In our last post, we introduced you to Prof. Lawrence LeDuc (University of Toronto) and outlined his key argument that our First Past the Post voting system means that half the voters don’t receive legislative representation - at most, they get constituency service, but we claim that this is not the heart of our Charter right to effective representation.
In Prof. LeDuc’s affidavit, he describes three additional significant problems created by our current voting system that are well-known to electoral reform advocates: false or exaggerated parliamentary majorities, systematic under-representation of political minorities, and distorted regional and provincial representation.
On false or exaggerated majorities, he notes that there have been 30 elections since 1921, which was “the first federal election seriously contested by three or more political parties.” Of these, only three have produced “true majorities”, in which the winning party’s candidates attracted over 50% of the vote. Fourteen resulted in “false majorities”, where a party won a majority of the seats but whose candidates attracted less than 50% of the vote, and thirteen resulted in minority governments (three of which were “wrong winner” elections, “where the party with the most votes did not gain the most seats”, including our most recent election in 2019). The problem, as he points out, is that “For more than a century, our electoral system has typically failed to deliver results that accurately reflect the will of the electorate as expressed on Election Day..”
Systematic Under-Representation of Political Minorities:
LeDuc states that another key problem is that “Canada’s FPTP electoral system favours minor parties with concentrated sectional support, and discourages those with greater but diffuse national support.” “This has systematically benefited supporters of the separatist Bloc Québécois, while systematically penalizing supporters of the NDP and the Green Party.”
Distorted Regional and Provincial Representation:
LeDuc outlines the very consequential results of this systemic under-representation: “The best-known modern case is the 1993 federal election, which produced a Parliament in which the Bloc Quebecois became the Official Opposition because the concentration of its votes in Quebec gave it 54 of the province’s 75 seats.” In the same election, “the Progressive Conservatives were reduced to two seats, despite receiving 16% of the national vote – [2%] more than the Bloc[‘s 14%].” And “the Liberals won 98 of the 99 seats in Ontario.”
LeDuc explains that the “fear that FPTP would exacerbate regional and linguistic tensions in Canada was fully dramatized by the 1993 outcome, and its implications for the country could be seen in the second Quebec referendum which took place two years later.” He also states that “the National Energy Policy, and the animosity that it caused in Alberta, were direct consequences of this distortion of regional representation” in the 1980 election in which “Pierre Trudeau formed a majority government ... with no seats in British Columbia, Alberta, or Saskatchewan.” And he notes that “the divisions and tensions in our politics caused by FPTP are not only regional or linguistic ones,” but also led to Harper’s governments in 2006 and 2008 having no “representation from Canada’s three largest cities”.
LeDuc summarizes these findings by saying “For all of the reasons documented by Cairns and other scholars, FPTP, in my opinion, has never been, and is not now, an effective electoral model for a bilingual, multicultural, regionally complex federation such as Canada.”
More to come next week.
Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide & Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC