Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
October 15, 2008

Elections in Canada

'First-past-the-post' election rules, like in yesterday's election to the Canadian House of Commons, produce results that do not reflect the public will. Is this really 'democratic'?

2008 Seats Seats % Popular Vote %
Conservative 143 46.4% 37.64%
Liberal 76 24.6% 26.23%
Bloc Québécois 50 16.2% 9.98%
New Democrats 37 12.0% 18.19%
Green 0 0% 6.95%
Independents and no affiliation 2 0.6% 0.65%

Pure proportional elections can also be problematic when there are significant regional differences or minority groups.

My personal preference is a mixed voting system where everybody has two votes. Half of the parliament members should be voted for in a first-two-past-the-post round and a runoff election round between those two. This would be the first vote. The second vote elects the other half of the parliament members proportionally through party lists.

Posted by b on October 15, 2008 at 14:36 UTC | Permalink

Comments

Yes, the system is flawed. But it is still the best system around. It is always interesting that people complain about this when they don't like the results - but when they like the results, the system is fine. The reason this system is the best is that it is simple. Coupled with paper ballots and we have a very good electoral system.

There are two changes I would make to make this system better. One, is to make the MP's elect the leaders. The political organizations elect the leader, meaning the leader is accountable to the party, not the MP's. This tends to make the MP's a bunch of nobodies and concentrates power in the leaders unelected offices. Two, I would like to see the ridings rebalanced for population. Unfortunately this would require a constitutional change and is unlikely. I believe some of the discrepancy you show would be changed with larger urban ridings and smaller rural ridings.

A third change I don't want but would help would be coalition governments. Unfortunately Ms. May and Mr. Dion are the the only two in Canada. It would be nice to see how the Bloc would fare with some of the burdens of governing. The reality is our traditions do not allow for coalition governments.

Posted by: Zero | Oct 15 2008 15:49 utc | 1

Sorry - one more change - too many of the parties make it next to impossible to challenge an incumbent. Too often there are single party ridings where it is next to impossible to get rid of the incumbent. See Calgary West for an example. Unfortunately all parties at all levels tend to protect deadbeats and dead weight.

This could be construed as interfering in private organizations, but I feel the political parties need a consistent set of rules that are special to them. Consistent in that the procedure to challenge an incumbent, whether a Alberta Provincial PC MLA or BQ MP should be standard and the same throughout the country.

Posted by: Zero | Oct 15 2008 15:59 utc | 2

Yes, the system is flawed. But it is still the best system around. It is always interesting that people complain about this when they don't like the results - but when they like the results, the system is fine. The reason this system is the best is that it is simple. Coupled with paper ballots and we have a very good electoral system.

Really!! Just because a system is simple does not make it better. Winner-take-all systems are the worst system there is for a representative democracy. Here is a list of why:

1. WTA systems support and reenforce a two party system. The US has the purest example of such a system. No other party has a chance of actually governing beyond the two dominant parties. In the US Congress out of 535 members there are no more than 2-3 non-republicans or non-democrats.

2. WTA effectively disenfranchizes all the people in a district who did not vote for the winner. Basically, those who did not vote for the winner are wasting their votes. In the distict where I vote, voting republican is a wasted vote. The district has been held by a democrat for a long long time. The Electoral College in the US is based on WTA. In CA, where I live, those who vote for McCain are wasting their vote. The last time a republican presidential candidate won CA was in 1988. Obama is leading McCain in CA by about 14%.

3. WTA makes campaigns more negative and acerbic. Since only one person can get elected per district, then the candidates MUST use all the negative campaigning at their disposal to win. In a PR system every party has a chance at winning even if you get 0.5% of the vote a party might get a seat or two in the legislature.

PR has its own problems, but they pale by comparison to the poor representation that WTA does. WTA is the most primitive and backward electoral system there is. It is very telling that most newer democracies tend to adopt either a PR system or a combo PR/WTA system. If you look at the post-communist stes of Eastern Europe, you will find that this is indeed the case.

Posted by: | Oct 15 2008 17:23 utc | 3

1) There are other reasons that contribute to the US having only two parties, and I would argue that funding is a big part of it. Canada's WTA has produced 4 healthy parties.

2) Maybe but I would argue that fair and balanced redistricting would make the congress more competitive. In the US case, changing the president away from electoral votes to total votes would ensure every vote counts.

3) Negative campaigning occurs because it works. When it no longer works it will not be used. People complain about negative campaigns when their side loses but not when they win. Look at the financial crisis, where every blowhard on FOX was saying now is not the time to place blame or there is enough blame to go around, trying to pre-empt getting hammered.

Posted by: Zero | Oct 15 2008 18:12 utc | 4

It is always interesting that people complain about this when they don't like the results - but when they like the results, the system is fine.

My interest in Canadian election results is about zero. I don't live or vote there. But I believe that a system that disenfranchised the majority of the voters is somewhat screwed. The result is small voter turnout - always bad in a democracy.

Posted by: b | Oct 15 2008 18:36 utc | 5

I haven't spoken about this before because it's such a downer but NZ is in the middle of an election campaign at the moment. Well have a mixed member proportional voting scheme here similar to the one b described.

Because the government made some major changes to the way campaigns are financed you would hardly know there is an election on, a good thing one would have thought but not when the media is all lined up on one side in a way that has never been seen here before.
The reasons are complex partially to do with some issues around business deciding the allegedly left leaning party has been in government too long and some blatant interference from the usual foreign states wanting to have a mob dependent on them in power.

The conservatives face a problem which should recommend the notion of a mixed proportional voting scheme to MoA habitues.
The reason tories hate these PR systems is that it is virtually impossible to get 51% of humans to vote against their interest by voting for a conservative party.

Right wing parties hold power by some form of diversion of votes under a first past the post system. One where many left votes are wasted. The alternative to that is a blatant boundary gerrymander in FPP so that even though more peeps vote for the slightly 'leftish' party the right wing one gets up. FPP adherents always seem to accept that a situation where the winning party attracts less votes than the losing party is OK.

So back to NZ, the media and the tories have waged an aggressive campaign against other smaller parties for several years and it seemed for a while they had created an artificial FPP by reducing the number of viable parties from 6 or 7 down to 3 or 4.

Many peeps are sick of the hubris and corruption which has overtaken the labour party after three terms in the job. Consequently they are voting for the tories despite them knowing these guys stuff up the economy everytime, get us in hock to pay out their mates and the foreign policy would revert to being a USuk puppet, possibly with more than a touch of zionism.

That is how it seemed until a week or so ago, until the financial crisis got really bad that is. It is one thing to have to put up with conservatives for one term if the economy is bubbling along and quite another if times are tough.
The leader of the tories claim to fame was he made himself financially independent as a banker - last job a relatively senior position at Goldman Sachs in NY before returning to NZ.

That seemed like a good resume for a tory until recently, but now peeps are starting to think that maybe their complaints about the current government being too nanny-ism may have been hasty considering the tough times ahead.

I would like to see the weak pricks in the labour party returned because if they make a showing they will have no alternative but to do business with the greens and go into coalition with them, something they have avoided preferring to line up with populist semi-racist parties rather than scare their business backers by hanging with the greens.

Under an FPP system there would be nowhere else for votes to go this late in the day, so a major turn away from the tories would leave voters unable to do anything apart from not vote.
The tories win and then begin their usual socially destructive policies which guarantees extra terms in power than the one most floating voters had intended.

There is still a danger that Key and the rest of the greedy pricks may get up but that is looking less likely as each day passes.

The only other alternative would be a grand coalition along the lines of the german one which I wouldn't put past the low pricks who call themselves politicians but somehow I don't think either major party is quite ready for that.

The number of parties has been greatly reduced with artificial scandals and scare tactics as the vested interests try to ensure a conservative victory, but now that may not succeed.

One thing is for sure as soon as the tories to get a term in power all the other widely divergent parties that reflect the divergent views of the citizens will re -emerge.

The tories know this and have threatened to ged rid of MMP if they get back in as MMP is the best brake on conservatism there is.
Simply put as long as peeps have somewhere not conservative to put their vote other than the traditional left party that is for whatever reason (usually the hubris of office) pissing them off, the conservative big business party cannot win.

Most peeps are smart enough not to vote against their own interests.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Oct 15 2008 18:49 utc | 6

And for an example of such a fair electoral system (though without the runoffs, though people are thining of crufting preferential / "instant runoff" voting on), here's a beginner's guide to (the New Zealand implementation of) MMP (Mixed-Member Proportional). In most political cultures, it tends to deny any party an absolute majority, making coalitions and inter-party negotiations very important (a guide to the NZ experience of coalitions is here [CAUTION: requires background knowledge of Westminster system; does not apply to executive presidencies].

If you want to see it in action, NZ's election is just a few days after the US one, on November 8th.

Posted by: Idiot/Savant | Oct 15 2008 23:58 utc | 7

Most Canadians are unhappy with the "first-past-the-post" arrangement and all of the Parties have talked about alternative arrangements, and a few Provinces have launched "commissions" to study the matter. The hang-up, as always, is that final decisions are made in Commons by the people who won the old fashioned way and are hesitant to change their winning ways.

The fact that it continues to be a lively discussion, and that there are a multitude of parties/perspectives involved, speaks well of the evolution of democracy. This openess to other possibilities probably underlines our own sense of Canadian exceptionalism vs. the American acceptance of the status quo as the only way.

Posted by: Allen/Vancouver | Oct 16 2008 3:19 utc | 8

1) There are other reasons that contribute to the US having only two parties, and I would argue that funding is a big part of it. Canada's WTA has produced 4 healthy parties.

Canada has a TWO party system with two other minor parties that will never ever govern on their own. Britian has a similar arrangement, the Tories and Labor with the social democrats and a regional scottish party that will never ever govern on their own. Britain has public funding of elections just like Canada and has a two party system. Funding has nothing to do with it. Any political scientist would tell you that there is a strong correlation between WTA and a two party system. It is laughable to say that a WTA system produced a viable multi-party system in Canada. Canada does not have a multi-party system, it has two main parties that win all the elections and 90% of the time govern alone.

2) Maybe but I would argue that fair and balanced redistricting would make the congress more competitive. In the US case, changing the president away from electoral votes to total votes would ensure every vote counts.

Fair districting does not matter much. In a WTA system ONLY one person is elected per district. The country is divided into as many dsitricts as there are seats in the legislature and only one candidate is elected from the district. By definition, all the other people who voted for the loser candidates are effectively disenfranchised. Take this example from the Canadian elections in the Halifax West district:

Christian Heritage Party---Trevor Ennis-----259-----0.6
Conservative---------------Rakesh Khosla----8,730---21.2
NDP-New Democratic Party---Tamara Lorincz---12,205--29.6
Green Party----------------Michael Munday---2,921---7.1
Liberal--------------------Geoff Regan------17,127--41.5

The Liberal candidate won the district and will represent it even though 58.5% of the voters DID NOT vote for him. How fair is that? You have 58.5% of the voters in that district disenfranchised. It is as if they did not even vote. Their vote does not count. The same thing happens in ALL conutries that run the WTA system. It happens in Britain, in the US, in Canada.

3) Negative campaigning occurs because it works. When it no longer works it will not be used. People complain about negative campaigns when their side loses but not when they win. Look at the financial crisis, where every blowhard on FOX was saying now is not the time to place blame or there is enough blame to go around, trying to pre-empt getting hammered.

You missed the point entirely. The point was that there is LESS negativism in election campaigns in PR systems that there is in WTA systems. Take the above example that I listed. Imagine for a minute that the election in that district was run along Proportional election rules. Everyone of these parties will get seats in the legislature based on the % of the vote that they got in the general election. Conservatives will get 21% of the seats, NDP will get 30% and Liberals will get 42% of the seats. That being the case, all these parties have less of an incentive to engage in negative campaigning since they can win w/o beoing negative. They can focus on the issues and they do not have to play dirty to get elected. They do not have to appeal to the most basic instinct of the voters (fear mainly).

Posted by: ndahi | Oct 16 2008 7:19 utc | 9

You could argue that there is less negative campaigning with PR because they are nicer but that isn't the reason. In a PR system your potential voters are mostly found under people who would vote otherwise on parties who are near you, in other words your potentie coalition parties, so you can't hit those parties to hard or they don't want to rule with you. You could negative campaign under the voters who would never vote on you but that is only usefull if those voters wouldn't vote so making your share bigger. You don't win if they just switch parties.
This doesn't even take into view that parties on oppostition flanks often need each other for getting media attention and silencing the centerparties by playing an orgestrated ping-pong media match is very usefull for getting voters.

Posted by: charly | Oct 16 2008 20:48 utc | 10

The worst thing about FPTP when third parties stubbornly refuse to accept Duverger's law (as is the case in Canada) is that it forces us always to vote strategically. I may want to vote NDP or Green, but I fear that voting NDP or Green will split the vote on the left and therefore cause a Conservative win. So I suck it up and vote for my doddering useless Liberal mp as the lesser of two evils. But what if it had turned out that the NDP candidate was stronger this year than my doddering liberal, so my "strategic" vote had ended up electing the Conservative, causing exactly the outcome I wanted to avoid? And how many people did exactly what I did, electing the doddering liberal when in fact we might have elected the NDP if we hadn't voted strategically? It's a total conundrum, and it pisses me off that the Liberals, Green, and NDP don't divvy up ridings beforehand, agree not to run against one another, and in so doing keep the vote on the left unsplit, thereby winning the election and becoming the government. Why the f*ck can't they let go of their egos and do that for the damn country?

Posted by: the exile | Oct 21 2008 5:12 utc | 11

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