Why millions of Canadian votes don’t matter

Ninety-four countries use proportional representation, where votes translate directly to seats in parliament. Canada doesn’t.

Canada’s electoral system is known as first past the post. The candidate with the most votes in their riding wins a seat in the House of Commons. A candidate does not need a majority of votes to win; all she needs is more votes than the candidate who comes in second.

canada votes

The status quo: first past the post

Canada inherited the first-past-the-post system from the United Kingdom. Many people question whether it still suits the needs of our country. Past election results show the discrepancy between votes each party received, and the actual number of seats they won. The May 2011 federal election in figures:

  • Conservatives: received 39.6% of the vote and 53.9% of the seats
  • NDP: received 30.6% of the vote and 33.4% of the seats
  • Liberals: received 18.9% of the vote and 11.0% of the seats
  • Bloc: received 6.1% of the vote and 1.3% of the seats
  • Greens: received 3.9% of the vote and 0.3% of the seats

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The contender: proportional representation

Proportional representation means that the popular vote is proportionately represented in parliament. If a party gets 20 per cent of the vote, it gets 20 per cent of the seats.

This is what the 2011 election results would have looked like if Canada were using proportional representation:

votes seats pr

Why change?

Many people blame the current electoral system for disengaged voters and a hyper-partisan, unresponsive government. On International Democracy Day this September, a large group of academics presented a letter to the federal parties pushing for a proportional election model, arguing that change is needed to engage the electorate.

Where Canadian parties stand:

Liberals: Want to end the first-past-the-post system. They propose a Parliamentary Committee to advise on the best way to replace it.

NDP: Has been advocating for a more proportionally representative voting system since 2004.

Greens: In favour of a proportional representation system for Canada.

Conservatives: Want to keep the first-past-the-post system. They stand to lose the most seats from proportional representation, based on the 2011 federal election votes.