Friday, January 27, 2006

Why would a Conservative support proportional representation?

Sure, the NDP and the Green party get screwed under first-past-the-post. Who cares? Why would a Conservative party, or the Liberal party for that matter, support a proportional voting system?

Canada held seven general elections between 1980 and 2004. The results were two majority Progressive Conservative governments (including the 'landslide' of 1984 in which Brian Mulroney's party received a bare majority of the popular vote, the only modern-era government to do so), four majority Liberal governments under Trudeau and Chrétien, and the Liberal minority government of Paul Martin.

Let's take a look at the numbers.

'Wasted votes' here means votes for candidates who were not elected. (The concept could be expanded to include surplus votes for candidates who were elected.)

The percentages are indeed horrendous for the NDP. Almost four out of five NDP votes went down the drain. The contrast between the nationally-dispersed NDP and the regionally-concentrated Bloc is striking. The Bloc has elected more MPs than the NDP, with fewer than half the votes.

The Green Party is in a transition state. Although they have emerged from 'fringe party' status, they have not yet elected anyone. Their wasted vote total will go up by about 650,000 with the results from the 2006 election.

But what is immediately clear from this chart is that most wasted votes are cast for the major parties, and the largest group of unrepresented voters are conservative party supporters.

Interestingly, conservative parties received more votes than the Liberals during this period, but lost five elections to two. This had something to do with the fracture of the right into PC and Reform elements, but mostly had to do with the greater efficiency of the Liberal vote in producing seats, and also with regional ghettoization of the parties caused by the voting system.

Let's look at that more closely. Here is the regional breakdown for Ontario.

Here we see why the Liberals are the 'natural governing party'. They captured almost all the seats in Canada's largest regional block, with half the votes. Millions of conservative voters were robbed of representation, while the news analysts explained patiently how the Reform Party and Canadian Alliance just couldn’t get any support in Ontario.

Although small parties are devastated by our winner-take-all voting system, we can see that major party voters are also ripped off, and conservative voters are the largest group of victims.

Looking at these charts, another striking point is that even the Liberals and Bloc Québécois, who were strongly over-represented in Parliament, still had significant numbers of wasted votes.

This brings up a central point. Proportional representation and fair voting reform are not about what is good or bad for any political party. They are about what is good for voters. Each of the 40,000,000 wasted votes listed above means a voter who was 'represented' in Parliament by someone they voted against.

Under proportional representation, almost every vote cast actually helps to elect someone. So, the real answer to the question, "Why support proportional representation?", is, "Because it's the right thing to do for Canadian voters."

Wayne Smith, President
Fair Vote Canada


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