Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sad voters show need for proportional representation

VICTORIA - The email arrived from a friend with a question about voting in this election. She wanted to make sure one particular candidate was defeated in her riding.
Given that, she said, she was prepared to put aside her own first choice in favour of pragmatism. Which party has the best chance of toppling the bad guy, she asked, because that candidate would get her vote.
It’s a grim reality this election. Too many people are not happy with the choices they have been offered and are casting votes out of fear, not hope.
They are fearful that a Harper government would reduce individual rights, or launch some destructive law-and-order crusade that would make things worse in communities. They are worried that the Liberals would take electoral success as a sign that corruption and cronyism are acceptable practices. These voters see the NDP mostly as a spoiler in a few dozen ridings.
Ipsos Reid went beyond the usual questions in a late campaign poll and asked how people felt about the parties. The poll found 60 per cent of British Columbians agreed with the statement that Stephen Harper “is just too extreme to be Canada’s prime minister.” And 59 per cent agreed that “the federal Liberal party is fundamentally corrupt and doesn’t deserve to be re-elected.” The New Democrats didn't escape unscathed - 42 per cent agreed that voting NDP is just a wasted vote.”
The choice, for a significant number of Canadians, is which is the least offensive - corruption, extremism or irrelevance.
I’m sure there are voters out there looking forward to the election because they will have the chance to vote for a party offering a vision that really excites them.
I just haven’t met many of them.
There are practical problems with the kind of strategic voting that’s aimed at defeating a candidate or party. There are too few reliable riding-level polls to provide useful information about which candidate is in second place. Even with that information, it’s impossible to anticipate how other voters will react to the changing circumstances.
One obvious solution is a shift to some form of proportional representation, so that voters can be confident that their ballot will count for something more than $1.75 in government funding for the party of their choice. Supporters would be able to vote Green without wondering if they have wasted the opportunity to help chose a government. Proportional representation would ensure that Parliament more closely reflected the popular vote.
The New Democrats and the Greens support a change to proportional representation. Conservatives say - somewhat unenthusiastically - that they are willing to look at the option. Liberals say no to change.
If there is a minority government, NDP leader Jack Layton is likely to make some action on electoral change one of his conditions for offering support. (It's an issue the New Democrats could have exploited more effectively in the campaign, given public dissatisfaction with the way politics are working now.)
But right now, we have the first-past-the-post system. Many voters are struggling with the idea of strategic voting. Some are wondering how to block a party from forming government, or defeat a candidate they find objectionable.
Others are going farther. The same Ipsos poll found nine per cent of British Columbians would change their vote if they thought a Conservative majority government was in the offing.
Again, those are risky and uncertain calculations. If enough people who fear a Conservative majority government shift their votes, the unintended result could be a Liberal minority.
The real answer is reform, from the way parties nominate candidates to the way voters elect them. Voting is supposed to make you feel good - like you're choosing a future for Canada that makes you proud, and hopeful.
Too many Canadians are going to instead feel sad as they vote on Monday, and too many aren't going to vote at all.
Footnote: Voter turnout in the 2004 election was a record-low 60 per cent of registered voters. Given that many people who meet the criteria aren't registered, that means participation was around 50 per cent. The last winter election, in 1980, saw 69-per-cent turnout. That was the lowest participation level in 27 years.


Anonymous said...

People who shift their ideas back and forth make me shake my head. Some group in this neck of the woods supposedly represent Bear Mountain, a rather upscale development that is huge. A flyer showed up today even though we arn't in the riding. It attacked the NDP both federally and provincially. Threw in fast cats and a aborted pay raise for MLA, as if only the NDP had been involved. They went on about little business needs people from the two parties, but on the winning side.

Wait till the last poll is in and vote for that candidate to make sure he is on the governmet side of the house. In my little world, you have convictions and believe the little guys count as well as the monies folks. So I vote left win or lose. But I vote, having never missed a local provincial or federal once since old enough to vote. It was sometimes a bit difficult but doable. I voted for a candidate in Edmonton while in Greenland on a day trip. What a crazy election this is shaping up to be.

CuriosityKilledTheCat said...


Now, check the latest democraticspace seat projections below: note that by this time tomorrow – if current trends continue – the Liberals and NDP will win more seats than the Tories.

So? Time for some discussions in smoke-filled rooms between some Layton and Martin operatives – how about a two year Pact, with the two parties meeting every 6 months to set the agenda for the next 6 months ..... and an election in say 3 years time?

Come on, Paul; come on Jack – save Canada from rightwing neocon imported politics!

Jan 18, 2006 Election Update: Liberals Pick Up in Ontario
Wednesday January 18th 2006, 11:55 pm
Filed under: Canadian Politics, Election Forecast
Latest seat projections (Jan 18) show a continued slight upward movement for the Liberals in Ontario, shifting several close seats back to the Liberals. We’ll have to keep an eye on the polls right up until the last moment to see whether this movement represents a trend or a statistical blip. These results still have a Conservative minority with either the Bloc or NDP potentially supporting them.

TOTAL SEATS 93 126 29 0 59 1
% OF SEATS 30% 41% 10% 0% 19% 0%

CuriosityKilledTheCat said...

Unheard Voices and Democracy in Canada:

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?” (my underlining).
“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.