Would you keep a promise if it meant losing power?

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On October 21st of 2019, Canadians re-elected Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberal Party of Canada — though with a weaker mandate as the Liberals did not capture enough seats to form a majority government. Without additional votes from their rival parties, the Liberals will not be able to pass legislation. Trudeau will have to court the votes of other parties in order to do so.

The 2019 federal election is illustrative of the need for electoral reform in Canada. Two parties, the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois, were able to capture more seats with a lower percentage of the popular vote than their political rivals.

As the charts Indicate, The New Democrats (NDP) captured 15.9% of the popular vote. The Bloc Quebecois captured 7.7%, and the Green party captured 6.5%. The number of seats each party was able to capture in no way reflects their popularity with the Canadian electorate. With 15.9% the NDP were only able to win 24 seats. With 7.7% of the popular vote the Bloc were able to win 32 seats, and with 6.5% the Green party won 3 seats. The two largest parties, the Liberals (33.1%) and the Conservatives (34.4%), differed by only 1.3%. The Liberals were able to capture 157 seats versus the Conservative’s 121 seats even though the Liberals had a lower percentage of the popular vote. If Canada had a proportional representation system, the Liberals would have only been able to form government if they entered into a coalition with the NDP, as they had less of a percentage of the popular vote than the Conservatives.

The cause of this puzzling outcome is the Canadian electoral system. Canada operates under a first-past-the-post system, typically referred to as a winner takes all vote. For a riding in Toronto, where there is a high concentration of the population, if a candidate loses by a small minority 51% (Liberal) versus 49%(NDP) the votes for the candidate that lost are tossed away as the Liberal candidate was the first one past the goal post, so the Liberals get the seat. However, the votes for both parties in that riding still count towards the general popular vote, which is meaningless as it is not how we divvy out seats.

The Liberals ran on a platform of electoral reform when they ousted then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. They promised to implement a proportional representation system, which would have distributed the seats in a far more equitable manner. Once they took power, they reneged on the promise:

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