(source: wikipedia)

With less than a week until the the federal elections in Canada, the left wing New Democratic Party is experiencing an almost unprecedented 11-point surge in the polls. (Don’t be fooled by the traditional American use of the word “liberal,” the Liberal Party is a centrist party and the NDP is to their left.) From the Star:

A “seismic shift” among voters has vaulted the NDP to second place, just five points behind the Conservative front-runners while the Liberals are falling further behind, a new poll reveals.

With less than a week to go in the campaign, Jack Layton is riding a wave of popular support for the NDP not seen in two decades, said Jaideep Mukerji, vice-president of Angus Reid Public Opinion.

A new Angus Reid poll done in partnership with the Toronto Star and La Presse puts Stephen Harper’s Conservatives at 35 per cent, the NDP close behind at 30 per cent, the Liberals at 22 per cent, the Bloc Québécois at 7 per cent and the Green Party at 5 per cent.

Since Canada uses a single-member district, “first past the post” election system, like we mostly do, even a relatively minor change in overall popular vote can result in a disproportionately massive increase or decrease in the number of seats actually won.

NDP is polling so well, it is possible they will, for the first time ever, lead a government in Canada.

Perhaps ironically, if the election results in a NDP-Liberal coalition government, it could likely result in ending the “first past the post” electoral system in Canada. As the party that traditionally came in third place, the “first past the post” system has for years systematically disadvantaged the NDP, causing them to win far fewer seats than their relative share of the popular vote. As a result, the NDP developed a strong position in favor of proportional representation.

And now that the Liberal Party has dropped to third place, they may find it in their best interests to push for reform, as well. If not the Liberals face the possibility of their party rapidly losing power and getting caught in a third-place status that is very hard to get out of.

This kind of dynamic often is the cause for electoral reform in democracies. A major party that benefited from the unfairness of the old system decides to embrace election reform only when faced with the possibility of the same systematic unfairness suddenly and seriously hurting them.