An Overview of Possible Electoral Systems

The Liberals promised electoral reform in 2015.  From their website:

We will make every vote count.

We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.

We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting.

This committee will deliver its recommendations to Parliament. Within 18 months of forming government, we will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform.

The 2019 election is almost here and this promise has been broken.  It will be a first-past-the-post election again, likely since that tends to benefit the party in power.


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.  Canada could consider one of the following:

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?

For a truly democratic electoral system that serves citizens best, a citizens assembly would be the best way to choose a voting system. To date, citizens assemblies in Canada have recommended either Single Transferable Vote or Mixed Member Proportional.