This is the fifth in the Whoa!Canada: Proportional Representation Series
For years I didn’t understand that mysterious phrase “The Popular Vote.” The popular vote numbers never seemed to have any connection to the number of seats a political party won. I just assumed the numbers seemed like gobbledegook since I’ve always been something of a mathphobe. So imagine my surprise when I learned it was the system that was skewed, not my grasp of the numbers.
The popular vote is the number of valid votes Canadians cast. If we look at the results of the 2015 election, we see
6,943,276 votes translated to 184 seats for the Liberal Party, 39.5% of the votes won 54.4% of the seats in parliament while
5,613,614 votes translated to 99 seats for the Conservative Party, whose 31.9% of the votes only won 29.3% of the seats.
The Liberal Party formed government by winning a much larger percentage of seats than it earned in votes, while the Conservatives won fewer seats. This is disproportional representation. As you can see from looking at the percentages across the entire election, with the Liberal Party being the biggest beneficiary of the disproportional results. Every other party won a substantially higher percentage of votes than seats.
When most Canadians first stumble into discussions about electoral reform, the incomprehensible jargon makes it hard to understand what people are talking about. But it gets worse. Not only are there are many different voting systems we’ve never even heard of, some have more than one name. And worse still, most of the people talking about it use acronyms, so it is a considerable challenge just to follow the conversation. It isn’t that electoral reformers are intending to confuse us, it’s just that many electoral reformers have been thinking and talking about the intricacies of electoral reform for years.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand electoral systems, but nobody can keep up without some idea of what the words in this specialized language mean. Since Canadians have been promised electoral reform, it is important for us to have a basic understanding of the choices available so we can let our representatives know which we prefer. As I’ve had a few years head start, I’ve been working on a basic Electoral Reform Glossary.
This is the fourth in the Whoa!Canada: Proportional Representation Series
Canada’s government is chosen with a “First Past the Post” electoral system where some votes are worth more than others, but most don’t count at all. This effectively divides Canadians into those that have representation and those who have none.
With such disproportionate representation, the best hope for in such a polarized electorate is a minority government, because no laws can be passed without the support of more than one party. Unfortunately there is no “minority government” box to mark on the ballot. This is especially difficult for citizens when our winner-take-all electoral system delivers a majority government to a single party that earned far less than a majority of votes.
Our current Liberal majority government was elected by just 39.5% of the voters, excluding a majority of Canadians from representation in Government. When a “majority” government (like most First Past the Post (FPTP) governments) is elected by a minority of voters, the majority of voters are unrepresented. The idea is that whoever is elected, is expected to represent the interests of all their constituents. This sounds good in theory, but hasn’t worked so well in practice.
What citizens are left with is a serious democratic deficit. The problem becomes even bigger when well funded corporate and ideological special interest groups can successfully lobby for what their employers want. Powerful insiders and professional lobbyists know how the system works and they how to get what their employers want. Not only do these people know who to talk to, they have access to the decision makers ordinary citizens don’t. These pros can make backroom deals and convince the right people to put forth legislation and trade agreements beneficial to the special interests groups who hire them — even when it’s detrimental to the public good.
Since we are saddled with a system that usually leaves most voters without representatives who will speak for us in Parliament, the only recourse left to the majority of Canadians without representation is to lobby the government ourselves when our MPs consider issues important to us. If we don’t, we have no hope of discouraging our MPs from supporting:
legislation, policy or dangerous trade agreements Canadians oppose,
making and voting for laws that undermine the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and/or
otherwise jeopardize the public good,
That’s why the majority of voters have to work very hard just to get the government’s attention. We must try to educate the government about the issues that are important to us, and work even harder to try to convince the government not to pass laws or make policy detrimental to our interests.
If we used a different kind of electoral system — one that provided citizens with some form of Proportional Representation — we wouldn’t have to work so hard because we would actually have representation in Ottawa.
But we aren’t there yet. In the here and now, it is very important you let your MP know where you stand on issues that matter to you.
It doesn’t matter which party your MP is in, if you oppose Canada’s ratification of the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) you need to let your MP know you do not want the TPP.
Or Bill C-51.
Or even a motion to condemning the BSD movement (our right to dissent!).
Whenever the government is going to do things we don’t want it to, it’s up to us to let the government know or the only side they will hear is the other one. If you can’t convince your MP and/or their party disagrees with you, s/he isn’t likely to do you much good at all. So our only hope is that a lot of other Canadians will contact their MPs about the issues that matter to you as well.
We would be much better off with Proportional Representation, but even without it, if enough of us speak up, (strongly enough, loudly enough) there is a slim chance we might persuade the Government to back away from bad policy. Public opinion didn’t seem to have much weight with the previous Government, but public opinion does matter to the Liberal Government. Our chance of being heard is better than it was with 39.6% majority government the Liberals replaced.
You can contact your MP in a variety of ways:
by meeting with your MP in person,
speaking to your MP on the phone,
sending your MP postal mail (Mail may be sent postage-free to any Member of Parliament)
writing your MP an email,
sending your MP a fax
speaking to your MP on social media, or
Meeting with your MP in person is probably the single most effective strategy while signing a petition (especially a digital petition) is probably the least effective. To make it easier for the folks in the Waterloo Region area to contact your MP, I’ve put together contact information for our new crop of Members of Parliament.
MP Raj Saini (Liberal)
209 Frederick Street (Main Office)
This part of the website seems a little bit broken just now, as I’m finding it is providing links to incomplete draft contact pages. It might be easier to simply type in the correct URL by typing it into the URL address bar (or search bar) in your browser:
The long awaited 2015 federal election has been called, so Canadians are now being treated to one of the longest Federal Elections in Canadian History. Because of strict spending caps, the standard election period has traditionally been half as long as the one we are having now. Since the passage of the Harper Government’s Orwellianly titled “Fair Elections Act,” any party with an absurdly large budget (like, say, the Conservative Party of Canada) has an even better chance to outspend the other parties. Will they be able to effectively “buy” an election win in this way? I hope not.
Right now all the parties are scrambling to put on their game faces, but I have no doubt election fever will slow down a good bit until we get closer to the election. We have time to catch our breath. More important, we have time to start conversations about the Canada we want to have. About the future we want for ourselves, and for our kids.
They call it “voter apathy” but I believe that’s a misnomer: we ought to call it “Voter Disillusionment.” Although our electoral system is not only antiquated but unfair, a great many Canadians — on the order of 40% in 2011 — have become disillusioned or have other reasons for not getting out to vote. The fewer Canadians who vote, the weaker our representation in Parliament, as we can see from much of the legislation pushed through with little or no scrutiny by our current majority government.
Originally, our First Past The Post electoral system was designed to serve rich white men. It was only well into the 20th century that all Canadian citizens of legal age finally achieved the right to vote, but still, the system adopted before confederation wasn’t never intended to serve all Canadians. No one knows better than I — after 30+ years of voting in every election without ever sending a representative to Parliament — just how unfair our winner-take-all electoral system actually is. However, this year, meaningful electoral reform to Proportional Representation is indeed on the table. The Harper Government has a majority government– and 100% of the power — based on less than 40% of the vote. In the last election, more eligible Canadian voters did not vote than those who voted for the Harper Government’s majority. If all the disillusioned Canadian voters were to vote this year, things would indeed change.
Canada’s fortunes will certainly improve with a switch to a better form of representative democracy, so I encourage everyone reading this to do your best to engage any other eligible voters you know who might ordinarily not vote to go to the polls this fall. We see enough attack ads on tv… it is time for civil discussion about politics in our real lives. My own strong hope is that the disillusioned voters will cast their votes for candidates who support Proportional Representation, but just voting for what you want is just as important. Please consider: it is the Canadians who don’t vote who have the least representation in Ottawa.
It may help to direct any such potential voters to the many valuable online resources (here’s a borrowed list) to help them get informed, but please try not to influence their decision. People who don’t believe they can vote for what they want are much less likely to vote at all, so please try to encourage them to vote for the candidate they believe will best represent them in Ottawa.
“The economy is in good shape, so why is support for the Conservatives slumping?”
I’m making Mother’s Day cards right now so I don’t have time to read the article, but even having only read the blurb, I find myself disagreeing with Andrew Coyne’s conclusion.
The Tories have not gone out of their way to alienate anyone. They are simply doing the job they were elected to do.
The Harper governmenr is doing an excellent job of serving the only constituents they represent. Their party is legally empowered to govern in this way because our inequitable winner-take-all electoral system gives all of the power to the party that secures more seats than any other.
Ours is not a democratic system.
The problem with a winner-take-all system like ours is that a majority government is a dictatorship.
The rest of us don’t count any more than our votes do.
That is the reality built into Canada’s winner-take-all electoral system.
Only the elite whose votes elect the government secure representation in government.
The electoral reform Andrew Coyne supports is called “Alternative Vote” ~ although various spin doctors have rebranded it “Preferential Voting” (Liberal Party) or “IRV” (RaBIT). Some people like this alternate winner-take-all electoral system because they believe it will game the system so their party will get the dictatorial power currently enjoyed by the ruling party.
No matter how good the intentions, no matter how benevolent, a dictatorship is not democratic. Every time I hear people slamming Canadians for our low voter turnout it makes my blood boil. It isn’t that Canadians don’t care, it’s that each generation has learned that our elections are as meaningless as the elections in any banana republic.
When most votes don’t count, what you’re left with is really only democracy theatre.
I don’t think we can afford to pay the price demanded by anyone’s defacto dictatorship.
On this Mother’s Day, I reflect on why I write this blog: as a mother, I believe all of our kids deserve to live in a real democracy. But that will only happen with meaningful electoral reform to Proportional Representation.
All Canadians should be represented by our government.
[Note: The CIDA page was taken down, so the above link goes to the article in the Google cache ]
Although Canada currently has a government formed by the Conservative Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party has enough elected Members of Parliament to form the Official Opposition, which is also a part of the Canadian Government. Even if the NDP did not, as a duly registered political party representing any number of Canadian citizens, members of the NDP are certainly entitled to their own opinions and policies. Even when such opinions are published in the Huffington Post.
If Minister Fantino wished to respond to MP Helen Laverdière’s piece, he could have done so with his own submission to the Huffington Post. Or he could have submitted such a rebuttal elsewhere. Surely the Globe and Mail or the National Post would have been happy to oblige. Had he preferred to dispense with editorial oversight, he could have instead posted this diatribe under his own byline on his own blog. Or on any Conservative Party of Canada website or blog.
Minister Fantino’s ill advised decision to publish this partisan attack on a Federal Government website is clearly inappropriate.
Canadian Government websites are ultimately the property of Canadians, who come in many different shapes, sizes and ideologies. In order to properly serve our multifaceted, multicultural, multipartisan nation, Canadian Government websites must remain politically nonpartisan if they are to retain any credibility.
Minister Fantino has given the Canadian Government a black eye through this self serving overreach of authority. And Canada’s Minister for International Cooperation seems incapable of cooperating with his peers.
Generally speaking, I don’t like political parties.
What I don’t like is the idea of political parties in this land that is supposed to be a representative democracy. The way a representative democracy is supposed to work, is that we vote for and elect the candidate we think will best represent us. We elect the candidate we believe will vote for or against proposed laws as we would. So that our best interests will be represented within the halls of our democratic government.
The problem is, once elected, “our” elected representative is more likely to do the bidding of their party than they are to do what we want. Which rather makes a mockery of our “representatation.”
The inequity of our “winner take all” political system means any party holding a majority of seats in parliament has absolute power to enact any legislation it wants. For the entire term.
Our political system is older than Canada. Perhaps our flavour of representative democracy was good enough back in 1867, when communication and transportation were far from instantaneous, and governing a land mass the size of Canada was geographically challenging. But with today’s connectivity and access to information, our political system is sorely outdated and hugely inequitable. Worse, our “democracy” has few if any checks and balances to prevent abuse. When we are cursed with a majority government, what we effectively have is a time limited dictatorship.
(The Senate is supposed to provide “sober second thought,” but partisan Senate padding has resulted in the upper chamber being transformed into a rubber stamp for the party that stacks it the most.)
Because our electoral system is so terribly broken, when any such a majority government seeks to pass laws we don’t approve — the only recourse open to Canadians is to apply the pressure of public opinion. Citizens have to protest in any way we can. All we can do is hope that our government will take heed of our concerns and correct or drop legislation that is not in the public good.
Last summer a great many Canadians were upset by the Conservative “Black Mark Budget” Omnibus bill. Under our woefully antiquated “democracy,” any majority government has the power to pass any law, no matter how unpopular. And when many pieces of unrelated legislation are bundled together and called an “omnibus,” it means these laws are very nearly being passed in secret, because they receive only the most cursory public scrutiny and debate. In a democratic state, at minimum legislation deserves examination and dissent must be heard, even if the system allows for bad law to be passed anyway in the end. We deserve to know when bad law is made.
Because of the current Federal Conservative Majority, the only way to stop the Bill C-38 ominbudget from passing would have been for 13 Conservative MPs to vote against it. An awful lot of ordinary Canadians took to the streets in protest. People who had never lifted before lifted a picket sign in their lives waved them with gusto. Grandparemts, parents, children. A great deal of public pressure was in fact brought to bear. In Waterloo Region, Peter Braid pretended not to have seen the protest outside his office, while Stephen Woodworth magnanimously offered his protesters coffee. Still, in spite of the many protests made at Conservative MP constituency offices across Canada, not a single Conservative MP voted against Party dictates.
Things are pretty bad when a supposedly democratic government ignores the voters. Our system wasn’t entirely fair back in 1867, but it has been gamed and fiddled with by succeeding governments in attempts to give the ruling party an unfair advantage ever since. Is it any wonder that almost half of our eligible voters don’t even bother anymore? Canadians know all too well that all votes don’t count, nor are all votes equal. The system is so badly broken that strategic voting is considered a legitimate option. Something’s got to give.
The Canada that my child will inherit is much worse than the Canada I inherited. We no longer have the option of leaving politics to the politicians. Canadians need to start talking and thinking about politics. We have to stand up for change now or things will keep getting worse.
Today’s political parties seem to spend more time fund raising than campaigning. Why do they need so much cash? Seems they all need oodles of money to pay the costs of television advertising, which gets more expensive all the time. Of course, print advertising and robocalls don’t come cheap either…
With the phasing out of the per vote subsidy, money becomes a much bigger issue, particularly for the smaller political parties.
It is always easier for the rich to bankroll their political party (and get the laws that benefit them passed) but the rest of us need some political representation too. If you feel any political party has stood up for you, or the issues you feel are important maybe you ought to send them a donation.
If you happen to have any cash left on hand after the holidays and want to encourage the party of your choice to keep up the good work, now is the time to make a donation. A $10.00 donation actually only costs you $2.50 after you get $7.50 back in tax credit.
This is how it works:
Canadian Political Donation Facts
Maximum political contribution limit: $1,200
Donations between 0 and $400 ~ a 75% tax credit
Donations between $400 and $750 ~ $300 tax credit plus 50% of any amount over $400;
Donations over $750 ~ $475 + 33.3% of amount over $750 (max $650 per year tax credit)
Any contributions must be made by Monday, December 31st to be eligible for 2012 tax credits.
Another thing to do is get involved. Find out when and where the local political parties meet, and go sit in. Look for your local Fair Vote chapter or Co-Operate for Canada. Read the news. Follow #CDNpoli on Twitter. Listen. Learn.
Canadians need to start talking about politics, and get involved to effect change in one way or another. We can’t afford not to anymore.
If we’re stuck with a party system, maybe it’s time to join the party.