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Jagmeet Singh Says Election Showed Canada's Voting System Is 'Broken'

The NDP leader is calling for electoral reform after his party finished behind the Bloc Quebecois.
Jagmeet Singh delivers his concession speech at the NDP Election Night Party in Burnaby, B.C. on Oct. 21, 2019.
Jagmeet Singh delivers his concession speech at the NDP Election Night Party in Burnaby, B.C. on Oct. 21, 2019.

BURNABY, B.C. — If there’s any election that has highlighted how “broken” Canada’s electoral system is, it’s this one, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in his morning-after assessment.

Monday’s vote saw his party relegated to fourth place in the House of Commons behind the Bloc Quebecois despite finishing third in the popular vote.

The Liberals under Justin Trudeau eked out a minority-government victory despite securing only 33.1 per cent of the popular vote as compared to 34.4 per cent for the Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives.

Elections Canada’s vote tallies show the Conservatives garnered the most actual votes with more than 6.1 million ballots cast in their favour versus 5.9 million for the Liberals. Yet the Liberals ended up with 157 seats — 36 more than the 121 won by the Tories.

Watch: Jagmeet Singh says Doug Ford’s win shows that ‘fringe’ parties can win. Story continues below.

The NDP was third in the popular vote with 2.8 million and the Bloc Quebecois was fourth with 1.3 million. However, the New Democrats secured only 24 seats while the resurgent Bloc grabbed 32 seats, half of them from the NDP in Quebec.

“I believe this election has shown the problems with the current system,” Singh told reporters Tuesday in Burnaby, B.C.

“I think that the results show not a broken Canada — the people, in a lot of ways, share so many values, share far more values than they have separate. But the results show a broken electoral system, and it’s certainly clear we need to fix it.”

Under straight proportional representation, the Liberals would have won 112 seats (45 fewer than they actually won), the Conservatives would have won 116 (five fewer than Monday’s result) and the NDP would have received 54 seats, which would have translated to 30 more NDP MPs in Ottawa.

“The results show a broken electoral system, and it’s certainly clear we need to fix it.”

- Jagmeet Singh

The Bloc, which represents only the interests of Quebec, would have had 26 seats rather than the 32 they now have and the Green party, which won only three seats in Parliament on Monday, would have had 22 under proportional representation. Five seats would have gone to the People’s Party of Canada and the remaining three to other parties.

Seen another way, the Greens ended up with one MP for every 387,249 votes under the current first-past-the-post system. The Liberals, meanwhile, received one MP for every 37,655 votes.

The NDP has long pushed for adopting a mixed-member proportional-representative system, which involves a combination of legislators elected to represent particular geographic areas and others named from party lists so the standings in the Commons more closely match the national popular vote. The NDP platform also promised a referendum after two electoral cycles on whether to keep the new system.

A push for proportional-representation

Singh said he plans to push for a proportional-representation system as he moves forward with a plan to work more closely with the Liberals — who promised in 2015 to end the first-past-the-post system — in the upcoming minority Parliament.

“I’ve long called for and will continue to call for true electoral reform, which means, for me, giving power to people, having their voice be heard and so I believe in proportional representation,” Singh said Tuesday.

Singh did not commit to any specifics or timelines when pledging to push for electoral reform Tuesday. In the days leading up to the election, when asked whether it would be a redline for negotiating a coalition or co-operation agreement with the Liberals in a minority government, the NDP leader said electoral reform would not be an urgent condition.

Jagmeet Singh speaks to supporters besides wife Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu in Burnaby, B.C. on Oct. 21, 2019. 
Jagmeet Singh speaks to supporters besides wife Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu in Burnaby, B.C. on Oct. 21, 2019. 

“It’s essential, but it’s not urgent,” he told reporters in Brampton on Oct. 12.

Trudeau promised during the 2015 federal election to reform the electoral system and get rid of the current first-past-the-post system in which the candidate with the highest number of votes claims victory. He later broke that promise.

Real Lavergne, president of Fair Vote Canada, said the first-past-the-post voting system has cheated voters in every province. That’s why Fair Vote Canada is calling on the parties to launch a citizens’ assembly on electoral reform and act on its recommendations.

“We feel that this election provides a significant opportunity for forward movement on electoral reform if the NDP makes a priority of it,” Lavergne said.

“I don’t believe the Liberals would flat-out implement proportional representation, having retreated from their earlier promise. ... Trudeau justified the broken promise by claiming there was ‘no consensus.’ A citizens’ assembly is what we need to establish that consensus.”

That might be a hard sell for the newly re-elected Liberal prime minister. A week before the election, Trudeau was asked whether he would be open to any kind of electoral reform.

Trudeau, who has previously voiced his preference for a preferential ballot, in which voters rank their choices, said the Liberal government tried to find consensus on changing Canada’s electoral system while in power, “and that consensus was not to be found.”

CORRECTION: The Canadian Press reported Tuesday, Oct. 22, that under an electoral system based on proportional representation, the Conservatives would have won 112 seats in Monday’s federal election and the Liberals would have claimed 116 seats. The numbers were transposed: in fact, the Conservatives would have won 116 seats and the Liberals 112.

This report was first published by The Canadian Press on Oct. 22, 2019.

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