Different electoral system, different coalition - Macleans.ca

Different electoral system, different coalition


Against the notion, often found in the comments here, that the the last two weeks is just a preview of life under proportional representation, the folks at Fair Vote Canada offer a timely rebuttal. Recalculating the party standings as they would obtain under PR, they suggest a very different coalition would have emerged:

Most likely, the three people sitting at the front of the room at the recent coalition press conference would have been the Liberal leader representing an 81-member Liberal caucus, the NDP leader representing a 57-member NDP caucus and the Green Party leader representing a 23-member caucus. Assuming a proportionate assignment of portfolios, the resulting coalition cabinet might have been 13 Liberals, 8 NDP and 4 Greens.

The regional composition of the coalition would have been dramatically different. The coalition would have boasted about 43 MPs in the west, rather than just 21, and in Quebec 30 MPs rather than 14.

What about Mr. Duceppe? He would have been sitting on the opposition benches with just 28 Bloc MPs, rather than the 49 he has today that give him the power to pull the plug on a federal government.

Of  course, even this is misleading, since elections held under PR would not just spit out the same parties with different seat-counts, but more and different parties, with different electoral bases — less regional, more ideological — and different incentives. For example, Green voters today go to the polls in the certain knowledge that they will elect no one. How many more people would vote Green if they knew their votes would actually count?

In other words, the present instability and division is not a reflection of what would obtain under PR, but is rather a direct consequence of the anomalies of first past the post:

A fair voting system would also have provided a more stable and effective government. The expiry date on the proposed coalition is three years at best and more likely less than two years. Because first-past-the-post voting allows a relatively small shift in support to produce a windfall of seats for one party or another, the current system subverts stable and effective government.

“Today the parties’ spin-meisters are working hard to divide voters into warring camps and pit entire regions against one another,” said Larry Gordon, Executive Director of Fair Vote Canada. “When careers in Ottawa are on the line, country be damned. Will Canadians turn on one another rather than the real culprits? Or are we finally fed up with this madness and the old-guard party leaders who defend an electoral system that serves their own interests but not those of the voters?”

Fair Vote Canada is calling on Liberal, Conservative, NDP and Green voters to stand together – call it a people’s coalition – to demand equal and effective votes for all and legitimate majority rule for Canada.

Pie in the sky? An Angus Reid poll released today suggests not:

Following two weeks of political turmoil in Ottawa, Canadians are taking a second look at their existing electoral regulations, and almost half of them believe the implementation of a proportional representation system would be good for the country, a new Angus Reid Strategies poll has found. 

In the online survey of a representative national sample, 33 per cent of respondents believe the current first-past-the-post system, where candidates win seats by getting more votes than any other rival in a specific constituency, is the best one for Canada. However, 47 per cent of Canadians would be open to trying different guidelines.

Almost three-in-ten (28%) would switch to a proportional representation system, where parties win seats in accordance with their share of the national vote, and one-in-five (19%) prefer a mixed- member proportional voting system, which would allocate some seats on a constituency basis, and others by proportional representation. 


Different electoral system, different coalition

  1. “Almost three-in-ten (28%) would switch to a proportional representation system, where parties win seats in accordance with their share of the national vote, and one-in-five (19%) prefer a mixed- member proportional voting system, which would allocate some seats on a constituency basis, and others by proportional representation.”

    Those numbers are too low to support a change. I’m not going to bother to look it up but the Ontario referendum on electoral reform needed something like 60% overall AND over 50% in 2/3 of all electoral districts. It’s hard to find that kind of mandate.

  2. I, for one, welcome our new STV overlords.

  3. Much hay was made the past couple of weeks about how coalition governments are common in other parliamentary systems, and that Canadians shouldn’t be so alarmed by the notion. But perhaps our parliamentary system is an anomoly in that ours determined by the first-past-the-post system of selection. As suggested in the piece, a proporational system wouldn’t be as likely to steer the political discourse towards such inflammatory (and potentially disastrous) rhetoric as seen/heard from the Prime Minister this past week.

  4. Canada would not survive proportional representation, because national parties would cease to exist. Tribalism and regionalism would rule. The raison-d’etre for compromise between regionally based parties is to let the other guy go his own way and do their own thing. Good fences make good neighbors.

    The national parties are the glue that keeps Canada together.

    Disclosure: I would NOT be opposed to a reformed 5-region Senate based with representatioin based on PR within each region.

  5. “Green voters today go to the polls in the certain knowledge that they will elect no one. How many more people would vote Green if they knew their votes would actually count?”

    Fair enough point about extrapolating how a PR parliament would look on the basis of today’s voting patterns.

    But isn’t it equally possible that many voters don’t vote Green, for example, because there’s no chance of getting MPs in?

    Also, a system that incorporates PR means that a party like the Greens can function on a “wider” support base, and not have to worry about concentrating resources in particular ridings. Not sure if they will find opportunity there, but I see some potential for the smaller parties expanding their vote on that basis too.

  6. And I just realized that I misread your words, and I’m agreeing with you…

  7. Ha! Andrew is thinking of PR now. We’ve got the conservatives on the run :)

    Just for the record though I support PR because it is more democratic and encourages the formation of coalition governments that bridge societal/political cleavages.

  8. Preferential voting is one thing I’d LOVE to see Harper plagiarize from the Australians.

  9. Andrew, a quick question. Would modifying the FPTP system require a constitutional change? I believe it would, and if so, I strongly suggest you look in to the game theory and coalitions necessary to now modify our constitution under the 7/50 rules. It is basically impossible. If you further extend the federal governments defacto veto to the different provinces as Chretien and Martin proposed (I’m not sure what the legal status of this is now that there is a different federal party in power), it is even worse.

    What no one in Ottawa will admit to is that it is basically mathematically impossible to amend our constitution now. The level of support needed borders on that for Santa (who I presume is very popular, maybe I’m wrong here).

    Finally, just out of curiosity what power do you see the Premiers having should a proportional representation system come to be, and concurrently what would happen to the Senate?

  10. I don’t see why/how parties would become more regional. If anything, they will become less regional. Our current system punishes national parties and rewards regional bases. If you need an example, look at 1993, when the Tories received 16% of the vote and got 2 seats. The BQ, by contrast, received 13.5% of the vote and got 54 seats. The difference of course was the concentration of votes.

    That is not a system working for national parties there.

    Mr. Coyne – I hope you will be able to use your influence at Macleans to do an article on the BC Referendum. For those who don’t know, in BC last election, they had an election on bringing in a PR system (Single Transferable Vote). It needed 60% overall, and over 60% in two-thirds of the riding. It got the latter, but fell just short at 58% overall. SO they are doing it all again.

  11. It is lunacy to make the assumption that the same group of mostly national political parties will be present in a PR environment.

    Stress-testing ideas should always consider worst case scenarios. With PR, one of the worst case scenarios are that the party system degenerates into regionally-based parties. Canada’s current system forces the parties to be big tents. With PR, there is no reason for political parties to be big tents. A little tent is good enough and then one targets the marginal voter.

    PR in the Commons would be the end of Canada within a generation.

  12. This discussion reminds me of the 1998 Quebec election, where Charest’s Liberals got 43.5 % of the vote, and Bouchard’s PQ got slightly less (42.9 %), yet the PQ won a majority gov’t with 76 seats, versus the Liberals’ 48 seats.

  13. Sidenote, but BC will be having a second referendum on STV in conjunction with the provincial election in May. It’d be marvelous to see a write-up in advance that explains the process in detail for the uninitiated.

  14. @Wheat

    Tell me more about this. In our generation, two regional parties have held official opposition status (the Bloc and the Reform party) within the current system.

    I understand you assertion but not the logic behind it.

    In a PR system, a party wants to earn EVERY vote it can get.

    In today’s system, a party wants to earn every vote only in ridings they can win.

    How many Conservative voters in Toronto stay home? How many Liberals in Alberta?

    I agree with Chris B – a PR system would encourage national parties not discourage them.

  15. whyshouldIsellyourwheat, the “big tent” under a PR system would be found in the governing coalition which is the level of decision making where you really want national concensus to be reached. At present, there is only one “big tent” political party in Canada and they are not presently holding the reigns of power, so I don’t really understand your line of argument. You said that under PR “A little tent is good enough and then one targets the marginal voter.” This sure sounds to me like the Conservative, NDP and Bloc approach under our present system.

  16. No system is perfect. FPTPost has served Canada well in the past, but i don’t see us returnin to a 2 party system. These days people want more choice, not less. I’m for any system that elects libs in calgary, cons in toronto, ndp in quebec and shuts the door on the bloc. There will be a rise in he # of single issue parties [doesn’t NZ have a Maori party ]. But these groups still have to cooperate within a parliament.

  17. Andrew,
    Again, thanks for your support for PR and Fair Vote. One the many reasons you’re one of the top pundits in our fair land.

  18. Canada would not survive proportional representation, because national parties would cease to exist. Tribalism and regionalism would rule.

    This, I’m sorry to say, makes no sense to me. As the Bloc example provided by Coyne and Chris illustrate, the existence of PR would decrease the power of regional parties, not increase it. Moreover, if every vote counted, parties would be inclined to campaign and woo voters across the country, not just in those areas where it would be reasonable to expect seats in an FPTP system.

  19. Note: the Reform Party mission statement was that “the West wants in”. It was a regional party trying to become a national party by trying to build a bigger tent.

    Remember. the Bloc’s mission statement is that “Quebec wants out” Suppose there were a Western Separatist party who’s mission statement was that “the West wants out”. Neither has the incentive to form a bigger tent, but they do have an incentive to enter a coalition with each other to achieve each of their goals.

    It is foolish not to consider worst case scenarios, or how people one disagrees with might use systems one create to achieve particular ends.

    Canada’s current system force political parties into the big tent model if they want to govern, forces them to propose policies that speak to the broader population. PR does the reverse. Parties can speak to their base, and it encourages wedge politics where one goes for marginal additional support.

    Note: I am NOT opposed to a PR Senate. A does of PR as a incubator for new political parties.

  20. whyshouldIsellyourwheat said:

    “Remember. the Bloc’s mission statement is that “Quebec wants out” Suppose there were a Western Separatist party who’s mission statement was that “the West wants out”. Neither has the incentive to form a bigger tent, but they do have an incentive to enter a coalition with each other to achieve each of their goals.”

    I would argue, that by the act of joining the governing coalition, such a group would undermine its original reason for existing. I think that part of the Bloc’s play in this whole coalition mess was to reposition themselves electorally as a party. They know that separation is way off in the distance — if at all — so why not morph into a party still beholden only to Quebeckers, while at the same time engaging more with the federation by holding the balance of power within or over the government. They can argue that you can only trust a party dependant on Quebeckers to look out for the interest of Quebec within the ruling federal power structure as it presently stands under first past the post.

  21. Jean Proulx: Andrew Coyne has been pushing for proportional representation for years.

  22. Steve M,
    Changing Canada’s electoral system (or the system of any province) only requires amendments to the Canada Elections Act.

    However, politicians elected under a particular electoral system clearly face a fundamental conflict of interest when in comes to electoral reform.

    This is why when democratic engagement in this country spirals ever lower with each election, the majority of our legislators pretend that it has nothing to do with how we elect them.

  23. So how would PR work? Would it be Canada-wide or by province? I wonder because I suspect that Quebec would not go along with Canada-wide PR. It would dilute their power and I bet they’ll say only Quebecers should elect Quebec representatives. If not Canada-wide then what? By region?

    By the way, under PR, me and mine, we’ll all be voting for the Western Kamloops Evangelical Mennonite Party.

  24. It would be a great election platform for the Conservatives, who can anticipate a bit of minority-government fatigue in Ontario and the West. They might be able to fashion a majority if people vote for any party that can preserve the peace for 4 years, and the Conservatives are the only ones to benefit. It would sweeten the pot if they proposed changes that would diversify Parliament, along with the no-public money for parties welfare rollback..

  25. PR would also change the incentives for brinksmanship a la Harper. Harper’s strategy is predicted on winning that last few ppt of the electorate that will push him into majority. FPTP is highly volatile in outcomes as a slight shift in support can produce massive swings in outcomes.

    For the record, I think the best solution for Canada is preferential voting (aka, single member district STV). Canadians insist on one representative for accountability, and PV encourages consensus parties without penalizing people who vote for fringe parties.

  26. the rat: think about your question and realise that both alternatives are the same.

  27. And the Rat, there are as many different types of PR as there are PR systems. Google a blog called Fruits and Votes for good discussion on PR.

  28. Too bad the poll didn’t mention STV (Single Transferable Vote) as an option. I, for one, will (again) be giving it my approval in the referendum that we in BC get to vote in. I would prefer single member district STV, but I’d accept “BCSTV” as far better than either the current FPTP or PR systems.

  29. What I love about the PR discussion is the idea of a national referendum on a new constitution.

    Honestly I don’t know how we got all 10 provinces to agree to that in the first place!

    We should have stuck to the British model. No constitution since 1066 and Gordon Brown is still saving the world.

  30. Andrew –

    Do the numbers reflect the system proposed by the Law Commission back in 2003 or 04? That study brought up a serious legal point that under the Canadian Constitution that any PR system has to applied province by province.

    This would reduce the radical swing of the pure PR model presented.

  31. George, PR applied by province would not make any real difference in outcomes, unless the provinces were given inequitable weighting in the Commons.

  32. “the rat: think about your question and realise that both alternatives are the same.”

    No, I don’t think they are. They are close, but the difference is there. If you restrict the boundaries the total number of seats remains the same but who wins them is different. The likelihood of regional parties forming is greater. Yes, the number of votes to get a seat remains the same but the remainder of any party’s vote won’t carry over to other regions. If we see a lot of very small parties, like Italy, that rounding problem will mean a greater chance of a Quebec-only party gaining a seat or two as as opposed to the National vote gaining that round up and a seat. I bet that will matter to Quebec.

  33. I don’t think that makes a very good case for PR. I imagine the cut-off for gaining seats in a nation PR scheme would be either 2% or 5% of votes cast nationally, and much higher if done on a provincial basis. Thus, I don’t see any real difference in whether the PR is done as a national aggregate or provincially.

  34. If 47% favour proportional systems and 33% like the current system, then proportional supporters are 58.75% of decided voters. Not yet quite up to the bogus 60% threshold imposed in BC and Ontario, but a solid mandate for change. More support than any Canadian government has ever had.

  35. On the constitutional question …

    The constitution has rules that require allocation of seats province-by-province. Most notably, there is the Senate floor, which keeps PEI at 4 seats, Newfoundland at least at six, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick at least at 10.

    There are also statutory rules, but not constitutional ones, that forbid reducing the number of Commons seats a province receives after a redistribution.

    So, without necessarily advocating it, any PR system that didn’t seek constitutional change would have to be done province-by-province, and would be unlikely to mess with the statutory rule forbidding reductions in allocation. But that isn’t a big deal. The Swiss lower house elects via PR canton-by-canton, save for those cantons that are so small they only get one or two seats. The Australian Senate is state-by-state STV. Really, it isn’t much of a barrier.

  36. Andrew – a question for you and for the folks at Fair Vote Canada:

    In an imaginary and truly hypothetical world in which I wake up and need to call my Member of Parliament because; (a) my EI was mistakenly cut off, (b) Revenue Canada screwed up my mailing address, (c) a family member’s passport has not been processed on time, (d) a visitor’s visa was denied on erroneous grounds, (e) I need help filling out an application for a trade exemption for my small business, (f) I need federal disater assistance because my home was just swept up in a tidal wave, (g) I need a status update on my farm assistance program before the bank forecloses on my equipment, (h) I simply want to voice my opinion that something in Parliament would have an adverse affect on my local community WHO WOULD I CALL?

    Of course, such problems or concerns listed above are purely hypothetical and would never, ever happen in the real world. They’re tangentia, really. What’s truly important is that the people sitting in the House of Commons reflect the ideological doctrine that I am fixated on 23 hours a day.

  37. tangential. damn typo.

  38. to whyshouldIsellyourwheat : our current system rewards regional parties. For example, Harper got no seats in Canada’s largest cities despite getting 3 out every 10 votes. Because of this he has never shown any interest in our cities. You don’t need a big tent, just enough regional strength to get support.

    Coalitions can happen under FPTP and become more likely as the number of parties increases. The difference in this between proportional representation and FPTP is how many votes you need to form a majority coalition government (one that controls the majority of seats). Under FPTP, a minority of voters can elect a a government with the majority of seats while PR requires a majority of voters to do so.

    For example, the Conservative Party and Bloc could have formed a coalition in 2004 with the support of a the one independent candidate.

    There’s no point decrying coalitions because the experience in the majority of the world’s nations is that coalitions work. The voters make their choices then their representatives get together to plan an agenda. And unlike our phony majorities, the coalition has to stick to what the parties promised during the election or they will be replaced by a different coalition.

    Imagine that – parliament actually doing what the majority of Canadians want!

  39. to Mark: This isn’t Ghost Busters. Who are you going to call is up to you. Under PR, parties present candidates from every region they want to get votes in (i.e. every region). You can approach any represent in your region who you trust to handle your problem.

    I wish people would actually take some time to see how the systems work in other countries before they try to make some silly point. Do you think that Canada is the only country where people need help from the government to resolve some issue? Most of the world’s democracies use PR and they don’t find the lack of specific local representatives to be the deal-breaking problem you seem to think it is. In fact, they would react in horror to Canada’s notion that you have to go to a specific person who may not be ideologically disposed to side with you.

    Imagine, for example, that you need help with EI and your local representative is a person who considers EI to be subsidizing the lazy. Would you really want to go to him for help? Or what if it’s someone who thinks everyone is out to enter Canada illegally? Would you want his help to resolve a visitor’s visa problem?

    Canada’s riding system is the problem, not the solution.

  40. As many have noted here, Liberals in Alberta and Conservatives in Montreal would no longer waste their votes. On average PR models generate about an 8% higher turnout, which makes sense.

    However, even on the miserable number of votes cast this October, the Liberal caucus would no longer be just the GTA plus the Montreal area and the Atlantic Provinces. Currently only 15 of the 77 Liberal MPs are outside those regions. Under any decent PR model, Liberal voters would have elected about 25 more MPs from regions where they are now unrepresented or under-represented, starting with nine more from the West. Conservative voters would have elected about 15 more MPs from regions where they were unrepresented or under-represented, starting with about eight from Quebec.

    Clearly this would be good for Canada. More details here:

  41. Man, people are delusional. The current turmoil is the result of being in a minority parliament (and one only a dozen seats short of a majority!). So these brainiacs want to ‘fix’ this by implementing a system where we will NEVER SEE ANOTHER MAJORITY GOV’T? When was the last time a party got >50% of the vote?
    And that is just the practical problem with PR. No matter how you slice it, PR systems will “elect” members who are accountable to no one but the party (ie not accountable to the voters of any particular riding). At least with FPP, we can throw out a poorly performing MP.

  42. People, the problem isn’t whether you can talk to someone form your own riding, it’s that MPs elected in a PR system are UNACCOUNTABLE. For instance, If I was leader of a big paty and I wanted to give my brother (or a large donor perhaps?) a seat, I’d just put him first on the list of PR candidates. Therefore he is GUARANTEED to win a seat unless NOONE votes for my party. Further to that he could NEVER be removed as long has he is kept near the top of the PR list (if there’s even a list and it doesn’t simply go by appointment after the fact). If you think cronyism and unaccountability is bad under FPP, wait until some form of PR is enacted.

  43. PR skeptics are missing the point: Whichever way the citizens vote, is the right distribution of seats in Parliament. The citizens are always right. Anything else is a distortion; some (many) votes are more powerful than others; democracy vanishes.

    All the fearful objections pale beside this simple fact. If I have a problem with the taxman, who am I going to call? Well, that’s why the Swedes invented the role of ombudsman (literally, messenger). Works fine. Let me ask you this; hypothetically, in a minority government situation, where the opposition representation is severely distorted, if the Prime Minister of a minority government wants to shut down Parliament, who am I going to call?

  44. As the frequent minority governments and coalition drama of recent times illustrates, Canada is becoming increasingly unstable under FPTP. The current system just wasn’t designed to handle a modern, pluralistic society with a range of viewpoints: instead of a 2-party polity, we have transformed into a 5-party reality (like most other western democracies, actually). It’s just that our electoral system hasn’t caught up yet. It’s now causing problems which will only get more serious in the future.

    The Canadian voting system has never been updated in the 140+ years since we adopted it wholesale from Britian without debate, unlike every other public instution. It’s time to think of reform. Consider that under our current system:

    1. National unity is increasingly threatened. Regional differences are exaggeraged (eg. the Bloc gains almost twice as many seats as their votes merit in Quebec, the increasing regionalisation of the major national parties – Conservatives in the West, Liberals in Atlantic Canada & major urban areas, etc etc) and politicians increasingly pit one region against another in otherwise reasonable debates. If we contiune under FPTP, we may not have a country for much more than a generation or two.

    2. Strategic voting is necessary. Many voters are forced to vot for a lesser of two evils, because the candidate they support has no hope of winning in their riding. It doesn’t have to be this way.

    3. Most voters are disenfranchised. In the 2008 election, 51% of voters (over 7 million) did not end up electing a candidate. Voters aren’t stupid – they know when their votes don’t count. And because of this and other reasons under FPTP, they are simply stopping to vote. Last election saw the lowest voter turnout since confederation (only 59%). This is getting serious.

    4. Governments don’t need to be accountable. Why would they be? If a party can just appeal to their base and then maybe a little bit more to get 40% of the vote, then can get 60% of the seats and 100% of the power. They can rule with impunity for 4 years.

    5. FPTP shares the blame for the nasty tone and low level of debate in Canadian politics. It greatly overvalues marginal gains and losses in support, and thus holds out to the large parties the hope of winning a majority of seats (“we just need a FEW more % to rule like kings!!”). This works against the forming of stable coalition or minority governments, and makes parties more demagogic than they would otherwise be. So today politicians exaggerate their differences, sling mud in the hopes that some sticks to their oppoents more than they really need to, and use divisive politics which undermine the possibility of cooperation. Teachers can’t even bring classes of schoolchildren into Question Period anymore. This is a national disgrace caused in no small part by FPTP.

    4. There is a littany of other problems with our current electoral system, not least of which is low numbers of women and minorities getting elected, phony majoritites, even “wrong winner” results like the current government in New Brunswick today (which got fewer votes than their principal opposition – yet formed a majority government despite this – huh?).


  45. I would rather have someone represent my community than my region. We could make that more democratic by having either a run-off or preferential ballot in all 308 ridings, so that each MP would need to garner 50% plus one of the vote. Is it really that much to ask that a party which seeks to sit in our national parliament find one commuity in the country in which the majority of voters find them the least offensive option?

    And before you throw a bunch of Euro-Parl stats my way, ask yuorself how many of these systems govern countries which are (i) as federal in nature, (ii) as large geographically, or (iii) as culturally diverse as Canada.

    Unitary national states with homogenous populations make for great PR governments. But that doesn’t represent the reality of my country, nor the needs of my community.

    I don’t like the status quo, but PR is a one way road to dysfunctional parliament, and an exacerbation of the sense of isolation and abandonment already felt in so many of our forgotten rural communities.

    In its EI decision the Supreme Court today had some choice words about the concept of “taxation without representation”. They are worth considering in this debate as well.

  46. “Many voters are forced to vot (sic) for a lesser of two evils, because the candidate they support has no hope of winning in their riding. It doesn’t have to be this way.”

    No it doesn’t. The candidate they support could present a platform palatable to enough voters in his or her riding, giving him or her a hope of winning it.

    Really. What is it about losing that’s so incomprehensible to some you?

    Using your logic the government should have implemented roughly 40% of the Charlottetown Accord, and 49% of Quebec’s landmass should be sovereign as of 1995.

  47. I think it`s high time proportional representation was implemented in Ontario. McGuinty fails to appreciate the hardships of beleagured drivers and beleagured post-secondary part-time students and men`s rights and a legal aid system that rips of men…

  48. At the risk of inconveniencing McGuinty’s Entitled Elite, It’s About Time Ontario implemented a mixed proportionality system…Ontarians got a raw deal with McGuinty’s bloated hierarchy..

  49. i agree with MMP for Ontario

  50. Fantastic post Andrew, its great to hear influential, intelligent people like you speaking out for reform. I think the polls numbers you cite are very encouraging especially considering most people do not think about these issues much and don’t really know what electoral reform would mean. The referendum in Ontario was based on a process that was pushed through rather quickly and had several problems. The BC referendum a few years back failed to reach the high bar of 60% by only two points, and that was without a lot of public education.

    If BC goes ahead in may and approves BC-STV then the rest of the country will be able to take a look at how it changes the landscape and we can all have a national discussion about wether electoral reform is good for Canada and what form it will take. I find once people starting delving into the issue and hearing how terribly unfair our current system is (its really worse than you think) then they usually come around to the idea of some kind of reform. STV is a great solution, but like any solution it will take some adapting of our ideas of what it means to vote and have our voice heard. Which is the whole point after all, we need to change what we expect from our electoral system and what we expect from the politicians representing us.

    Mark Crowley

  51. Cooperation. Consensus. Collaboration. These are the hallmarks of a proportional representation system. Of course it will change how politics is done. It won’t be win or lose for one party or another, but it may result in better decision making as those with a large number of seats will be required to listen to the ideas of other parties. Somehow, I don’t see a down side in that. Sure, it might take a little longer but what good decision doesn’t?

  52. If you want to discuss this intelligently, stop using the term “proportional representation” or “PR” when you mean “one of a variety of more party-proportional systems”. Both STV and MMP are more party-proportional, but they are radically different in the way they survey the public’s views of their leadership. There is also instant-runoff-voting (IRV) in which one simply ranks candidates in existing single-member districts, which is also useful for Mayor or referenda where one might be, say, choosing between voting systems. The simplest option federally is to do exactly what Harper has proposed for the Senate and what his own Conservative Party of Canada did to elect him: just adopt an instant-runoff ballot for the House in single member districts identical to the ones we now use. This will end the “vote splitting” but it will not elect as many minor party members as STV and certainly nowhere near as many as MMP. Given that MMP was soundly rejected (for good reason) by PEI and Ontario, and STV was embraced by 77 of 79 districts and got nearly 60% support in BC (and would have passed under a reasonable formula) we should also consider IRV to be a first step to a possible reform towards STV federally. By no means, in either Senate or House, would it be acceptable to have votes in BC determine outcomes in NL. But that’s not the reason voters rejected MMP, it seems they don’t like parties choosing cronies to put on “party lists”.

    If you want a comprehensive analysis that leads to the same conclusion, that no more than a few party-determined seats (10-15% would be a lot) would ever be tolerated in Canada, here’s one, by myself based on an earlier version by Julian West.

    == Voting system values ==

    (Voting system values and related goals and guarantees of general electoral reform in Canada)

    The ideal or fundamental way to design a voting system is to agree first on what values and principles are appropriate to incorporate. Within the Canadian voting reform community, there is remarkable unanimity on what values are important for Canadian voters. The constitution of Fair Vote Canada expresses these values as follows:

    * 1) broad proportionality,
    * 2) extended voter choice,
    * 3) stable and responsive government, and
    * 4) maintaining a link between representatives and geographic constituencies.

    This list resembles the list of requirements issued by the British government to the Jenkins commission. It was first proposed in the Canadian context by Nick Loenen, and then adopted, with minor modifications, by Fair Voting B.C. and Fair Vote Canada. A similar, but slightly longer, list was used by the New Zealand Royal Commission and was in 2005 adapted by the Law Commission of Canada.

    Any rigorous literature search will reveal broad agreement about these values. Politicians and electoral reformers on the left and the right, and from all political parties large and small have accepted them with some enthusiasm; They have never been seriously attacked. At Fair Vote Canada’s founding meeting, they were adopted by a roomful of grassroots members, with consensus being reached after one member proposed the inclusion of the words “and responsive”, having articulately questioned whether “stability” alone is the actual goal. However this list is not itself complete and doesn’t take into account experiences of Canadian electoral reform advocates in actual referenda.

    While lawyers and professional politicians may agree only on these four broad values, their view is not the only view we must consider. The public has political instincts too.
    Additional values are held, and guarantees expected, by the public. These are extant in academic study of the role of governments (1a, 2a, 3a, 4a) and in actual experience with proposed electoral reforms in Canada (5, 5a, 6, 7, 7a ) and the US (6a) and especially counter-intuitive results (6, 7a). The degree to which any change requires learning and creates errors also requires us to minimize the disruption of any changes (per 6b).

    Let’s consider boundaries. Among political scientists, there is also broad agreement that government has the primary responsibility to manage the relationship between the persistent lands and waters and ecosystems on which we live, and the human infrastructures built on it. When dealing with these very fragile relationships, bioregional borders are recognized as an optimum that is both stable and responsive as a population grows and natural systems come under stress: water, soil, invasive plant species, effectively move only in one direction: down via the watershed to the rivers, lakes and sea. It is probably only these borders that can provide long term stability, responsiveness and objectivity. Many experts in international relations have commented on the effects of arbitrary borders drawn to separate people of similar lifeways and dependent on similar ecosystems, and the potential to create chaos if policies on how to manage natural ecosystems vary too broadly. For these and several other reasons, Canadian municipal borders remain relatively stable compared to federal and provincial districts. A system capable of dealing with fixed borders and changing populations also responds instantly to any such shifts.

    The expert and public opinion suggests a few specific guarantees, each of which extends one of the basic four principles and all of which are satisfied by at least one voting system [1]:

    ** 1a) instant adjustment to ensure proportionality so every vote counts exactly the same without districts having to change
    ** 2a) a fair chance for community-based independents – including municipal politicians – without strong (or any) party ties
    ** 3a) aligning municipal divisions more closely to the ecosystems they manage and to stable federal/provincial districts
    ** 4a) guaranteed fixed and stable divisions of political responsibility for ecosystems protected and used in common

    Three further implicit values invariably become clear considering specific systems, each with a related guarantee demanded by at least some of the advocates of that value. These concern election timing, process, public input into the actual persons who vote in legislatures.

    * 5) a relatively predictable election schedule so that small parties or those choosing leaders are not unduly disadvantaged
    ** 5a) fixed election dates guaranteed by statute that can only be over-ridden by a specific protocol that delays the writ drop

    This constraint is likewise more easily satisfied by a system in which seat shifts are generally proportional to the popular vote rather than being wildly volatile with small shifts in that vote in specific districts. The motivation to disrupt and dissolve legislatures is almost nil since no party is likely to gain a large number of seats by doing so at a particular time, and cannot benefit from vote-splitting among its rivals.

    * 6) simplicity insofar as an ordinary member of the public can learn and practice the counting system with no expertise
    ** 6a) zero tolerance for any system that does not guarantee a paper trail, paper recounts, or relies on electronic storage
    ** 6b)backwards compatibility of the ballot so that those familiar withi FPTP voting systems can participate without spoilage

    The nearly universal resistance to “e-voting” among neutral non-industry-allied experts is evidence that guarantee 6a is very important to reformers. Many US states have passed laws requiring ballot paper trails and forbidding reliance on any system that only experts can verify. While arguments regarding the complexity or simplicity of a voting system are often raised with the assumption that simpler is better, it is absolutely clear that Canadians do not understand how FPTP system works nor how it leads to such vastly disproportional results. The simplicity of the ballot itself, in other words, is not necessarily as important as the simplicity of candidate selection, counting systems and understanding how to change one’s representative. The Canadian experience has also established that simpler systems, well understood, such as MMP, are roundly rejected in favour of more complex systems, such as STV, that satisfy other constraints, notably this last one:

    * 7) the public themselves, not the political parties, makes the final choice regarding who is to be trusted with real power
    ** 7a) every individual who acquires a vote in the legislature must have been selected by a process open to public input

    Failure to recognize this seventh value led Prince Edward Island and Ontario both to propose MMP systems that allocated about one third of all seats to “party list” candidates chosen by the parties and leaders. Both proposals were overwhelmingly rejected by the public almost certainly because of their failure (or perceived failure in the Ontario case) to satisfy this extremely important public trust constraint. American political parties invariably guarantee 7a at least for registered members of their political party. In Canada only party leadership races are subject to any public scrutiny [2].

    Any voting system should be assessed against all seven of the broad and all seven specific values. Informed advocates will certainly intensely scrutinize any system that does not sastify or potentially satisfy all seven values and eight specific goals and would certainly oppose, for instance, systems like closed-list MMP implemented electronically (violating 1a, 2a, 3a, 4a, 6ab, 7, 7a). Presenting a simple choice between status quo FPTP and such a closed-list MMP system must be viewed as a sabotage of the reform process, given the sub-40% outcomes in PEI and ON. The remaining options in Canada are single winner or multi-member ranked ballots (IRV and STV) and a mixed STV system with only a few party-proportional seats (such as Craig Hubley’s BSTV+C+L proposal).

    Any voting system represents compromises. A report by the Scottish parliament regarding the use of STV in Ireland noted that “the heavy emphasis on constituency casework, faction-fighting between candidates from the same party, a focus on constituency, localist matters in election campaigns and parliamentary work, ‘friends and neighbours’ voting, are all seen as resulting – at least in large part – from the candidate-centred, preference voting of STV” [http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/research/briefings-03/sb03-85.pdf]

    Whether a constituency or local focus and visible conflicts within parties are a good or bad thing is entirely a question of one’s values. It would appear, however, that the public in Canada errs more in favour of these things than against them, judging by MMP’s failure in ON and PEI.

    [1] A chart of how each system satisfies the guarantees is available from craighubleyca@yahoo.com

    [2] Accordingly Hubley’s BSTV and B5AV permit only leaders and simultaneously elected deputies to reach the legislature by means of the “+L” seats. And that would only be permitted if the most popular elected member of that party chooses to step aside, and if the party’s advertised constitution requires them to and their political advertising made clear that this might occur. It could be required also to hold a ratification by-election to clear this substitution with the public, though that would possibly be onerous.

  53. More to Andrew’s current point, not to give Harper any credit for anything, but FPTP created the current mess almost by itself. Without it:

    1. The Bloc would not be gaining the balance of power as often as it is now, and might not even be viable.

    2. Small shifts in popular vote support would not translate into big shifts in seats, reducing the incentive to stir up partisan debates with “wedge issues” and justify elections when one’s polls numbers improve slightly. What’s the point of going to the public again if you’ll get only 4% more seats for 4% more votes?

    3. At least under ranked balloting systems, parties with very similar platforms would not be forced artificially to oppose each other nation-wide where one party has little or no chance of success. By extension, the Progressive Conservatives would not have been forced to subordinate themselves to the Reform Party. Rather, each would campaign for second-choice votes in each other’s territory instead. Just such a coalition between two right wing parties was very stable for a very long time in Australia which eventually adopted an instant-runoff ballot to make public approval of this arranagement clearer.

    4. Party affinities and second choices would not be guessed at, misrepresented nor so frequently lied about. It would be easy, for instance, under an Australian-style system, to point out that the vast majority of NDP or Green votes had another member of the coalition as the second choice, and that such voters were ranking Conservatives last. While polls can yield similar information, it is nowhere near as valid as a true nation-wide poll on election day, which the Governor-General could reasonably be expected to use as input to her decisions. FPTP ballots provide less information about party loyalties and motivations and less information about second and third choices than any other ballot, leaving the public’s true wishes liable to spin by pollsters with rigged questions and small samples or politicians with agendas.

    5. Harper could not have invented a divisive wedge issue and used it to humiliate Quebec. As Andrew points out, the coalition arising from this last election would be, had the popular vote been the same, between Liberal+NDP+Green (26+18+7 per cent equals 51). The involvement of the Bloc thus would not be useful as a wedge issue, however dishonestly or likely to stir up inter-regional anger. Accordingly the artificial “national unity” issue Harper invented would not have been credible. And good Canadians would not currently be telling those who voted Bloc that they are, indeed, at best second class citizens, exactly as they have long represented themselves to be in this country. Which leads to a real national unity issue and possibly soon another referendum unless Harper resigns for this bigotry.

    Given that Harper was himself elected Conservative leader on an instant-runoff ballot and insists on such ballots for Senate votes, and publicly spoke in favour of instant-runoff in eisting single member districts as an option for the House while he was in Opposition (in a radio interview with Jim Fannon), there is no rational grounds whatsoever that he could use to deny a coalition government the right to hold the next election using such a ballot. As correctly pointed out above, it’s just another Elections Act issue like adding new seats for population. Not that Harper pays much attention to Elections Canada…

    So the coalition could take office and make this change, then hold an honest election with IRV ballots, with the promise to hold Senate elections with similar ballots once public financing rules can be put in place. To hold Senate elections across huge territories / large provinces grossly advantages the richer parties and candidates, and could only lead over time to Conservative majorities in the Senate chamber without offsetting public financing. Personally I think a better move is proportional Senate appointments but the NDP would reject those (their position is to abolish the Senate) so the main value of the Senate in this current debate is that Harper’s position sets the precedent to use IRV ballots for the House. The compromise that keeps the NDP onside is that a longer-term process to hold a public referendum to make deeper changes to the electoral system would begin, similar to that in BC, and that no elections to the Senate would be held until that was complete, and all appointments to it would be reform advocates. (Again, so similar to Harper’s position that he can raise no rational objection).


    Canada is presently experiencing a serious Parliamentary Crisis that is caused by our archaic system of electing our members of Parliament.
    Canada’s next election should be a meaningful election in which voters can vote for whom and what they believe in, with confidence that their vote will affect the formation of Parliament. In the 2006 and 2008 elections, less than 50% of electors could point to an MP that their vote helped to elect. Using the newly proposed electoral system, over 90% of electors would.
    If Canada had an effective electoral system, minority governments would be almost a certainty. Prime ministers and their governments would need to learn how to work collaboratively for the good of a more inclusive Canada. As in this crisis, if the focus was power, and the Government could not work collaboratively with the confidence of the House; a coalition government could be formed to carry out the will of the voters in the previous election.
    With a minority government working collaboratively, bills like those that caused this crisis would not be brought forward. If Canada now had a majority government, those bills that would have reduced the feeling of community in Canada would have passed. Under Canada’s present system, the majority government would almost always be a false majority, with less than half the votes but more than half the seats (usually about 40% of the votes).

    The system proposed on the following website is relatively simple and would be easy to implement in Canada. Ridings would be twice as large. Keeping the same number of seats in Parliament, half the seats would be riding seats and half would be proportional seats. To keep local representation, the seats would be divided into areas with between four and eight seats. Each area would have its own popular vote for designating the area’s proportional seats. All seats would be occupied by candidates who won their seat in the election.
    Because we would have a far more representative democracy, all areas of Canada would be represented by both Government and Opposition MPs. This proposed electoral system would help build community in Canada.
    Click on this link for more Info: http://www.electoralchange.ca. At the bottom of the first page, you will find links to both How This Change Could Happen plus a PDF System Presentation.
    David Brekke, B.Ed., M.Ed.
    Former Federal Returning Officer and
    Member of Elections Canada Returning Officers Advisory Committee
    Very Concerned Canadian Citizen with an Apolitical Position

  55. Dec 10, 2008
    Democratic Dilemma

    Firstly I will admit I am embarrassed to have Steven Harper as my Prime Minister, but I really don’t blame him. He has been created by the broken parliamentary system that has denied Canadians responsible government for decades:

    Our system originally functional with two parties, and the responsibilities of the members of the house were clear. Gradually and inexorably this system has been perverted, distorted and maimed by the last many majority governments. That would be the last 40 years of Liberal and Conservative governments together.

    Moreso, leaders of ‘majority’ governments since Mulroney have used party solidarity and caucus loyalty to disenfranchise the elected members of their own parties in favour of a centralized directorate, cabinet. The growth of the third party, the NDP and later The Bloc, have compounded the trend. Today Harper is the product of a broken system that has evolved into the antithesis of what Parliament was designed to do. Parliament has become a madhouse of partisan B.S. that only demonstrates the reality that our governments have become everything but parliamentary and democratic.
    Harper and his committee handbook on how to make parliamentary committees dysfunctional and his every action in The House, especially last Thursdays demonstration, are significant of only one thing – Parliament and Canadian Democracy are broken.

    Yet NONE of your so-called experts have even addressed the causes of this present debacle of democratic process. Nobody has even tried to discuss the cause and the remedies.

    A much as I despise the coalition of right wing elements that Harper leads (YES he is leader of a coalition!) I despise the inadequacies to the platform the the new coalition (left one) is presenting.

    If The Coalition (the left one) were to present the reform of Parliament… Electoral Reform…as the main reason for their existence, and promise legislation if they do get to be the government. Then I would feel that Canadian politics would have raised itself to the statesman like level Obama raised the U.S, election. Remember?… ‘break down partisanship, counteract lobbyists, work together’. Could we put it simply- Get together and discuss things politely and responsibly… Parler… To Talk Together!!!

    There is no doubt in my mind that a Parliament working democratically… ie cooperatively, discussing and voting freely on the economic issues would at very least represent the views and needs of the country.
    I believe Parliament is about differing opinions and differing views of what Canada should be. I actually value Harper and his party’s opinions but respect for the institution must come before ideology, before partisanship, before megalomania.! The institution was designed to facilitate compromise, something unfortunately Harper, personally, cannot do.
    Under the coalition such a positive situation could occur, but until there is legislation changing our way of electing representatives (something that reflects the actual distribution of opinion in the country, Canadians will remain disenchanted and apathetic about our non-functioning (non-talking and discussing together) parliament. Unfortunately, if the coalition does not get its act together and become statesmen functioning for both the short and long-term health of our Parliament (country), then even if they get control of government the whole diabolical mess will engulf us again after the next election. So far the most statesman like figure in The House is Mr. Duceppe!

    I urge The House to do everything in its power to bring THE REAL ISSUES to the forefront during the next 6-8 weeks!

    Canada’s democracy is BROKEN and needs fixing. The proof? The evolution of Parliament into what Harper has clearly demonstrated it is a broken relic from the past.

    There is no way to fix the economic problems while the political system is so maimed. There is no political party that actually owns the answers or even has much of a chance of making the economic crisis disappear, but together we might do a credible job of trying to do so.

    Shane Nestruck

  56. Of all the disastrous effects of first past the post none is worse than the way it forces political talent to either join a dominant party or stay out of politics altogether. Who knows how many great Liberals from Alberta, Conservatives from Toronto or PEI, NDPers from Newfoundland, have never been able to get to the legislature because the dominant parties in their region simply offer someone with their beliefs absolutely no path to win?

    This country can survive perhaps two more elections with this system before it is utterly eradicated by the way it enables narrow regional interests and systematically disempowers parties that seek strong national presence. The time to act is now, but reviving failed 30-50% MMP schemes won’t work.


    Two mixed-member-proportional (MMP) systems even less radical than the one David Brekke (electoralchange.ca) is proposing were soundly rejected by ON and PEI voters in 2007 and 2005 respectively, with about 38% of the vote. Far less than the 60% approval threshold usually set for such referenda.

    Each of these schemes would have given only about one-third of the seats in the legislature to the parties to allocate according to their lists, as opposed to Mr. Brekke’s one-half. There is no reason to believe that such a system as Mr. Brekke proposes has any chance to succeed at all, and every reason to believe that continuing to discuss schemes of this sort will simply prevent any change. Accordingly it’s not constructive nor practical to be re-introducing failed heavily-MMP schemes to the public – by contrast an incremental instant-runoff-voting reform could be implemented without controversy and (as I’ve explained) Mr. Harper could not oppose it without hypocrisy. The single-transferable-vote scheme, which uses a ballot that is or is nearly identical to the IRV ballot, was supported by nearly 58% of BC in 2005 and by 77/79 of its existing districts. It shares with Brekke’s scheme the division into multi-member districts that preserves regional interests and allows the districts to more closely match municipal and bioregional boundaries, and to change less – meaning less “gerrymandering”. So IRV now, STV later is a viable scheme that ends vote splitting *now*.

    If the BC STV scheme passes the 60% threshold in May then this will become the default reform scheme for all other provinces and federally. STV is almost as party-proportional as MMP, and far more representative of public wishes in that it does not permit votes from one side of the province to affect who from the other is elected – also the public must approve of every individual (not “list”) by name. Some very small parties will be under-represented but an analysis of the 2001 BC results showed that had BC-STV been in force the Greens would have had eight seats, including all key critics and leaders, as opposed to the eleven they’d have “deserved” under a fully party-proportional scheme. Parties losing a little influence in favour of the public or regional balance is not a bad thing necessarily: There are other kinds of “proportional” than that to a candidate’s party.

    Should STV fail, the door would be open to a more complex scheme that had a very few (10-15%, not 30%, not 50%) party-proportional seats that could be used in a makeup fashion to ensure that all but the smallest parties got in with the same levels of support per member as larger parties. The best of these schemes do not arbitrarily assign a threshold to be represented (and it’s not clear they could since the Supreme Court has ruled that per-vote funding cannot be made conditional on achieving even 2% level of support) but do guarantee that every party above a certain threshold gets elected – that threshold being only statistically predictable in advance but easily observed after the fact. For examples of election calculations of this sort you may contact me directly at craighubleyca@yahoo.com or on Facebook.

    However only if BC-STV fails should such compromises even be considered and that only to get MMP fanatics like Mr. Brekke onside. It’s quite likely that introducing *any* party-proportional seats would decrease support for reform. And while complexity of an electoral scheme seems not to matter to the public at all or even be a plus (in BC they arguably voted 58% for a scheme they did not understand, while in ON and PE they voted 38% for a scheme they did understand much better – and objected to for good reasons) there may be a limit to how complex a scheme can be and still be accepted. If the average person cannot be trained in how to count the ballots within say an hour, then, you might start to ask whether the scheme is viable or democratic. (For these reasons, no e-voting scheme without a paper trail can ever be democratic as one is forced to trust experts to tell you whether it is working or not). So 1. IRV 2. STV 3. STV + minimal MMP will remain the most likely order of successful reform, with 30%+ MMP unlikely.

    For MMP fanatics (only) I offer the following justification for them to switch to advocating a mixed mostly-STV-no-more-than-15%-MMP scheme that would allow for accountability improvements like fixed electoral borders and the ability of districts to decide to have fewer STV more MMP members, within limits:

    An analysis of the most recent Nova Scotia election proved that even if 10-15% of the seats were party-proportional, the only parties that would get them under such a mixed 85STV+15MMP scheme would be those one would expect: four of the six such seats would go to the under-represented Liberal Party of Nova Scotia, and two to the presently-unrepresented Green Party of Nova Scotia. With more than 15% of seats party-proportional, one starts to see allocated seats going to independents and very small “protest” parties – I think it’s obvious that such individuals should usually be directly elected where people know them, rather than rely on questionable affiliations of convenience. Also with no more than 15% of seats allocated in this way it will be persons “almost elected” in particular districts (the Liberals) and persons “privately elected” as leaders and deputies of political parties – both of which are a form of public accountability in ways that others put on “party lists” would not be. I don’t advocate any “party list” at all and do not believe political parties can be trusted to create them in any fashion that would not be manipulated internally by their cronies/insiders.

    The party-proportional votes can be weighted to overcome other factors such as the fact that some districts get full members despite having very low population (the Yukon, Nunuvat, NWT, Labrador, all four PEI seats): these should probably not also get influence in the party-proportional round(s) unless they deliberately trade away some of their guaranteed whole seats.

    Why would they ever choose such a tradeoff? Because it may be the best or only way to get a member of an aboriginal or other minority party elected.
    If the MMP round is cognizant of where the votes come from and where the particular party member elected ran, tendencies of party proportional seats to override regional preferences can be minimized. If robust enough such formulas can even be used to permit district borders to match natural bioregional boundaries which never change at all – dealing with changes in population by adding fractions of members as opposed to changing borders to add full members – those fractions being accomodated in the final and party proportional round. That eliminates gerrymandering altogether, allows the borders to exactly match fixed municipal and bioregional organizing units, and permits wild or sparsely populated districts to be represented by single members while remaining quite large. As noted it would also allow some flexibility, each district could for instance choose to be represented more party-proportionally and less by direct election of specific candidates, within some global limit. So, federally, if Northern Ontario decided that it was better served with 1.0 party proportional members than with one full MP elected directly, they could make that choice say given 60% support in a referendum. It seems less likely however that these very electorally priveleged regions would make such choices, more likely Toronto would decide that it needed more influence in the party-proportional/MMP round and allocate say 4.5 seats to that round while keeping 22 directly elected MPs via STV – making it worthwhile for parties to focus national campaigns on Toronto and ensuring some Conservatives will also be elected.
    (dealing with the worst problem of FPTP, discouraging political talent and competition).

    A complete electoral system that includes all these features is available for review by anyone who will commit in writing not to advocate it until June 2009 and not to advocate it at all in preference to IRV or simple STV. Unlike Mr. Brekke I will not be muddying the waters by showing it off now.

    Until May of this year our best bet for reform is to back BC-STV in BC and IRV federally. If either succeeds it sets the pattern for other reforms – and we can revisit the question of party proportional seats in the future.

  57. Food for thought when the value of minority governments is established:__MINORITY FOR TRUE MAJORITY Paired–riding Preferential/Proportional (PrPP) electoral
    system With this combination system, all representatives would be elected by a majority of the electorate. If this proposed system had been used in the 2008 election, the Calgary electoral area would have elected one Liberal, one Green, one NDP and five Conservatives. Rather than 37% of “x” votes having no effect on the election outcome, only 3% of First-choice “1” votes would have had no effect.http://www.electoralchange.ca Dave Brekke, Very concerned Canadian