Provincial Elections Show Need for New Voting Systems

Voters Consistently Ignored With Single Member Plurality

A slew of recent provincial election results under the current Single Member Plurality voting system shows just how common it is for voters’ expressed intentions to be largely ignored in the makeup of the resulting legislature, and therefore how large swaths of the population end up not being represented the way they wish and deserve to be.

SMP Delivers Overwhelming Majority of Seats Even When Half the Voters Don’t Vote for Leading Party

PEI went to the polls in early October.  The Liberals went into this election with a large lead – polls at the end of August were giving them a lead over the Conservatives of 59% to 31% (with the Greens and NDP splitting the last 10%) and, had this support held up, they certainly would have deserved to win a majority government.  But would they have been entitled to win every last seat in the PEI legislature?  That’s what seat projections were showing.  Over the campaign, the race had tightened quite a bit: in the final days of the campaign, the Liberals lead had dropped to 53% and the Conservatives had risen to 34%.  How would this shift in fortunes been rewarded by our voting system?  The day before the election, the well-respected political predictor, Eric Grenier, at threehundredeight.com used polling data to estimate that the Conservatives would win a single measly seat.  When the vote was counted, the race was even closer than the polls were showing – the Liberals had dropped a further 2% to 51% and the Conservatives had gained a remarkable 7% to end at 40%.  However, the Conservatives were not rewarded for their valiant campaigning, ending up with a mere 5 seats to the Liberals’ 22 – i.e., with 51% of the vote, the Liberals took 82% of the seats.  Perhaps more importantly, the Conservatives were essentially shut out of the more urban parts of the province – only their Stratford-Kinlock seat is close to the capital.

Such results are drearily typical of Single Member Plurality voting. Newfoundland had a similar outcome – the Conservatives won 56% of the vote and took a large surplus of seats:  37 of 48 (77% of the total).  The Liberals retained the title of Official Opposition by winning 6 seats on 19% of the vote, while the NDP came in third with 5 seats on only 25% of the vote – well behind the Liberals.  Huh?  Only in the wacky world of SMP voting is 25% less than 19%!

Close Contests Are Really No Contest

In PEI and Newfoundland, SMP delivered an overwhelming landslide to the leading party.  In both Manitoba and Ontario, the two leading parties had virtually the same level of popular support, but in both cases one party ended up with many more seats than their near-rival – on the order of 1.5-2X as many.  Such distortions greatly exaggerate the actual closeness of the race, and, as in PEI and Newfoundland, tend to produce highly regionalized results (see maps below).

In Manitoba, the NDP won 46% of the vote to the Conservative’s 43% – quite a close contest.  However, due to the vagaries of SMP, the NDP won 36 of 57 seats – 63% of the total.  The Conservatives had to settle for 20 of the remaining seats, while the Liberals, who took 8% of the vote, had to settle for a single seat.  As with PEI, there was a strong regional (rural/urban) divide with the Conservatives winning virtually all rural seats in the south of the province and on the southwestern edge of Winnipeg, while the NDP won almost all the other seats in Winnipeg and the northern half of the province.

It is somewhat ironic that the Conservatives had, at some points, been predicted to win a higher share of the popular vote than the NDP, but even if this had happened, the seat results would have remained unchanged.  Conservative leader Hugh McFadyen resigned following the election, saying that the outcome was “far short of we had hoped for.”  Despite virtually matching the NDP in the popular vote, McFadyen said “The reality is this in politics … you have to deliver bottom-line results if you want to carry on as leader of the party.”  The irony is that this is not the reality in most countries around the world – maybe it’s time for the Manitoba Conservative Party to endorse a more proportional voting system so that their supporters can get the representation they deserve.

The Ontario election in October produced a similar result – the day before the election, ThreeHundredEight.com was predicting that the popular vote was a solid three-way contest with the Liberals slightly ahead of the Conservatives (36.6% to 33.3%), but this small difference was expected to deliver twice as many seats to the Liberals than to the Conservatives.  The NDP, with 2/3rds the popular support of the leading Liberals, were expected to win barely one third as many seats. In the end, the Liberals ended up at over 37%, the Conservatives about 2% lower at just over 35%, and the NDP down to under 23%;  the Liberals won one seat shy of a majority at 53 seats and the Conservatives gained ground to win 37 seats (the NDP took 17).  This seat distribution corresponds somewhat more closely to the parties’ vote shares than originally predicted, but the Liberals still gained a significantly disproportional advantage from how the votes were distributed.  As in Manitoba, the results reflected a strong regional divide, with the Conservatives sweeping several rural regions and the Liberals taking a disproportionate number of the seats in the Greater Toronto Area.

Time For Elections To Make Sense?

When I explained these various provincial election results to my children, they were aghast.  “How can they let this happen?” they asked me.  An excellent question.  I’m doing all I can to stop these outrageous outcomes, and I invite all of you to join Fair Voting BC in working for an end to elections that don’t make sense.

Host a Video Night to Celebrate National Democracy Week Sep 12-18

Invite Your Friends and Neighbours

Fair Voting BC invites you to host a video night with your friends and neighbours during the week of September 12-18 to celebrate National Democracy Week;  this is a great opportunity to break out the popcorn and talk about an important issue that doesn’t necessarily come up in everyday conversation.

Check out the great lineup of suggested movies we’ve put together (see below), along with our “Hosting a Video Night” checklist.  Head down to your local video store, grab one of these movies, and enjoy an evening of stimulating conversation.

“Hosting a Video Night” Checklist:

Before the event:

  1. Pick a date
  2. Pick a movie (see below) and buy popcorn
  3. Invite friends and neighbours, or post a notice (if you’re ambitious, book a room at a community centre, school or church)
  4. Add details of your event to our map (see below – just click the ‘Add’ button)

At the event:

  1. Welcome people and collect their contact information (ask if they’d like to sign up for our monthly email newsletter)
  2. Show the movie
  3. Discuss the issues;  talk about what people might like to do to respond
  4. Follow up with us at Fair Voting BC – let us know if you’ve decided to do something, or would like help from us to get something going (send a note to president@fairvotingbc.com)
Click map to see Video Night locations (click 'Add' button on map to add your own event)

Map of Video Night Events:

Click on the map to the right to open a full-size view. If you’re hosting an event, please add your event to our map by clicking on the ‘Add’ button (include contact information if you’re open to more people joining you).  If you’re looking to join an event, browse through the event markers in your area.

Note:  the ‘Add’ button is a little hard to find – look for it under the row of buttons at the top right of the map.  When you enter an event, you will get a little popup menu – click the top entry to confirm.  You should also add event details on the second tab in the dialog box (you can ignore the other tabs).  Finally, save your marker’s URL if you want to edit your information in the future.

Movie Suggestions:

Note about our suggestions:  Fair Voting BC is a non-partisan organization.  Some of the following films have a definite partisan slant, but we have included them because they deal more or less explicitly with some aspect of democracy, not because FVBC endorses any particular film.  By and large, the text is drawn from the films’ websites.  Please let us know if you have other suggestions for us.

Films About Canada:

  • Democracy 4 Dummies (2007).  This documentary shows curious cynics and aspiring politicians how to run for office with little or no money. Full of laughs and satirical commentary, this election adventure should leave even the most skeptical viewer thinking, “If these guys can do it, so can I!”  Democracy 4 Dummies follows the campaign trail of Dylan Perceval-Maxwell, an eccentric Green Party candidate and vegetable oil car driver in Montreal. While Dylan ultimately loses to federal opposition leader Gilles Duceppe, he gets the most votes of any Green Party candidate in Quebec.  Dylan and other Green Party candidates show us how to raise funds and collect signatures with dogs, skirts and anything else catchy.
  • Encirclement:  Neo-Liberalism Ensnares Democracy (2008, B&W, 160 min) Drawing upon the thinking and analyses of renowned intellectuals, this documentary sketches a portrait of neo-liberal ideology and examines the various mechanisms used to impose its dictates throughout the world.
  • Democracy à la Maude (1998)  A Canadian woman leads the fight against unjust corporate globalization, and for social justice.  Bullfrog Films, NFB

Films Based in the USA

  • Gerrymandering (2010) – order through their website.  Takes a hard look at the framework of our democracy and how it provides our politicians a perfectly legal way to control electoral outcomes by altering electoral district boundaries.
  • UNCOUNTED (2008) is an explosive documentary that shows how the election fraud that changed the outcome of the 2004 election led to even greater fraud in 2006 – and now looms as an unbridled threat to the outcome of the 2008 election. This controversial film examines in factual, logical, and yet startling terms how easy it is to change election outcomes and undermine election integrity across the U.S. Noted computer programmers, statisticians, journalists, and experienced election officials provide the irrefutable proof.
  • Murder, Spies & Voting Lies (the Clint Curtis story) (2008) Whistle-blower Clint Curtis, a computer programmer by trade, sticks to his claims that he was asked to make vote-rigging software for electronic voting machines by former US Congressman and loyal Bushite,Tom Feeney (R-Fl). Tension rises when the vote-rigging scandal dips into a murder mystery. While Clint Curtis testified to a Congressional Judiciary committee caucus in December 2004, and passed a lie detector test shortly thereafter, mainstream media has paid scant attention to his story. Independent filmaking is filling that gap.
  • Hacking Democracy (2006).  The disturbingly shocking HBO documentary HACKING DEMOCRACY bravely tangles with our nation’s ills at the heart of democracy. The film the Diebold corporation doesn’t want you to see, this revelatory profile follows a tenacious grandmother from Seattle, Bev Harris, and her band of extraordinary citizen-activists as they set out to ask one simple question: How does America count its votes?  This movie starkly reveals a rotten system riddled with inaccuracy, incompetent election officials, and electronic voting machines that can be programmed to steal elections.
  • CAN MR. SMITH GET TO WASHINGTON ANYMORE? (2007).  The inspiring story of a modern-day Mr. Smith’s quixotic campaign to win the 2006 Missouri Democratic primary with little more than political savvy, tireless work, and passionate leadership over a committed group of grassroots volunteers that grows from a few friends to more than 500 by election day.  When twenty-nine-year-old Jeff Smith decides to run for the congressional seat of the retiring Democratic party leader Richard Gephardt, his family and friends think he’s crazy.
  • Recount (2008):  HBO docudrama about the hanging chad controversy in Palm Beach County featuring Kevin Spacey as Gore advisor Ron Klain and Laura Dern as Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.
  • Recount Democracy (2002)  Forget the hanging chads and butterfly ballots. The Presidential election drama of 2000 is still a mystery to most Americans. “Recount Democracy” investigates charges of disenfranchisement and 180,000 uncounted Florida votes cast largely by the working poor and people of color, uncovering racial exclusion, voting rights violations and the subverting of a recount in the most contested and controversial election in U.S. history.
  • DEFLATING THE ELEPHANT: FRAMED MESSAGES BEHIND CONSERVATIVE DIALOGUE (2009) teaches us how language impacts our lives and more significantly, our political discourse. Language is influenced by what is known as framing, meaning every word is connected to a concept. How those concepts are used and repeated have proven to shape ideology, behavior and thought-process.  George Lakoff, author of Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know and Liberals Don’t and Don t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, dissects the conservative dialogue and provides explanations and examples on how they have spent the last 35 years perfecting their ideas and their language. Framed messages is a system and strategy that works. The key is to understand why it works. Features Sean Penn.
  • Electile Dysfunction (2008)  The mere fact that political consultants who make their living manipulating voters are willing to analyze their tactics onscreen without fear of repercussion sums up the problem with the modern electoral process. Public disapproval of politics and politicians is at an all time high, and for good reason. Cynicism and distrust are the hallmarks of this public disenchantment. The unholy alliance of special interest money and public policy has produced government that is perceived to be out of touch with the reality of everyday citizens and unresponsive to their needs.
  • Dear Oprah: Non-Voting America’s Wildest Dream (2008)  Almost a hundred million Americans don’t vote. Even when they’re electing their president and, with that, the most powerful political leader in the world. A year before the presidential elections of 2008 a crew of young European filmmakers goes on a journey all across the country in a little old motor home to search for America’s missing voters.  Who are they? Why don’t they vote? Can a young and fresh presidential candidate as Barack Obama make them vote? How would American politics change if more young people, single women, poor white people, African-Americans and Latino’s would start voting?
  • Media Malpractice (2009)  The 2008 Presidential election was historic in many ways. For the first time, the vast majority of mainstream media decided to openly back one candidate. Media Malpractice tells the entire story of this precedent-setting and dangerous media reality. In just four years, Barack Obama went from being a little-known State Senator, to being elected President of the United States. This film explores the role of the media in facilitating the victory that shocked the world.  While the media did everything they could to elevate Obama, they took a very different view of John McCain s VP nominee Governor Sarah Palin. With an interview of Palin done exclusively for this film, Media Malpractice examines the real story behind many of the media-created perceptions used in a blatant attempt to destroy her credibility.
  • Frontrunners (2008), is a charming, candid, and almost scary glimpse into the advanced levels of student sophistication in America’s top high schools. In this case, filmmaker Caroline Suh, who has copious experience as a documentary producer, put her documentary research skills to use at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, an elite school in which students who aren’t admitted to Top Ten colleges are considered total rejects by their peers. Frontrunners charts the arc of the student government elections, starring four kids who want the presidency.
  • The War on Democracy (2007):  Award winning journalist John Pilger examines the role of Washington in America’s manipulation of Latin American politics during the last 50 years leading up to the struggle by ordinary people to free themselves from poverty and racism. Since the mid 19th Century Latin America has been the ‘backyard’ of the US, a collection of mostly vassal states whose compliant and often brutal regimes have reinforced the ‘invisibility’ of their majority peoples. The film reveals similar CIA policies to be continuing in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. The rise of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez despite ongoing Washington backed efforts to unseat him in spite of his overwhelming mass popularity, is democratic in a way that we have forgotten or abandoned in the west.
  • MANUFACTURING CONSENT (1993) explores the political life and ideas of world-renowned linguist, intellectual and political activist Noam Chomsky. Through a dynamic collage of biography, archival gems, imaginative graphics and outrageous illustrations, Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick’s award-winning documentary highlights Chomsky’s probing analysis of mass media and his critique of the forces at work behind the daily news. 

  • Keys to Good Government (1993) In recent years, American government has been plagued with a burgeoning number of scandals and corrupt public officials, yet for almost two centuries American government had been characterized as sound and morally untainted. What caused the change? Unfortunately, we disregarded and lost much of the specific advice given to us by those distinguished men who formed our original government.  Discover the keys to good government by investigating the wise counsel and instruction given to us by leaders like William Penn, Benjamin Rush, Noah Webster, John Witherspoon, John Adams, Fisher Ames, George Washington, and many others.

Films About Other Countries

  • Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas (2008)  What is democracy? Freedom, equality, participation? Everyone has his or her own definition. Across the world, 120 countries now have at least the minimum trappings of democracy—the freedom to vote for all citizens. But for many, this is just the beginning not the end. A look at new democratic institutions and experiments in both North and South America.
  • The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard (2006) This UK-based mini-series follows Mrs Ros Pritchard, a successful manager of a supermarket. When a couple of politicians make a spectacle of themselves outside her shop, Ros decides to stand for election herself, just to prove that she could do better. Her story grips the nation and eight weeks later no one is more surprised than Ros herself when she wins the General Election and becomes the next Prime Minister.  Six 1-hour episodes.
  • Please Vote for Me (Chinese, with subtitles) (2007).  Two males and a female vie for office, indulging in low blows and spin, character assassination and gestures of goodwill, all the while gauging their standing with voters. The setting is not the Democratic presidential campaign, but a third-grade class at an elementary school in the city of Wuhan in central China. “Please Vote For Me”, which is on the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences documentary feature shortlist, packs its fleet hour with keen observations. Chroniciling a public school’s first open elections – at stake is the position of class monitor – filmmaker Weijun Chen has crafted a witty, engaging macro-lens view of human nature, China’s one-child policy and the democratic electorial process as the ultimate exercise in marketing.
  • Frontrunner (2008)  The setting: Afghanistan’s first democratic election ever. In the aftermath of 9/11, America’s military might has set the stage. But who will determine the fate of democracy in Afghanistan? Is it possible, a woman running for President? Where unspeakable cruelty to women had become part of day-to-day life under the Taliban? Vote for the mother, Dr. Massouda Jala shouts to the crowd. FRONTRUNNER tells the heroic story of this medical doctor and mother of three and the first presidential bid by a woman since the ouster of the Taliban.
  • Sex, Drugs and Democracy (1994).  This feature-length documentary film explores the limits of personal freedom by taking an uncensored look at the unconventional approach to morality and politics in Holland.

Other Ideas:

For more ideas, check out this list of over 20 political films compiled by the Springfield City Public Library and this list of 10 documentary films shown in 2004 as a package called “Why Democracy?”.

FVBC Invites Point Grey Hopefuls to All-Candidates Meeting

Fair Voting BC to Host All-Candidates Meeting Tuesday, May 3rd

Visit our Facebook Event Page

On April 13th, Premier Christy Clark called a by-election to be held in Vancouver-Point Grey on May 11th.  By the close of nominations on April 23rd, six candidates had registered to run:  Christy Clark (Lib), David Eby (NDP), Francoise Raunet (Green), Danielle Alie (BC First), William Gibbens (Ind) and Eddie Petrossian (Ind).

All but one of the candidates have agreed to join us at St. Helen’s Anglican Church (4405 W 8th Ave, Vancouver) on Tuesday, May 3rd from 7-9 pm (Premier Clark’s office has told us to expect to hear back from them shortly).  We encourage all participants to come early (~6:30 pm) for informal discussion and the opportunity to vote online for which issues and questions you’d like to hear the candidates address (or click on the forum image below right to provide your input right now).

Priorities and Proposals:  Public Input on Topics and Questions Invited

Click above to suggest and vote on issues and questions for the candidates.

The meeting will have two main components:

  1. In the first hour, we will ask the candidates to lay out their priorities – that is, what they perceive as the issues Point Grey voters feel are most significant in this by-election, what their analyses of these issues are, and how these issues would fit into their own personal priorities if they are elected.  We are inviting the general public to use our website (see instructions below) to raise issues of concern to them and to vote issues up or down so that the candidates can focus on the ones of greatest public concern.
  2. In the second hour, we will ask the candidates to outline their proposals for dealing with the problems identified during the first hour and to field questions posed by the general public online (again, see instructions below).

We trust that some or most of the candidates will stay behind afterwards to respond to personal questions.  Fair Voting BC members will be present to discuss informally democratic reform-related issues.

Make Your Voice Heard Online

To ensure that candidates are addressing the issues of greatest public interest, we warmly invite the public to visit our Issues and Questions Forums to suggest topics for the candidates to discuss and specific questions you would like to hear posed.  We have seeded these forums with a few ideas, but please feel free to add your own suggestions and to vote on ideas already submitted.  We will put the ones which rise to the top of the list to the candidates.

Why Are We Having Another Election?

Frequent Elections Are Due to Parliamentary ‘Blackmail’

Many people have asked why we’re having another federal election barely two years after the last one.  The Prime Minister has blamed this on the opposition parties, saying that they have forced an election, while the opposition leaders say that the government has been found in contempt and has lost the confidence of Parliament.  In a sense, both are right, but the real problem lies in some features of our current voting system and our use of the confidence requirement.  Until we deal with this problem, we cannot expect to see the kinds of stable government common in many other industrialized countries.  Instead, we will continue to see a form of parliamentary blackmail in which the government repeatedly (and often maliciously) forces the opposition to choose between unpalatable choices until the opposition gets frustrated enough to bring down the government, which normally triggers an election.

What are the Unpalatable Choices the Opposition Faces?

In Canada, the government requires the assent of a majority of MPs to pass any legislation.  If the government loses a vote on a throne speech, budget or other critical legislation, it is said to have lost the confidence of Parliament and is expected to resign.  The normal consequence of a government losing confidence is that a new election is held, although the Governor-General is within his or her right to ask another party if they believe they can form government and win the confidence of the House of Commons.

Under a majority government (i.e., one in which the governing party holds over 50% of the seats in Parliament), the government is rarely in danger of losing confidence as their party typically votes en masse to support the government.  The role of the opposition is likewise clear – the opposition is expected to oppose the government by pointing out all the flaws in the government’s plans and to stand on principle in opposing most government proposals, knowing that they can freely vote their conscience because their votes will have no impact whatsoever on whether legislation passes.  The government need not consult nor accommodate, and the opposition need not approve or compromise their principles – they can maintain a stance of righteous indignation which often wins the approval of their supporters, who see their MPs ‘sticking up for them’.

However, the political choices are far more challenging in a minority situation.  Despite the fact that the opposition in a time of minority government can quite properly seek to replace the government by defeating it, in practice there are some strong disincentives to doing so.  First, the leading opposition party usually has fewer seats than the governing party, and they risk being seen by the public as presumptuous if they seek to form government without sufficient public support.  Second, since only the Governor-General has the right to invite a leader to form government, an opposition party cannot guarantee that defeating the government won’t lead to an election.  If a party is not prepared to fight another election, it will tend not to want to bring down the government, especially early in the new government’s term in office.

This can place the opposition in a very awkward position. If the government plays hardball and refuses to negotiate any terms of the proposed legislation (in effect, treating the legislation as an ultimatum issued to the opposition – “support this or trigger an election”), then the opposition faces the following options, all unpalatable:

  1. Vote in support of the government’s legislation, even if they oppose it on principle, and open themselves to the charge of not being willing to stand up for their principles
  2. Abstain from the vote, and be charged as spineless
  3. Oppose the government, and risk triggering an election

All of these can cause the opposition to lose support over time.  The government also has a slightly risky choice to make – do they consult the opposition and alter their legislation, thereby potentially alienating their core supporters, or do they risk being defeated?  However, the upside of being defeated is that they can frequently fight the subsequent election campaign claiming that to get things done, the voters must give them a majority.  Since our voting system is hypersensitive to small shifts in voting sentiment in a handful of swing ridings, a government will frequently believe that a majority is attainable, so they have a disincentive to consult or accommodate the opposition, which keeps us in a cycle of non-cooperative partisan bickering.

How Can We Avoid Brinksmanship and Parliamentary Blackmail?

Ideally, a minority government would have an incentive to avoid being defeated and the opposition would be free to vote on principle.  If this were true, both (or all) parties would tend to seek collaborative opportunities rather than engaging in the bitter partisanship that characterizes Canadian politics.  How could we achieve this?  Two simple steps would go a long way:

  1. Severely limit confidence motions – if, under normal circumstances, only the opposition parties could trigger a confidence vote, then a defeat on legislation for the government would not trigger an election.  They would simply have to try again to bring a majority of MPs on-side with their proposal.
  2. Decrease the instability of the voting system – if the outcome of an election were more stably linked to the voting preferences of the voters, then the government would have little incentive to play these games of brinksmanship.  Many versions of proportional representation voting could produce such stable and predictable outcomes.

“Did He Really Use The C-Word?”

House of Commons
House of Commons

The current federal election campaign has been notable for a sustained dispute not only over the legitimacy of a coalition (C-word #1), but, at a deeper level, over the foundational principle of parliamentary confidence itself (C-word #2).  Fair Voting BC believes that it is crucial both for the future of our current democratic system and for future voting reforms for Canadians to properly understand these two notions.

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Worst of Both Worlds: Why First-Past-the-Post No Longer Works

Click to Download IPPR Report

The British Institute for Public Policy Research today released a report entitled “Worst of Both Worlds: Why First-Past-the-Post No Longer Works“.  The abstract for the report is as follows:

“In a time of greater political pluralism, British politics is no longer well served by a voting system that was designed for a two-party era. Nor are the interests of British democracy. 

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