An Overview of Possible Electoral Systems

UPDATE:  February 13, 2017:  Andrew Coyne, National Post – Don’t fear Trudeau’s proportional representation bogeymen

September 17, 2016:  Éric Grenier, CBC News – Electoral Reform could have a big impact on Canada’s smallest parties

October 19, 2016:  Andrew Coyne, National Post – Is Trudeau trying to pull a fast one on electoral reform?

In the October, 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party promised that it would be the last using the “First Past the Post” electoral system. If not “First Past the Post,” what other electoral systems might Canada use?

The call to reform Canada’s electoral system (Single Member Plurality, “First Past the Post”) is based on the simple democratic principle that the percentage of seats that a party has in the House of Commons should fairly reflect the percentage of votes the party received in the election.

That’s not the Canadian experience, because of distortions caused by “First Past the Post.” The Liberals have 54% of the seats (184) in the House of Commons, but received only 39.5% of the vote. The Greens have just .3% of the seats (1), despite winning 3.5% of the vote. And, the Bloc Québécois won just 1.2% more votes than the Greens, but has 13% of the seats (10). Today’s House of Commons does not fairly represent how Canadians voted in the October 19, 2015 election.

The Liberal Party understands the democratic deficit caused by “First Past the Post.” So, good to their word, the Liberal Government convened an all party “Special Committee on Electoral Reform,” to consult with Canadians and recommend a better electoral system for Canada. The committee will present its final report no later than December 1, 2016.

There are many electoral systems in use around the world, but only four (or variants or hybrids of them) could be used in Canada without amending the Constitution. They are:

1. Single Member Plurality (SMP, “First Past the Post”)
2. Instant-Runoff Voting (IRV), also known as Alternative Vote, Transferable Vote, Ranked Choice Voting, Preferential Voting, and Preferential Ballot.
3. Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
4. Single Transferable Vote (STV)

Most Canadians are familiar with SMP, “First Past the Post.” It’s the system used today in almost all Canadian elections federally, provincially, and municipally. Many Canadians are less familiar with the remaining three so the deserve some explanation.

What electoral system will Canada adopt?

If the Liberal Government’s final decision on electoral reform is based on general agreement among Canada’s major and smaller political parties and the expert testimony it hears, there are only two choices available to it. They happen to be the same ones recommended by almost 40 years of commissions and citizens assemblies exploring electoral reform. They are Mixed Member Proportional and Single Transferable Vote.