Final Thoughts from Prof. LeDuc

In our recent messages, we’ve shared with you much of the evidence Prof. Lawrence LeDuc  presents about the negative effects of our First Past the Post voting system.  In the final section of his affidavit, Prof. LeDuc summarizes Canada’s previous experiences with proportional voting and explains why, if it worked better than FPTP, we didn’t keep it and haven’t switched even more decisively to using it in all Canadian elections.  

Canada’s Previous Experience With Proportional Voting

While it may be surprising to some, since all provincial and federal elections now use FPTP, Prof. LeDuc notes that “Canada has not always exclusively used FPTP in single member districts in the past. We have had multimember ridings at both the federal and provincial levels, and Alberta and Manitoba used STV [the Single Transferable Vote] in provincial elections in big cities between 1920 and 1955.”

Why We Haven’t Adopted Proportional Voting

But if proportional voting was used, why haven’t we stuck with it and even expanded its use?  Prof. LeDuc points out that “in 1921, the first federal election widely contested by three political parties,” “an active debate at the federal level about FPTP began that year, and the issue has been debated more or less continually since that time.”  Indeed, a Special Committee on Proportional Representation and the Subject of the Single Transferable or Preferential Vote was convened that year, though the politicians of the day declined to follow through on its recommendation that a public plebiscite be held.

Natural Conflict of Interest

LeDuc comments that “given the natural conflict of interest of governments with respect to reforming the very electoral system that elected them, partisanship and entrenched interests have combined to keep FPTP in place,” and indeed to repeal proportional voting where it was used.  He goes on to review a number of other electoral reform initiatives at both the federal and provincial levels, noting that “because the electoral system sits at the root of partisan self interest, proposals for change were always linked in one way or another to partisan politics.”


LeDuc also demonstrates politicians’ inconsistency by noting that “opposition parties often express support for reforms while they are in opposition, then lose interest in the same ideas when they are in government,” and citing Mackenzie King’s about-face in the 1920s as the first significant example.

Partisan Self-Interest

He calls further attention to politicians’ self-interest when he says that “Governments typically see proposals for institutional change either as threats to their position or as opportunities to advance a partisan agenda. In the former case, proposals that are put forward by organizations or groups outside of government are easily ignored or sidelined.”  And “when governments do decide to act on a reform proposal, they often do so from a perspective of gaining a political advantage over their opponents,” and not because of any principled commitment to the best interests of voters.

We feel that this evidence of strong self-interest and partisan self-dealing on the part of politicians will help us convince the courts that they shouldn’t automatically defer to governments on this issue and should provide appropriate direction to them.

Thank you for your continued support. More on the other affidavits coming soon!

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide & Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC

Negative Effects

We’ve recently shared with you some of Prof. Lawrence LeDuc‘s evidence that our First Past the Post voting system has deeply negative consequences for both individual voters and for the country as a whole.

FPTP Makes Unhappy Voters 

Later in his affidavit, Prof. LeDucRecent points to how important it is for voters to gain parliamentary representation when they cast their vote in an election: “experimental research demonstrates clearly that voters do care about the degree to which their votes are reflected in the distribution of parliamentary seats, and that this affects their degree of satisfaction with electoral institutions and with the perceived fairness of the political system more generally.”  He presents evidence that “only about half (54%) of Canadians … were “very satisfied” or “fairly satisfied” with “the way that democracy works in this country”,” compared with much higher levels “in Denmark (92%,) Sweden (80%), or The Netherlands (78%) – all PR countries.”  “The electoral system was among the most frequently-mentioned reasons [for their dissatisfaction] – second only to the concentration of power in the executive, which is itself a function of our FPTP electoral system,” and notes that “should Canada change to a PR system, it is likely that the level of satisfaction with the political system would increase.”

Negative Effects on Younger Voters

Prof. LeDuc’s evidence clearly supports Prof. Karen Bird’s findings (which we described recently) that FPTP leads to under-representation of women and minority groups, and adds evidence that “young voters, whose issues and concerns differ from those of older voters, ... are typically under-represented as MPs in Parliament under the existing FPTP system. This divergence has, in recent years, contributed to declining turnout among younger age groups.”

A Host of Other Negative Effects

Prof. LeDuc outlines a host of other negative effects of FPTP voting in the Canadian context: 

Low voter turnout: “Research has consistently found that one of the reasons for declining turnout in Canada is the feeling among citizens that their votes too often do not really count under the present system, or that the choices presented to them in many constituencies are inadequate.”

Strategic voting: “Canadian voters hate the idea of strategic voting – effectively being told to vote for a candidate that they don’t want in order to prevent a candidate that they like even less from being elected. Rather than encouraging participation, this configuration more often prompts withdrawal.”

Safe seats: ““Safe” seats lead to increased voter dissatisfaction and higher rates of withdrawal from voting.”  “In “swing” ridings, on the other hand, turnout tends to be higher, because voters feel that their votes matter and they have the chance to impact the election of a representative. The concepts of “safe” and “swing” ridings have no meaning under PR.”

We feel that all of these issues are highly relevant to the claim we’ll be making in our arguments that our voting system does not deliver effective representation, as required by our Charter. 

Wishing you a lovely and safe holiday season! Thanks for all of your tremendous support this past year. 

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide & Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC

Key Problems With FPTP Voting

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.

False Majorities:  

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

Introducing Prof. Lawrence Leduc - Expert on Canadian Electoral History and Political Participation

Dr. Lawrence LeDuc is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Toronto.  His research interests are in the areas of political participation, electoral reform and direct democracy.

In his affidavit, he adds to the contributions of Profs. John Carey and Karen Bird that we’ve previously described by providing more detail about Canada’s experience with First Past the Post with respect both to the distribution of parliamentary seats and to the representation of various kinds of Canadian voters (particularly women, minorities, and those with particular political ideologies).  In addition, he describes how our current voting system affects voter participation, as well as Canada’s previous history of using proportional voting systems and previous voting reform efforts. 

FPTP Fails to Represent Many Individual Voters

MPs often claim that they represent all their constituents, not just the ones that voted for them.  This is nonsense, and Prof. LeDuc helpfully explains why:  

“While all Members of Parliament in Canada are expected to provide constituents with certain basic services such as assistance with citizenship issues or help in applying for government programs, FPTP at the individual level fails to provide any political representation at the constituency level to all those who voted for any candidate other than that of the winning party in their constituency. It thus generates millions of votes that do not translate into legislative seats (which some refer to as “wasted votes”), a characteristic of FPTP systems that has long been a central focus of the criticism of this system in the academic literature.”  “These voters therefore have significantly reduced voices in government compared to voters who voted for an elected MP.”  

In other words, elected MPs confuse constituency service (which they provide to all constituents) with legislative representation (which, since they can only vote one way, only serves those voters who voted for them and is denied to those who did not).  This “bug” (not “feature”!) of FPTP will be fundamental to our argument that FPTP violates our Charter right to effective representation.

Stay tuned for more about Prof. LeDuc’s other key pieces of evidence.

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide & Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC

Karen Bird - Impact on Minority Group Representation

In September, we introduced you to Prof. Karen Bird, Chair of the Department of Political Science at McMaster University, and the arguments in her affidavit about how our current voting system inhibits the election and representation of women.  Today, we outline her evidence about how First Past the Post voting also discriminates against various minority groups.

Representation of Minorities Lagging

Overall, “visible minority MPs currently comprise about 15%” of MPs, which “lags behind the 22.3 percent share of visible minorities in the population.”  Similarly, only 3% of seats are held by Indigenous MPs, “in contrast to the overall 4.9 percent Indigenous share of the population.”

Results Vary Based on Geography

Prof. Bird says that, under our current voting system, “the most important determinant of minority representation is the degree to which minorities are geospatially distributed or concentrated.”  More specifically, the single-member districts (SMDs) of our current voting system “facilitates elections of candidates from ethnic and linguistic minority groups if they are territorially concentrated”, such as Bloc Quebecois supporters or ethnic minorities in some urban areas in the country.  And, in contrast, “minorities that are more geographically or ideologically dispersed do less well under SMD rules because voters belonging to these minorities do not form a local plurality, which is required to elect a candidate in SMDs.”  This means that “most racialized voters outside [so-called majority-minority] districts [are] unable to vote for members of their ethnic group – or more generally for any visible minority candidate.”

Overall Numbers Hide Both Under- and Over-Representation

This link with spatial distribution patterns means that the overall numbers hide some interesting contrasts: “MPs of South Asian descent held half of all seats (26 of 51) won by visible minorities, a number which makes them considerably over-represented (with 7.7 percent total seat share) relative to their population (5.6 percent). Virtually every other visible minority group remains under-represented, with most holding less than half the share of seats relative to their population share.”  Bird concludes that “proportional [multi-member district] systems are more likely [than FPTP] to achieve equitable representation across diverse racialized groups.”

FPTP Elects Minorities in Enclaves, But Also Has Other Problems

Interestingly, Bird says that “many scholars in Canada assume that visible minorities generally benefit from plurality SMD electoral rules” because geographic concentration for some groups is thought to compel parties to nominate minority candidates in these ridings to win the seats, but she notes that this presumed mechanism “requires the continuation of some degree of residential segregation” of minority groups, and “does nothing for minorities in other districts.” She concludes that, in contrast, “the evidence suggests thatproportional systems ... can produce minority representation at levels similar to SMDs [having] majority-minority districts,” without relying on ongoing segregation or denying minority groups outside of segregated areas appropriate representation. 

Implications for the Case

As with her evidence on women’s representation, Prof. Bird’s affidavit clearly shows that minority groups are systematically disadvantaged by the single-member district aspect of our current voting system, and that adopting multi-member districts would significantly reduce the impediments minorities face to being elected.  These findings will be central to our arguments that our current voting system violates our Section 15 equality rights.

Thank you for your continued support. More on the other affidavits coming soon!

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide & Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC


We’ve Heard from the Government!

In this past week’s election, we saw again why it’s so crucial for the health of our democracy that we bring forward the Charter Challenge for Fair Voting.  Voter turnout fell to about 62% of registered voters (probably only about 55% of eligible voters) - near historical lows - and less than 48% of voters ended up voting for an elected MP, so the parliament we asked for is once again not the parliament that we got. 

Therefore, we’re pleased to share an important update this week from the government’s lawyers on the timeline for the case.  Here’s what to expect:

Federal Government to Submit Evidence (early spring 2022) - The government told us they expect to recruit four experts who will likely file their affidavits in the spring. 

We File Reply Evidence (late spring 2022) - Once we receive the government’s expert affidavits, we will have the opportunity to review them and file additional evidence in response. This will help strengthen our arguments and case.  Thanks to your recent donations and support, we have the resources needed to get through this stage of the work. 

We Draft Our Factum (summer 2022) - Once we have received the government’s evidence and replied to it, our lawyer (Nicolas Rouleau) will draft the factum (the written argument we provide to the courts prior to the hearing).  We will start fundraising for this phase of the case shortly. 

We Go to Court! (late fall 2022) - Sometime later this fall or winter, we expect to work out an agreement with the government when the case will be heard in court.  At this point, we are anticipating that the hearing will take place in late fall 2022. 

Over the next several months, we’re committed to the following. 

  • Continuing to share details from our expert affidavits with you - our donors and supporters. 
  • Organizing a webinar for donors with our lawyer in November. Please save the date: November 17, 2021! 
  • Raising funds to support the next stages of the case (drafting the factum and going to court). 

You are making a difference and driving this case forward.  Thank you again, and we look forward to providing more updates shortly.

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide & Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC

Fundraising Update

A huge thank you to all our supporters and generous matching donor who collectively contributed a grand total of $38,000 over the past three months. We have now surpassed our summer fundraising goal! 

This means we have enough funding to prepare for and conduct the upcoming cross-examination of the federal government expert witnesses. We are expecting an update from the government in the next week and will be able to share news and details on the timeline shortly. 

Thank you again for your incredible generosity and support of the Charter Challenge. We'll be in touch soon with more updates and information from the affidavits. 

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide & Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC

Introducing Prof. Karen Bird - Expert on Discrimination

Dr. Karen Bird is Chair of the Department of Political Science at McMaster University.  Her research focuses on the politics of representation, addressing questions related to ethnic and gender diversity, intersectionality, and the political representation of women, Indigenous groups, and immigrant-origin and ethnic minorities in parliaments around the world.

In her affidavit, she addresses what the impact of Canada’s current First-Past-the-Post voting system is on the representation and participation of women and of minorities, and what would change under other voting systems.  In today’s post, we’ll describe her evidence about the representation of women.

Canada is a “Laggard” in Representing Women

A central shortcoming of Canada’s First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) voting system is that it leaves us a laggard in terms of women’s parliamentary representation, which is deeply problematic for an advanced and egalitarian-minded democracy,” ranking only 52nd in the world in terms of the percentage of women in parliament (at only 29%, this is close to the middle of the pack, “well behind most comparable democracies that have moved much faster towards gender parity in parliament”).

Prof. Bird echoes Prof. Carey’s observation that our single-winner voting system is the primary culprit here, and she explains why: “It is nearly certain that the introduction of multi-member districts, most often seen in voting systems with proportional representation (PR), would raise the share of elected women when compared with the winner take-all single-member contests that exist under Canada’s FPTP voting system, because the former are better at incentivizing party leaders to balance the slate of candidates.” 

Bird adds that it’s clearly the voting system, not the voters, at fault: “There is no evidence of voter bias against women candidates in Canada (i.e., the odds of a woman being elected in a winnable riding are essentially the same as those of a man). This confirms that impediments to increased representation of women in Parliament are primarily institutional rather than cultural in nature.”

Prof. Bird also explains why the low percentage of women in parliament is a problem: “democratic theorists have argued that if a group has few legislative representatives, their preferences risk being overlooked while jeopardizing the legitimacy of the representative system.”  And it’s important to elect more women because “the presence of more female legislators has been shown to alter decision making institutions to make them more deliberative, and strengthen public belief in women’s ability to govern.”

Bird acknowledges that the voting system is not solely to blame for the low numbers of women in parliament, and that the behaviour of parties also play a significant role, but she also explains how electoral rules affect parties’ behaviour.

She says “there are three interrelated reasons why [multi-member districts] impact the share of women elected. First, the cost of nominating women is higher in [single-member districts] because doing so often involves directly displacing men. Second, the incumbency advantage tends to be higher in districts with smaller magnitudes, and because that advantage falls largely to men, it makes their displacement even costlier. Finally, elections with larger district magnitudes are typically characterized by more centralized nomination processes. In a competitive political context, these central bodies are more inclined and more able to encourage and coordinate a balanced list of candidates that can attract broad voter support.”

Finally, she points out that evidence from France suggests that the largest gain in the percentage of women elected should be expected from combining candidate quota requirements with voting system reforms that require parties to put minimum percentages of women candidates in winnable districts.

In short, Prof. Bird’s affidavit shows clearly that women are systematically disadvantaged by the single-member district aspect of our current voting system, and that adopting multi-member districts would significantly reduce the impediments they face to being elected.  These findings will be central to our arguments that our current voting system violates our Section 15 equality rights. 

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide

Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC

FPTP Has No Clear Benefits to Offset Representational Deficits

This is the last blog post with Prof. John Carey’s arguments about proportional voting systems.  So far, we’ve covered his discussion of how our current system distorts outcomes and results in perverse outcomes, inequity of representation and lower voter participation and satisfaction with democracy.

Some people invested in our current system argue that all those negative results are acceptable because, despite them, the result is better governance. Prof. Carey does not agree.  

More Stability?

While Carey does say that the average length of a government is longer under our First Past the Post voting system, this is largely due to governments in countries with proportional voting systems occasionally rearranging their cabinets to bring in different partners, but he also notes that “there appears to be little difference in the frequency of elections between PR and FPTP systems,” which is what most ordinary voters actually care about - i.e., are we going to end up with endless elections?

Carey tackles this question as well, pointing out that our current system frequently tends to produce “minority governments, which are vulnerable to votes of no confidence and typically have shorter government duration” and that it’s straightforward to design proportional voting systems “with low district magnitude and moderate assembly size” that are “more likely to have larger parties and therefore experience levels of government stability close to those under FPTP systems.”  In other words, we shouldn’t imagine that our current system is free of problems, and there are plenty of proportional voting systems we could pick that would deliver strong government stability.

Better Economic Results?  More Accountability?

More importantly, though, Carey presents strong evidence that there are no obvious economic or other advantages attributable to our current voting system that could justify adopting it despite its representational defects.  As he says, “levels of economic growth are similar across PR and FPTP systems, with some evidence that PR systems have an edge. Levels of progressive redistribution and overall economic equality are higher in PR than in FPTP systems.” 

He also argues that “despite the intuitive appeal of theory connecting FPTP to government accountability, scholarly research does not show a clear advantage,” and says that “recent research affirms that FPTP and PR are equally capable of fostering a clear link for voters between parties and responsibility for government decisions, particularly when parties are grouped into distinct policy camps and when district magnitude in PR systems is kept in the low-to-moderate range,” so he finds no support for the claim that our current system leads to more accountability than the proportional alternatives.

In short, Prof. Carey lays out clear evidence of many substantial representational failings of our current system, and no evidence of any countervailing benefits that could justify such infringements on our right to effective representation, which gives us a strong base on which to build our arguments to the court.

Thank you for your continued support. 

Jesse Hitchcock, Springtide & Antony Hodgson, Fair Voting BC

Proportional Voting Improves Representation, Equity, Satisfaction

This is our third blog post summarizing the arguments Prof. John Carey makes in his affidavit on how proportional voting systems contribute to enhancing democracy.  In our previous two posts, we told you how he characterizes inclusive voting as “multi-winner”, as opposed to our current single-winner system, and how he argues that single-winner systems distort outcomes, undermine democracy, and result in idiosyncratic and perverse election outcomes.

Prof. Carey also makes some arguments about diversity, saying that “PR systems on average produce higher levels of women’s representation, and therefore greater gender equity in elected office. They also facilitate higher levels of representation than FPTP for racial, ethnic, religious, and linguistic minority groups. And PR permits representation of greater ideological diversity.”  Dr. Karen Bird makes these arguments in her affidavit and we'll be sharing details soon.

Multi-Winner Systems Make Votes Count, Voters More Satisfied:  

Carey’s next major section addresses voter participation, citizen engagement and satisfaction with democracy.  He notes that “Political scientists have long posited that multi-winner systems promote greater citizen participation -- as voters, but also as volunteers, canvassers, and among civic groups -- than in single-winner systems like FPTP. The logic behind this theory is simple: participation is a time-consuming activity and citizens want to feel that their vote counts.”  With proportional voting, they do feel this way because “both the motivation to cast a ballot, and to vote sincerely (rather than strategically) is stronger in multiple-winner systems than in single-winner systems.”  And the mechanism is simple - in proportional systems, voters can help their preferred candidate or party win seats no matter what share of the vote they have;  all seats are competitive, “which motivates voter engagement and participation”, and he further notes that “the empirical evidence overwhelmingly backs this theory,” resulting in both greater voter turnout and greater satisfaction.

As Carey summarizes, “Voter participation levels are higher in PR than in FPTP systems on average. Citizens in multiple-winner systems, including those who support candidates and parties who do not form government, also exhibit higher levels of aggregate satisfaction with democracy.”

Like and Follow

- - -

Current Status:

- The case was filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on October 2019.

- Served government with affidavit and evidence package in May 2021.

- Awaiting government affidavits.

How you can help

The main way you can help is to support the case financially. We need to raise another $30,000 for the next stage of the case - drafting the factum. You can support the case for as little as a dollar a month.

What to expect

- Fall 2021 to Winter/Early Spring 2022 - draft factum - $30,000 fundraising goal - fundraising underway

- Late Spring/Summmer 2022 - prepare and present oral arguments - $25,000 fundraising goal

- At each step, we set a goal based on our estimate of the costs, and ask supporters to contribute to help us reach that goal, and to ensure the case can continue to move forward.