By: Brad Rubinoff
Let’s start with a question: What is the purpose of an election? I would argue (and I don’t believe that this is particularly controversial) that the purpose of an election (and by extension the system under which an election takes place), fundamentally, is to establish, through a democratic mandate, who will govern. It is the method by which we, the people, select who will represent us in the municipal, provincial and federal legislatures. An election is a democratic expression of the will of the people, and the results of any given election should, as best as possible, reflect this.
As such, every once in a while it behoves us to step back and admire just how terrible a voting system First Past the Post (FPTP) really is. It’s almost embarrassing just how utterly it fails at representing the democratic will of the populace. Take the recent Quebec Election, in which Pauline Marois’ Parti Quebecois won 54 seats (43% of the Legislature) with 31.95% of the popular vote; in comparison, François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec won 19 seats (15% of the Legislature) with 27.05% of the vote. Marois’ extra 4.9% of the total vote translated into 35 additional seats for the Parti Quebecois. Less than 5% of the vote was worth 28% of the seats in the Legislature. 1
In other words, the 1,180,000 people who voted for the CAQ are dramatically under-represented in the Quebec Legislature, as compared to the 1,393,000 people who voted for the PQ. And that’s not even the most absurd example of FPTP in Canadian history. Our elections are littered with silly results. Consider the 2008 Federal Election, in which the Green Party of Canada received over 937,000 votes (roughly 6.7% of the popular vote) and yet won 0 seats in the House of Commons, compared to the Bloc Quebecois, who received 1,379,000 votes (Just under 10% of the popular vote) and yet won 49 seats. Again, the ‘efficiency’ of the BQ vote (centred, of course, entirely in Quebec) meant that their votes were worth far more than the votes of the scattered votes of Green Party supporters, which were ultimately worth nothing at all. 2
My favourite example of the dismal failure that is FPTP comes from the 1979 Federal Election. In this election, Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives won a minority government of 136 seats, with Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal Party forming the Official Opposition at 114 seats. However, Trudeau won a staggering 40.11% of the popular vote to Clark’s 35.89%, receiving over 400,000 more votes than Clark. Nonetheless, due to the ‘inefficiency’ of the Liberal vote, Clark won 22 more seats in the House of Commons than Trudeau. 3
No voting system is perfect. While I, personally, am a fan of STV/Instant Runoff Voting, it is not without faults. Neither is Mixed Member Proportional Representation, or any of the other proposed replacement voting systems. However, whatever their faults, virtually all voting systems have fewer problems, and less absurd results, than FPTP. While we may debate what we should change our voting system to, we can all agree that we need change. FPTP is an antiquated failure that needs to be replaced.