles democracy in the long-run through its built in ‘spoiler effect’ and is easily susceptible to gerrymandering.
Even though if you’re from Canada you’re probably sick of hearing about it, I’m going to talk about the most recent election. Specifically let’s look at the results. The Liberals won 184 seats in the House of Commons giving it an outright majority; the Tories won 99 seats making them the official opposition; and the NDP, Bloc Québécois, and Green Party won 44, 10, and 1 seat(s) respectively. As I said the main criticism I have is not that the Liberals won, they won the most votes and should get to form a government, but they shouldn’t have won in the manner in which they did. The Liberals only won 39.5% of the vote, yet they control over 54% of the seats. But its more disproportionate than that. In a parliamentary system over 50% of the seats effectively gives that party all of the power, even though over 70% of voters didn’t support Trudeau’s platform.
Also a comparison should be made between the results for the Green Party and the Bloc Québécois. The Greens won 1.2% less of the vote than the BQ (3.5% vs. 4.7%) yet their representation in the Commons is a tenth of what the BQ received. This is profoundly unfair as the BQ are now disproportionately over-represented because the Green Party’s vote was spread out across the country whereas BQ’s vote was concentrated in Quebec. A similar situation occurred in the UK election in May: the Green Party won 1 MP with 3.8% of the vote, whereas the SNP, who are ideologically similar to the BQ, won 56 MPs with 4.7%. This outcome was because of the same reason, the SNP vote was concentrated in Scotland whereas the Green Party’s vote was spread out.
These two examples are illustrative of why first-past-the-post should be eliminated as an electoral system. By creating such an unrepresentative House of Commons, the electoral system makes people who are marginalised by the system less enthusiastic as they feel like their vote may not make a difference. Similarly the fixation of ridings means that the will of the majority of constituents will almost always be ignored, particularly if the vote is split by a third party.
A prime example of this occurred in Cariboo-Prince George, BC, which sent the Tory Todd Doherty to Ottawa. Doherty won 36% of the vote and is regarded as representing the views of his district, but this is clearly untrue. The other three candidates are all what could be described as centre-left and any one of them would be more representative than Doherty, especially given that that candidate would have garnered around 64% of the vote. This is the spoiler effect in action, and as a result there are many MPs representing ridings that do not actually support their policies.
The question that is always thrown up when criticism of first-past-the-post is mentioned is that there would be more coalition governments. My response would be: “And?”. In this recent election, if done under a more proportional system, Trudeau would still be the Prime Minister, but would probably have to rely on the NDP to pass government proposals in Parliament. This wouldn’t really make much of a difference as these two parties, despite some policy differences, are largely similar, ideologically speaking, and would probably be able to govern successfully. The only party that it would hurt in the long run would be the Tories. The Tories, in order to form a government, would have to run a minority administration unless they could get over 50% of the vote. I do believe there is a phrase for this: ‘representative democracy’.
What this election has shown is that Canada is not a centre-right country, it’s a centre-left country, and under a form of proportional representation, the Tories would never be able to get back into office again unless they stopped peddling the soft-racism, environmental-scepticism and voodoo economics. However the voting system should be offensive to anybody who claims to support democracy. As much as Trudeau’s defeat of Harper was welcome, to argue that the result was a fair reflection of the people’s wishes would be laughable.
Canadians from Vancouver to Halifax should be demanding electoral reform to prevent such a misrepresentation from happening ever again. If we can put people into space and communicate with people on the other side of the world instantaneously, I’m sure we can change the Canadian voting system to more accurately represent the will of the electorate.