Understanding Canada's First-Past-the-Post Election System

Canadian Government Faces No-Confidence Vote
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Canada's electoral system is known as a “single-member plurality” system or a “first-past-the-post” system. This means that the candidate with the highest number of votes in a particular electoral district wins a seat to represent that district at the national or local level. Because this system requires only that the candidate receive most of the votes, there is no requirement that the candidate receive a majority of the votes.

Understanding How the First-Past-the-Post System Works

Canada's federal government is headed by the Cabinet and Parliament. Parliament consists of two houses: the Senate and the House of Commons. The Canadian governor-general appoints the 105 senators based on the recommendation of the prime minister. The 338 members of the House of Commons, on the other hand, are elected by citizens in periodic elections.

These House of Commons elections use the first-past-the-post, or FPTP, method to determine the winners. Thus, in an election for a particular district's seat, whichever candidate receives the highest percentage of votes, even if this percentage does not exceed 50 percent, wins the election. For example, imagine that there are three candidates for a seat. Candidate A receives 22 percent of the ballots cast, Candidate B receives 36 percent, and Candidate C receives 42 percent. In that election, Candidate C would become the new House of Commons representative, even though she or he did not win a majority, or 51 percent, of the votes.

The main alternative to Canada's FPTP system is proportional representation, used widely by other democratic nations.