Proportional Representation vs. First-Past-The-Post

Proportional Representation vs. First-Past-The-Post

Seeing as the stability in Canada is quite significant although we are using the plurality system, there are nevertheless many ways that it could be improved. The system can be improved by adding the principles of justice and impartiality to permanence by implementing a PR electoral system. “PR makes every vote count and produces results that are proportionate to what voters desire” (Hiemstra and Jansen). Also, by developing regional representation in larger parties, it would have an overall positive increase in the steadiness of the country. Therefore, since we have come to realize that the plurality system must be changed and that proportional representation is a system which could heal the damages made by first-past-the-post, the obvious step that must be taken in order to create a close-to-perfect electoral system would be to combine proportional representation and plurality to form a mixed-member proportional system.

  • There are a number of advantages to this kind of change. One is that a mixed system would preserve the connection between members and their constituencies, which is something that proportional representation in its pure form fails to do (Caron 21).

Possibly the largest debate surrounding why PR is not the best electoral system is the one regarding the relationship between voter and MP. This sole fact destroys any validity in an argument supporting plurality because of these claims. Mixed-member proportional is obviously a better system of election. Despite the facts, many people fear to see a mixed system because of the fact that proportional representation carries along with it problems related to stability. Although this may be factual, “…no democratic system, whether first-past-the-post or mixed, can guarantee government stability” (Caron 21). Once again, although it offers many advantages, “…the first-past-the-post method produces serious distortions that a mixed voting method might remedy” (Caron 19). In regards to the mixed-member system, reports demonstrate the fact that governments resulting from PR are quite successful, less ignorant to the wants of the citizen and citizens become less apathetic and more content with the way the system works (Gordon).

It has become completely obvious that the most dependable and realistic way of electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons is palpably proportional representation. Proportional representation is obviously a superior electoral system to the first-past-the-post system because of its local, provincial and federal voter turnout increase. PR encourages women to have a greater representation in the national government. “There is a distinct gap in women’s representation in national legislatures between countries with single-member district electoral systems and those with proportional representation electoral systems” (Matland and Studlar 707). The differences that have been shown between Norway and Canada prove that this is apparent.

  • Canada’s first-past-the-post voting system is notoriously unfair. The system is based on the winner-take-all principle, which means votes and voters are not treated equally. The only voters who win political representation are those who share the most popular partisan viewpoint in their riding, as expressed at the ballot box. The other voters lose their right to political representation (Gordon).

There are numerous admirable grounds on why the plurality system works within a government. There would exist no plurality system if this was not true. Why would one use a faulty system if it would only cause damage? Cases have shown that the plurality system is not completely unpleasant, it just does not accomplish as much as PR does. If the plurality system is failing us, and proportional representation can remedy what has been broken as a result of plurality, the resulting system which would best be implemented into Canada’s electoral system is that of the mixed-member proportional system. The mixed-member system would indisputably fix all of the mistakes caused by the plurality system all the while increasing voter turnout and female legislative representation. Unfortunately, although this may be the best system of election, the leaders of this country will never let it come into place simply because it seems to increase the validity of opposing parties’ votes. Canada needs a party in power who will understand that “…this isn’t about left vs. right, or east vs. west, or anglophone vs. francophone.

It is about one citizen, one vote, one value. Its about building a level playing field in our political arena” (Gordon).

Advantages of Proportional Representation​

The concept of "power in numbers" is omnipotent in every form within society. Proportional representation (PR), when executed suitably, is completely based on the "power in numbers" idea. It proves to the population that every vote counts. Proportional representation is undoubtedly a better system of voting Members of Parliament into the House of Commons because of its ease of use and fairness to the entire Canadian population. An excellent example of this is demonstrated by Norway who has been using PR for more than 11 years. The Norwegians have nearly perfected this form of voting and have had little to no problems with it. Another sizable reason why proportional representation should be instituted into the Canadian way of voting is that it tightens the gap of women's representation. This gap has been growing significantly because of the single-member district electoral system. PR would decrease this gap. Another reason why PR should be instituted into the Canadian governmental system is that of the high turnout of voters it would bring.

This is largely because of the knowledge of voters that their vote will count for more in the PR system than it would in the plurality system. Proportional representation would not be considered in countries such as Japan, Russia, and New Zealand if it was not a feasible idea that could be implemented into their governments with ease. The biggest problem with plurality is the obvious problems with representation and regional conflict that it has plagued the Canadian government with for many decades. Although there is a great representation of the parties that receive the "majority" of the votes, there is hardly any representation for the minority parties; this then causes a large regional conflict. Plurality only increases a number of tensions between regions. Problems between the French-Canadians and English-Canadians have been heightened because of the lack of proportional representation. The Canadian government should look to the Norwegian's and follow their healthy lead. It is completely evident that proportional representation is the most reliable and feasible method for electing the Members of Parliament to the House of Commons.

A very substantial reason why proportional representation is the better electoral system than the first-past-the-post system is that it has been proven in other countries to increase voter turnout in local, provincial and national levels. The reason for this is that with a plurality, one can only count on the larger parties to win; therefore, instead of "throwing away" a vote for a smaller, less popular party, the voter would either vote for the larger party or not vote at all. "Because seats can be gained [in PR] with only a fraction of the total vote, voters have fewer incentives to abandon their most preferred candidates. Accordingly, the number of viable candidates increases with PR" (Boix 610). Plurality can occasionally result in outrageous outcomes. For example, "the right-wing British Columbia Liberals won a provincial election, taking 97 per cent of the seats (all but 2) with just 58 per cent of the vote" (Carty 930). People often wonder why in Canada, no more than 50 per cent of the population votes during any governmental election.

Reasons for this could be a result of a handful of factors. Citizens could be apathetic to which party wins; they could be ignorant in regards to politics or, the majority of the population that does not vote is probably no longer concerned with politics because of the discrimination of the plurality system.

"...inequalities in the representation of the different political parties… are regarded by some commentators as factors leading to a loss of interest in politics, and even to disaffection" (Caron 21). Some will wonder, after being educated on the topic, that for the most part, if proportional representation seems to be a better way of electing MP's to the House of Commons, why has it not been implemented into our electoral system? The answer to this question lies in the fact that once in power under the first-past-the-post system; the political party that may have once wanted to put into effect the system of proportional representation would most likely have a change in thought. "Unfortunately, those good intentions often melt away like snow on a sunny day once the party comes to power" (Caron 22). Sadly, this is, in fact, a legitimate way to govern as a dictatorship (Caron 21).

Why PR is Not the Best Electoral System​

It has been proven in many cases that proportional representation encourages women to have more of a representation in the national government. “There is a distinct gap in women’s representation in national legislatures between countries with single-member district electoral systems and those with proportional representation electoral systems” (Matland and Studlar 707). The differences between Norway and Canada show that this is evident. “…the proportion of women in the Norwegian Storting increased from 6.7% to 15.5% from 1957 to 1973” (Matland and Studlar 716). The reason for this drastic jump in women’s representation in Norway is because of the increased pressure that smaller parties, such as the New Democratic Party in Canada, put on larger parties to have more female representatives.

  • …as smaller but competitive parties, usually on the political fringe, start to promote women actively, larger parties will move to emulate them. This should happen for at least two reasons. First, by nominating women, smaller parties may demonstrate that there is no electoral penalty associated with women candidates…. Second, larger parties will feel increased pressure to respond by more actively promoting women themselves (Matland and Studlar 712).

Some may state that these are solely false claims and that they may only work “on paper”, but when implemented into the real world, supporters of plurality falsely attempt to affirm that it will not. It has been proven that the representation of women had increased by at least 10 per cent in 11 of the 16 countries that used the PR electoral system (Matland and Studlar 709).

There must be several excellent reasons why the plurality system works within a government because if there were not, we would not have been using the system, to begin with. Many have mentioned the fact that plurality is a good system with the saying “if it ain't broke, then don’t fix it”; however, what one must understand is that of course the plurality system may be a working electoral system; nevertheless, that does not dismiss the fact that there may be a more improved, more reasonable system of electing MP’s. One may argue that with a plurality, the parties must fight hard in order to win in each of the countries many ridings. “If you could win all the regions, then power was almost guaranteed. The plurality system makes this difficult, but this very difficulty caused parties to make the kind of effort necessary for success. The electoral process is a kind of test that only committed parties can pass” (Barker 309). Although this seems to be a valid case nonetheless, the underlying outrageousness of this quote completely demonstrates how unfair plurality can be to minority parties.

Some may argue that “…the two issues central to the discussion of electoral systems in Canada are a representation and regional conflict. Changes in electoral systems… would have little effect on either” (Barker 309). Although there may seem to be equal representation and hardly any regional conflict in Canada, this is clearly not the case. It becomes more obvious that there is a substantial lack of representation in the plurality system and that this system sparks many conflicts between regions when one divulges the true facts of the matter. Although it may seem to keep national unity, it has been an inclination of the plurality system to give small, resolute parties more seats than they deserve (Hiemstra and Jansen 295). The first-past-the-post electoral system has the ability to generate parties with national support; however, they encounter it only with enormous complexity. “Is it not safer to proceed with a system such as PR that makes fully national parties more probable?” (Barker 313).

 The plurality also seems to be a better electoral system because it preserves the relationship between the constituent and representative. It has been said that if proportional representation is put into operation, the bond involving the voter and the MP would be lost (Barker 307); however, what some may not understand is that the debate about proportional representation “…revolves around one type of PR. But other proposed reforms of the electoral system have been forwarded. a particularly popular one is the combination of plurality and PR (mixed-member proportional)” (Barker 313).

Be Sure to Continue to Page 3 of "Proportional Representation vs. First-Past-The-Post".


Barker, Paul. “Voting for Trouble” in Mark Charlton and Paul Barker (eds), Crosscurrents: Contemporary Political Issues 4th ed, 2002, pp. 304-312.

Boix, Carles. “Setting the Rules of the Game: The Choice of Electoral Systems in Advanced Democracies” The American Political Science Review, 93.3 (September 1999): 609-624.

Caron, Jean-François. “The End of the First-Past-the-Post Electoral System?” Canadian Parliamentary Review, 22.3 (Autumn 1999): 19-22.

Carty, R. K. “Canada” European Journal of Political Research 41 (December 2002): 7-8, 927-930.

Hiemstra, John L., and Harold J. Jansen. “Getting What You Vote For.” in Mark Charlton and Paul Barker (eds), Crosscurrents: Contemporary Political Issues, 4th ed, 2002, pp. 292-303.

Matland, Richard E., and Donley T. Studlar. “The Contagion of Women Candidates in Single-Member District and Proportional Representation Electoral Systems: Canada and Norway” The Journal of Politics 58.3 (August 1996): 707-733.

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