Electoral reform in Canada is becoming a battle between two unprincipled parties

First-past-the-post system hurts Canada’s progressive parties most of all

When it comes to electoral reform in Canada, there seems to be a competition between which party can be the least principled.

The day after Canada’s 2019 federal election, a hilarious Facebook post went viral. In the post, an obviously Conservative voter from Alberta spells out how “ridiculously slanted” Canada’s system of voting is while attaching a photo of the final vote tally and seat allocations.

The overarching point — that the Canadian election results are undemocratic — is valid, but not for reasons spelled out that led over 15,000 Facebook users to share the post.

The real issue in addressing Canada’s first-past-the-post system is that neither of the two major parties will ever be principled enough to do it.

This is because while Conservatives right now may be aggrieved over the election results — that Andrew Scheer’s Conservative party earned a higher percentage of the popular vote than Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party yet won fewer seats — these same people would have been cheerleading the results of previous elections that ended in their favour. Elections where former prime minister Stephen Harper won minority governments with under 37 per cent of the vote and a majority with just under 40 per cent are examples.

In reality, the biggest losers of this system were not the Conservatives. While they received more of the popular vote than the Liberals — 34.4 per cent — they still received five more seats than they would have in a proportional system.

The real losers of this first-past-the-post system are obviously the Green party and New Democratic Party.

Together, they picked up 22.4 per cent of the popular vote and received 27 seats. For reference, proportionately, 22.4 per cent of the vote should achieve about 76 seats.

The true barrier to achieving electoral reform in Canada is the two unprincipled parties receiving all of the seats in Parliament.

In the next sitting of Parliament, the Liberals will no longer have the power of the majority. This means that if they wanted to, every other party could simply go around them to pass legislation and achieve the electoral reform promised to Canadians in 2015.

Unfortunately, this reform is unlikely to happen for exactly the same reason. Parties cannot coalesce around a principled position. Rather, they will only unify on what will benefit the party and give them more power.

The only real hope for change is if Conservative voters’ distaste for the system will be enduring enough to apply pressure and push some of their representatives in the principled direction. If the Conservative party threw weight behind proportional representation, this could no doubt be achieved.

However, unlike the Facebook poster or the tens of thousands who shared the post, Conservatives in power likely understand that this would be a terrible move in their quest for more power.

A Conservative party hasn’t achieved over 50 per cent of the popular vote in Canada since 1958. In that same time period, they managed to achieve four majority governments. If there’s a party benefitting from the status quo, it’s the Conservative party.

Similarly, the Liberal party refuses to adopt a principled stance. Trudeau would not go near the fair, proportional representation system and would only endorse a ranked-ballot system — a process that would guarantee a Liberal party government after government.

It’s clear that the status quo is detrimental to getting progressive priorities implemented.

The over four million people who cast ballots for the NDP and Green parties, and countless more who were forced to strategically vote for the Liberals, are not being heard or represented in Ottawa.

They, along with the more than six million people who voted Conservativtre and feel aggrieved, need to force this discussion on those in power.

Electoral reform must become a mainstream issue since it is the biggest barrier Canada faces in achieving fair elections.

Until this party battle of the unprincipled is ended, Canada will be without a fair system of voting and progressive change will be quashed.