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The problems with first-past-the-post in Ontario

In the June 2022 Ontario election, Doug Ford’s PCs received 40.8% of the popular vote. First-past-the-post handed them 67% of the seats, and 100% of the power.

They won a whopping 83 seats―that’s 7 more seats than 2018 with only 0.34 points more of the popular vote.

The Liberal Party earned more of the popular vote than the NDP―23.85% vs 23.73%―but the NDP’s voters elected 31 MPPs and Liberal voters only elected 8.

Despite the support of almost one quarter of Ontario voters, first-past-the-post means the Ontario Liberal Party was again denied official party status in the legislature, making it even more difficult for the party to represent its voters.

Greens increased their popular vote share from 4.6% in 2018 to 5.96% but still elected only one MPP (Mike Schreiner) to represent the 279,255 people who voted Green in Ontario. A whopping 54% of voters – 2,531,087 – cast wasted votes that elected no-one.

Turnout was only 43.51%. That means the current “majority” government is supported by 17.78% of eligible voters. 

What would Ontario look like with proportional representation?

First, some important qualifications:

Showing what the outcome might have been with proportional representation is difficult, because voter behaviour depends on the voting system.

Here are a few ways that proportional representation may change voter behaviour:

    • Turnout: Turnout in countries with PR is about 7% higher on average. When voters know their vote will really count towards the outcome of the election, some voters who currently stay home may show up to vote. When New Zealand adopted PR, while turnout overall did not increase, turnout did increase in what were formerly “safe seats” and among youth.
    • No need for negative strategic voting: When voters know that they don’t need to use their vote to try to stop a party they dislike from winning a false majority, they are more likely to vote in alignment with their genuine preferences.

      That is not to say voters don’t use strategy when they vote with PR. In countries with PR, two or more parties often govern together. Considering which parties may work together also influences how voters vote. Some voters may choose to support a smaller party, for example, to help increase the odds that the party has a stronger voice in a new government.

       

    • More choices: When voters for third and smaller parties can gain fairer representation,  the system becomes more competitive. 


Results of the 2022 Ontario election using proportional representation

Since voters will vote somewhat differently with proportional representation, it’s difficult to say with certainty what the legislature would look like with proportional representation.

For the purposes of simulations, all we have to go on is how voters voted with first-past-the-post.

Based on how people voted in Ontario in 2022, the fully proportional results are evident on the “how we voted” pie chart at the top of this page.

Based on a fully proportional model, if a party got 15% voter support, they would get almost exactly 15% of the seats.

However, models of proportional representation for Canada are always designed not only to provide proportional results, but also to maintain strong local representation. Creating this balance means the results are usually not perfectly proportional overall.

PR models for Canada are almost always designed on a regional basis.

If 30% of the voters in your region vote for candidates from Party A, Party A will get roughly 30% of the seats in your region.

Proportional representation in Ontario will allow local voters to be in control. If you live in the Ottawa region, your vote will help elect MPs in the Ottawa region based on their level of popular support.

The systems most often recommended for Canada allow voters to elect candidates by name (not just party)—many even provide a choice among candidates of the same party.

Based on regional level proportionality (using an average region size of 8 seats, for demonstration purposes only), here are what the results with proportional representation in Ontario might have looked like based on how people voted in the 2022 provincial election.

(NOTE: This simulation uses Mixed Member Proportional with regions of 8 seats on average. Results using Proportional Ranked Choice Voting or Open List PR – both multi-member systems – would be almost identical). 

 

Cooperation required


The first thing that is obvious with proportional results is that no single party is going to have a majority of seats.

This simply reflects what voters say with their ballots: they don’t want one party to have total control. A two-party system would allow one party to gain genuine majority support among voters, but Ontario ceased to be a two-party system long ago. In fact, the last time over 50% of Ontario voters voted for one party was in 1937.

With proportional representation, parties must work together to ensure that all legislation has the support of parties who represent over 50% of voters.


Learn more



Learn more about the problems of winner-take-all voting in Canada:

What is first-past-the-post
More problems with first-past-the-post
Winner-take-all ranked ballots are not the solution

Learn more about the evidence for PR

Learn about PR models for Canada 



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