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
FPTP 135 99 19 54 0 1
MMP 117 96 50 36 12 1
2006 Harper Conservative Government
FPTP 103 124 29 51 0 1
MMP 94 114 56 34 12 1

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.

{2} Thoughts on “One Last Take

  1. OMG! While I appreciate your analysis and certainly agree that PR is something we should be pushing for in this country, especially now that you’ve explained it so clearly…but shouldn’t you be working? 😉

  2. Unheard Voices and Democracy in Canada:

    I think you should beat the drum of proportional representation loudly and persistently, until we have a raging national debate about it in every province and every party.

    Why do I think proportional representation is a better system?

    Because of the unheard voices of voters in different parts of the country.

    The latest 2006 election illustrates this — I set out below an article by Fair Vote Canada — it shows that all parties are affected.


    Once again, Canada’s antiquated first-past-the-post system wasted millions of votes, distorted results, severely punished large blocks of voters, exaggerated regional differences, created an unrepresentative Parliament, and may possibly have even given us the wrong government.

    [Note: The following commentary is based on returns at 1:00am EST, January 24, 2006.]

    The chief victims of the January 23 federal election were:

    — Western Liberals: In the prairie provinces, Conservatives got three times as many votes as Liberals did, but won nearly ten times as many seats. In Alberta, the Conservative Party won 100% of the seats with 65% of the votes. The 500,000 Albertans who voted otherwise elected no one.

    — Urban Conservatives: The 400,000-plus Conservative voters in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver should have been able to elect about nine MPs, but instead elected no one. The three cities together will not have a single MP in the governing caucus, let alone the cabinet.

    — New Democrats: The NDP attracted a million more votes than the Bloc, but the voting system gave the Bloc 51 seats, the NDP 29. Nearly 18% of Canadians voted NDP, but the party won less than 10% of the seats and does not hold the balance of power, unlike the Liberals and the Bloc.

    — Green Party: More than 650,000 Green Party voters across the country elected no one, while 475,000 Liberal voters in Atlantic Canada elected 20 MPs.

    — Federalists and nationalists: As usual, the voting system turned entire regions of Canada into partisan fiefdoms, rather than allowing the diversity of views in all regions to be fairly represented in Parliament and within each national party.
    “How can anyone continue to think that this voting system gives us good geographic representation,” said Wayne Smith, President of Fair Vote Canada, “when it fragments and divides our country like this?”

    “Had results been fair, it is possible that we may have even seen a different government,” said Smith. “The Liberals, NDP, and Greens represent a majority, and together they would have held a majority of seats.”

    Had the same votes been cast under a proportional voting system, Fair Vote Canada projected that the seats allocation would have been approximately as follows:

    — Conservatives – 36.3% of the popular vote: 113 seats (not 124)

    — Liberals – 30.1% of the popular vote: 93 seats (not 103)

    — NDP – 17.5% of the popular vote: 59 seats (not 29)

    — Bloc – 10.5% of the popular vote: 31 seats (not 51)

    — Greens – 4.5% of the popular vote: 12 seats (not 0)

    However, Smith emphasized that speculation should be tempered.

    “With a different voting system, people would have voted differently,” he said. “There would have been no need for strategic voting. We would likely have seen higher voter turnout. We would have had different candidates – more women, and more diversity of all kinds. We would have had more real choices.” (my underlining).

    “The voting system really matters — a lot — and the system we have is simply not acceptable in a modern democracy.””

    Pretty dramatic results, eh?

    Of course, if the proportional representation system we adopted had a cutoff of at least 5% of total votes cast before seats were allotted, the Greens would — based on the above numbers — not have any seats. However, as Smith said, mire voters would probably have voted for the Greens to ensure their voice was heard in Parliament.

    The above seat allocation assumes a direct relationship between percentage of votes cast and number of seats gained. A mixed system would result in different results, but certainly results that did not shut out large blocks of voters across the country.

    Is it possible to introduce proportional representation in Canada? That would depend upon the three parties who hold the majority of votes in this Parliament.

    — However, should the Liberals and NDP run on a platform of proportional representation in the next election, and between them gain a majority of seats (a near certainty if this was part of their platform), then we could seen a better democracy in our country within five years.

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