Proportional representation is the only way to make every vote count

| March 29, 2016
Proportional representation is the only way to make every vote count

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During the 2015 federal election campaign, Justin Trudeau promised that this election would be the last conducted under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system.

After decades of campaigning from the likes of Fair Vote Canada and too many failed referendums that sought to turf the outdated system, Canada is as close to a consensus as it has ever been on electoral reform. For the first time, a majority of us agree that the way Canadians have voted since before Confederation is fundamentally unfair, wastes votes and has contributed to the decline of our democracy.

So far, so good. But all voting systems are not created equal.

For, there is only one clear path: proportional representation (PR). The most evident reason is that under PR, political parties -- and the policies through which elections are actually contested -- receive a number of MPs in proportion with the popular vote. But not only does PR deliver fair results at a national level, many proportional systems also deliver more accurate representation at a local level.

Consider any Atlantic Canadian who failed to vote Liberal -- who can they turn to if they disagree with their government? 

But most importantly for advocates for equality and diversity, PR generates more MPs of colour, more women MPs and, likely, more Indigenous MPs. A 2014 survey of global parliaments found that of the 20 countries that have adopted proportional systems, 85 per cent have Indigenous representatives -- compared to only 58 per cent in non-proportional systems.

The system the Liberals appear to prefer -- a "preferential" or "ranked" ballot system -- is not proportional and will skewer all elections towards the political centre. If the 2015 election had been held under a preferential ballot, the Liberals would have received 224 seats -- 40 more than they earned under FPTP and a whopping 90 more than they would have under a proportional system.

The national debate thus far on this unprecedented opportunity has been scant and feeble. The Conservatives have threatened blocking any electoral reform bills in the senate without a referendum first.

Meanwhile, Canada's op-ed dads have hemmed and hawed about what we risk leaving behind if we finally say goodbye to FPTP, a voting system virtually no modern democracy still employs.

Instead of discussing how Canada can best implement these positive features of proportional representation into our unique federalist structure and geography, our national conversation has been mired in the same old horse-race politics that have been the hallmark of our archaic, lopsided voting systems.

Will the Conservatives force a referendum? Will the unelected senate block any long-needed reform of our electoral system that no longer has the confidence of the Canadian voter? These are not robust policy questions that are driving the public debate on this essential question forward.

At, we propose a different tack. Canadians already know our system is unfair. We won't repeat legacy media's shell game of comparing a proportional, fair system with a relic as if they are equal, and we won't entertain options that are demonstrably worse.

Instead, we've enlisted some of Canada's finest writers who have been thinking about and defending proportional representation for decades.

PR is no panacea for the litany of challenges facing our country, but with an historic opportunity to start a real conversation about the future of Canadian democracy, is taking the lead.

Canada needs proportional representation. So let's talk about how to get there -- how to make every vote count.

Interested in contributing to this series on proportional representation? Send us a pitch to with the title "Proportional representation series"

Part 1: Proportional representation is not 'too complicated' -- the fix is in

Part 2: Activists gear up for 'historic opportunity' to usher in proportional representation

Part 3: Proportional representation for Canada: A primer

Part 4: Nation-to-nation recognition, not electoral reform, key to increasing Indigenous voter turnout



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