One Last Take
I know you want me to shut up already about the election, but I did a little bit of number crunching tonight and I find the results very interesting.
If in Canada we had proportional representation following Alternative A of a mixed-member parliament (MMP) as proposed by democraticSPACE‘s Greg Morrow, both the recently elected and previous governments would have been unusually weak. In other words, with the adjustments provided through a PR system, Martin’s Liberal government would only have been marginally stronger than Harper’s Conservative government. Under Morrow’s Alternative A, we would cast two ballots: one for the candidate in our riding, who would win the seat the old-fashioned way, and one for the party, to which would be attached a closed list of regional (provincial) candidates, in the order they would be selected (thus increasing the chances of sending more women and minorities to Parliament).
|2004 Martin Liberal Government|
|2006 Harper Conservative Government|
For those of you who would be tempted to say that an MMP electoral system would have us back at the polls every 18 months, think again. First, elections would be held on set dates (every three or four years). Second, the notion of confidence votes would be removed from money matters, and a government could only be brought down in extreme circumstances. And even if the government were to fall, the party with the second largest plurality of seats would be called upon to form a coalition government with one or more of the smaller parties. Hence, if the testimony and report from the Gomery Commission on the sponsorship scandal had done the ravage that it has, a mechanism to express a lack of confidence in the Liberals would have been available to the opposition parties. Then, the Governor General, most likely, would have had to intervene and tell the Conservatives, “Hey, you guys! Head the government!” Fortunately, MMP would be have built-in correctives to prevent an extremely regional party, like the Bloc Québécois, from being called upon. In fact, had we had MMP in 1993, Canada would not have been in the peculiar situation of having to call upon the sovereignist Bloc to form Her Majesty’s Loyal Official Opposition!
Some might also be tempted to say that legislation would be slower to pass with MMP because of the constant need for concessus. However, I find that constraint far preferable to having false majority governments under FPTP that end up giving the country de facto one-party rule, where the sentiments of the real majority as expressed through the popular vote — often as much as 60% — is essentially ignored. The reason why minority governments are painful under the current system is that parties are more inclined to bring down the government for purely opportunistic reasons, namely hoping to form the government or increase the party’s number of seats to better reflect their standing in the popular vote. People have become cynical about politics in large part because it has become more about improving one’s party than running the country.
Morrow does warn of shortfalls in the above calculations because they are derived from actual voting results under the old FPTP system, meaning, for instance, that a portion of the votes were probably cast strategically.
Naturally, it is difficult to accurately simulate the results of the 2004 election using a new system. Firstly, any change to the system (i.e. to ensure virtually all votes count towards forming Parliament) would certainly alter individual voting behavior. Certainly, strategic voting would be decreased significantly — people would be free to ‘vote their conscience.’ Secondly, under our current system, a vote for a particular candidate is not necessarily a vote for a particular party. In some cases, a person\’s affection for a local individual might cause him or her to overlook his or her party affiliation. So, it is not entirely accurate to count a vote for an individual Liberal in a riding as a vote for the Liberal party generally (and similarly for the other parties). Thus, tallying the party votes from 2004, is not an exact match with the expect results under a new system. However, we can show how the same votes would be re-allocated under a new electoral system.
If you’re interested in seeing my calculations in detail, I have saved my Excel spreadsheets in PDF format. The last page of each of these files provides a nationwide and province-by-province summary.
Also keep in mind that the electorate is not always as divided as it is right now, so the governing party under MMP wouldn’t always be as weak as those we’re seeing now. By the same token, however, it would be nice to have a system where a Toronto Conservative or an Edmonton Liberal would have an MP to turn to.
And by the way, it’s a mistake to consider Canada’s Liberals as progressive and therefore on the left. As a centre party, the Liberals have several right-leaning members who have more in common with the Conservatives, like they have several left-leaning members who have more in common with the NDP and the BQ. And the BQ, too, does have its right-leaning members. So when you see 114 Conservatives in the second table above, you shouldn’t assume there would be 194 lefties beating them up at every turn. Additionally, with more free votes in the House, which wouldn’t have the paralyzing effect they can have currently in a FPTP-elected parliament, there could be myriad combinations for 155 — the magic number for a majority to pass legislation. Towing the party line would become unnecessary, thus falling out of fashion, with citizens of the country being the winners because their MPs’ votes on issues would be more in keeping with their constituents’ desires.