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Heart of the problem
Canada is one of the few major nations still using the first-past-the-post voting system (FPTP). Most of them scrapped this winner-take-all system last century. Why? Because it fails to provide representation for all voters and it usually fails to provide legitimate majority rule. In other words, winner-take-all voting subverts the core principles of representative democracy.
- Denies representation for all voters
Winner-take-all voting systems provide representation only for those voters who support the most popular party in their riding. The political views of other voters are not represented.
- Millions of voters elect no one
Usually the majority of voters cast votes that elect no one. In the 2008 federal election, more than seven million citizens cast ineffective votes.
- Distorts the will of voters
Because many voters, often the majority, do not elect an MP, overall election results are distorted. A party winning only 40% of the votes may gain 60% or more of the seats and 100% of the power. A party winning 30% of the votes could find itself with only 10% of the seats.
- Produces phony majority governments or unstable minority governments
Because of these large misrepresentations, Canada is generally ruled by phony majority governments that did not win a majority of votes. Canada has had only four governments elected by a majority of voters since World War I.
In recent elections, the system has produced a string of unstable minority governments. Because FPTP usually gives a seat bonus to the leading party (i.e., a portion of seats far beyond its portion of the popular vote), the system creates an incentive for the large parties to call snap elections in hope of gaining enough seats for majority control.
- Fails to produce accountable governments
Governments that win with less than majority support nonetheless claim a “mandate from the people”. Governments can also be easily formed by parties with little or no representation from entire regions of the country.
- Exaggerates regional differences
Election results under the current system make it appear that almost everyone in the west supports one party, everyone in Ontario another party, and everyone in Quebec yet another party. The rich diversity of political views from all regions is not present in Parliament.
- Results in low percentages of women and visible minority MPs
Every voting system creates incentives for parties to bring forward certain types of candidates. In a winner-take-all system based on electing only one candidate per riding, parties have little incentive to field a diverse range of candidates. Voting systems in which a number of MPs are elected in each district (or riding) requires parties to bring forward lists of candidates. That produces a different incentive for parties - presenting a more diverse array of candidates is often the winning strategy.
- Creates apathy, cynicism and negativity among voters
When voters believe their votes do not make a difference, or don't even count, they have little reason to vote. In recent federal elections, voter turnout has sunk to new lows. Countries using fair voting systems generally have higher voter turnouts.