Tuesday, June 10, 2008

First Past the Post

Canada’s government is based on the British parliamentary system. The country (or province) is divided into Constituencies (based loosely on population) which are contested by the various political parties who nominate candidates to represent that party in that constituency. Elections are based on “first past the post” which is to say the person with the most votes wins. The party with the most elected members forms the government. Simple and effective.

The problem in some peoples’ minds is the percentage of the national vote and the number of seats won does not usually correspond. This is because Canada is a multi-party country. We have the Natural Government of Canada (NGC), the Conservative Reform Alliance Party (CRAP), the Consistently Losing Party (CLP) and the regional Party de Dunces de Quebec (PDQ). If the votes were perfectly distributed, theoretically a party could win every seat in the country with about 34% of the votes.

Parties can and do win majorities with less than 40% of the national vote and parties that routinely collect 20% of the vote don’t even elect enough members to form the official opposition. This is because of how votes are distributed between constituencies. If they are evenly distributed, a party could win double-digit percentage of the national vote and not elect anybody.

So the cry, mostly from supporters of the CLP, is to go to a proportional system of election so that the party which gets 20% of the votes has 20% of the seats in the House of Commons. People who espouse this nonsense should live in a country where it is in effect. Like Italy…or Ukraine. Actually Ukraine has the best/worst of both worlds. Half the Deputies in the Verkovna Rada are elected by proportional system and half on a constituency basis.

So here is how it works. The parties form lists of all their top people and rank them so that the heavies are assured a seat unless the party polls less than e.g. 5% of the national vote. These people, especially those closest to the top of the list, are answerable to no one and could care less as they are guaranteed a seat. There is no way to get rid of them. The constituencies are contested by nobodies. Cannon fodder. Bench warmers to back the unassailable big guns from “The List”. Write to your Deputy to complain? Why bother.

Apparently Ontario held a referendum about proportional voting and, thankfully, it was soundly defeated. Would that it stays buried in the dung heap of history forever.

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