Wednesday, July 31, 2013

CPC would win election on less votes than Liberals

According to an IRV poll from Forum Research for the National Post, the Liberals have a 4 point lead on the Conservatives but would actually lose the election:

July 2013 national voting intention

Party Vote FPP FPP Gain
(Majority: 155 seats of 308)
LPC 35% 120 39% +11%
CPC 31% 129 42% +35%
NDP 22% 44 14% -36%
BQ 7% 14 4.5% -35%
GPC 4% 1 0.3% -93%

The gain shows the percent seats won under FPP compared to the vote. The ranked ballot would end the gain the Conservatives get due to vote splitting. Under a purely proportional system, there would be no gain for any party.

To stop the distorted election results and ensure the will of the people is carried out, we need a democratic voting system. Either Proportional Representation or Preferential Voting (ranked ballot) will end the mockery of democracy.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ranked ballot will make NDP a real player

FPP tends to make the NDP a minor player when competing against the Liberals for the centrist vote.

Why? When both parties compete for the entire vote, voters tend to want to back the winning horse. Many voters don't like wasting their vote on the minor party. Centrist voters also fear vote splitting will give the conservative party a false majority.

This phenomenon is no more evident than in the 2011 federal election. For decades, the NDP was the minor center-left party (averaging 16%,) the Liberals the major party. During the campaign, Jack Layton made a breakthrough reversing roles: the NDP became the major party (31%), the Liberals the minor party (19%.)

End of major/minor effect

Preferential Voting (ranked ballot) will end this kind of polarizing outcome. Under PV, parties no longer compete for the entire vote, just the #1 spot. Since it makes little difference to a voter which party they rank #1 or #2, the whole major/minor dynamic disappears.

With PV, if Liberals campaign from the left and govern from the right, centrists can vote — #1 NDP, #2 Liberals — without worry of vote splitting or wasting their vote. This will make the NDP a major player that forms governments.

PV just as beneficial as PR

The NDP stands to benefit from PV just as much as PR. If one looks at some PV election projections, a center-left party will end up with more seats than proportional at around 24% of the vote. Without the major/minor distortion, this support is much easier to achieve.

Fixing our existing Westminster system with the ranked ballot is a good first step in electoral reform. If the NDP and Liberals make this part of their election platforms, it can be legislated direct. This leaves the door open for a PV/PR referendum, cutting undemocratic FPP out of the picture. This is the safest bet and most practical approach to voting reform.

Ranked ballot will benefit Green voters

“Some people don’t like the voting system. We’ll call them the losers. Or the crazy people. Or the Green Party.” — Rick Mercer

Most developed countries have determined that PR best reflects the will of voters — 85% use the system. Unfortunately, PR has yet to make headway in Canada. Four provincial referendums have failed. The corporate media hates the system.

If we were to hold a federal PR/FPP referendum at this point in the game, it would lose and cement FPP as the democratic choice of Canadians. Therefore it’s time to consider other options.

Liberals and the ranked ballot

The Liberal party voted to fix our existing Westminster system with Preferential Voting (ranked ballot) at its last convention. Justin Trudeau has made it a key plank in his democratic reform platform.

If he wins the election and legislates PV direct on a party platform, it won’t be the final word on electoral reform. This would set the stage for a PR/PV referendum, cutting corrupt FPP out of the picture.

Green party with ranked ballot

Therefore, let’s consider what an intermediate step of PV can do for the Green party.

  1. More Green votes: In 2011, the Green party was polling as high as 10%, but dropped down to 3.9% at the ballot box. Since PV stops FPP vote splitting, Green voters no longer have to worry about the spoiler effect.

  2. Automatic electoral cooperation: Elizabeth May wants electoral cooperation in 2015 to stop another Harper majority most voters are against. The ranked ballot allows Canadians to vote Anyone But Conservative. This ends the need for party mergers and difficult inter-party arrangements. It will also stop radical conservatives from ever getting unfettered power again.

  3. Electoral reform experience: Electoral reform has failed to resonate because the corporate media doesn’t talk about it — except to say it’s the worst idea in the world. The ranked ballot, however, would give Canadians direct experience with reform. Then when the issue of PR comes up, people’s eyes won’t glaze over (as Rick Mercer would suggest.) They’ll have a good idea of what you’re talking about.

  4. Better representation: Under FPP, the major center-left party has no reason to listen to the concerns of minor ones. In fact, partisan animosity can build up. With PV, both the Liberals and NDP will have to reach out to Green voters to get alternative votes. Since PV tends to produce multi-party governments, Green voters will get actual representation in government.

  5. Get something accomplished: Currently the Conservatives take anti-environment positions to drive up the Green vote and balkanize the opposition. This has made Canada the worst offender in the developed world. These divide-and-conquer tactics, which work so well under FPP, are punished under PV. With alternative votes as leverage, Green voters will actually affect legislation and get Canada back on track.


We have a small window of opportunity to get the ball rolling on electoral reform. The all-or-nothing approach will accomplish nothing. But if we’re practical, and fight for reform step-by-step, we will make Canada a real democracy.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Incremental approach to voting reform

The direct approach to electoral reform has failed. So far 4 provincial PR referendums have gone down in flames.

Given Einstein’s definition of insanity — repeating the same thing over and over, expecting different results — walking into a federal referendum buzz-saw at this point in the game is crazy.

A better approach is step-by-step reform.

First step

First, legislate Preferential Voting (ranked ballot) direct. Like fixed election date legislation, it’s only a minor upgrade to our existing system. It merely requires that MPs earn their seats with a majority of votes — same way parties elect their leaders.

Since there’s no referendum, it’s not the final say on voting reform.

Second step

Next, hold a PR/PV referendum. This ensures one democratic voting system has the support of a majority of voters.


This plan is not only more practical, it’s the safest bet. A federal PR/FPP referendum is a dangerous gamble with Canada’s future. If it loses, it cements FPP as the democratic choice of Canadians, killing electoral reform in the country. Better to have a fallback plan.

Other steps?

Before pulling the trigger on a PR/PV referendum, supporters need to build solid grassroots support for change. (Not soft support that evaporates in a referendum.) Blind optimism is deadly.

If real support for full-out PR isn’t there, a semi-proportional system like AV+ should be considered as another step in the process.

Vote-reform referendum Catch-22

Canadians are divided three ways on voting reform:

  1. The status quo (FPP)

  2. Proportional representation (PR)

  3. None of the above (but open to PV ranked-ballot compromise)

This means any two-way referendum will likely produce a false FPP victory due to vote splitting.

Referendum Catch-22

This is how two-way referendums tend to play out:

  • PV/FPP referendum: PR supporters feel PV is a fake reform, so they opt for the status quo. They’ll wait for a PR referendum.

  • PR/FPP referendum: Middle-ground voters think PR is too extreme, so they choose the status quo. They’ll wait for a PV referendum.

Two solutions

There are two ways to avoid this odious paradox:

  1. Three-way referendum: Hold a three-way referendum with a runoff election. This ensures Canadians support one voting system with a majority.

  2. Incremental approach to voting reform: Achieve democratic voting in steps. First step: legislate PV directly. Since it only changes the voter’s ballot from single-choice to ranked, it’s a minor upgrade that doesn’t require a referendum. Second step: hold a PR/PV referendum.

Caveat Emptor

Vote splitting killed the PV referendum in the UK — destroying electoral reform in that country. Vote splitting will likely kill another Canadian referendum driving the final nail in the vote-reform coffin here.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Democratic voting election results

2011 Federal election

Here's how the 2011 federal election would’ve turned out using democratic voting instead of First-Past-the-Post according to the Globe and Mail:

2011 Federal election: FPP & PV

Party Vote FPP FPP PV PV
(Majority: 155 seats of 308)
CPC 40% 166 54% 142 46%
NDP 31% 103 33% 118 38%
LPC 19% 34 11% 46 15%
BQ 6% 4 1.3% 1 0.3%
GPC 4% 1 0.3% 1 0.3%

Under PV, the NDP and Liberals would’ve formed a coalition government (the norm in other developed countries) with 50% of the vote and 53% the seats. Clearly that’s more reflective of the will of Canadians than a 40% Harper majority.

2011 Federal election: PR

Party Vote PR 3% PR 4%
(Majority: 155 seats of 308)
CPC 39.6% 122 126
NDP 30.6% 94 97
LPC 18.9% 58 60
BQ 6.0% 18 19
GPC 3.9% 12 1

Results would differ between a 3% and 4% threshold (the vote required to get party-list seats.) Countries like New Zealand and Germany have a 5% threshold to keep fringe parties at bay.

Under a 4% threshold, the NDP and Liberals would’ve been able to squeak by with a 157 seat coalition.

March 2013 projection

Here’s how power would’ve been distributed if an election was held March 21, 2013 based on a poll by Abacus Data. (See also,

2013 Federal election simulation

(Majority: 170 seats of 338)
CPC 32% 147 43% 117 35% 108
NDP 31% 108 32% 126 37% 105
LPC 24% 76 22% 93 28% 81
BQ 5% 4 1.2% 0 0% 17
GPC 8% 3 0.9% 2 0.6% 27

Under FPP, Harper’s polarizing style gives the Conservatives a big advantage. But when PV is used, divide-and-conquer tactics are punished as Conservatives lose alternative votes to the NDP and Liberals. The NDP would form a minority government.

Under PR, the Green Party and Bloc Québécois get considerably more representation.

Of course this poll is out of date. Recent polls suggest the Liberals are now in the lead:

June 2013 national voting intention

Party Vote FPP FPP
(Majority: 170 seats of 338)
LPC 34% 134 40%
CPC 29% 120 36%
NDP 24% 80 24%
GPC 6% 2 0.6%
BQ 5% 2 0.6%

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Vote splitting makes a mockery of democracy

Under First-Past-the-Post, power is awarded to the leading candidate (not the majority one.) This can lead to vote splitting: when many similar contenders divide the vote in fragments allowing the other side to win. This can produce the opposite of what people want:

Federally, things have become so ridiculous parties are now "micro-targeting" votes because key ridings are decided by a small number of voters. This is the opposite of democracy. The majority is supposed to determine the will of the people, not a tiny minority.

Either Preferential Voting (ranked ballot) or Proportional Representation will end the insanity. That’s how the rest of the developed world does it.

Bob Rae joins Fair Vote Canada

This is good news. Rae is an exceptional Parliamentarian, shrewd and politically savvy. Maybe he’ll bring some much-needed political experience to the organization.

Rae once quipped Jim Flaherty was taking the Pollyanna approach to the economy. Now he’s part of an organization loaded with blind optimists:

A recent Environics poll, backing up a decade of such polls, showed an all-time high of 76% of Canadians support proportional representation for Canadian elections.

As I pointed out, most of this support is soft. It’s senseless to count on soft support which tends to evaporate in a referendum. In fact, if one looks closer at the numbers, hard support for PR fell over the past decade: from 29% to 24%.

Wishful thinking won’t bring PR to Canada. It will only bring about another failed PR referendum, driving the final nail in the electoral-reform coffin. We need a better, more realistic strategy.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

PR: beginning of real majority government

Andrew Coyne has a great insight on Proportional Representation:

“It’s true, as opponents point out, that PR would make majority governments unlikely, given how rarely a party wins more than 50 per cent of the vote. But would it really? It would certainly make one-party majorities less likely.
“But nothing would prevent the formation of stable multi-party majorities—real majorities, that is, not the phoney ones we have today—as is the norm in the dozens of countries around the world that use some form of PR. In this sense, PR would not mean the end of majority government, but the beginning of it.

Minority majority fallacy

FPP supporters say PR is flawed because it makes majority governments improbable. Of course the fallacy is they believe minority parties should get majority power — specifically, their minority party.

But when we dole out absolute power to a minority party, it leaves the actual majority of voters out in the cold — the literal opposite of democracy.

In the rest of the developed world (29 of 34 countries use PR — 85%,) multi-party coalitions are the norm. They form stable majority governments that serve out the entire election term.

German grand coalition

Germany provides a compelling example. In 2005, the two largest parties — the left-leaning Social Democratic Party and the right-leaning Christian Democratic Union — formed a grand coalition. That would be the equivalent of the Conservatives and Liberals forming a coalition government. But unlike minority governments in Canada that last on average 18 months, this seemingly-impossible coalition lasted the entire 4 year term.

Better government with PR

So PR puts an end to the cutthroat, hyper-partisan politics that plague Canada under FPP. It ends frequent minority government elections. And it fosters inter-party cooperation and compromise, ensuring true democracy and real majority rule.

MythBuster: 70% of Canadians support PR

“A recent Environics poll, backing up a decade of such polls, showed an all-time high of 76% of Canadians support proportional representation for Canadian elections.” — Fair Vote Canada

According to two polls — a 2002 Decima Research poll and a 2013 Environics poll — about 70% of Canadians appear to support proportional representation.

But on closer inspection, most of this is soft support:

2002: Do you support introducing PR in federal elections?

Option Support
Very supportive 29%
Somewhat supportive 42%
Somewhat opposed 18%
Very opposed 11%

2013: Do you support moving towards a system of PR?

Option Support
Strongly support 24%
Somewhat support 46%
Somewhat oppose 7%
Strongly oppose 11%
Depends on PR type 6%
Don't know/NA 6%

The big question is: how will this soft support hold up under fierce attacks from the corporate media and business community during a campaign?

Canadian PR Referendums

Let's look at the results of provincial PR referendums. (Note: these undemocratic referendums required 60% for PR to win.)

BC 2005: adopt Single Transferable Vote?

Option Vote
Yes: adopt STV (PR) 58%
No: keep FPP 42%

PEI 2005: adopt Mixed Member Proportional?

Option Vote
Yes: adopt MMP (PR) 36%
No: keep FPP 64%

ON 2007: adopt Mixed Member Proportional?

Option Vote
Yes: adopt MMP (PR) 37%
No: keep FPP 63%

BC 2009: adopt Single Transferable Vote?

Option Vote
Yes: adopt STV (PR) 39%
No: keep FPP 61%

In most of the referendums, FPP won by a super-majority. No doubt, these referendums were highly corrupt and designed to fail. But it's clearly delusional to think 70% of Canadians will vote for PR it in a federal referendum.

We need to be more realistic in order to build the solid grassroots support required for bringing PR to Canada.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Toronto Star: fiercely against voting reform

“First-Past-the-Post … is democratic and robust, delivering strong, stable government that works. Why strain to ‘fix’ what isn't broken?”

During the Ontario Proportional Representation referendum in 2007, I was shocked to find how fiercely the Toronto Star was opposed to electoral reform. This was supposed to be a “leftist” newspaper, after all.

The MMP referendum itself was bizarre, with no real campaign for and against — just vapid public service announcements. But the Toronto Star did everything in its power to make the proposal go down in flames.

So PR Pollyannas — who believe 70% of Canadians support PR and a federal referendum will be a cakewalk — should read what the “progressive” Star has to say on the subject. Little do they know they are wading into shark infested waters…

Background: The Ontario citizen's assembly on electoral reform began deliberations in Feb, 2007. The general election / ill-fated PR referendum was held on Oct 10, 2007.

Toronto Star: Bad electoral medicine (Feb 23, 2007)

But the strong support among [citizen] assembly members for this electoral model is another ill-advised step down the road toward scrapping our current "first-past-the-post" method, which awards ridings to the candidate who wins the most votes. It is a system that, while not perfect, has served us well. …
By contrast, proportional representation is a recipe for unstable coalitions, permanent minority government and legislative chaos. For proof, one need look no further than Israel and Italy.

Toronto Star: Thomas Walkom: Political left should be careful what it wishes for (May 19, 2007)

As New Zealand's experience demonstrates, a move to proportional representation introduces new and unpredictable centrifugal forces into politics. Put bluntly, it encourages parties to fracture. …
Critics of electoral reform say it would create deeply unstable governments. Fans say it would make politics more responsive. In New Zealand, neither happened. The country muddles along much as it did before.

Toronto Star: Elections and democratic ideals (Sep 23, 2007)

More important than the semantics of democracy is the actual democratic experience. This experience is shaped primarily by the underlying political culture, not by the electoral system. The electoral system is a sidebar in any democratic audit of a state's political system.

Toronto Star: Ian Urquhart: Why I'm voting against MMP (Sep 28 2007)

Under the MMP model recommended by the citizens' assembly in Ontario, these [fringe] parties would need just 3 per cent of the popular vote – about 150,000 votes – to gain four seats in the Legislature. … That's why I'll be voting against MMP.

Toronto Star: Electoral reform a backward step (Sep 30, 2007)

The alternative, mixed-member proportional system has been endorsed by a panel of ordinary citizens created after the 2003 vote, during which McGuinty ill-advisedly promised to study electoral reform. …
No one suggests that first-past-the post is perfect. But Ontario's current system is democratic and robust, delivering strong, stable government that works. Why strain to "fix" what isn't broken?

Toronto Star: Electoral reform fraught with risk (Oct 9, 2007)

Granted, some minority or coalition governments do manage to deliver solid, progressive government. But they are rarities. More commonly, governments in proportional systems are divisive, unstable, short-lived and paralyzed by conflict. Too often, the leading party is forced to align with small, sometimes radical, special-interest parties. That can badly skew the policy-making process.

Toronto Star: Electoral reform redux (Nov 29, 2007)

Some people just won't take no for an answer.
In a province-wide referendum last month, Ontario voters soundly rejected a proposal to replace the current electoral system with a new method of voting called "mixed-member proportional." The results were not even close. Only 37 per cent of voters endorsed the alternative on offer, far short of the 60 per cent threshold required.

Toronto Star: PR: Still a bad idea (Oct 19, 2008)

Proportional representation allocates seats in Parliament according to the share of the popular vote attained by each party. Thus, the Conservatives, with 38 per cent of the popular vote in last week's election, would have just 117 seats, not 143. …
In the eyes of the electoral reformers, this would mean that the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens … could get together in a coalition to topple Prime Minister Stephen Harper….
[Yet] in all likelihood, if Canada had a system of proportional representation, the outcome would be very different…. The pro-life Christian Heritage Party, for example, might win enough votes to get seats. And new parties might emerge to win seats – say, an Alberta First party or even ethnic parties.
So Harper might be kept in power by entering a coalition with pro-life and Alberta First parties. Now that, indeed, is a scary prospect.

Toronto Star: Israel's voting system (Feb 13, 2009)

For Canadians who were shocked by the backroom deal late last year that led to the formation of a [Liberal/NDP] "coalition" to supplant the [Harper] Conservatives in office, this kind of horse-trading is another reason to think twice about bringing proportional representation here.

Toronto Star: Bob Hepburn: If you hate how we vote in Ontario, try this (Sep 21, 2011)

I think our current system [FPTP], despite its flaws, has worked well, delivering strong and stable governments that work. Also, I firmly believe that supporters often over-exaggerate the impact on voter turnout and ignore the risks of other systems, including perpetual minority governments, legislative gridlock and backroom deals with fringe parties that have radical agendas.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

FPP produces corrupt, unaccountable government

What do the senate scandal, Ad Scam and $600M gas plant cancellations all have in common? They were the product of minority parties being awarded unearned majority power.

FPP not only thwarts democratic election results, it interferes with the democratic process after elections.

When a minority party has a majority of seats it has 100% of the power, with no checks or balances. This absolute power, corrupts absolutely.

Since a majority party can do whatever it wants, it has no inclination to listen to Canadians or provide accountability. In fact, it has every reason to loosely interpret its mandate and keep voters in the dark.

These minority majorities can pass phonebook-sized omnibus bills to minimize exposure to their agenda. They can govern in secret citing cabinet confidence. They can bully committees that review legislation.

The only way to ensure open, transparent and accountable government is with a democratic voting system. Either Preferential Voting (ranked ballot) or Proportional Representation will get the job done.