What’s wrong with our current system?

August 12, 2016

Canada’s current system is an outdated model known as first-past-the-post (FPTP) that consistently fails to accurately reflect the votes cast by Canadians.

So, Canadians have an opportunity to choose a new way of deciding how their votes count and elections shape future governments. It’s an opportunity to choose new election rules that make voting matter, so more people feel it’s important to participate. New rules that let people see their vote still counts, even if the candidate or party they vote for doesn’t win.

The simplest way to achieve this is for Canada to choose new rules like those used by most other countries, some of the biggest and modern democracies in the world – rules based on proportional representation (PR).

FPTP doesn't work anymore

Canada inherited its current rules from the British Empire, rules that were used by its colonies around the world, often without choice. Even the name, first-past-the-post, comes from a very different time, referring to horse racing where the first horse to cross the finish line wins. Using FPTP, each “riding” elected one man to serve as its Member of Parliament and the winner was the candidate with the most votes.

Times have changed. Not only do we all get to vote today, most of us vote for the political party we want to win far more often than we vote for any individual person, although that’s still important too. When there were just two political parties, things still worked out, but today Canada’s politics are more diverse and FPTP isn’t able to reflect that reality.

In the 2015 federal election, the Liberals got just under 39.5% of the votes, but won 54% of the seats in the House of Commons – a majority government. In the election before that, the Conservatives got 39.6% of the votes and won over half of the seats. 

No party should get a majority of the seats without a majority of the votes. 

It’s the biggest failure of the FPTP system, but it’s not the only one.

Because local votes aren’t reflected the final results, people feel their votes are wasted and stop participating. Studies of elections in countries that still use FPTP also show fewer women and candidates from minority backgrounds get elected.