First Past The Post Election Blues

The Maple Leaf part of a Canadian Flag

Going into the election yesterday we had a Conservative minority government based on 5,209,069 votes, and today we have a Conservative majority government with 5,832,401 votes. That’s a difference of 623,332 votes. It is also a difference of 24 seats.

The 41st Canadian Federal Election has resulted in a Conservative Party of Canada majority government.

My son, who cast his first vote last night, asked me how it could have happened? Even with the tame “news” media [the watchdog press is indeed dead] he was under the impression that there was strong opposition to the Conservative government.

And of course the polls conducted throughout the term of the 40th Parliament always seemed to hover in the mid 30% range.
[No, I don’t believe in polls… that’s for all the people who tried to convince me of the accuracy of public opinion polls.]

As my friend Sheila said,

“Majority? Well, 24.1% of Canadians have spoken.”

Because Canadian voter turnout was less than stellar. Only 61.4% of registered voters voted yesterday, up slightly from 2008’s all time low of 59.1%.

My Bahamian friend Drew forwarded me this Voter turnout data for Bahamas. Can you imagine? They have a 92.13% voter turnout! I guess it really is better in the Bahamas.

comparing the results

So, lets look at what happened in Canada, eh? Possibly the easiest way to see what happened is to compare the results of the 41st election with the results of the 40th in 2008.

2008: Minority Government

The Conservative Party of Canada

5,209,069 votes, which was 37.65% of the popular vote and gave them 143 seats

The Liberal Party of Canada

3,633,185 votes, which was 26.26% of the popular vote and gave them 77 seats

The Bloc Québécois

1,379,991 votes, which was 9.98% of the popular vote and gave them 49 seats

The New Democratic Party of Canada

2,515,288 votes, which was 18.18% of the popular vote and gave them 37 seats

The Green Party of Canada

937,613 votes, which was 6.78% of the popular vote and gave them 0 seats


Voter turnout was the lowest in Canadian election history, as only 59.1% of the electorate cast a ballot.
Wikipedia: Canadian federal election, 2008



2011 Majority government

The Conservative Party of Canada

5,832,401 votes, which was 39.6% of the popular vote and gave them 167 seats (54%)

The New Democratic Party of Canada

4,508,474 votes, which was 30.6% of the popular vote and gave them 102 seats (33.1%)

The Liberal Party of Canada

2,783,175 votes, which was 18.9% of the popular vote and gave them 34 seats (11.0%)

The Bloc Québécois

889,788 votes, which was 6% of the popular vote and gave them 4 seats (1.3%)

Green Party of Canada

576,221 votes, which was 3.9% of the popular vote and gave them 1 seat (0.3%)


Voter turnout: 14,720,580 of 23,971,740 registered electors (61.4%)
source: Elections Canada: 2011 General Election: Preliminary Results



all votes are not created equal

I’m no math genius, but even I can see that the numbers don’t add up.

In the last election the Green Party had 937,613 votes and zero seats. After yesterday’s election, the Green Party has 576,221 votes and no seats. So now they’ve lost a few hundred thousand votes they have a seat. Although the Green Party lost votes, they probably haven’t lost any support. Because people concerned for the environment don’t suddenly going to stop caring. It isn’t as though there were any scandals in the Green Party. The only way the Green Party let their supporters down was in not getting elected.

Without an elected representative, the people who vote have no voice in parliament. We also saw the consortium’s exclusion of Elizabeth May from the televised Leadership debates.

The upshot is that the near million voters who voted Green across Canada had no representation in government. It is reasonable to assume that the lost votes went somewhere “strategic.” It can be hard voting for a party that can’t seem to win, no matter how much you believe in them.

A Canadian flag flying above Kitchener Clock Tower

The single biggest problem in a first past the post electoral system is that you only get parliamentary representation if the candidate you vote for is elected. And even then, if the candidate’s party doesn’t form the government, your representation is second class.

legislation

The main business of government is making laws. This is the other place where the numbers really count.

A majority government controls more than half the available seats in the House of Commons.

Which means a majority government can pass any law they want.

Democracy

The Conservative Party of Canada got 5,832,401 votes, or 39.6%.

All the other parties together received 8,888,179 votes, or 60.4%

Because of the way our system weights votes, less than 40% of the votes cast means a majority government.

More than 60% of the votes cast don’t count. This is what they mean when they talk about wasted votes.

Add to that another 9,251,160 registered voters who didn’t vote at all.

This majority government actually represents a minority of voters. The 5,832,401 votes cast for the Conservative Party of Canada count.

The other 18,139,339 votes do not. Is it any wonder why people get frustrated? In a democracy, every vote should count.

Canada needs electoral reform. I have been learning a lot about the different types of government that are possible from the non-partisan electoral reform group Fairvote Canada. Everyone who is concerned with this extraordinary inequity should get involved.

Because Canada deserves electoral reform.



Image Credits
Photographs released by laurelrusswurm under a Creative Commons Attribution Only License.

What’s Wrong With Strategic Voting

Our electoral process is badly broken. Some Canadian electoral ridings can be “won” with as little as 29% of the vote.

Every vote is not equal.  Under our current system, some votes count more than others, and others not at all.

Which means that only a small proportion of Canadians are represented by the candidates who are elected to Parliament.   Because of this, many Canadians feel disenfranchised and have stopped voting altogether.

true or false

We are told that majority government is good for Canada.

letter FBut the truth is that majority government is a very bad thing for everyone except the party holding the majority.  And of course, all of their friends. (You know, the ones who get all those lovely patronage plums.)

Under our current system, without electoral reform, the only time our government is at all accountable is during a minority government.   So although a majority government is easier for the politicians, minority government is actually better for Canadians.

We are told that our only real choices are Conservative or Liberal.
false
They have experience.
The polls say they have [insert latest poll figure here] support.
They are more fiscally responsible.

trueIn this campaign, the Liberals and Conservatives spent most of their time and money attacking one another on the past record. [experience?] Televised attack ads cost a lot of money, so the requests for donations have seemed unending. [fiscally responsible?]

The other parties can’t get a majority because of [insert latest poll figure here] or they can’t form a government because they only have [insert latest poll figure here] support.

In this election, there are actually four political parties who could have enough candidates elected to form a Canada wide majority government. Polls are at best an educated guess.   At worst, a poll is marketing propaganda.

A weather forecast is more accurate.

Mumbles about the New Democratic Party.

trueThe NDP are reputed to have “socialist” leanings. Of course, without these socialists Canada wouldn’t have social programs. What’s wrong with social programs? Aren’t they a good thing?

Isn’t it ironic that Michael Ignatieff is offering to save Canadian Health Care when the reason our prized Universal Health Care System is in crisis is thanks to massive cuts to Federal transfer payments made by a previous Liberal government? Fiscal responsibility seems to mean providing corporate welfare (bail-outs) at the expense of human needs.

Then there is misinformation about the Green Party.

false

The Green Party is only concerned with the environment – they have only a one plank platform.   That was true when they started, but has not been the case for years.

Today’s Green Party of Canada has a well rounded platform, with a better grasp of technology issues than most of our former Conservative government. The Green Party’s exclusion from the televised leadership debates also feeds into the erroneous assumption that the Green Party could not form a government.  Unlike the Bloc Québécois the  Green Party is running enough candidates across Canada to be able to form a government.

they tell us to vote strategically

For a long time now, with every election we hear renewed calls for strategic voting.
When I first heard of it it didn’t sound so bad; after all, my vote didn’t count for much.
The biggest part of the problem, the thing that prompts even smart people to consider strategic voting is that around a third of the votes can result in a majority government.

Fairvote Canada logo

The problem is that it doesn’t solve the problem, We need to fix the system. Anyone even thinking about strategic voting should find their local Fairvote Canada chapter and get involved.

Because strategic voting does not solve the problem.

It might seem to be a “work-around” but in practice it has entrenched the Conservative/Liberal two-step.

don’t vote “strategically”

The strategy is to convince us to vote for candidates we don’t want elected.

We are told that if Harper were elected Prime Minister in this election he will do all sorts of dreadful things.

A:  But anyone elected Prime Minister might do dreadful things. We KNOW previous Liberal and Conservative governments have done dreadful things.

Opinion polls say that [insert name of the political party you support here] can’t possibly win, it is important to vote for [insert name of the political party the ‘strategic voting advocate’ supports] instead so that ‘we’ can defeat Harper.

A: Opinion polls can be manipulated, their accuracy is speculative at best. If they were accurate, we wouldn’t need to bother with elections. There are different voters on the rolls this time. Many Canadians will be voting for the first time.

Last time was last time. We have no idea who will win the election because it has not yet been held.  No one has been elected ∗ yet ∗

all Canadian votes should be equal but they are not…

… which makes my devalued vote even more important.  If I don’t vote, my voice would count even less than it does now.

If I don’t vote for the party I support, the party I support won’t know that I support them.

If I don’t vote for the good person I think will best represent me in parliament, that person may not feel supported enough to continue in public service.  That candidate may decide not to run again.

Strategic voting doesn’t just cast your vote for a candidate you don’t support, but against the candidate you do.  If I vote for a candidate I don’t support, I deserve what I get.

This is a new day. A new election day.

Don’t vote strategically – especially if there is a candidate you believe in.

If we don’t start voting for the candidates we believe in, we will never get the government we want.



The only Canadian political parties opposed to electoral reform are the Conservative and Liberal parties. Canada has other choices.

Visit the Elections Canada site to see what choices are available in your riding.

P.S. Just found this great article: The perils of strategic voting



Voter Apathy?

Canadian Flag, Old City Hall, Toronto

Canadians are often admonished by the media for “voter apathy.”
In every election, the media complains about the high percentage of Canadians who don’t vote.

So why don’t Canadians vote?

Independent Canadian Journalist/Blogger Jason Koblovsky pointed to this excellent Parliament of Canada article:

Youth Voter Turnout in Canada – 2. Reasons for the Decline and Efforts to Increase Participation which provides both background and basic understanding of the “voter apathy” problem.

Voter apathy is not confined to the young.

This problem has spread through all of Canada. One powerful reason many Canadians, both young and old, feel disenfranchised by the system, is that:

“…many voters doubt that voting every four years
can truly influence the decision-making process …”

Youth Voter Turnout in Canada
2. Reasons for the Decline and Efforts to Increase Participation

Why don’t Canadians think we can make a difference?

It begins with our First-Past-the-Post electoral system.   We have electoral ridings where a mere 29% of the vote garners a plurality win. So although 29% has never been a passing grade at school, it is apparently enough to promote candidates into lawmakers. Inequities in the system leave too far many citizens without any voice at all in government. To learn more about electoral reform, visit the Fairvote Canada site and give their Fairvote Calculator a spin.

Because left to themselves, neither Liberal or Conservative parties are likely to enact electoral reform.
Why would they wish to alter the system that has, until now, allowed them to take turns ruling Canada?

Representative democracy?

Our Members of Parliament are supposed to represent us – and look out for our best interests – in Parliament.

Currently, there are enough citizens in each riding that if the elected Member of Parliament did nothing but meet constituents 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year, they would only be able to give each a few minutes of their time.

But they don’t.   Our elected Members of Parliament are in Ottawa for some of the year, making the laws that govern our lives.  And most people never seek out their MP unless they have a problem.   Which is a good thing, because there really is not enough time in a year for an MP to talk to every voter.

That’s why it is so important for constituents to have an opportunity to see the candidates who seek to represent them.

41st Election Campaign

Now that we are in the midst of an election, candidates are canvassing door-to-door.   It’s one of those folksy things designed to make politicians appear more accessible.

I know they’re canvassing because many of them are “tweeting” about canvassing on Twitter.   In fact, former Conservative Minster of Industry, Tony Clement, recently tweeted that he was engaged in friendly rivalry with the NDP candidate who was canvassing the very same street.

beautiful tree lined residential street in Toronto

Which got me thinking. I mean, seriously, if there isn’t enough time to speak to everyone they represent in the course of a year, how can they possibly manage it during the few weeks of an election? If most Canadians never get a candidate at their door during a campaign, why would a Conservative and NDP candidate end up canvassing the same street at the same time in the same election?

Clearly, candidates have to decide where to canvass.   Are they are targeting the same areas? And where are politicians going door to door?   In nice neighborhoods, of course.

In my entire life, I’ve actually only had candidates at my door twice, once for a municipal election and once federal.

Can it be that they only canvass the “better” neighborhoods?   A friend of mine was surprised to learn there is any door-to-door canvassing at all. He lives in the densely populated urban setting of my riding, in what is a residential mix ranging from single family dwellings to townhouses, low rises and high rises, with some subsidized housing on the side. You couldn’t ask for a better cross section of society.   Talk about the electorate in microcosm.

But he assumed that they didn’t do that anymore since he has never had a politician at his door.

Can it really be that door-to-door canvassing only happens in rich neighborhoods?   If that is true, is it any wonder that citizens who do not live in expensive neighborhoods feel disenfranchised?

urban street with 70's era apartment tower and hydro poles

How the 41st Election is being run: close to home

More than 115,00 citizens reside in the geographically huge Kitchener-Conestoga riding which combines three far flung rural townships with the densely populated southwestern part of the city of Kitchener.   What that means is this riding includes many of the very poorest citizens of Waterloo Region, including the unemployed, immigrants, students and the disabled, alongside young families starting out as inexpensively as possible.   At the same time the riding includes some of the region’s very richest citizens who reside in multi-million dollar homes situated in the surrounding townships.

This calendar provides information about 41st election events in Waterloo region. The first Kitchener-Conestoga all-candidates meeting took place in the tiny town of St. Agatha, a geographic location not served by public transit. And of course, this event happened at the start of the campaign so the newly minted Green Party candidate, Albert Ashley, wasn’t able to attend. In other words it wasn’t really an “all candidates” meeting.

A second all-candidates meeting was scheduled for in Elmira, another venue not served by public transit.
Well, if you wanted to arrive well before the meeting began, you could have attended, but Grand River Transit daily service concluded before the meeting actually began at 7pm, so you wouldn’t have been able to get home.

So.   The ONLY “all candidates” meetings in this riding were held in out of the way venues inaccessible to public transit.

Only citizens with cars are included in the electoral process. #FAIL

IXpress bus driving in urban area

Misconceptions

If Canadians were to vote for the candidates we want to elect instead of the candidates that strategic voting advocates convince us we have to vote for (and who are, in fact, the candidates the advocates support) we would see real change.

Canadians have long been told that majority government is a good thing. Yet, in practice majority government has the power to ignore citizens, so in reality majority government is only good for the winner (and their friends).

We are told elections are expensive, yet even if we held elections annually it would be far cheaper than the patronage that always happens with a majority government.

Conservative NDP Green and Liberal logos
four parties are capable of fielding a 41st national majority government

We are told that votes for the Green Party of Canada or the New Democratic Party are wasted, ineffectual because they can’t form a national government. Yet these two parties are fielding candidates across the entire country. This means Canada has four parties able to send enough candidates to Ottawa to form a majority government for #elxn41.

We are told that votes for small new parties or independent candidates are also wasted votes. Any party incapable of forming a national government is supposed to be a waste. Tell that to the Bloc Québécois. Ostensibly formed to lead Quebec separation from Canada, the BQ party has championed the rights of Quebec’s citizens at the federal level.

When we elect any candidates they are capable of giving citizens a voice in Ottawa (and even more so should there be a coalition government.) The Universal Health Care that Canadians value so much would never have come about but for just such a “fringe” party.

It is implied that only the Liberal Party of Canada and the Conservative Party of Canada are capable of governing because of their experience, taking turns. They have taken turns governing this country all along. Yet if we look closely, we can see that they are not the same. John Diefenbaker’s Conservative Party (the party that pulled the plug on the AVRO Arrow, and incidentally Canada’s aerospace industry) was very different from Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative Party (the party that gave us the GST, with the bulk of tax funds collected going into bureaucracy needed to administer it) and is in turn very different from Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party (itself a coalition made up from the merger of the Reform Party with the remnants of the PC Party).

Pirate Party of Canada logo

Supporting the alternating Liberal and Conservative parties has put Canada in the position we occupy today. We’ve gone from a nation of early adopters of digital innovation to a nation barely treading water in a digital world. Past Liberal and Conservative governments are equally culpable in allowing the erosion of Canada’s digital economy through favoring corporate special interests at the expense of Canadians.  Governments the world over have shown a woeful inability to understand crucial digital issues, and ours is no different.  That’s why the Pirate Party of Canada came into existence – to fight to safeguard Canada’s digital future.

Polls are treated as though their results are factual, and they tell us who will be elected before a single vote is cast. If polls were 100% accurate why do we need to hold an election? A small sampling, polls are far from a foregone conclusion. At worst, a poll can be slanted to misrepresent the situation, but even at best a poll is akin to an educated guess. A poll is not fact, but a survey.

All of these misconceptions are promoted vigorously by the mainstream media. It is very important to realize that mainstream media is anything but unbiased. The mainstream media has its own agenda, which does not reflect the best interests of citizens, but rather the needs of the corporations. (TV tax, Fox News North, Canadian DMCA, UBB… )

The mainstream media berating Canadians for low voter turnout has contributed directly to it through its propagation of misinformation.

DeMOCKracy

woman holds a sign reading "demockracy" overhead at a cold weather rally

While we worry about two tier health care we suffer from two tier democracy. Certainly the two problems are connected.

And a great many Canadians do not usually vote.

Instead of reaching out to voters who don’t ordinarily vote, it appears that today’s political parties only bother with the usual suspects.

Instead of reaching out to the disenfranchised, they attempt to change minds that are already made up for the most part.

As far as the Conservative and Liberal parties are concerned, they have only each other to beat. That’s why they like our seriously broken political system, and will certainly never enact electoral reform. After all, as Charlie Sheen says, they are #winning.

Canadian Politics

But are they really? I don’t think so.

Canadians are increasingly disgruntled.

We are generally becoming more politically aware than we have been for a long time because of the failures of our government. Participation in Politics looks at the way technology is giving citizens the means to have our voices heard. Canadian politics are in such disarray that the disenfranchised aren’t waiting anymore to be invited to participate in democracy.

The amount of anger on display in the streets at last year’s at last year’s no-prorogation rallies was palpable. And a great many of these citizens had never even marked an x on a ballot. But social media and the Internet have given us ways to communicate and mobilize as never before.

The fact that the “all candidates” meetings are drawing bigger crowds than expected is telling.

In an effort to attract students to voting, Elections Canada have been allowing campus polling stations to make it easier for students to vote. The Conservative Party attempted to have the votes cast at the University of Guelph polling station discounted but failed.

And we have a growing Vote Mobs multi-partisan movement started by actual Canadian young people under the name Leadnow. Our youth are certainly taking an interest.

Anything is possible.

Because an election wipes the slate clean. If Canadians wanted to, we could elect an NDP or Green Party majority, making Jack Layton or Elizabeth May Prime Minster without even needing a coalition.

The results of the last election is old news… history. What happened in the last election has no bearing on this one, unless we choose to learn from it.
red maple leaf graphic

No one has been elected for the 41st Parliament.

Every job position sits vacant, and it’s up to Canadians to decide who will fill them.

Canadian voices *can* be heard.  Go Canada!



Image Credits:
Original photographs by laurelrusswurm released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) License