First Past The Post Election Blues

The Maple Leaf part of a Canadian Flag

Going into the election yesterday we had a Conservative minority government based on 5,209,069 votes, and today we have a Conservative majority government with 5,832,401 votes. That’s a difference of 623,332 votes. It is also a difference of 24 seats.

The 41st Canadian Federal Election has resulted in a Conservative Party of Canada majority government.

My son, who cast his first vote last night, asked me how it could have happened? Even with the tame “news” media [the watchdog press is indeed dead] he was under the impression that there was strong opposition to the Conservative government.

And of course the polls conducted throughout the term of the 40th Parliament always seemed to hover in the mid 30% range.
[No, I don’t believe in polls… that’s for all the people who tried to convince me of the accuracy of public opinion polls.]

As my friend Sheila said,

“Majority? Well, 24.1% of Canadians have spoken.”

Because Canadian voter turnout was less than stellar. Only 61.4% of registered voters voted yesterday, up slightly from 2008’s all time low of 59.1%.

My Bahamian friend Drew forwarded me this Voter turnout data for Bahamas. Can you imagine? They have a 92.13% voter turnout! I guess it really is better in the Bahamas.

comparing the results

So, lets look at what happened in Canada, eh? Possibly the easiest way to see what happened is to compare the results of the 41st election with the results of the 40th in 2008.

2008: Minority Government

The Conservative Party of Canada

5,209,069 votes, which was 37.65% of the popular vote and gave them 143 seats

The Liberal Party of Canada

3,633,185 votes, which was 26.26% of the popular vote and gave them 77 seats

The Bloc Québécois

1,379,991 votes, which was 9.98% of the popular vote and gave them 49 seats

The New Democratic Party of Canada

2,515,288 votes, which was 18.18% of the popular vote and gave them 37 seats

The Green Party of Canada

937,613 votes, which was 6.78% of the popular vote and gave them 0 seats

Voter turnout was the lowest in Canadian election history, as only 59.1% of the electorate cast a ballot.
Wikipedia: Canadian federal election, 2008

2011 Majority government

The Conservative Party of Canada

5,832,401 votes, which was 39.6% of the popular vote and gave them 167 seats (54%)

The New Democratic Party of Canada

4,508,474 votes, which was 30.6% of the popular vote and gave them 102 seats (33.1%)

The Liberal Party of Canada

2,783,175 votes, which was 18.9% of the popular vote and gave them 34 seats (11.0%)

The Bloc Québécois

889,788 votes, which was 6% of the popular vote and gave them 4 seats (1.3%)

Green Party of Canada

576,221 votes, which was 3.9% of the popular vote and gave them 1 seat (0.3%)

Voter turnout: 14,720,580 of 23,971,740 registered electors (61.4%)
source: Elections Canada: 2011 General Election: Preliminary Results

all votes are not created equal

I’m no math genius, but even I can see that the numbers don’t add up.

In the last election the Green Party had 937,613 votes and zero seats. After yesterday’s election, the Green Party has 576,221 votes and no seats. So now they’ve lost a few hundred thousand votes they have a seat. Although the Green Party lost votes, they probably haven’t lost any support. Because people concerned for the environment don’t suddenly going to stop caring. It isn’t as though there were any scandals in the Green Party. The only way the Green Party let their supporters down was in not getting elected.

Without an elected representative, the people who vote have no voice in parliament. We also saw the consortium’s exclusion of Elizabeth May from the televised Leadership debates.

The upshot is that the near million voters who voted Green across Canada had no representation in government. It is reasonable to assume that the lost votes went somewhere “strategic.” It can be hard voting for a party that can’t seem to win, no matter how much you believe in them.

A Canadian flag flying above Kitchener Clock Tower

The single biggest problem in a first past the post electoral system is that you only get parliamentary representation if the candidate you vote for is elected. And even then, if the candidate’s party doesn’t form the government, your representation is second class.


The main business of government is making laws. This is the other place where the numbers really count.

A majority government controls more than half the available seats in the House of Commons.

Which means a majority government can pass any law they want.


The Conservative Party of Canada got 5,832,401 votes, or 39.6%.

All the other parties together received 8,888,179 votes, or 60.4%

Because of the way our system weights votes, less than 40% of the votes cast means a majority government.

More than 60% of the votes cast don’t count. This is what they mean when they talk about wasted votes.

Add to that another 9,251,160 registered voters who didn’t vote at all.

This majority government actually represents a minority of voters. The 5,832,401 votes cast for the Conservative Party of Canada count.

The other 18,139,339 votes do not. Is it any wonder why people get frustrated? In a democracy, every vote should count.

Canada needs electoral reform. I have been learning a lot about the different types of government that are possible from the non-partisan electoral reform group Fairvote Canada. Everyone who is concerned with this extraordinary inequity should get involved.

Because Canada deserves electoral reform.

Image Credits
Photographs released by laurelrusswurm under a Creative Commons Attribution Only License.

8 thoughts on “First Past The Post Election Blues

    • I do too. I am fortunate to live in Waterloo Region where we have a very active Fairvote chapter that has hosted various information nights. Even so, I expect they would be ecstatic to get more help. This is an issue of concern for all Canadians.

      I thought I was reasonably well informed but I have learned so much from these events. What Canadians don’t know is that there are many parts of the world that have systems that do actully represent constituents democratically. Can you imagine? A world where your vote actually counts?

  1. This is nothing new. Lots of Liberal governments in the past have had majorities with around 40% of the vote. Most recently, in 2000, the Liberals (Chretien) won 172 seats with only 40.8% of the vote. Why didn’t we hear all this whining then?????
    Look at the 2004 and 2006 elections. In the 2004 elaction the liberals won 135 seats with 36.7% of the vote and in the 2006 election the conservatives won only 124 seats with an almost identical 36.3%.
    Suddenly we hear a bunch of whining from sore losers when the conservatives win a majority under the same system that helped the liberals previously.

  2. There is nothing sudden about the “whining.”

    As the voter inequity has worsened, citizen disaffection has been going on for quite a long time. For instance, if I’m not mistaken, the non-partisan just celebrated their tenth anniversary. I personally have been disaffected for much longer than that. I have met both Liberal and Conservative supporters at Fairvote events.

    The biggest difference in the last decade is that Canadians are no longer so isolated, and many of us are heartened that it may yet be possible to achieve a truly democratic state where we are all equal..

    It isn’t a rah rah winning and losing issue, it comes down to the fact that all Canadians deserve political representation. Giving total control to the 30 – 40% who “win” – and thus making that minority “more equal” is clearly undemocratic.

  3. It is sudden whining from alot of people were didn’t vote Conservative. Especially liberals who didn’t care as long as it helped them and they have now lost so badly they are trying to blame the system, amongst other things, rather than accept that the great majority of Canadians realize the damage the liberals have done to this country and don’t trust them.
    Sure there was a small minority who have voiced their displeasure with our electoral system in the past but nothing like we have seen since the election from those from the left.
    Fair vote might have been around for ten years but don’t kid yourself, you are pretty small and it hasn’t been and isn’t that big of an issue with a great majority of Canadians.

  4. Wikipedia explains that, “A Majority is a subset of a group consisting of more than half of its members. ”

    I’m no mathematician but even I know that 30 – 40% of the vote is nowhere near a majority.

    And it is even worse when you realize that about half of the Canadians who are legally entitled to vote don’t.

    The fact of nearly 50% of Canadians choosing not to vote indicates more than a minority of disaffected voters.

    Fairvote may be small, but it is gaining a lot of traction just the same. Particularly as more and more people are starting to realize that we can make a difference. If Jack Layton runs in the next election on n electoral reform platform. I’m pretty certain that a a great many non-voters will get out and vote
    And just so you know, although I heartily approve of Fairvote, I’m not a member, just a supporter.

    That’s why I understand disaffection with our political system– It is badly broken, and needs repair.

  5. You are not a math expert for sure – only 2 Canadian governments in history have recievied a larger popular vote than the current Canadian federal government and we’re talking 2/3 points – check it out.

    • As mathematically challenged as I am, it doesn’t affect my point, which is that what we call a “majority” is not.

      Even if we had an actual majority of 51% it would still mean that 49% of the populace was not represented by our so-called representative democracy.

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