Thursday, January 26, 2006

Tories win in “unfair” election

Monday Magazine
26 Jan-1 Feb 2006
Victoria, BC

The non-partisan group Fair Vote Canada points out that a million more Canadians voted for the New Democratic Party than voted for the Bloc Quebecois. But under our first-past-the-post system, the NDP only wins 29 seats, compared to the Bloc’s 51. And voters for the Green Party, which got over 650,000 votes, will continue to be unrepresented in the Parliament.

Seats 2006

If we had voted under a different electoral system that better reflects the popular vote – such as a Single Transferable Vote or a Mixed Member Proportional system – Stephen Harper would still be the country’s new prime minister, but his Conservative party would hold significantly fewer seats. The NDP would pick up another 30 seats, giving them the balance of power, and the Bloc would have 20 fewer. And the house would have 12 Greens.

Of course, under a different system, there would be less incentive to vote strategically and the outcome might be even more different.

“We’re not getting the Parliament we vote for,” say Wendy Bergerud, an alumnus of B. C.’s citizen’s [sic] assembly, the group that recommended adopting the STV for provincial election, and a member of the Victoria chapter of Fair Vote Canada. “I think there’s a real danger if we continue with our current system because it encourages regionalism. I think it encourages our country to break up.”

A proportional system would likely result in more parties entering politics and more minority governments, she says. Minority governments are sometimes seen as unstable in the short run, she says, but they make it harder to make radical changes, which will give the country more long-term stability.

“Stephen Harper’s no dummy,” says Wayne Smith, the president of Fair Vote Canada. “He knows the system’s unfair.” It may not, however, be in Harper’s interest (or the interest of anyone else who has a shot at forming a majority government with fewer than 50 percent of the votes) to change the system.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said before the election his party won’t support another party in the Parliament unless they back reforming the electoral system. Without the balance of power, however, he won’t be in a position to set that condition. “He’s not in as strong a position as he ought to be,” says Smith.

Despite the setback, he adds, the system is ripe for change and it will happen eventually. “We’ll get a [better] voting system when people demand it,” he says. “In the long run we’re extremely optimistic. We think this is something whose time has come.”

Wayne replies.


Thank you for your article on the problems with our obsolete voting system, and for mentioning the work of Fair Vote Canada.

As you correctly point out, the NDP and Green party got shafted again as usual in this election. Lest your readers think that proportional representation is all about helping small parties, though, let me hasten to add that winner-take-all voting is bad for every party, and bad for our country.

The Conservatives took every seat in Alberta this time with 65% of the votes, so 500,000 mostly Liberal voters in Alberta got nothing for their vote. Another half-million Conservative voters elected no one at all in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. There will be no one from these cities in the government caucus, let alone the cabinet. A new deal for cities, indeed!

But electoral reform isn't about what's good for political parties. It's about what's good for voters. Under the current system, most of us vote for people who don't get elected, so we end up with a government that most of us didn't vote for.

Thanks for spreading the word that a better way is possible, and the time for change has come!

Wayne Smith, President
Fair Vote Canada


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