Should Canada change the voting system? First-past-the-post system explained

A man leaves a polling station during the Burnaby South federal by-election in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Nelms

Just days away from the next federal election, questions have started to be raised about the first-past-the-post electoral system, where a party can win without actually winning the majority in the popular vote.

What is first-past-the-post?

The first-past-the-post system includes a process that allows voters to select a party representative in each riding. The individual with the highest number of votes in each riding wins a seat in the legislature, even if they do not receive the majority of votes.

Once all the winners are tallied, the party that receives the most seats gets to hold power in government.

What are people saying about it?

One of the biggest complaints with the first-past-the-post system is that a candidate does not need over 50 per cent approval to win a riding.

Justin Trudeau abandoned his electoral reform promise from his 2015 campaign, which would eliminate the current system. Back in 2018, he told CBC News he would look into it again if other federal party leaders agreed to an alternate system. There are no specific electoral reform promises in the Liberal Party’s platform.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has said if he becomes prime minister, his party will get rid of the first-past-the-post system. The party’s platform states that it would bring in a mixed-member proportional representation system, which allows voters to select a party they support and a second vote for a candidate in their riding. With this system, there is usually threshold of support that has to be achieved in order to get a seat.

There is also preferential voting, or the ranked ballot system, which was used in the Prairies until the 1950s. Options on the ballot are ranked and they must have more than 50 per cent of the vote to win. First preference votes are counted and if no option has exceeded 50 per cent, the last place option’s votes are redistributed based on their second choice. The process is repeated until one option has more than 50 per cent of the votes.

Here’s a look at what is being said about the first-past-the-post system in Canada ahead of election day on Oct. 21:

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