We need a MADE-IN-CANADA SOLUTION – here are a few examples we’d like you to ponder
French scripts coming soon
Another form of proportional representation is the Single Transferable Vote (STV): BC’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform chose a form of STV for the 2005 referendum. Their report, making every vote count, is available online. Here is a short video created by the BC Citizen’s Assembly that describes how STV works.
Fair Vote Canada supports many systems of proportional representation but, like the Law Commission of Canada, the goal is to balance the benefits of introducing some element of proportionality with the capacity to maintain accountable government, most notably as a direct link between elected politicians and their constituents.
What is Proportional Representation?
Our current system, first-past-the-post divides the country into 338 contiguous non-overlapping areas known as ridings, constituencies or electoral districts. Every place within Canada is located within a riding. About the same number of people reside in each riding and just one MP is elected to represent the riding in our Parliament.
Proportional representation is any voting system designed to produce a representative body (like a parliament, legislature, or council) where the voters are represented in that body in proportion to how they voted.
Our current voting system elects only one MP in each riding. When more than two candidates run in an election, MPs can be elected with less than half of the votes in the Riding. The other half of the voters are unrepresented.
In contrast, any PR voting system elects several MPs to represent a given geographic region so that most voters in that region have a voice in Parliament. Voting systems with ONLY single member ridings will NOT provide voters with proportional outcomes.
There are three main families of PR voting systems:
- PR List – this is the most common form used around the world. Dion’s P3 model is a form of PR List.
- Mixed Systems – usually a mixture of PR List with a majoritarian voting system such as our current system*. The most common form is known as MMP for Mixed Member Proportional. This version is used in Germany, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales. Both the MMP and Jenkins models portrayed in the videos above are forms of Mixed Systems.
- STV (Single Transferable Vote) – ranked transferable ballots within multi-member ridings. This has been used for more than 100 years in Ireland, Tasmania and the Australian Senate.
PR Systems MUST have multi-member districts: One key feature of PR voting systems is that they use electoral districts that elect two or more MPs. PR-list and STV do this by combining current single member ridings into larger multi-member ridings. If five ridings are combined into one, then all voters in that new riding will help elect 5 MPs for that riding.
Mixed Systems groups the single member ridings into regions. Two or more regional MPs are elected from a party list which can be open or closed to represent that whole region in addition to the MPs elected as usual in the single member ridings.
If a voting system ONLY has single member ridings, then it CANNOT be a proportional voting system.
For more information on the three examples in the videos check out:
- Law Commission of Canada Report on Electoral Reform (2004)
- UK Jenkins Commission has a short Wikipedia summary Full report is online in the UK archives.
- Stéphane Dion’s Proposal for a better voting system for Canada as well as his longer discussion in Which Voting System is Best for Canada.
PR systems differ in the arrangement of how they elect several MPs to represent these geographic regions. There are two main approaches used around the world:
Single Tier: The most common approach in countries using PR is to simply elect teams of MPs from each geographical region. In Canada, these regions could be formed by combining current single member ridings into larger multi-member districts. For example, if five current ridings were combined into a larger district, that district would elect five MPs.
The size of the regions can range from quite small (~4-5 MPs in places like Ireland and 7-10 in the Scandinavian countries) to upwards of 100 in the Netherlands.
Examples of single tier PR systems include the Single Transferable Vote (STV – used in Ireland, Australia and (at one point) parts of western Canada), Stéphane Dion’s proposed P3 (Personal, Preferential, Proportional) system, and List PR (used in most OECD countries and elsewhere).
Two Tier: Another approach is to divide each region into two tiers. The first tier is composed of single member ridings (or very small regions of 2 or 3 MPs) that elect MPs to represent these ridings. The second tier is the whole region (or multi-member district) and everyone in that region can vote to elect a group of MPs. The number of MPs elected in the second tier can range from one in Norway to 4-7 in the UK, and up to 50 in New Zealand.
If the MPs elected in the second tier are chosen to compensate for disproportionality in the first tier, then this kind of system is called a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. MMP is used in New Zealand and Germany, as well as for the devolved Scottish and Welsh parliaments.
Ballots: Within these two broad categories, the systems also differ in how people cast their votes. In single tier systems, voters typically either use a ranked ballot (STV, P3) or they simply vote for their preferred party (or sometimes a specific candidate from that party – List PR). In the two tier MMP system, voters typically vote for a first tier candidate the same way we do now (i.e., by marking an ‘X’), but they also have a second ballot that allows them to vote for their preferred party (closed list) or for a specific candidate from that party (flexible or open list).
Regardless of which system is used, all PR systems ensure that virtually all voters will have a significant effect on the final composition of Parliament.
Note on Majoritarian Systems
The common majoritarian systems discussed in Canada generally use a single tier of single member ridings. Our current system, known as First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) or Single Member Plurality (SMP) allows those who live within each riding to choose just one candidate on the ballot.
There has been discussion of changing the way we vote on this ballot so that we rank the candidates and our votes can be transferred to later choices until one candidate receives either half the votes cast or is the last one standing. This ballot can be referred to as a preferential ballot or a ranked ballot. Used within single member ridings, this system does NOT produce proportional outcomes, and is known as the Alternative Vote (AV) or Instant Run-off Voting (IRV).
Fair Vote Canada publications:
- FVC: Frequently Asked Questions – A good discussion of PR and answers to many of the common questions.
- Why Proportional Representation? — A look at the evidence
- Our resources web page
Other publications about proportional representation:
- Law Commission of Canada Report on Electoral Reform describes voting systems in general and so provides useful background information. (2004)
- Douglas J. Amy’s PR Library (US) has lots of useful articles. In particular, within his page titled Beginning Readings, try How Proportional Representation Elections Work
- Ontario’s Citizens’Assembly on Electoral Reform chose a form of MMP. A general discussion of voting systems called From Votes to Seats: Four Families of Electoral Systems is on their web site, as well as their final report.