Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is carrying around a lengthy laundry list of promises in the wake of the election. Perhaps none stir up greater reaction than his pledge to re-examine Canada’s “first-past-the-post” electoral system.
Trudeau’s 32-point plan to “restore democracy” included creating an all-party parliamentary committee to look at the potential alternatives, including proportional representation, ranked ballots, mandatory voting and online voting.
The problem for many is that the current system does not require the winner to glean the majority of votes cast. Since the number of votes can be split as many ways as there are parties and candidates, it means that the person who ends up representing the seat in Ottawa may also represent a minority of the constituents.
Among the alternatives to the first-past-the-post, the strongest and most frequently suggested is proportional representation, in which the seats in the Commons are apportioned according to each party’s share of the popular vote. But not only does this frequently mean electing multiple members in each district, it would make it almost impossible for any party to gather a majority of seats, increasing the likelihood of coalition governments.
Neither first-past-the-post nor the proportional representation is without faults or likely to remove voter dissatisfaction entirely. There is simply no pleasing everyone.
The task of fine-tuning and weighing the electoral process to ensure fair proportional representation in each riding would seem to be endless. Where would such well-meaning but arbitrary tampering begin, and where would it end?
It might quickly become the proverbial road to hell, paved with good intentions but fraught with complications.
The new prime minister will have his work cut out for him living up to the promises made during the election campaign.
And few promises will be more eagerly be awaited, and more heavily scrutinized, than his decision on the future of Canadian elections.