Canadian Electoral System
Canadian Plurality Electoral System does not represent a fair and democratic way of electing Canada’s government. In order to exercise a more democratic approach, Canada needs to adopt a proportional representative electoral system. Democracy will never be a goal that is achieved; it is a process that countries are continuously striving to improve. There is a vast gap between what we expect and what the government delivers.
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In order to come closer to achieving a more democratic country, Canada needs to re-evaluate how they are distributing the number of seats in the House of Commons. Canada currently operates under a plurality election system, also called, “first-past-the-post” system that means that the candidate with the most votes wins. If Canada represented only two parties then it would be the majority wins but in actuality the ballots are split up amongst three or four major candidates and often half a dozen other hopefuls.
This causes disturbances among a democratic society because even the most convincing winners rarely capture more than half the total votes. This also causes unfair representation amongst smaller parties such as the Green party, which currently have one seat in the House of Commons. The issue with Canadian politics is that we never think things through very far; Canada has always been a little foreign to change. British Columbia, for example, had a provincial election in 1952 – 1953 to change the voting system from the old plurality system to a preferential operation.
This entailed an alternative ballot on which the voter marked the names of candidates in order of preference. The results being that the Social Credit Party came to power in 1952 with one seat more than the CCF. This resulted in a great response and a fair way of creating a more democratic province but then in 1956 the province returned to the simple plurality system and has stayed the same since. The only explanation is one that Loenen presents where he states, “Most elections are not fought on policy platforms of any substance.
Single member plurality, combined with modern campaign strategies, induces parties to engage in politics of image, perception, and personality, instead of principle, policy, and platform” (Loenen, 1997). Canadians are drawn into the image of campaigns that result to looking past the real issues of representing Canada as a whole. Canada’s plurality system has no hope of changing to a proportionate system if Citizens keep looking past the matter into the “image, perception, and personality” of government.
Political strategists know that platforms with too much detail can be harmful to their election chances. British Columbia’s electoral boundaries legislation tested section three of the Charter of Rights and Freedom, where it states the following: Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election to the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly, and to be qualified for membership therein. On April 18, 1989 Chief Justice McLaughlin of the B.
C Supreme Court made the argument that focused on the urban and rural split where some urban Members of the Legislative Assembly represented 15% times the population of the least populated rural riding. In other words, the votes of some are 15 times more powerful than the votes of others. Loenen makes note that the purpose (of the right to vote) cannot be less than to guarantee to citizens their full democratic rights in the government of the country and the provinces” (Loenen, 1997).
He also mentions that such a fundamental right must not be diluted for some citizens by giving greater weight to the vote of others (Loenen, 1997). The court seems to be unaware that plurality electoral system regularly produces majority governments from a minority of the votes. In order to represent the votes of every citizen in equal manner Canada needs to adopt a proportionate representation system. A proportionate representation electoral system is a way of voting where if a party obtains 30% of the popular votes, that party obtains 30% of the seats – vote share equates to seat share.
This system like any system is not flawless and needs to be approximated correctly. There are many forms of proportionate representation that would be appropriate for Canada, one being Mixed-Member Proportional System (MMP) where each voter ranks the party in order of interest. For instance, there are five parties that are running for government, I would rank my first choice as NDP, second choice Liberal, third choice Green Party, fourth choice Bloc Quebecois, fifth choice Conservative.
One must look at examples around our world where PR has been used with success. Denmark was the first nation to adopt this system in 1856, then Belgium in 1899, and Switzerland in 1901 and all which still use it up to current day (Balinski & Young, 2001). One nation unparticular that has turned to PR is South Africa. This is an enormous feat especially knowing what turmoil they have had to go through with racial and cultural diversity. Vernon Bogdanor writes:
To meet the canons of democracy, an electoral system should perform two functions. It should ensure, first, that the majority rules and, secondly, that significant minorities are heard (Bogdanor, 1984). Loenen, N. (1997). Citizenship and democracy: A case for proportional representation. (p. 192). Toronto: Dundurn. Balinski, M. , & Young, H. P. (2001). Fair representation. (p. 87). Washington: Brookings. Bognanor, V. (1984). What is Proportional Representation? (p. 157). Oxford: Martin Robertson.