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Tories lift off towards a false majority, is this Democracy?

October 15, 2009

Here’s what counts for a majority in Canada:

According to EKOS, the Tories now enjoy 40.7 per cent support compared to 25.5 per cent for the Liberals, 14.3 per cent for the NDP, 10.5 per cent for the Green Party and 9.1 per cent for the Bloc.

Two polls last week showed the same upward movement for the Conservatives, edging them into majority territory.

via Tories ‘really taking off’ in polls – The Globe and Mail.

I continually amazes me that no one looks at these numbers and feels that something is wrong.  EKOS did a seat projection as well (which is very problematic given the small sample sizes in each riding)

The projections – all hypothetical – do not bode well for Mr. Ignatieff

and his Liberals. It would give them 68 seats, meaning he would do

worse than his predecessor, Stéphane Dion, who won 77 seats in the 2008

election.

The EKOS model gives the Bloc 50 seats, up from 47; the NDP 23 seats,

which is a decrease of 13; and the Green Party would be shut out once

again.

Does this seem fair? There’s your issue Mr. Ignatieff: Bloc -> 9%/50 seats Green -> 10.5%/0 seats.  There are Liberals who should be in Alberta, there are Conservatives who should be in Toronto, there are Greens and NDP that should be everywhere.  If you are worried these pollsters are right then you have nothing to lose by saying “We need to fix our democracy, we need to look at proportional representation. We need to do it now.”  You can use longer words if you like. But you need something that tells Canadians you are really going to change things.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 15, 2009 12:01 pm

    I think it won’t help (or might make things worse) to implement prop rep before other reform measures. For example, suppose prop rep were implemented now (say, as a first step) but no other changes were made concurrently. Isn’t it likely there would be more minority governments? And how well are minority government working lately?

    I think prop rep would only be feasible when made in concert with other measures, and such a package of measures needs study.

    For example, what about confidence motions? If left as is, would a result of no confidence mean more frequent elections (say, because it might be more difficult to get a majority of votes with many different elected parties) or less frequent (because with more parties, it might be easier to strike a deal with smaller parties for support)?

    How about Italy? I’m not sure, but I think they’ve had many problems with too many minority governments and too many parties in too much competition, such that it’s difficult to get much legislation passed.

    Would the implementation of prop rep include ‘preferencing’ like in Australia? It’s my understanding that system can be ‘gamed’ by the unscrupulous to manipulate the outcome.

    I’m just not convinced that even a fair proportion of seats in the House will result in a ‘fair’ government, even if the representation by demographic would be fair.

  2. October 15, 2009 12:48 pm

    thanks for your reply, what I propose isn’t just instituting some solution directly, but committing to fixing the system. That would involve study, perhaps a citizen’s assembly process to evaluate different options and propose them to Canadians. But we’re not even at that stage yet. The stage we’re at is there have been 4 referendums on electoral reform in different provinces in the last five years that have failed and the media and politicians treat the fact that change is needed as some kind of fringe issue. That needs to change.

    I disagree with you that a fairer representation of members in parliament based on their support in the electorate could lead to more problems. Italy’s and Israel’s parliamentary problems are the result of a using too pure a proportional system, where very small groups get seats and there are a large number of parties. The only systems being seriously discussed in Canada are Alternative Voting, Mixed Member Proportional and Single Transferrable Vote. All of these systems produce much more stable outcomes as long as a reasonable cutoff is used such as 5 or 10%. What we need to get out of is raising this specture of lots of small fringe parties getting seats and destabilizing parliament. The Communist party or the Sex party are not going to get seats. But the Greens deserve a bunch of seats, as many as the Bloc do in fact, and the Bloc don’t deserve nearly as many seats as they get. Quebec and Alberta should get the same number of seats they have right now, but they are being unfairly represented by a more limited number of parties than the electorate really asked for. That’s the problem. And fixing it will make parliament more relevant and let people see that their votes actually count as part of the national discussion.

    As for confidence motions, I don’t personally think this needs to change, though I could be wrong. What we need to change is our expectation that a confidence failure needs to lead to an election. In a more proportional system, the last election will contain a lot of information about what government Canadians wanted. Thus different alignment of parties, in formal coalitions could try to form government in the event of a failure of confidence. And we would have less of an awkward problem with that alternative coalition needing to sign up with the seperatist Bloc because they would have a lot less seats, 10 or 15 rather than 50.

  3. October 15, 2009 4:30 pm

    Re: confidence motions, I meant the dissolution of parliament so I think we more or less agree there. We also agree that study and real commitment are required (I think?). I agree many people aren’t taking this topic seriously, yet the same people paradoxically complain government is flawed and doesn’t represent their interests. Parliamentary representation likely won’t fix itself; more likely it’ll be further corrupted (oligopolies, anyone?).

    Selection of a reasonable cutoff is likely a very controversial topic. You cite 10% cutoff as one example, and if we reference that against the EKOS poll in your post, does that mean the Greens would count with 10.5%, but the BQ would be ignored as a fringe party with 9.1%? I don’t mean to attack you, just making a point with your own examples.

    Let’s do some math. 9.1% of 33MM is about 3MM votes, but they all come from Quebec because that’s the only place the BQ offer. 10.5% of 33MM is about 3.465MM votes, but if you assume an even distribution and assume the population of Quebec is 24% of the population of Canada then only 0.831MM Green votes are in Quebec. (I know not everyone votes, but if you apply a 60% voter turnout uniformly the ratios don’t change).

    If some prop rep algorithm gave 10.5% of the 308 seats = 32 to the Greens, and 9.1% or 28 seats to the BQ, would Quebec be fairly represented?

    Now, I will not seriously stand up to those numbers because my analysis is trivial and doesn’t use any specific algorithm. I’m just trying to illustrate where my concerns originate.

    I also have purely partisan concerns, in that I think prop rep would strengthen the Conservatives further. Their current distribution of votes is ‘inefficient’ in that they win landslides in Alberta, and most of their votes in Atlantic Canada don’t elect any MPs and are ‘wasted’.

    I guess my confusion is rooted in that I’m used to a system which relates geography to representation. I’m not sure how prop rep would affect that; I have trouble simplifying it or visualizing it.

  4. October 15, 2009 5:16 pm

    yes i agree study is needed, or discussion since a lot of study has been done already, its just that no one talks about it.

    I think 10% is way too high a cut off, but 1% is too low, 4-7% seems reasonable. But its often more subtle than this, in some proportional systems, such as STV, the effective cutoff varies depending on how many MPs are assigned to each riding. So a riding with 3 representatives needs 25% of the votes to go to them but those votes can be first choice, second choice..etc and are transferred down only if higher up choices are eliminated during counting.

    Part of the problem with our current FPTP system is that it so heavily favours geographic makeup. You get a bonus for being regionally focussed right now. This is why the Bloc and Conservatives do well and the Greens and NDP don’t. Different proportional systems remove this geographic bonus to different extents. The extreme of taking a pure proportion of the national vote is a very bad idea, thats what they do in Israel, and leads to no local representation. But our system is completely the other way. Most reasonable systems in use around the world strike a balance between these. In MMP there is a local representative, perhaps covering a larger area than they do now. In addition there are some members who top up the provincial or national proportions but have no specific geographic riding. In STV every rep is local, but each riding have multiple reps for the top 2,3,4 largest groups of support, so you get diversity of representation within each riding.

  5. October 16, 2009 1:07 am

    “Isn’t it likely there would be more minority governments? And how well are minority government working lately?”

    More than three in a row? Our current system gives us minority governments after about half of our elections. Canada already has more frequent elections than Israel and, yes, Italy. We are trying to use a bipolar voting system in a multi-party universe.

    When 40% of the votes gets you a “majority” government and a small shift in votes can bring a large shift in seats, there is a constant incentive to go to the polls. Cooperation is instantly punished, power is the only issue, and attack politics prevail. Unstable minority government is in fact a characteristic feature of our current system. For political stability, you need fair election outcomes, also known as proportional representation.

    Whether minority government is working well is another question. In the past, single-party, monopoly-power government has unfailingly produced arrogance and corruption. Let’s see how we all like it when Stephen Harper has unlimited power.

    “How about Italy?”

    How about Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, New Zealand and 75 others? Proportional representation and minority/coalition government have been the norm in most developed countries for most of the last century.

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