78:260 Government and Politics of Canada
The Canadian Electoral System
In this paper I will argue that changes to the Canadian electoral system are something that needs to happen. Some of the reasons that I believe change needs to happen that I will highlight in my paper are single member plurality denies representation for all voters, produces false governments, regional differences are exaggerated resulting in low percentages of women and visible minority MPs.
Before starting this paper I looked for a definition of an “electoral system”. My favorite definition that popped up was “a legal system for making democratic choices” (http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=electoral%20system). I like this one the best because of the idea of democratic choices is pointed out in it. In a democracy the voice of the people looms large and should always be represented as strongly as possible. In the Canadian electoral system I don’t feel like this is the case due to Canada’s electoral system. Canada operates under the first past the post or single member plurality electoral system (SMP). Under the single member plurality electoral system each electoral district or riding, the candidate with the most number of votes in an election wins a seat in the House of Commons, or the legislative assembly in provincial and territorial elections. The leader of the party which wins the highest number or seats, instead of the party with the highest percentage of the overall vote is asked to arrange the government. In other words it is it is not necessary to win an overall majority of the vote: providing the candidate has at least one more vote than each of the other candidates, and then he or she is declared the victor (Farrell 2001, Electoral Systems, Pg.19).
Supporters of the single member plurality system hope to not see reform to the system for a number of different reasons. For one the current system is simple and easy to understand. SMP is simple in terms of actual voting and figuring out the winner is not complicated at all. Another thing some people believe the SMP does that is a positive is that it creates stable governments; stable governments in terms of no extremist leadership. Under the SMP the government, so the argument goes, is not hostage to vagaries of relying on small (often extremist) parties for legislative support (Farrell 2001, Electoral Systems, Pg.20). Another so-called positive of the SMP system is how long it has been used for specifically in Canada. SMP has been around since medieval times, meaning it is tried and true, therefore reliable.
In the SMP system voters are denied the representation they should be given as citizens of Canada. The winner-take-all style used by the SMP voting systems provides representation only for those voters who support the most popular party in their riding. Just 58.8 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2008 federal election, the lowest in Canadian history (http://www.680news.com/federal-election/article/220853--harper-wins-majority-government-ndp-official-opposition). I believe this statistic is directly correlated with the belief that only a small amount of Canadian citizens views will be represented anyway so people have become reluctant to vote. The political thoughts of the additional voters are not represented at all. Alan C. Cairns defines this idea brilliantly. “Advocates of proportional representation base their arguments on democratic federalism. They simply argue that each vote should have equal weight and that the distortion of voter’s preferences by single member constituency systems is no more to be justified than the use of false scales by a butcher” (Cairns, The Electoral System and the Party System in Canada, Pg.55). Customarily the greater percentages of votes cast by voters go toward helping to elect no one. In the 2008 federal election 62.37% of votes went unused