The first-past-the-post electoral system must be replaced

By James Jiang, Staff Writer

On October 24th, 2022, Ontario held its municipal elections. Voters hit the polls and elected mayors, councillors, and other officials in all of Ontario’s municipalities. For those of us at the University of Toronto, under the University-Rosedale ward, Dianne Saxe won with 35.37% of the vote against Norm Di Pasquale’s 34.87%—a narrow 123-vote victory. Moreover, the Toronto mayoral race saw John Tory win with 62.00% of the vote. 

For municipal elections, Ontario’s electoral system is the notorious winner-takes-all system: first-past-the-post (FPTP). This backwards electoral system is an illness for Ontario and the rest of Canada. 

In layman’s terms, FPTP is the winner-takes-all system used across Canada that is both simple to understand and straightforward. The candidate with the most votes in each district wins and receives the seat, but all other votes are disregarded. It is the latter part that complicates proportional results. Since Canada—and consequently, Ontario—adopted and started using this system, the vote-to-seat ratio has remained disproportionate, favouring one or two major parties. The Ontario provincial elections held earlier this year, for example, were a complete dud. Under the FPTP system, the Progressive Conservatives party won 83 of 124 seats—about two-thirds—of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. The Progressive Conservatives, however, only received 40.82% of the vote—a number that fails to reflect the true vote proportion.

This massive, gross over-representation is what our current electoral system accomplishes. What Ontario and the rest of Canada desperately need is an electoral system that produces proportional results, while also maintaining strong local and regional representation. Canadians need a system that can best lead to a mixed government where a voice is given to minorities. Canadians need to install proportional representation (PR). Simply put, PR guarantees a party’s number of seats will reflect its number of votes. How PR does so is simple: it redraws and enlarges voting districts so that there is more than one seat per district. Instead of only one winning candidate per district—like in FPTP—having multiple allows for the vote-to-seat proportion to be matched. For instance, consider a district with three seats. If party A, for example, gets 65% of votes, they will receive two seats, which corresponds with their roughly two-thirds share of the vote. On the other end, party B, who received 35% of votes, will receive one set, which similarly corresponds to their one-third of the vote. In this scenario under FPTP, since there can only be one winning candidate per district, party B—who had received 35% of the vote—would get no seats and those votes become worthless. Under PR, however, party B gets to go home with their rightful piece of the democratic pie. The vote-to-seat proportion would hold true and every vote would count. 

Proponents of FPTP are quick to argue that its worth comes from its simplicity. This argument, however, is unsound. Learning how to drive a car, file your taxes, or play Dungeons & Dragons are all way more complicated than learning about other electoral systems. Moreover, the stakes are more than just driving skills or board game bragging rights: it is the health of Canada’s democracy and institutions. A faulty electoral system is a sickness to Canadian democracy. Therefore, if it costs half an hour to read and figure out PR, everyone should be happy to do so. 

In Ontario and the rest of Canada, there is a crystal clear need for proportional representation. The current electoral system limits the ability to have a mixed government, where a more robust voice is given to minorities and legislative seats aren’t dominated by one or two major parties. FPTP must be replaced by PR. 

As students, those of us at the University of Toronto are the next generation of voters—the next generation of Canadians who will inherit democratic duties. It is every Canadian’s duty to maintain and improve our democracy. The first step to do so is to proportionate our voting system. 

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