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Although Canada as a nation is made up of a many people who have their own differences (economical, social, cultural and political), it is realized that not every person in this society is represented in the legislative body, whose purpose is to protect all the people in the nation. There is no full representation of such groups of people in the Canadian society as the aboriginal people, women and the minority groups in the legislative body.
To partly illustrate this, Jacquetta and Linda (2006) present an observation that, “women comprise of over 50 percent of the population in Canada, and the fact that they are not represented in the halls of government in proportion to their numbers raises the obvious question: why not?”(Page 97). Among the ways to give an explanation for a clearly seen trend of having more white men being elected to office than women and other groups is to point to the Canadian electoral system of “First Past the Post”.
As on one hand the electoral system can’t be the only reason the Canadian legislature can’t have diversity that gives a reflection of the country’s population, on the hand this system “is far one of the most contributing factors to the composition of parliament” (Trac, 2008, 1). Choosing the electoral system that has to be adopted by a country is one of the most significant decisions that can be made by the country because electoral systems have a recurring link with the “political culture” within which they exist.
The current Canadian electoral system, the FPTP system, which was taken from the British Model, has been seen to be a system that is undemocratic in regard to vote distribution and power allocation. Under this system, as Trac (2008) points out, “the winner is chosen in a given constituency by having plurality of votes – regardless of whether or not the winner has the majority votes” ( Page 2).
It is quite important to consider reforming this electoral system since the system was taken up at a time the composition of the Canadian society was quite different from the composition today. Trac (2008) observes that, “today, the people’s needs and their concerns in the Canadian society don’t correlate with the principles and values of the current electoral system” (Page 3). Under the current system, there is no equal representation in the House of Commons.
More so, there has been a very low voter turnout during voting time. These issues are attributed to the current electoral system in Canada. In this paper, I am going to argue that; replacing the FPTP electoral system with the Mixed-member proportional system (MMP) will assist in having equal representation in the House of Commons and increased voter turnout.
Reforming the Canadian Electoral System
According to Testa (n.d, 1), “the concept of ‘power in numbers’ is omnipotent in every form in society….proportional representation, when executed suitably, is completely based on the ‘power in numbers’. It is no doubt that PR is a better system of electing MPs to the House of Commons”. The PR system has been used, for instance, by Norway for more than ten years that have passed. The people in this country have almost made perfect this system of voting and have had very minimal problems associated with it.
Another reason why Canada is should consider adopting the PR system is because the system assists in tightening “the gap of women’s representation”. Over time, the gap of women’s representation has been growing substantially because of the existence of the “single-member district-electoral system”. More so, instituting the PR system in the governmental system of Canada would bring in high turnout of voters.
This high turnout will come about as a result of the voters having the idea that the votes they cast “will count for more in the PR system than it would in the plurality system” Testa (n.d, 1). Testa further points out that PR system would not have been taken in to consideration by such countries as New Zealand, Russia and Japan if it wasn’t an idea that is practicable, that could be put in place in their governments without any difficulties (Testa n.d, 1).
The greatest problem that is associated with plurality is the clearly seen issues regarding representation and “regional conflict that it has plagued the Canadian government for many decades” (Testa n.d, 2). Even if there is large representation of those parties that obtain “Majority” of the votes, there is very minimal representation of for the “minority parties”.
This in turn brings in regional conflict. Plurality just brings up the level of tensions among regions. Due to the absence of proportional representation, the problems that exist between such groups as “English-Canadian” and “French-Canadian” has gone up. The government of Canada should reconsider their electoral system and go the Norwegian way. It is totally clear that PR is the only method that can be relied upon and which is feasible for electing MPs to the House of Commons
A quite significant reason for having PR electoral system in place as the better system as compared to FPTP system is that, PR has been proven in other nations to be a system that can raise the level of “voter turnout” at all levels: national, provincial and even at local levels. This is because, “with plurality, one can only count on larger parties to win; therefore, instead of ‘throwing away’ a vote for smaller, less popular party, the voter would either vote for the larger party or not vote at all” (Testa, 2011, 3).
Since seats can be obtained, under PR, with just a portion of the whole number of votes, the people who vote have less motivation to desert the candidates they prefer most. For this reason, the number of possible candidates raise with PR (Boix 1999, 610). On some occasions, plurality can bring about contemptible outcomes. For instance, as Carty points out, “the right-wing British Colombia Liberals won on provincial elections, taking 97 percent of the seats with just 58 percent of the vote” (Carty 2002, 930).
Most of the time people wonder why the total number of people who vote can’t go beyond fifty percent of the total population in any Canadian governmental election. This trend might be attributed to a number of factors. One of the factors can be that the voters might be uninterested in regard to which party wins.
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Another factor might be that the voters could be ignorant about politics. More so, another reason could be that the majority of the people who do not engage in voting do not care about politics anymore, following the unfairness of the plurality system. Caron (1999) points out that the “inequalities in the representation of the different political parties … are regarded by some commentators as factors leading to loss of interest in politics, and even to disaffection” (page 21).
However, a wonder may come in as to why PR has not been implemented in Canada despite the fact that it can be seen as a better system than the FPTP system.
The reason for not having implemented the PR system in Canada is that, once the political party that might have entered in to power through the PFTP and at some point had intentions of implementing the PR electoral system, would most likely change its stance.
This point is indicated by Caron (1999, 21) by putting it that “unfortunately, those good intentions often melt away like snow on a sunny day once the party comes to power….sadly, this is in fact a legitimate way to govern as a dictatorship” (Caron 1999, 21).
Evidence has shown that, in most cases, PR gives encouragement to the female gender to have more of a representation in the national government (Testa, 2011, 2).
According to Matland and Studlar (1996), “there is a distinct gap in women’s representation in national legislatures between countries with single-member district electoral systems and those with proportional representation electoral systems”(Matland and Studlar 1996, 707).
Basing on the differences that exist between Norway and Canada indicate that clearly, as it is observed by Matland and Studlar that “the proportion of women in the Norwegian Storting increased from 6.7% to 15.5% from 1957 to 1973” (Matland and Studlar 1996, 716).
The radical jump in the representation of the women in Norway is attributed to the building up pressure that smaller parties;
Put on bigger parties to have women representatives…as smaller but competitive parties, usually on the political fringe, start to promote women actively, larger parties will move to emulate them. First by nominating women, smaller parties may demonstrate that there is no electoral penalty associated with women candidates….second, larger parties will feel increased pressure to respond by more actively promoting women themselves (Matland and Studlar 1996, 712).
However three must be big reasons as to why the existing system (FPTT system) has been used in Canada over time. A number of people have pointed out that the plurality system is a good one. Yet, what must be understood is that, although the plurality system may be a working system, but this does not rule out the fact that Canada may have a system that may be more improved and reasonable for electing members of parliament.
Some people may present an argument that; having the plurality system in place, in order for the political parties to win in the election, they must engage in a tough fight, as Barker points out, “if you could win all the regions, then power was almost guaranteed…The plurality system makes this difficult, but this very difficulty caused parties to make the kind of effort necessary for success” (Barker 2002, 309).
Even if this idea seems to carry substance, but this very statement gives an indication of how discriminating the plurality system can be to the “minority parties”. Even if it may look like equal representation exists in Canada and there are barely any conflicts among the regions, there exist a significant absence of representation in the present system (plurality system) and the system brings in several conflicts when the actual facts are looked in to.
According to Testa (n.d, 2), the FPTP system has the capability of generating parties with national support but the parties come across it only with many complications. More so, this system appears to be a better system for the reason that it ensures the preservation of the association between the “constituent and representative”.
According to Barker, some people believe that if PR is implemented, the link between the Member of Parliament and the vote will disappear, but “what some may not understand is that the debate against PR revolves around one type of PR…But other proposed reforms of the electoral system have been forwarded; a particularly popular one is the combination of plurality and PR (mixed-member proportional” (Barker 2002, 313).
Replacing the FPTP electoral system with the Mixed-member proportional system (MMP) will assist in having equal representation in the House of Commons and increased voter turnout. The Canadian society has been facing a problem of equal representation in the House Commons.
This can be attributed to the current electoral system – FPTP system. This system was adopted by the country at a time the population composition was different from the current composition. The interests and concerns of the Canadian people have now changed.
The current electoral system does not promote having equal representation of all the people in the Canadian society. People do not have trust in this electoral system and that is why there has been lower voter turnout. The proportional representation (PR) system seems to be a better system than the FPTP system because this system has been seen to ensure equal representation and has successful in other countries such as Norway. Following realization of equal representation under the PR system, this serves to promote higher voter turnout.
However, the current system that has been adopted by Canada may be having its own advantages and that is why the system has been under operation for a long time. But the PR system is seen to be a better system because it ensures equal representation in the House of Commons.
People have more confidence in the PR system and this increases voter turnout. On the other hand, the PR system may be having its own problems. This implies that, for Canada to have the best electoral system, it should capitalize on the advantages of the current system and those that are gained from the PR system. This will involve combining the two systems to come up with a better system. In this case, the system that will result from combining the two systems is the Mixed-Member proportional system (MMP).
Yet a problem comes in when it is considered that the politicians may not be willing to adopt this new system. To solve this problem, there is need to have leaders who are supposed to be selfless and see the need of having equal representation in the House of Commons in order to have a society that has people who don’t feel sidelined. Once this is realized, the people in the Canadian society will have confidence in the electoral system and the voter turnout will increase.
Barker, Paul. 2002. “Voting fro trouble”. Cotemporary Political Issues, 4: 304 – 312 .
Boix, Carles. 1999 “Setting the rules of the game: The choice of electoral systems in advanced democracies”. The American Political Science Reviews, 93: 609 – 624.
Caron, Jean-Francois. 1999. “The end of the First-Past-the Post electoral system?” Canadian Parliamentary Review, 22 (Autumn): 19 -22.
Carty, Kelly. 2002. “Canada”. European Journal of Research, 41: 927 – 930.
Jacquetta, Newman and Linda, Andy. 2006. White, women, politics, and public policy – the political struggles of Canadian women. Ontario: Oxford University Press.
Matland, Richard and Studler, Donley. 1996. “The contagion of women candidates in single-member district and proportional representation electoral systems: Canada and Norway”. The Journal of Politics, 58: 707 – 733.
Testa, Robert. N.d. “Proportional representation vs. First-past-the-post”. pp. 1 – 3. Web.
Trac, Jeannette. 2008. “An undemocratic democracy? A look at Canada’s electoral system” pp. 1 – 32. Web.