The Way We Vote Sucks, But It Doesn’t Have To

No message could be any clearer.

Posted on November 18, 2021

We came, we saw, we voted…and pretty much nothing changed. The 2021 election came and went with nothing to show for it except an almost identical parliament and 600 million dollars wasted. With polarization on the rise thanks to a laundry list of factors (politicians recycling the same tired messaging, the incredible strain of a global pandemic, and your uncle’s questionable Facebook rants), the Canadian electorate is veering closer and closer to stagnation due to how we vote. 

Photo Credit: The Walrus

Our current voting system, a first-past-the-post system of regional riding-based representatives, can be expected to deliver the same results election after election. This is due to the fact that our current system heavily favours regional support over nation-wide support, so smaller parties with a sparser base have a much harder time securing seats.

Conversely, this means more regionalized parties like our French-speaking fraternité, the Bloc Quebecois earn more seats than the NDP, despite having less votes. This is unfortunate at best and undemocratic at worst, and cannot be changed unless we fundamentally alter the way Canada votes.

So why haven’t we? Aspiring surfer bro Justin Trudeau campaigned on electoral reform and changing how we vote in his 2015 campaign. Hmm… seven years ago! He’s probably super busy, so let’s run through some solutions while we wait for him. 

Ranked Choice Voting

Ever been told you’re wasting your vote if you don’t vote for the two-headed monster of mediocrity that is the modern Liberal and Conservative parties? Ranked choice ballots eliminate this! By ranking the order in which you would like your vote to be used, you can safely vote for a smaller party whilst ensuring that if they don’t win, your vote is instead transferred to a different party that you like ever so slightly less. 

If your Green Party representative has a certain je ne sais quois but you’re worried about their chance of winning, ranked choice voting allows you the freedom to vote for them worry-free. This method of voting is considerably more complicated than our current system, which does raise concern about its accessibility. While ranked choice ballots ideally eliminate strategic voting, it has the potential to elevate fringe parties should they accrue enough support in a local riding. Maxime Bernier will never win a seat in Parliament ever again, but who knows? One of his nutty followers might, and that’s a risk that has to be evaluated.

Proportional Representation

Quick! Close your eyes and think of the last good thing your local MP did for you. If you can’t answer that question (and I imagine most of us can’t), proportional representation is for you! It does away with the idea of local representatives entirely and attributes seats in parliament purely based on the national popular vote. Instead of trying to cater to specific areas, the game of politics simply becomes “get votes, win seats”. 

This is arguably the most democratic system due to its inherent simplicity, but it does come with a few drawbacks. We lose out on having local representatives entirely, so it’s harder to hold specific politicians accountable for their actions. The conservatives have also edged their way into winning the popular vote for the past two elections, so under a pure proportional system, our current Prime Minister would be Andrew Scheer. On second thought, I’m starting to see why Trudeau has been procrastinating election reform…

Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP)

If Proportional Representation sounds a bit too impersonal, its brainier younger brother might sound more appealing. In MMP, you get to vote for not one but two candidates: a regional representative (like our current MP system) and a party representative from a list. Only about a third of the seats in parliament would be held by these party representatives, and the goal is to represent the popular vote more effectively.

It sounds like a solution straight out of Hannah Montana (Is my audience old/young enough to get a “Best of Both Worlds” joke? Who knows!) but it does come with some unfortunate consequences to consider, like any compromise. It creates two different classes of MP in a place in which all members of parliament should be considered equal. In countries that have adopted MMP like New Zealand, strategic voting is still a factor. There were certain candidates whose election would not give their party another seat in parliament, but simply replace another MP from their party list.

So What’s The Takeaway?

There isn’t a clear cut answer as to how we can make our electoral system better. It’s understandable why most party leaders have vaguely gestured towards electoral reform as opposed to taking a hard stance on exactly how the system needs to be changed. Still, no politician wants to change the system that helped them get into power in the first place, so unless electoral reform becomes a much larger issue, I would expect a stagnant parliament that does a bad job of representing Canada for a long time. 

To parliament, to Trudeau, and to you, dear reader, I leave you with a Michael Jackson quote: “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change.” Shamone.

Posted in Blog.