Tuesday, October 20, 2015

First Past the Post or Proportional Representation

The Canadian election is over with and we finally got rid of the Republican masquerading as a Conservative and are back with normal political parties from whom we can expect normal political things. Perhaps they will even make Canada a place we feel proud of once again.

There is certainly lots for our new Prime Minister to do.  One of the things on the list is to do something about our First Past the Post system of voting which everyone seems to think is unsatisfactory. A party which garners 40% of the popular vote and ends up with 54% of the seats in the House of Commons seems unfair to everyone else. Technically in a three party race, a party getting 34% of the votes could win every seat in the House.

% of votes Seats % of Seats
Lib 39.5% 184 54%
CPC 31.9% 99 29%
NDP 19.4% 44 13%
BQ* 4.7% 10 3%
Green 3.5% 1 0%
Other 0.8% 0 0%
* BQ or Bloc Quebecois only fields candidates in Quebec which is why their low % of votes on a national basis delivers 10 seats while the Green Party's delivered only Elizabeth May.

If we compare seats by First Past the Post and by simple proportional voting we get this picture:

This would have been much more to my liking as it would have forced the Liberals and NDP to work together, possibly producing a much more progressive agenda. However there are a great many problems with this simplistic approach.

Under Proportional Representation, MPs would be chosen from a party list, ranked in order of "importance".  If the Liberals had a list of X number of would-be MPs then the cut off would be at 134 and the lower ranked names would be SOL. What would be the number X?  Right now they have to field 338 candidates but what would be the point of having 338 names on a list?

Who would chose the names on the list and who would rank them?  How would the grass roots be involved, if at all? Under FPP, each constituency party organization chooses its candidate. 

Who would be YOUR representative?  Who would decide that? What would be their responsibility to you and your constituency and how would it be ensured or enforced?

How do you handle a regional party like the BQ? Is Proportional Representation by province or is it national?  If it is by province, then there is still unequal representation on a national basis.  It could be better or it could even be worse.

And what is the cut-off in popular vote below which a party gets no seats in the house? At the moment, 12 seats is necessary to have official party status so the cut-off could be 3.5% for example.  If it were set at say 5%, then neither the BQ nor the Green Party would have a seat at all.  How will the seats be doled out under that scenario?

How do you deal with independents? Or do you deny independents the right to seek election?

Voting patterns will change dramatically with proportional representation, of course, as people feel more free to vote how they want rather than "to make their vote count" because under Proportional Representation, every vote counts. Sort of (see all the above).

Not only will voting patterns change but new parties will appear as if by magic. All they need is 3.5% on a national basis and they are home free.  Since it will be virtually impossible to get a majority government, they can sell their votes to the highest bidder to form a coalition.  Furthermore "fake" parties may not even intend to take seats, but to take votes away from other parties to give their "patron" party more seats.

Italy has Proportional Representation.  Check out how well their government has worked historicallys.  Ukraine has proportional representation.  We have 95 political parties.  Come and see how well our government works.

There are, of course, many variations on a theme which fall short of perfect proportional representation but could be viewed as an improvement over FPP.  These are just some of the things you have to think about before you get too excited about changing the system and that must be taken into account when the new system is developed.  


  1. hot damn for my wonderful Canaderian friends..hope the USA will follow in their footsteps.

  2. Stuart, I am not opposed to PR, just wanting to caution folks there were details to work out. Ukraine had 1/2 as FPP and 1/2 as PR, now it is all PR, but I am not sure of the details other than the criminal element run it to their advantage if they can

  3. Warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. I was very happy that Justin Trudeau/Liberals won on Monday. We really need change here. No politician (or any human being, for that matter) is perfect, but I am looking forward to see what Justin Trudeau can do.

    1. Hi, Linda. Thanks for commenting. We shall see if Trudeau can or will attempt to give us back our Canada. I had hoped for more NDP seats. It was Mulcair's to lose and he lost it. Both CPC and NDP need to do some real soul searching.

  4. It'll be interesting to see what happens. As a cynic, I'm inclined to believe that very little will change, but time will tell. I'd be pleased to be proven wrong.


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