Not-So-Worthwhile Canadian Electoral System

Canada’s elections tonight seem certain to produce another minority government for the Conservative Party, which will be by far the largest party in parliament and yet short of the majority they were seeking. Meanwhile, if you like the Electoral College (and I don’t) you’ll love Canada’s wacky mix of multiple parties, first-past-the-post voting, single-member constituencies, and parliamentary government. Here’s some preliminary results:

You’ll see that the three left of center parties (Liberals, NDP, and Greens) got between them 53 percent of the vote. Yet combined they have just 111 seats whereas the Conservatives got 145 seats with 37 percent of the vote. The Greens got 0 seats with 6.5 percent of the popular vote, while since the Bloc Québécois’ supporters are geographically concentrated they get 50 seats with just 8.5 percent of the vote. Basically, the distribution of political power has only a vague relationship to the underlying state of public opinion. If the 25 percent of the population that’s currently voting NDP or Green became more conservative and decided to vote Liberal, then political power would shift left.


UPDATE: It’s worth saying that this isn’t special pleading on behalf of the Liberals. For a long time in the Chrétien era, the structure of Canadian politics seemed to make it impossible for the Liberals to lose. The big winner from the Canadian electoral system is the Bloc Québécois. But the main problem with the system isn’t even that it’s unfair — the US Senate is horribly unfair — but that the system is incredibly unresponsive to shifts in voter sentiment or behavior.