Friday, October 25, 2019

Canada’s 2019 Election and Proportional Representation

Election Results (source National Post)

Canada held its 43rd Federal election on October 21st, 2019. The results are a Liberal minority government with the New Democrats in a position of power. The Liberals were shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan but did well east of Manitoba

For the second time in Canadian history, a government will be formed that does not have the highest popular vote. The Liberals have 33.1% to the Conservatives 34.4%. 

In 2015 Justin Trudeau campaigned on changing the electoral system to some form of proportional representation (PR) rather than first past the post or FPP. PR is back in the limelight again, as the actual seats won by the parties have little relationship to their share of the popular vote.

I have strongly opposed PR because of my experience with Ukraine’s electoral system and wonderful examples like Italy. However, a Facebook friend, Daren Schemmer, of Simon Fraser University (SFU)[1] who has been patient with me for four years, suggested I check out the system used by Ireland and New Zealand. I did and now I’m a believer.[2]

I examined seats won and seats that would have been won on Canadian wide PR or on Province Wide PR. Twelve seats are required to be a recognized political party in Canada, so I arbitrarily did not count parties with less than 3.5% of the vote*. To give the territories (YT, NT, NU) some choice, I also lumped the three together for a final scenario**.

Party Representation by Various Electoral Systems
% Votes
Actual
Country*
Provincial*
Provincial**
Liberal
33.1%
157
115
116
115
Conservative
34.4%
121
119
118
119
New Democratic
15.9%
24
55
56
56
Bloc Quebecois
7.7%
32
27
26
26
Green
6.5%
3
23
22
22
People's Party
1.7%
Independent/other
0.4%
1
Other
99.7%
338
338
338
338

Technically, the Conservatives, under provincial proportional representation could have formed a minority government, IF any of the other parties would agree to any of their legislation. I cannot imagine a Conservative budget that would not lose a vote of non-confidence.

Alberta has another legitimate grip about the number of seats relative to population. Both Alberta and BC are underrepresented in the House of Commons based on population. So is Ontario. The rules around composition of the House of Commons are quite complex and involve a great deal of horse-trading, however they have been changed frequently and should be so again, even for FPP.

Provincial Representation in the House of Commons
Name
2019 Population
2019
Constituencies
Pop’n per Constituency
Par with Quebec
Ontario
14,446,515
121
119,393
134
Quebec
8,433,301
78
108,119
78
British Columbia
5,020,302
42
119,531
46
Alberta
4,345,737
34
127,816
40
Manitoba
1,360,396
14
97,171
13
Saskatchewan
1,168,423
14
83,459
11
Nova Scotia
965,382
10
96,538
9
New Brunswick
772,094
11
70,190
7
Newfoundland
523,790
7
74,827
5
Prince Edward Is.
154,748
4
38,687
1
Northwest Territory
44,598
1
44,598
1
Yukon
40,369
1
40,369
1
Nunavut
38,787
1
38,787
1
338
350

Provincial PR allows for regional parties such as the BQ but does not allow for non-affiliated or independents. Jody Wilson-Raybould would not have a seat under such a scenario. Fringe parties such as the PPC, are kept to a minimum, though no one knows how the votes would go under a proportional system.

However, a system like Ireland with three seats to a constituency does allow independents. That would look after the three territories. It provides a certain amount of leeway for everyone’s choice to be recognized and allows for some feeling of local representation as well. Apparently, five seats per constituency prevent any form of Gerrymandering.

Voting is done by Single Transferable Vote, where candidates are ranked by choice of the voter. Where this is done in a single constituency it is known as the Instant Run-off Vote. Australia uses this system. Figuring out how to count STV ballots appears extremely complicated. If there is no simple way that can be explained in less than a minute, it is a non-starter in my books and maybe why it didn’t go over in BC.

Whether the Liberals can be forced to live up to their 2015 promise now that they have to depend on parties that favour it to stay in power remains to be seen.


[1] Good thing Simon Fraser’s middle name wasn’t Thomas or the university would be known as STFU.
[2] You now have an earworm, you say? You’re welcome.

9 comments:

  1. It's hard to believe that any party which has come to power via the first-past-the-post system will voluntarily bring in a PR system because it will work to their disadvantage in the next election. However, I agree that Ireland/NZ are better systems than a pure PR system which can result in endlessly revolving coalition governments and new elections.

    Don't the Liberals and Conservatives now use an STV system when electing their national leaders? I don't think the results have been all that satisfactory, have they?

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    1. Can't say about the leadership ballot process. Agree that the two main parties have nothing to gain from PR.

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  2. I had hoped that Trudeau meant a lot of his promises in 2015 but he has turned out to be an utter disappointment and even an embarrassment. Why should electoral reform be any different, I guess. Like Debra, I don't forsee the issue getting any traction in the future either because it's not beneficial to the top two parties. It's all about power!

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    1. I hope Freeland replaces Tried before the next election

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  3. We had a referendum about proportional representation last year, accompanied by a very poorly-written explanation of how it would actually work. After I unraveled all the complex weasel-words, it turned out that the proposed version of PR would open the door for political parties to bait-and-switch. We could vote for one candidate and end up being represented by someone completely different. It also allowed parties to arbitrarily alter the representation without the knowledge or consent of the constituents.

    Our current electoral system is badly broken; but the version of proportional representation that was proposed last year was not the right fix. Maybe next time...

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    1. I'm convinced that there was full intent to confuse. Same with the questions that the Liberals posed on line. If people don't understand it they will vote No. Problem solved for the politicians. Cynical? Who me?

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  4. Thanks for the shout-out, Allen, and the joke about SFU. Actually, in 2005, 58% of British Columbians did vote 57.7% in favour of changing to an STV system, but the provincial government of the day had set the bar at a super-majority with more than 50% in favour in 53 of 69 ridings (a bar easily met) as well as a minimum of 60% across the whole province. Sad day.
    It was a remarkable exercise in democracy through, as the STV system was chosen by 161 people selected at random from across the province who looked at different voting systems for a year and recommended STV.

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    Replies
    1. The referenda are designed to fail. Politicians can then claim they tried but the people didn't want it. If it can't be explained in one or two minutes so everyone can clearly understand it will go no where

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