As the longest federal election in recent history comes to a close, over 150 000 Vancouver residents find themselves without the elected representative that they wanted. Of course, some parties need to win more than others, but most Canadians should have a local representative who is able and willing to represent their interests in Parliament. Trudeau needs to follow through on his promise to provide citizens with a government that reflects who they voted for.
Despite the fact that more than one-fifth of the city’s voters cast ballots for them, Conservative voters found themselves shut out in all six Vancouver ridings. While there may be little sympathy for supporters of the outgoing government, this lack of representation is not limited to the Conservatives nor to Vancouver. Nationally, the Liberal party only won 39% of the popular vote but received 54% of the seats in the House of Commons. This provides them with 100% of the power to legislate as they please by limiting the ability of all other parties to represent Canadians.
The reason for this is the way we count votes. Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system gives more seats to parties with geographically concentrated support than parties with support spread across the country. This is why the Bloc Quebecois was able to win 10 seats with 4.7% of the vote while the Green Party only won a single seat with 3.5% of the vote nationwide.
The Green Party needs seven times as much of the popular vote to elect one MP than the Bloc does because, under the current system, each geographic riding elects the person with the most votes. The idea that the candidate with the most support becomes the winner makes some intuitive sense. However, one of the primary goals of democracy is not simply to determine winners and losers, but to distribute power among the people and politicians. This should be done in a way that ensures that votes are equally powerful and that citizens have access to effective representation.
A system of proportional representation would ensure that the voices of all Canadians are reflected in a more diverse House of Commons that must work together for the common good. The principle of proportional representation is that the number of seats should be proportional to a party’s percentage of the popular vote. Locally, the Liberals won 41% of the vote and received four of Vancouver’s six seats (66%) in the House of Commons, the NDP received 29% and two seats (33%), and the Conservatives received 21% of the vote but no seats at all.
Under a system of proportional representation, we would expect that the Liberals would winner fewer seats and the Conservatives would win more. Those who voted strategically might be inclined to now support a smaller party like the Greens, knowing that their vote counts under a different electoral system. One such system is a Mixed-Member Proportional system where voters would choose a local candidate just like they do now and then mark a second ballot to indicate which party they most support. After local MPs are elected, some additional seats would be allocated to parties in order to ensure that the number of seats held by each party accurately reflects their share of the popular vote.
Citizens – especially those who did not get the local representative they wanted – should contact their local MPs and demand that they pressure our new government for long overdue action to make this the last unfair election. Fair Vote Canada interviewed candidates during the campaign and three of the four newly elected MPs in Vancouver indicated their support for proportional representation. Trudeau ought to consider making Vancouver Quadra MP Joyce Murray his Minister of Democratic Reform, given her familiarity with the subject matter and her belief that that “It is important for Canada’s future that our electoral system be fairer and more proportional.”
The NDP and the Green Party both support a change and while the Conservative Party has recently argued that there’s no need to change our elections, they might now realize that our current system is a double-edged sword. Justin Trudeau promised to make this the last election that takes place under the current first-past-the-post system. It will be tempting for him to break that promise since the current system is part of the reason they’ve won power, but if he’s serious about finding ways to bring Canadians together, the need to fix our elections is something we should all be able to agree on.