Let’s Be Consistent About It

House of CommonsIf you are a Canadian who has just awaken to the notion that 39.63% of the popular vote should not yield a majority government, take some time to learn that this is NOT a new problem. If you fail to do so, you will be accused of being a partisan sore loser. So please, indulge in a little history lesson.

It’s quite simple, really. All that matters in the first-past-the-post system is winning a plurality in a riding, slim as it may be, and scoring the highest number of pluralities. With 50% + 1 pluralities (currently = 155), you’ve got yourself a majority government and it doesn’t matter that it’s not “fair” since you got far less than 50% + 1 votes in your favour. There is no mechanism under first-past-the-post to take into consideration the popular vote or the strength of those pluralities. The rules of first-past-the-post don’t give a rat’s ass about that.

Sidebar Before You Further…
What Does “Over-representation” Mean?
In an ideal electoral system, one would expect that a party receiving 40% of the overall popular vote would get roughly 40% of the seats in the legislative assembly. In other words, if there are 100 seats, 40% would give 40 seats. But in first-past-the-post, a party can get considerably more or fewer seats than would be expected. A party winning 52 seats with 40% of the vote would be considered over-represented by 12 seats, or 12%. Similarly, a party winning only 26 seats with 40% of the vote would be considered 14% under-represented. When Frank McKenna’s Liberal took all 58 seats in the New Brunswick legislature in 1987 with 60.39% of the popular vote, the total percentage of votes for each of the other parties was considered their under-representation: 28.6% for the Progressive Conservatives and 10.6% for the NDP.

Slim these pluralities can be! On May 13, a judiscial recount led another seat in Québec to move into the NDP column. Indeed, with a difference of only 9 votes, the NDP candidate defeated the Conservative incumbent, bringing the number of NDP seats in Québec to 59 and reducing to 5 the number held by the Conservatives. The Bloc Québécois, the sovereignist party that crested twice at 54 seats (1993 and 2004) and even held Official Opposition status from 1993 to 1997, now holds only 4 seats in the House and is being stripped of its official party status, while the Liberals, once dominant in Québec, hold the province’s remaining 7 seats.

Except that Québec is nothing like Alberta, the land of massive Conservative pluralities and popular vote. There, 66.82% of the popular vote for the Conservatives delivered them all but one of the province’s 28 seats. But even such a decisive majority gets warped in our first-past-the-post system, for indeed, how can two-thirds of the popular vote deliver 96% of the province’s seat — a 29.6% over-representation? That being said, the over-representation of the NDP in Québec is even greater: the 42.9% popular vote for the NDP delivered 78.7% of the province’s 75 seats, which is a whopping 37.8% over-representation.

In Québec, the biggest “victim” of the NDP surge and first-past-the-post system is by far the Bloc Québécois, which scored the 2nd-best popular vote (23.45%) but, seat-wise, came in 4th after the Liberals and the Conservatives, thus rendering it 18.1% under-represented in the House. With 16.52% of the popular vote, the Conservatives came in 3rd but, while they are also 3rd in the seat standing, they are 9.85% under-represented. For their part, the Liberals, with their embarrassing 4th place finish in the popular vote (14.16%), managed to come in 2nd in the seat standing but are still 4.83% under-represented, which remains quite an under-achievement for a party that once dominated in Québec prior to the Bloc and the 1984 to 1993 blip in favour of the Progressive Conservatives. All that being said, however, there is irony (or retribution if you’re particularly unkind): the biggest Québec victim of first-past-the-post this time around profited richly from that system in the past, achieving an over-representation high of 27.2% in 2008 and a low of 10.8% in 2000.

Not taking into account the over- and under-representation that occurs under first-past-the-post has rendered many blind to emerging trends. For example, if the NDP in Québec were to maintain its low-40% vote in 2015 but that vote were to drain into and become concentrated in the Montréal area, it would win fewer seats and could become under-represented. However, the most conspicuous blind spot resulting from not keeping an eye on the over/under-representation ball is not seeing strength where it exists. In Québec, the right-leaning ADQ was under-represented by 5.7% in 1994, 11.0% in 1998, and 15.0% in 2003. The signs of the ADQ rising were in plain sight but the story wasn’t told by the party’s seat standing, namely 1, 1, and 4, respectively. There was shock when the ADQ rose to Official Opposition status in Québec City in 2007, with 30.8% of the popular vote, 41 seats, and only 2% over-representation. Unfortunately for the ADQ, it revealed itself “not ready for prime time” while acting as the Official Opposition, and it was decimated some 18 months later: 16.4% popular vote, 7 seats …but 10.8% under-representation. Therefore, it would be foolish to think that the right-of-centre in Québec is a spent force, just as it is foolish to assume that the BQ’s collapse on May 2 spells the end of the sovereignist movement.

There’s been a lot of groaning among non-Conservative voters since May 2 about how a marked minority in the popular vote nationwide, namely 39.63%, has given the Harper Conservatives their first majority. For that, we once again have the first-past-the-post system to thank as well as the fact that Canada has not had a U.S.-style two-party system for nearly a century. Until we adapt the voting system to reflect what has been Canada’s political reality for a very long time, fake majorities will continue to be a fact of life, not to say a source of great disatisfaction among non-partisans of the victor.

It saddens me, however, that it took the decimation of two parties and the rise of the current Conservative brand to elicit so much more interest in considering an overhaul of the way we go to the polls. I can actually understand why staunch Conservatives are accusing of hypocrisy those of us who are now raising our voices in favour of a form of proportional representation. I have been a proponent of this approach since the days when the Liberals were in seemingly perpetual cycle of “fake” majorities, and my position wasn’t the result of being a Dipper and seeing the NDP scoring far fewer seats than what would be expected based on the popular vote. No, for me, it has always been about lack of fairness and a distaste for Orwellian doublespeak that leads to calling something “a majority” when it is anything but.

From 1957 to 2011, there have been 19 federal elections that yielded:

  • 4 [Progressive] Conservative majorities (1958, 1984, 1988, 2011)
  • 5 [Progressive] Conservative minorities (1957, 1962, 1979, 2006, 2008)
  • 6 Liberal majorities (1968, 1974, 1980, 1993, 1997, 2000)
  • 4 Liberal minorities (1963, 1965, 1972, 2004)

Of the 10 majorities in that period, only 2 were real: Diefenbaker’s in 1958, with 53.66% of the popular vote, and Mulroney’s in 1984, with 50.03% of the popular vote. But even those were warped by the first-past-the-post system:

  • Diefenbaker’s was over-represented by 24.9%
  • Mulroney’s by 24.8%.

The biggest first-past-the-post screw-up was Joe Clark’s 1979 Progressive Conservative minority: not only were the PCs over-representated in the House by 12.3%, but they also loss the popular vote by 4.2% against the Liberals!

But for those of you who just woke up to the unfairness of “fake” majorities, be sure to digest these figures before going on the warpath. Jean Chrétien’s Liberal majorities were:

  • 1993: 41.41% popular vote; 18.6% over-representation
  • 1997: 38.46% popular vote; 13.0% over-representation
  • 2000: 40.85% popular vote; 16.3% over-representation

Stephen Harper’s 2011 Conservative majority, with 39.63% of popular vote (i.e., more than Chrétien’s in 1997), is 14.3% over-represented in the House.

So you can see how easy it is to be accused of hypocrisy by gleeful Conservatives: Just because you may have only recently figured out that the first-past-the-post system is not serving us well, that has been the case in this country for nearly a century.

Are We Really That Ahistorical?

Jack Layton in CommonsEverybody except the elected members of the NDP seem to have concluded that the NDP reaching Official Opposition status within a majority parliament means that it has less power in the House of Commons than it did as the 3rd opposition party holding the balance of power within a minority government. Even the much-respected Chantal Hébert restated this affirmation in one of her Toronto Star columns this week.

As usual, Hébert brings up more valid points than most other pundits as to why this will be the case. For instance, she points to the facts that many of the MPs now in the Commons have operated within the strident environment of the last three minority governments, and that the opposition in the now Conservative-dominated Senate is in fact Liberal, not NDP. But unlike other pundits, she does not put much emphasis (thankfully!) on the relative youth and inexperience of the NDP caucus, which is an argument that’s already getting old.

As a keen observer of the political arena throughout my adult life, I don’t dismiss outright such assertions. However, I also remember other majority governments that were not exactly cake walks for the governing party. For instance, in 1984, Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives secured the largest parliamentary majority in Canadian history, reducing the opposition ranks to only 71 seats: 40 Liberals, 30 NDP, and 1 independent. But from that little core of 40 Liberals emerged what became known as the “Rat Pack” — Official Opposition members who managed extremely well at becoming a thorn in the side of the governing PCs by finding and exposing one PC scandal or faux pas after the other and raising a lot of dust not just in Parliament, but in the mind of the Canadian public. For its part, the prominence of the then 3rd-place NDP rose to the point that not only did Ed Broadbent become the most popular federal party leader but also that party recorded its best result ever (until 2011) in the election that followed in 1988, raising its seat count to 43.

What’s more, much has been said about how the perceived or actual vote splitting in 2011 was similar to what was seen in that 1988 election, dubbed the “Free Trade” election. The incumbent Progressive Conservatives were in favour and both opposition parties were against. Therefore, voters who were against free trade split their vote between either the Liberals and the NDP. Had they voted for who turned out to be the second-place finisher (mostly the Liberals in Ontario eastward and the NDP west of Ontario), the Liberals would have won a minority government with 61 more seats than the 83 they actually won while the NDP would have won 20 more seats, taking them to 63.

In case you’re thinking that I’m pulling these numbers out of my ass, check out these calculations based on the actual results. You can even identify the exact ridings where vote splitting has occurred. To understand how I came to these numbers: In all the ridings where the PCs won with less than 50% + 1 of the votes, if the second- and third-place finishers were the Liberals and the NDP, I gave all the votes of the third-place finisher to the second-place finisher. Again, some would correctly argue that not all votes to the third-party finisher are that easily transferrable; however, the election of 1988 was focussed on that one issue of free trade, and votes to either party were an irrefutable rejection of it.

This analysis gives a good indication of the shortcomings of an electoral system based on the assumption of having only 2 major parties when there are in fact 3 or more. However, I believe it also demonstrates that there is NOT a simple correlation between the size and the strength of the combined opposition in the House of Commons. A relatively puny opposition from 1984 to 1988 lead to one of the most divisive and historical election against a governing party that dropped from 50% to 43% of the popular vote and had become distrusted by a majority of Canadians, albeit not quite as large a majority as the one following the 2011 election, but then the field in 2011 was even more crowded with the Bloc Québécois pulling just under 900,000 votes (roughly 6% nationally).

Although I expect growing pains for the NDP and its large caucus of newbies, I would think they would have to royally shoot themselves in the foot repeatedly to lose all the gains the party has made in 2011. Assuming that they will do badly is as big an assumption as believing the Liberals will rebuild in 4 years rather than go the way of the Progressive Conservatives after their humiliation of 1993 (when they went from a governing majority to only 2 seats in the Commons). Nothing is certain yet. But I’m hoping that members of the new Offical Opposition might grow well into their job and manage somehow not only to reduce the Conservatives’ fervour but also bring forward legislation that the Conservatives could not afford to ignore if indeed they wish to cling to power. In fact, that may be a danger for the NDP in that it may not get the credit come the 2015 election. Unless, of course, it becomes so effective that the stamp will be unmistakably its own, not the Conservatives’.

Precisely What We Didn’t Want

On the morning of May 3, about 60% of Canadians woke up with precisely the federal election outcome they didn’t want: a Conservative majority government.

Federal party leaders

But, at the same time, the outcome was filled with surprises:

  • an historic breakthrough of the NDP, going from 4th party in the House of Commons with only 37 seats to Official Opposition (2nd party) with 103 seats;
     
  • the same NDP taking 59 of Québec’s 75 seats, which is more than the Bloc Québécois’ highwater mark of 54 back in 1993 and 2004;
     
  • the decimation of the Bloc Québécois to only 4 seats in the Commons, thereby stripping it of official party status;
     
  • the unexpected defeats in their respective riding of Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe to the NDP and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to the Conservatives;
     
  • the entry of the Green Party through party leader Elizabeth May in her riding in British Columbia.

The vote counting was barely over that many started talking of a “merger of the left” (that is, between the NDP and the Liberals) in order stop the vote splitting between the two that allowed the Conservatives to win a simple plurality of votes in some ridings. On Facebook, someone created a page upon noticing that there were 14 ridings where the race was so tight that just a bit more than 6,000 votes made the differrence between a minority or majority Conservative government.

As intriguing and compelling as that theory is, it is, in my opinion as someone who has studied election results very closely, a bit off the mark. It is true that such a slight shift could have made a difference, but it doesn’t take into account the historical trend in those ridings, plus merely adding the votes of the candidates losing to the Conservatives assumes that those votes are flexible and interchangeable. This approach made sense in the 1990s and early 2000s when the right had splintered from the Progressive Conservatives to the Reform/Alliance, as the sum of the two did represent the vote on the centre right. But there was never such a “divorce” between the Liberals and the NDP; the NDP did not spring out of the womb of the Liberals as the Reform/Alliance had of the PC’s.

So, what I really wanted to know, based on the election results of 2011 and 2008, is whether or not there was bleeding of votes from one party to another opposing the Conservatives that led to actual vote splitting between those two parties and resulted in the Conservtives to come from behind and win enough ridings to tip them into majority territory. Thus I devised a formula that:

  1. eliminated the ridings the Conservatives already held going into the 2011 election;
  2. eliminated the ridings the Conservatives won in 2011 with at least a 50% + 1 vote majority;
  3. found the percentage of votes that “leaked” from the third- to second-place party from 2008 to 2011;
  4. based on the total number of votes in 2011 in each riding, calculated the actual number of votes that moved from the second party to the third (and may have even placed the third party in 2008 the second party in 2011), and finally,
  5. if the sum of the above number and the actual number of votes received by the second-place party was greater than the number of votes received by the Conservatives, vote-splitting was deemed to have occurred.

Interestingly, I also arrived at 14 ridings, but a much higher number of votes that had split, namely 46,496. While that may deflate the bubble of adherents to what I’m calling the Facebook theory, it still represents a mere 0.32% of the 14,723,980 valid ballots cast.

My full analysis can be found here. It concludes that, of those 46,496 votes, only 1,273 moved from the Liberals to the Greens and the remainder moved from the Liberals to the NDP, thereby unseating the Liberal incumbent. Eight of the 14 ridings are in Toronto, where the Conservatives made major gains, but so did the NDP — all at the expense of Liberal incumbents. So, had voters in those eight ridings stayed with the Liberals instead of riding the NDP orange wave, the likes of Ken Dryden and Martha Hall Findlay would still be sitting members of Parliament.

In short, the bleeding of 45,223 votes from the Liberals to the NDP in 13 of those ridings, including my hometown of Moncton, and 1,273 from the Liberals to the Greens in one of those ridings, gave us a 166-seat Conservative majority instead of a 152-seat Conservative minority.

And, of course, if we had a workable form of proportional representation (i.e, a MMP or “mixed-member proportional” system as I prefer and as advocated by the 2004 Law Commission looking into electoral reform in Canada), the Conservatives would be nowhere close to a majority with their 39.63% of the popular vote nationally.

Caution is advised when considering these tables, as they are extrapolating from the actual data from the 2011 election which was a first-past-the-post mode of voting. It is entirely possible that, if given 2 votes, voters might choose a candidate from one party as their local MP and a candidate from another party as their regional MP. That said, the tables below consider the popular vote, retain two-thirds of the seats as FPTP for local MPs, and redistribute the remaining third of the seats for the regional MPs according to a formula that takes into account local seats won to assign a proportion of regional seats so that the final result is a closer reflection of the popular vote.

Federal election 2011: Scheme A
Scheme A divides the country by its provinces and territories, but per the recommendations of the 2004 Law Commission that studied electoral reform, it divides Québec and Ontario into two and three regions respectively. Unlike the commission’s recommendation, however, the three territories are grouped as one region, thereby keeping 308 seats in the Commons.
  FPTP MMP
Reg. Tot. Conservative Party of Canada New Democratic Party of Canada Liberal Party of Canada Bloc Québécois Green Party of Canada Conservative Party of Canada New Democratic Party of Canada Liberal Party of Canada Bloc Québécois Green Party of Canada
NL 7 1 2 4 0 0 2 2 3 0 0
NS 11 4 3 4 0 0 4 4 3 0 0
NB 10 8 1 1 0 0 6 2 2 0 0
PE 4 1 0 3 0 0 2 0 2 0 0
QC1 38 5 30 0 3 0 7 20 3 8 0
QC2 37 0 29 7 1 0 4 20 6 7 0
ON1 35 25 7 3 0 0 18 9 8 0 0
ON2 35 27 7 1 0 0 18 10 7 0 0
ON3 36 21 8 7 0 0 15 9 12 0 0
MB 14 11 2 1 0 0 8 4 2 0 0
SK 14 13 0 1 0 0 8 5 1 0 0
AB 28 27 1 0 0 0 20 5 2 0 1
BC 36 21 12 2 0 1 17 12 5 0 2
No 3 2 1 0 0 0 2 1 0 0 0
Ca 308 166 103 34 4 1 131 103 56 15 3

Federal election 2011: Scheme B
Scheme B divides the country into nine regions of more or less 35 ridings per region. This scheme retains the divisions for Québec and Ontario into two and three regions respectively, as recommended by the 2004 Law Commission that studied electoral reform, and results in keeping 308 seats in the Commons. Atlantic (Atl.) is Newfoundland and Labarador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island; Prairies (P-NU) is Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nunavut; AB-NT is Alberta and the Northwest Territories; BC-YK is British Columbia and the Yukon.
  FPTP MMP
Reg. Tot. Conservative Party of Canada New Democratic Party of Canada Liberal Party of Canada Bloc Québécois Green Party of Canada Conservative Party of Canada New Democratic Party of Canada Liberal Party of Canada Bloc Québécois Green Party of Canada
Atl. 32 14 6 12 0 0 12 10 10 0 0
QC1 38 5 30 0 3 0 7 20 3 8 0
QC2 37 0 29 7 1 0 4 20 6 7 0
ON1 35 25 7 3 0 0 18 9 8 0 0
ON2 35 27 7 1 0 0 18 10 7 0 0
ON3 36 21 8 7 0 0 15 9 12 0 0
P-NU 29 25 2 2 0 0 17 8 4 0 0
AB-NT 29 27 2 0 0 0 21 5 2 0 1
BC-YK 37 22 12 2 0 1 17 12 5 0 3
Ca 308 166 103 34 4 1 129 103 57 15 4

Can’t Get Crazier Than That

It seems I get myself in a knot every federal election, and this one is no different, unfortunately.

Federal party leaders

For the uninitiated to Canadian politics, it’s important to remember that we do not vote directly for the Prime Minister; we vote for a member of parliament for our electoral district, with each candidate representing a particular party. As such, francophones better name the current “season”: they refer to it as les élections (plural), for there are in fact 308 distinct races across the country. And the leader of the party that has won the most races is the first to be called by the Governor-General to form a government and gain the confidence of Parliament.

When one party wins more races (or “seats”) than the sum of all the other party race victories combined, we end up with what is called a majority government. But in the previous three federal elections (2004, 2006, 2008), the first-place party has won fewer seats than all other parties combined. Thus we end up with a minority government, or as the British call it, a hung parliament. In order to maintain the confidence of Parliament, the government must have either a formal coalition with another party (or other parties) in the House of Commons, or an informal case-by-case “alliance.” The Liberal minority elected in 2004 and the two subsequent Conservative minorities have operated under the latter scenario.

In my mind, this explanation doesn’t seem terribly difficult to grasp, unless voters get into that “damsel in distress” mindset I decried in my previous post.

I’ve written and researched extensively the perverse effects of having 308 “elections” in what is called a first-past-the-post system (FPTP) like ours. The worse effect is that all the votes cast for losing candidates in a given district (named “riding” in Canada) amount to nothing. The only votes that count are the votes that elected the winning candidate in any given race, and the only thing that counts when forming a government is which party has won the most races.

When there are more than two viable winners in a given race, there’s a very high risk of what’s known as “vote splitting,” where the sum of the second- and third-place finishers may be somewhat or considerably higher than the total of the first-place finisher. In some ridings, the same first-place winning party consistently gets more than 50 percent of the votes, so if that winning party happens not to be your party, you can vote for your party in good conscience yet not expect anything in return, like “winning” your election. On the island of Montréal, there are assured seats for the Bloc and assured seats for the Liberals, with only a few seats liable to swing.

But that was until this election campaign.

A week is an eternity during a campaign, thus what seemed like an obvious outcome 10 days ago may not be so obvious now and may not end up being the outcome on election day in a week. For instance, nobody saw coming the rise of the NDP, especially in Québec. In fact, if some small-sample polls can be relied upon, the NDP may be polling first on the island of Montréal. But is this a real change of heart that will materialize in the privacy of the polling booths next week? Or worse, will this lead to the kind of vote-splitting, this time on the centre-left, that gave the Liberals three consecutive majorities from 1993 to 2000 and this time would lead to a Conservative majority?

Chantal Hébert is by far one of the most respected political commentators in Canada. I have rarely if ever disagreed with her analyses because she merely calls it like it is; whoever pulls a good or a bad political stunt, regardless of party affiliation, she points it out. A few weeks ago, before the sudden rise of the NDP, she suggested that the Liberal stronghold of Mount Royal across the street from me (for which PM Trudeau was the MP and has always been Liberal) could turn Conservative given their strong Jewish candidate, the heavy representation of the Jewish community in the riding, and the Conservatives’ strong stand in defense of Israel. Similarly, on my side of the street in the riding of Westmount–Ville-Marie, I had no worry until a few days ago about voting NDP since I figured the Liberal will get in no matter what. But what if all the NDP votes this time come at the expense of the Liberal but not in sufficent number for either to win the riding? Then the Conservative candidate could sneak up from behind.

Other more partisan commentators, like Liza Frulla on RDI’s Le Club des ex, don’t believe that there’s such a thing as strategic voting — at least not enough to warrant much discussion of it. I’m not so sure, though. If I were in Moncton where the Liberals and Conservatives are very close, I’d probably vote my second choice, namely Liberal. In Halifax, I’d stick to my first choice. But right now, in Westmount–Ville-Marie, am I in a position where I could re-create the 1988 vote splitting that gave Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives their second (albeit reduced) majority? Is this riding so deeply Liberal red that I needn’t worry, or is an orange tsunami sweeping over it as in all of Montréal? It’s hard to imagine tony Westmount ever going NDP, but then there’s neighbouring Outremont which nobody before 2007 could have imagined being NDP.

I hate having only one vote and how that vote won’t count if I choose a losing candidate. More than ever before, we need a mixed-member proportional system in this country. We’ve had too many “wrong winner” elections or crazy results in the past decades both federally and provincially — and by that I simply mean that too many governments have been formed despite not reflecting or downright contradicting the popular vote.

1979 PC minority
35.89% of the popular vote gave Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives a minority with 136 seats, but 40.11% of the popular vote gave Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals only 114 seats.

1984 PC majority landslide
Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives won 50% of the votes but got 75% of the seats in the House of Commons.

1988 PC reduced majority
Vote splitting between the Liberals and NDP, who together got 52% percent of the vote in what essentially turned out to be a referendum election for or against free trade with the United States (with the PCs for and the other two strongly against), gave the two parties only 126 seats against the PCs 169 seats won with 43% of the vote.

1987 New Brunswick Liberal sweep
Frank McKenna’s Liberals remarkably earned 60% of the popular vote but was rewarded with 100% of the seats in the provincial legislature.

1998 Parti Québécois majority
With nearly 1% less of the popular vote, the incumbent Parti Québécois formed a strong majority of 76 seats against the Liberals’ 48 seats and the ADQ’s single seat.

The examples of over-rewarding the winning party abound. No party earning less than 50% of the popular vote should ever have a legislative majority. Simple as that.

A Spring of Discontent

So, here we go again!

Canada Votes 2011

Given that I started this blog in December 2002, I am now looking forward to commenting on the fourth federal election since aMMusing has been around. That’s a lot in a parliamentary democracy that used to yield majority governments that could remain at the reigns of power for up to five years. But, unlike other people, I am not complaining about having to go to the polls yet again; I have far too many other things getting on my tits during this election campaign.

In no particular order…

Heavily on my tits are the people who complain about having to go vote again. That totally slays me. We currently have people dying in massive civil unrest throughout northern Africa and the Middle East (not to mention the sad, sad situation that’s been going on for months in the Ivory Coast) to obtain or uphold the fundamental right to vote in order to effect significant change for citizens, and people here are complaining about a detour of at most one hour (depending on where one lives) in order to cast a ballot. It’s sickening, puerile, and quite frankly ungrateful and I can’t bear hearing it any longer.

Having said that, I understand that, for many people, elections in Canada seem like an exercise in futility. Some argue that the differences between the two parties most likely to form a government — the incumbent Conservatives and the Liberals who were outsted in 2006 — are not terribly significant, or that, in the end, all politicians are cut from the same cheap and crappy cloth and have only their own interest at heart. But that kind of facile cynicism and intellectual laziness also gets on my tits. It makes it sound like we’re a nation of damsels in distress, car broken down alongside the highway, hoping some knight in white armour will come along to save us. Many, it seems, are quite happy to simply pick only one or two items that suit them from the smorgasbord of promises laid out by the party leaders while ignoring all the other items that are fundamentally bad for everyone else, including themselves.

In my very first days of blogging in 2002, I linked to the Political Compass. website. Eight years later, the CBC / Radio-Canada made available an adaptation of it called Vote Compass, developed by the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship. What emerges from either tool is that almost nobody can be 100 percent aligned to a single party or political view. That said, both tools have had their share of criticism for being biased: the former for skewing to the left, and the latter for either favouring the Liberal party or suggesting that staunch NDP supporters would in fact have a better political home with the Green Party.

As a matter of fact, I’m one of the many who leans NDP who got Green as my result on Vote Compass, with NDP second and Conservative the furthest away from my core political values. But, a SINGLE word in a question can make all the difference. In my case, the word “violent” in the statement that “Violent young offenders should be sentenced as adults” made all the difference and — gasp! — placed my squarely among the Conservatives’ camp! Remove the word “violent,” however, and my answer might be sufficiently different to place me back into my more traditional political house. But for sake of argument, let’s say that this matter was very important to me and I agreed with that statement (with or without the word “violent”) as well as one other position embraced by the Conservatives (whatever that might be), wouldn’t it behoove me to look at the party’s other positions to ensure that they more or less aligned with my beliefs in other matters? I don’t agree at all with the NDP’s position on Afghanistan, but in the final analysis, I find more pros than cons in that political house, including on policy matters that would either not benefit me or cost me more.

Meanwhile, setting aside the bogus argument that all politicians are crooks, voters can be forgiven to some extent for believing that their vote doesn’t really count. I’ve said it many, MANY times at aMMusing that I believe that’s partially a derivative of our antiquated first-past-the-gate system that leads to false majorities and literally leads to millions of votes nationwide not yielding a seat in Parliament, or each seat won “costing” far more votes to one party compared to the others. It kills me that mixed-member proportional (MMP) schemes have been rejected in two provinces, in large part because they’ve been presented as “SO complicated” and “SO unsexy” (by its name). Again, friggin’ damsels in distress! Can’t wrap their pretty little minds around having two ballots to fill out instead of only one. Poor dears.

So here I am now, living in a federal riding that withstood the Progressive Conservative tides of 1984 and 1988 and remained Liberal. Here, the Liberals could run an inanimate object as the candidate and it would get in. That means I can vote NDP (as 23% of us did in 2008) and not worry about splitting the left-of-centre vote and consequently giving the seat to the Conservatives. Similarly, if I lived to the east of where I am now (e.g., either the riding where the Village is [and also Torn’s neighbourhood] or the riding where Cleopatrick lives), I could do the same since they’ll go Bloc Québécois no matter what and not give the Conservatives the seats. However, if I lived in the Québec City area and the race in my riding were between the Conservative and the Bloc Québécois, you could bet your right nut (or tit) that I wouldn’t hesitate to vote BQ even if I am not in favour of Québec sovereignty. In short, strategic voting — that is, voting for one’s second choice to prevent vote splitting in favour of the candidate and party one completely opposes — is only a factor in places like my hometown of Moncton as well as other parts of the Maritimes, the “905” area code surrounding greater Toronto, the city of Vancouver and Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and the region around Québec City. And, of course, there’s an underlying assumption that the Conservatives would keep the ridings they already hold.

In that sense, there is SOME validity to the claim that one person’s vote doesn’t make a difference. But that’s a systemic problem. Interestingly, mere weeks after the 2008 election, the Conservatives threatened to do away with the per-vote subsidy to parties and nearly brought down the newly elected government in the process. Now, it is being clearly stated as an objective of the Conservatives should they be re-elected. Instituted by the Chrétien Liberals in 2003, this policy is:

  1. fair,
  2. proportional,
  3. credited for giving some value to votes that may not have yielded a seat in Parliament (e.g., the Green Party with its nearly 1 million votes in 2008), and
  4. intended to limit reliance on funding from well-financed lobbies, corporate interests, and unions.

When fierce opponents of the Bloc Québécois (especially outside Québec) find out that the subsidy represents 80% of the BQ’s funding, they become outraged and argue that Canadian taxpayers’ money is being used to subsidizes “traitors.” The argument falls apart quickly, though, when one considers that ALL parties reaching the 2% threshhold of popular vote nationally receive this $2 per vote subsidy, and last I checked, voters in Québec are still Canadian voters during a federal election. Moreover, the Bloc existed for 13 years without the subsidy. I repeat: I still don’t have an affinity towards the Bloc’s main plank, which is full sovereignty for Québec; however, in its 20 years of existence, the Bloc has managed to support legislation that has benefitted not only Québec but the rest of Canada as well. Yes, the primary focus of Bloc MPs is on Québec, but people I know who have met with Bloc MPs on various matters such as post-secondary education have reported that they are extremely well-prepared and do their job as MP right.

On a totally different register: My tits start to bleed when I hear that Harper’s Conservative government fell on a motion on non-confidence over the budget.

It. Did. Not.

The government fell on a motion of non-confidence due to being the first in Canadian history to have been found in contempt of Parliament. But the opposition is too damn feckless to make this the big deal that it is. And at that point, my tits go from bleeding to falling off my chest.

The result: Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff may very well be committing political suicide before our own eyes. Damsels-in-distress voters may buy into the argument that seven years of minority governments is enough, so let’s realize Mr. Lego Hair Harper’s wet dream of a Conservative majority. (I apologize for the truly revolting image created by the juxtaposition of “Harper” and “wet dream.”) And next thing you know: the 60 percent of us who will have opposed this nasty, divisive, secretive, dishonest, American-style conversatism will enter with great dread a very unsettling political Dark Age.