Canada’s non-election results

The only thing for certain after the October 14th Federal Election, is that the Canadian electoral system is a pile of junk.

On October 14th, 2008, Canada had a federal election. Considering how long it lasted and how much money it cost, the results are pretty much insignificant.

The Conservatives led by the pathetic Stephen Harper won another minority, just like the last parliament. After $300 million dollars were spent on the election process, only 59% of Canadians – the fewest ever – bothered to participate. Note that $300 million is equivalent to the annual income of about 4,600 Canadians (based on 2007 figures). So 4,600 Canadians worked a year to pay for…no substantive change at all.

One of the major reasons people don’t vote is because they don’t think their vote matters. In some ways, this is true; in others, not so much.

In a very pragmatic sense, every vote does count because each vote given a political party gets that party about $2.00 of funding. If you honestly have any preference for one party or another, you should vote to help make sure that party gets the funding it needs to continue.

Still, in another important way, your vote doesn’t really count for much, unless you’re voting for a candidate that stands a chance of winning. This is because of our pathetic electoral system, which decides the winner based on a candidate being “first past the post.” In many cases, this means that voting your conscience is basically a wasted vote.

The problem is really obvious when you look at the popular vote (the percentage of votes attained by a party with respect to the total number of votes). In this year’s election, the Conservatives got 37.63% of the popular vote, but 46.4% of the seats. That’s because the winner is determined by the first person to get more than the minimum number of votes. Sounds fair, but in practise this means that the Conservatives are overrepresented in Parliament by almost 10%. For the other parties, the numbers are:

  • Liberals got 26.24% of the popular vote and 24.7% of the seats.
  • The Bloc got 9.97% of the popular vote and 16.2% of the seats.
  • The NDP got 18.2% of the popular vote and 12.01% of the seats.
  • The Greens got 6.8% of the popular vote and not a single seat.

(Note: data comes from the very useful website, Nodice, and from assorted media outlets.)

It gets worse. In the 2006 federal election, the Conservatives got 40% of the seats in Parliament with 36.3% of the popular vote (again, numbers are from Nodice). So over the two elections, the Conservatives only got 1.3% more of the popular vote but 6.4% more of the seats.

This means that lots of Canadians are not being represented by their actual preferred candidates. This ridiculous situation is most obvious in the case of the Green Party. 6.8% of voters wished to have Green Party candidates in power, and they were all denied. Similarly, about 9% of voters are being represented by Conservatives against their wishes. About 8% of voters are being represented by the Bloc Quebecois against their wishes. About 6% of voters who wanted to be represented by the NDP didn’t get their way.

Now, it’s quite unlikely that all these groups of are disjoint – it’s not as if 30% of voters didn’t get their choice. But it’s safe to say that somewhere between 6% and 30% of voters aren’t being represented by their party of choice.

Is it any wonder that more than 40% of Canadians didn’t vote?

What makes this even more embarrassing is that there is a well-known and successful solution to this problem: proportional representation. In this kind of election system, seats are distributed to mimic the popular vote as closely as possible. There are an assortment of different ways to do proportional representation, and deciding which one is best for Canada is something that will require a lot of discussion and study. But no matter what system is chosen, or designed, the point remains: proportional representation will all but guarantee that voters get the government they vote for, and not some cheap simulation.

The fact of the matter is simple: the goal is a system that accurately represents the wishes of the people. This is the key and only requirement. If we can’t meet this requirement, we haven’t got a solution. Whatever solution we design, it must satisfy this requirement. And proportional representation is the only way anyone has ever figured out to do it.

Try this google query and you’ll see just how much information is available about proportional representation. If you can, and if you have the time, get involved in any one of the many groups that are pushing for proportional representation in Canada. We’re worth it.


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