In each issue, P&I will give readers a cheat sheet to understand a complex current issue. We’ll do the legwork, the interviews, and the research to present the topic in a short, easy-to-understand format. The average adult reads 300 words per minute, meaning that in approximately 6.6 minutes you can become an expert — or at least a well-informed reader — all before you finish your morning coffee. What is the current system? Let’s start with the fact that Canada is a representative democracy. That means that under the constitution, every of-age citizen in Canada has the right to vote for representatives in the House of Commons. An electoral system decides how, exactly, those representatives are chosen. Canada’s federal system for choosing leaders involves dividing up the citizenry — roughly according to population, but also subject to a complex formula — into federal electoral districts, called ridings. This number is periodically updated, but right now there are 338. Inside each riding, a series of candidates offer to represent that riding, and each of those candidates represent a different political party. Citizens cast one vote, for the one candidate they most want to represent their entire riding, on one election day. The candidate with the largest number of votes is elected and becomes that riding’s representative, gaining a seat in Parliament. Then when all these members of Parliament, or MPs, are elected, if any party wins a majority of seats, they are elected to a majority government. If no party wins a majority, the governor general typically offers a chance at governing to the party with a plurality of seats, called a minority government. Note that the winner of each riding doesn’t actually have to win a majority of all the votes that were cast, just a plurality — or in other words, the largest pile among several different piles. Similarly, the winning party doesn’t actually have to win a majority of the votes cast nationwide. These differences are important, and we’ll return to them later. The process of casting one vote, during one election, for one candidate, from one party, to win one entire riding — and for the winner to be picked based on a simple plurality of votes — is a centuries-old system called first-past-the-post, (FPTP) or single-member plurality. OK, but what’s wrong with all that? What’s wrong, many people say, is that this system produces a Parliament of Canada that is not representative of the choices Canadians are actually making. For example, in the current system, candidates can, and do, get elected to Parliament without a majority of the voters in their riding actually choosing them. They were able to win because the votes for other candidates were split between multiple rivals. Say Mary gets 10 votes, Lisa gets 10 votes, and Helen gets 15 votes. Then Helen is elected, even though five more people voted against Helen than for her. This not only happens, it’s the norm in Canada. The same thing can and does happen with parties. In fact, Trudeau’s Liberals and Harper’s Conservatives both won the last two federal elections with the same minority of the popular vote, 39 per cent. That means that a majority of Canadians didn’t actually vote for their current government. Critics say this idea that MPs and governments can be elected with little regard to how the popular vote has played out feeds a sense of powerlessness, where voters begin to feel that their vote doesn’t count in the end. Another argument is that FPTP does not do enough to encourage a vibrant multiparty democracy. Many candidates from smaller parties are able to win many votes across Canada, but their votes are spread too thin to win pluralities in any given riding. For example, in the last election, the NDP won about 13 per cent of all the seats, despite winning about 20 per cent of all the votes. For the Green Party it was even more stark; more than half a million people voted for Green candidates, but these votes were spread so thin that they only resulted in one Green MP. So, what are the new systems being considered? There are quite a few. One system that is similar to Canada, with some changes, is a runoff vote, with two basic types that centre around the candidate winning a majority. In alternative voting, also known as preferential voting or instant-runoff voting, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. After the vote, if no candidate gets a majority of everyone’s first choice, then the candidate with the lowest amount of votes is eliminated and that candidate's votes are redistributed according to people’s second choices. This repeats until someone gets a majority. In two-round, also known as runoff voting (minus the instant), that process is instead spread out over two voting days. A candidate must gain a majority in the first vote, and if no one does, the top two candi dates then face off on a second day. Another group of electoral systems is called proportional representation. PR is quite different than what Canadians are used to seeing. Voters can pick from more than one representative for each constituency, or other defined space. Voters can also vote for parties as well as candidates, or instead of candidates. There are several versions of PR: In closed-list PR, voters choose their preferred party, which has pre-determined list of candidates. Parties win seats according to their portion of the vote, and candidates are then picked according to the lists. Another version, open-list PR, allows voters to pick both their preferred candidates from within the party lists. Another PR system is called single transferable vote. In this system, ridings have multiple seats, and voters rank candidates according to preference. Then a “quota” is determined based on a formula related to the number of votes and the number of seats. Candidates above the quota are elected, and if they have excess votes, they are redistributed using another formula to the other candidates. If no one passes the quota, the lowest-ranked candidate is eliminated and the votes redistributed. This happens until either enough candidates meet the quota, or the same number of candidates remain as there are seats. Finally, there are mixed-member systems, where voters pick both a local representative and a party representative. This means the House of Commons would be made up of two classes of MPs: those elected in ridings and those elected as a share of the vote. A well-known version of this is mixed-member proportional, where the party’s share of seats approximates their share of the party vote. Where does each party stand on electoral reform? The Liberal Party campaigned on a promise to make 2015 “the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.” The party promised to convene an all-party Parliamentary committee and eventually introduce legislation on electoral reform. During the leadership race for the Liberal Party, Trudeau was interested in preferential voting, although in December after winning the election he said he wanted to be careful about “pushing” his own views. The Conservative Party has strongly pushed the idea of holding a referendum to seek Canadians’ input. The NDP, like the Liberals, also campaigned on a promise to eradicate the FPTP system, and the Green Party is also in favour of electoral reform. Both parties appear to be in favour of proportional representation — likely because it’s the system that would most likely increase their seat count. Naturally, positions on choosing a system seem to align with party self-interest for all. The Liberals, in turn, want a preferential ballot, a Global News analysis states, because people perceive them as sitting in the centre of the Canadian political spectrum, and therefore they would attract the most second-choice votes as they would get them from both the left and the right. As the only major federal party on the right wing of the political spectrum, neither preferential voting or proportional representation systems benefit the Conservatives — so instead, the Tories are calling for a referendum. Should Canada have a referendum? The Conservatives certainly think so. They have made calling for a referendum part of their regular talking points. They argue “everyone should have a say” in changing the rules of democracy. They most certainly know that the record on electoral reform referendums is not good. Several referendums have happened in British Columbia and Ontario, all of which failed to change the systems. B.C. voted in a 2005 referendum for a single transferable vote system, which failed. They voted again in 2009, and the proposal garnered even less support. Ontarians voted against a mixed-member proportional system voted in a 2007 referendum. The Liberals are dead-set against a referendum. Last week, Trudeau said, “the black-and-whiteness of a referendum — and the political campaigning around self-interest that happens anytime you have the starkness of a referendum — impedes the very free and grounded conversation about what kind of values underpin our electoral system.” And then there are those who say a referendum is actually impossible. Canada’s former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley argued, “you can only hold a federal referendum in Canada on a constitutional matter. And changing the electoral system is not a constitutional matter,” he told Global News. And as for Canadians themselves, the polling firm EKOS has found that they’re pretty evenly divided on the question. What has been accomplished so far? The 12-member committee was formed in early June, with Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia as the chair. Conservative MP Scott Reid and NDP MP Nathan Cullen sit as vice-chairs. Other members include John Aldag (Liberal), Matt DeCourcey (Liberal), Sherry Romanado (Liberal), Ruby Sahota (Liberal), Gérard Deltell (Conservative), Jason Kenney (Conservative), Alexandre Boulerice (NDP), Luc Thériault (Bloc Québécois), and Elizabeth May (Green). The committee has until Dec. 1 to report back to the House with its findings.