Elections Canada (Black Press photo)

Elections Canada (Black Press photo)

OPINION: There is no popular vote in Canada

Frustrations about electoral systems are valid, and there is a way to change things

Comment sections are always fun after an election, especially one that produces a minority government.

I see comments on how more people voted against a certain party than for it, how a certain party won the “popular vote” and how a certain party split the vote that would have propelled another party to the win. People just do not understand how our parliamentary system works. To be honest, I don’t blame them. The over-coverage of the exceedingly confusing electoral system in the US doesn’t do much to help either. I’ve seen a lot of terms that apply to the American system used in a Canadian context — which simply does not work.

In the United States, every voter gets to vote for the presidential candidates. There are two major parties, and they face off in a head-to-head contest to get the most votes. Leaving out the chaos that is the Electoral College system, it is pretty easy to follow.

In Canada, we vote for our local representatives to Parliament. Those people are divided into parties which have leaders. Whichever party gets the most seats (not votes) gets the chance to form government. The leader of that party becomes Prime Minister. That’s how it works. That is the First Past the Post system, and it always leads to people being unhappy with the outcome.

The concept of “popular vote” is basically meaningless in our system. Yes, the Conservative Party of Canada did get more votes across the country than the Liberal Party did. However, when you take into account the fact that in some Albertan ridings the Conservative candidate won the election by over 27,000 votes (that means he beat the runner up, and then got 27,000 more votes on top of that), you can see where those higher vote numbers come from. Yes 27,000 people voted for the Conservatives in that riding, but that resulted in only one seat.

In most modern elections more people have voted against the party that is in charge than for it. Technically, this year you could argue that 11 million voters voted against the Liberal Party of Canada, and only 5.47 million voted for them, but again, that is not how our system works.

With six major parties on the ballot of course more people are going to vote against the winning party than for it. That’s just because we have more than two parties. Canadian politics is not an either-or system, it has nuance and choice. The last time more than 50 per cent of Canadians voted for the winning party was in 1984 for Brian Mulroney when the Progressive Conservatives won the largest number of seats in Canadian history. Before that was Diefenbaker in 1958.

This argument comes up a lot from whichever the losing side is. I know, because I’ve made that argument myself. The issue is, we have had a few chances to change it. B.C. held a referendum on electoral reform in 2018 where we could have had a more representative voting system, but 61.3 per cent of people voted against it. Yes, the question was confusing and the options required some explaining, but evidently our current system is not much better.

For some context, if we had a more representational system and everyone voted the same way in 2021, we would have a Conservative minority government with a strong Liberal opposition and some NDP and Bloc Quebecois providing support to the other parties, depending on their agendas. The way this would work would be different depending on the system, but they all end up with the percentage of the popular vote roughly meeting the percentage of seats each party has (for example, The NDP would have roughly 17 per cent of the seats, not the seven per cent they have now) However, if we had this kind of system people would be more inclined to vote for the candidate they want, and not the candidate that would keep “the other guys” out.

There would be no splitting the vote from within ideological camps. Instead there would just be a more representative parliament with more people at the table ready to make decisions that benefit more Canadians.

Until we get a chance to change the system — and electoral reform is not a hot button issue right now — we’re stuck with things they way they are.

To make things more fair for everyone, we need to start talking about this again.

Canada Election 2021Opinion