Should Canada Consider Electoral Reform?

(By Jasmine TordimahQueen’s University)

Democracy is defined as a system of government in which individuals have the right to actively participate and exercise power. In Canada, the current electoral system is referred to as single-member plurality (SMP), synonymously, ‘first-past-the-post’ and ‘winner takes all.’ Although first-past-the-post is said to allow for an effective and accountable government, it is argued that it no longer possesses the core democratic values that other electoral systems appear to have. To ensure that all viewpoints of individuals are properly represented in government, the government should consider an electoral reform, specifically to a mixed member proportional (MMP) electoral system.

An effective and accountable government promotes inclusivity and includes public participation of all minority groups in the election process. Additionally, an efficient electoral system provides a variety of candidate choices for voters and balances the accountability of political parties to ensure they stand for the collective good.[1] A strong governmental institution protects Canadians and their rights, such as the right to vote and have their vote be counted towards choosing a representative. Although this is upheld, not all views are represented in the final election result.

First-past-the-post is presented to be majority favouring, yet there is an underrepresentation of minorities.  Some elected candidates are a poor representation of the diversity in which Canada holds.[2] Many individuals refer to single-member plurality as a ‘false majority’ because ultimately, the winning party rarely wins at least 50 percent of the popular vote.[3] Political scientists and other observers believe that the electoral system is functioning in an unfair manner. After analyzing results in each electoral district, representation should be more proportional to the overall popular support of individuals.[4] Simply, this system is not always an effective way of choosing a political party because the winner may not have the majority of votes.

First-past-the-post is constructed to allow for an effective government, not to represent all minority views. According to one scholar, the critical voices of the parties or other interest groups are systematically excluded from office, impacting the rules of the game. [5] It should be taken into consideration that a government who does not always represent all individuals in society is not an effective or a accountable government because not all voices are heard. A better alternative to single-member plurality electoral system is a mixed member system, a branch under proportional representation electoral systems.

The mixed member proportional system will allow Canadians to experience a much more efficient government.[6] This system allows for a more proportional representation of political parties in the House of Commons compared to single-member plurality. Initially, all voters will mark their two choices on a ballot. The first choice is for their local candidate representative using a plurality voting formula and a second choice is for a political party preference.[7] Moreover, this can be viewed as having two elections run at the same time. The proportionality is evident in a situation where all votes for the party are calculated and the total number of seats won in the local candidate selection is less than the total percentage of the local representative representing the party.[8] In a case like this, additional seats will be allotted to the party.

The single-member plurality electoral system has certain faults that compromise citizen participation, as the winning government represents not all individual’s views, as they do not have to win a majority. A more efficient and accountable government can be seen in a mixed member proportional electoral system that ensures that the elected party has a total number of seats in the house that is directly proportional to its share of electoral votes submitted by the public. This means the government would be a direct result of whom the public voted for. The aspect of uncertainty involved in any electoral reform acts as a significant barrier, but it is not unreasonable to suggest that an electoral reform in Canada could lead to a good decision.



[1] Shugart, Matthew Soberg. “Electoral “efficiency” and the move to mixed-member systems.” Electoral Studies 20, no. 2 (2001): 174.

[2] Christopher Cochrane, Kelly Blidook, & Rand Dyck, “Canadian Politics: Critical Approaches.” 8th ed. (2016): 292

[3] Couture, Liz. “Proportional representation: Redeeming the democratic deficit.” The Innovation Journal 19, no. 1 (2014): 6.

[4] Canadian Politics: Critical Approaches,” 292.

[5] Norris, Pippa. “Choosing electoral systems: proportional, majoritarian and mixed systems.” International political science review 18, no. 3 (1997):1.

[6] Shugart, “Electoral “efficiency” and the move to mixed-member systems,” 174.

[7] Couture, “Proportional representation: Redeeming the democratic deficit,” 4.

[8] Couture, “Proportional representation: Redeeming the democratic deficit,” 4.