More of the Same

So! Canada went through another federal election — the third in about four years — and this one yielded essentially the same results as the previous: a Conservative minority government. But with 37.65% of the popular vote compared to 36.27% in the January 2006 election — a mere 1.4% increase nation-wide — the Conservatives managed to get elected in 19 more seats. In other words, having won 46.43% of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, the Conservatives’ overrepresentation this time compared to the popular vote is 8.78%, whereas, by winning only 40.26% of the seats after the 2006 race, their overrepresentation was a mere 3.99%, which made them at the time the weakest minority government in Canada’s history.

2008 Federal Election Results
Oct. 24 judicial recount
One seat from the Bloc Québécois has shifted to the Liberals.

Again, if we had a form of proportional representation like most democratic countries — Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. remaining the only standouts — the Conservatives would not have advanced as they did this time. In fact:

  • the Conservatives would be in the same spot, give or take a seat or two;
  • the Liberals would have gone down in standing to roughly where they went (plus maybe five seats);
  • the Greens, this time having well passed the generally accepted 5% threshold of the nation-wide popular vote, would have 20 seats instead of being shut out of Parliament, and
  • the number of votes that would not have yielded a seat whatsoever would have gone from about 1 million of a total of 13.8 million (7.22%) to a mere 64,000 or so (0.46%).

You can study the results at, a site I developed (but still haven’t finished), which takes actual election results and recalculates what they could have been using the d’Hondt method that has been adopted in many countries. I personally have always favoured a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system over the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system because it’s mathematically and conceptually a heck of a lot easier to grasp.

Among the caveats to keep in mind when looking at these calculations:

  • it can be problematic to take results from a “First Past the Post” (FPTP) election because voters may have behaved differently at the polls in a “Mixed-Member Proportional” (MMP) election, where they could vote for different parties locally and regionally, so, as a corollary:
    • the recalculation at my website assumes no such vote splitting, and
    • it assumes there was no strategic voting (which there definitely was in this election);
  • the percentage of seats that should remain FPTP could be as high as 75% or as low as 50% (the website allows you to adjust that percentage to see various scenarios);
  • the percentage of minimum popular vote nation-wide to be eligible for regional seats has been set as low as 2 or 3% in some countries and as high as 10% in other countries (again, the website allows you to adjust that percentage), and
  • there might be a variance of a few seats if the formula were applied by regions instead of nation-wide.

Perhaps the only possible gain of this election, for which the voter turnout was the lowest in the modern history of Canadian federal elections, is that many woke up October 15 feeling frustrated by how over 937,000 votes (or nearly 6.8%) nation-wide can lead to one party (the Greens) obtaining no seat in Parliament, while roughly 442,000 more votes (or 10%) nation-wide can lead to another party (the Bloc Québécois) winning 49 seats. Or how yet another party (the NDP) can get 1.135 million more votes than another party (the Bloc Québécois), but find itself with 12 fewer seats despite polling just over 18% of the national popular vote.

While the highly negative tone of this lacklustre election campaign was likely the main contributor to so much voter apathy, the fact many voters saw first-hand the extent to which their vote can sometimes have no impact on the final outcome has, as well, certainly generated much more talk of electoral reform on online discussion forums. Indeed, a voter like me in the riding of Westmount–Ville-Marie knew all along that it would go Liberal even if that party had nominated Jackson as its candidate, while non-Conservative voters like Matthew in a riding like Guelph had to wrestle with the notion of strategic voting in order to achieve what they perceived as a “less bad” outcome. The fact a party that draws at least two per cent of the popular vote nationally or at least five per cent in a given riding receives $1.95 per vote is often not enough encouragement to vote with one’s conscience.