Election Season Post Mortem: The Rise and Downfall of the First Past The Post System

After a highly contested election season, the incumbent Liberal party won 157 seats in the 338 seat parliament, making leader, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister for a second term. The Conservative party followed with 121 seats, forming the official opposition. The Bloc Quebecois received 32 seats, regaining official party status while the New Democratic Party (NDP) and Green Party followed with 24 and 3 seats respectively. However, while the Liberals did win the most seats, the party will be forming a minority government, making it harder for legislation to pass in parliament. 

 

This may be a little difficult to wrap your head around (I know it was for me), considering that yes, Justin Trudeau was elected for a second term, but liberal legislations will be harder to go through. This is all in part to the first past the post system. 

 

What is the First-Past-The-Post 

The first past the post system is a plurality-based voting method used by a number of countries such as the United Kingdom where a candidate who receives the most votes in a riding, wins a seat in the House of Commons and represents that riding as a Member of Parliament. The Canadian first past the post system, also described as “winner takes it all”was implemented in order that ballots could easily be counted and processed. 

 

What problems can arise from first past the post? 

 

Canadian voters have often debated the implications arising from using a FPTP system, one being that it is unrepresentative of smaller political parties and fails to reflect the popular vote in the number of seats for competing parties. Voters elect ONE representative for their riding, no matter how diverse it is. 

While the Liberals won the most seats, the Conservative Party did win the popular vote at 34.4%. The NDP received 15.9% of the popular vote  while the Bloc Quebecois received 7.7% even with an advantage of 8 seats. 

This occurred in 1996, where the Liberal party received the popular vote in BC, however the NDP won. 

 

Strategic voting also becomes an issue, where voters are encouraged to vote for a candidate predicted most likely to win rather than voting in their own preference. This gives voters the impression that their vote will not count. 

 

Is there a solution? 

Proportional representation (PR) has been proposed as an alternative to the FPTP, ensuring that ridings are equally diverse and represented. The principle PR proposes that the number of votes should reflect the number of seats in the House of Commons. Rather than elect a single person in a single candidate district, PR brings up a number of voting system suggestions such as Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), where larger ridings can elect “top up” seats in addition to MPs and Single Transferable Voting (STV), where ridings can be combined and elect more than one MP.

 

Image Credit: Element5 Digital