Interactive Tool

41st Canadian Federal Election

The cartogram below depicts the 308 Federal ridings.

Map:

Riding Name

[info here]
Roll over each riding to view more information

First Past the Post

Conservative: 166, NDP: 103, Liberal: 34, Bloc Québécois: 4, Green: 1
163/308 ridings had more than 50% orphaned votes
49.6% of votes cast orphaned
Gallagher Index of Disproportionality: 12.59

We use the "single-member simple plurality" (also known as "winner-takes all" or "First Past the Post") electoral system that first originated in the 1800's in England. Canada is divided into 308 ridings, roughly containing about 100 thousand voters each, although for Constitutional reasons, some less-populated provinces are guaranteed a certain number of seats despite not having a proportional number of people in them.

Under FPtP, candidates compete for a single seat in each riding, and 308 separate elections are held. A candidate wins the seat by gaining more votes than any of their opponents. However, if there are more than two candidates in a riding, the winner doesn't need 50% of the votes. If there are 5 candidates in a single riding, someone could win with just over 20% of the votes cast - meaning almost 80% of the voters didn't vote for the winner. Their vote does not go towards electing anyone, making them orphaned voters.

This process, repeated in each riding, produces representation in government that can be wildly different than the voters' intent.

Over half of the ridings were won by someone the majority of voters did not elect, and 49.6% of all votes cast were orphaned - over 7 million ballots. It's also worth noting that the winner only needed one more vote than the 2nd-place finisher - all votes cast for that candidate after that are essentially ineffective. 22% of votes cast were ineffective - meaning 71% of the votes cast didn't go towards electing anyone.

NDP + Liberal Merger

Merged: 185, Conservative: 122, Green: 1
37/308 ridings had more than 50% orphaned votes
41.0% of votes cast orphaned

The Liberal Party had it's worst result in its long history, winning only 34 of the ridings (11%), despite still receiving 19% of the popular vote. Although there are many reasons for the loss of support, it seems apparant that about 60% of the electorate did not want the Conservatives to get a majority in Parliament, yet our FPtP system gave that to them. Much of the Conservative gains were made in Ontario, where it has been argued that Liberal voters shifting support to the NDP contributed to vote-splitting, allowing Conservative candidates to win.

One response to this has been increased talk of the NDP and Liberal parties merging in an attempt to have a better chance to win in the next election under our current system. (This is consistant with Durverger's Law, that states that FPtP leads to two-party systems, like the United States). Indeed, it was Harper merging the Canadian Alliance, Reform, and Progressive Conservative parties that has directly "gamed the system" to benefit the Conservatives.

As a simple example to see how such a merger might benefit the NDP/Liberals, I processed the results for each riding, summing the NDP and Liberal votes to see if that would be enough to win the most votes.

I don't really want to see a merger myself - unless it were only a temporary agreement that lasted long enough for them to enact Proportional Representation before separating again - but it is clear that had they worked together they had a good chance of forming a majority government. (Of course, voters may not vote in the same numbers for a united left; however, it is probably fair to say that most Liberals who didn't switch to the Conservatives at the last minute probably would be comfortable with it). If the Greens joined forces, they could win an even bigger majority.

The Alternative Vote

Conservative: 142, NDP: 117, Liberal: 48, Green: 1
72/308 ridings had more than 50% orphaned votes
45.4% of votes cast orphaned
Gallagher Index of Disproportionality: 8.86

Some people have suggested that Canada switch to using the Alternative Vote (also known as Instant Runoff Voting). In this system, rather than marking an "X" next to a preferred candidate, voters rank them in order of preference (1, 2, 3...). When the votes are counted, if no candidate has more than 50% of the votes, the party with the least number of votes is eliminated and their second-choice votes now added to the remaining candidates. This continues until one party has at least 50% of ballots allocated to them.

Although this seems more fair than First Past the Post, it unfortunately can (and does) lead to disproportionate representation. A high percentage of ballots still don't go towards electing anyone, and the system means that smaller parties often still fare poorly. You can vote for a smaller party with "less fear", but that doesn't necessarily translate to more seats - see Austrlia's election results for example. I don't think switching to a system where your first-choice still might not get appropriate representation is something Canada should adopt.

For this simulation, I took the "2nd-choice" preferences (as polled by EKOS) just before the election. Obviously it can't be considered fully accurate, as voters across Canada won't have uniform preferences - but, I figured it was a decent basis for an approximation. Although the seat allocations above might look more proportionate at first glance, note that Alberta and Saskatchewan still have very few NDP or Liberal representatives, and the Bloc and Green Parties have less seats than they should based on the popular vote. And there's still about 45% of votes cast that elected nobody. And with very slight changes in voter preferences, things could get more unbalanced - even providing the Conservatives or NDP with majorities.

For more details about this analysis, read this and this.

In the ridings breakdowns above, you can see how votes were re-allocated to the remaining parties if one was eliminated.

Proportional Representation

Conservative: 125, NDP: 95, Liberal: 59, Bloc Québécois: 18, Green: 11
1.3% of votes cast orphaned
Gallagher Index of Disproportionality: 0.47

Countless constitutional experts, and multiple Commissions and Citizen's Assemblies have all agreed that Canada should switch to a system of Proportional Representation. The Law Commission of Canada recommended in 2004 a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system, which blends the regional representation that First Past the Post offers with seats allocated to parties based on popular support. There would be about a third less ridings, and to bring the number of members back up to 308, seats are awarded to parties in order to ensure they have fair representation. (eg. if a party had only won 20 ridings, but should have 25 seats in order to be properly represented, then it would get 5 of these "top up" seats). Voters mark one box for a local candidate, and then another box for their prefered party.

The Law Commission's proposal called for regional, open-list member lists, to ensure that people felt they had control over who was elected, rather than "closed-list" models where the party-leaders can more directly choose the order in which candidates are awarded seats. I believe this is a good system for Canada, although any form of PR would be welcome.

In the map above, I have performed PR on a per-province/territory basis (rather than using national popular vote values) - I believe the that each province needs to elect their own representatives, so their votes can't "move into" another province's. However, the result is still very proportional (Gallagher Index of 0.47, compared to FPTP which yielded 12.59).

Proportional Representation is the only way to ensure small numbers of orphaned votes, making almost every vote go towards electing someone - if not for a local representative, then at least towards a party that they feel best represents their ideals.

PR also gives voters more choice, as they can freely vote for the party they want without fear of having to vote strategically against someone. In Canada, we might see the Progressive Conservatives return to give voters on the right of the political spectrum more choice. It demonstrably increases the proportion of women and ethnic minorities in government, and fosters cooperation and discussion rather than the hyper-partizanship of our current system. It produces legislation that a majority of voters can agree on, rather than letting a minority ram through thier own agenda. And it allows for longer-term planning (as parties know they have a high chance of being able to be involved in seeing them through than they do now).

The First Past the Post system is broken, and we are behind the rest of the world in switching to a fairer, PR system. We need to demand electoral reform of our representatives - both Federally and Provincially. Please, write your MP and MPP, get informed (I recommend Fair Vote Canada's website), and get others involved. Our country deserves better.

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Thanks to Wilfred Day for his input on hex positioning.