THERE IS NO DEMOCRACY IN CANADA
Seven Ways that the Canadian Electoral system is UNFAIR
A Brief Submitted to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform by Stephen McCulloch
I am not a whiner. I know very well that life is not fair. But, our electoral system, which should fairly represent our interests, is out of balance. And there are viable alternatives.
1. Phoney Majorities
Most of us are aware that in an election, a party can win the majority of seats in Parliament without receiving the majority of the votes cast. When this happens, we have a government which sets policy, the political agenda and passes legislation unilaterally. The opposition parties, even together, cannot get enough votes in the house to prevent the ruling party from doing what it wants. This is an awesome level of power which should only be allowed to a party that really has the support of the majority of Canadian voters. It is unfair for one party to wield this level of power without the support of the majority of voters. I used to think that a phoney majority was a rare event, an anomaly. However, the truth is quite the opposite; true majorities are quite rare. In the eighteen elections since my birth there has only been one majority government where the governing party actually got the majority of the votes. In 1984, the Progressive Conservatives got a slim majority, 50.03% of the votes. And for that, they took almost 75% of the seats in the House of Commons. In the same period of time, there have been nine other elections where majorities have been granted in Parliament to parties receiving only a minority of the votes. This is not fair.
2. Regional Misrepresentation
In the 2008 federal election, Bloc Québécois won 49 seats (just under 16%) with just under 10% of the votes. In the same election, the New Democratic Party was able to get over 18% of Canadian voters to cast their ballots for them, yet came away with only 37 (just over 12%) seats in Parliament. The reason for this particular example of unfairness is that our electoral system favors parties where the support is concentrated in one or more region over parties with support evenly distributed across the country. The New Democrats have candidates in every riding in the country and have at least 9% support in every Province and Territory. The Bloc Québécois only runs in Québec. It is not fair that a party representing a distinctly regional perspective should have more seats than a party with broad national support that actually gets more votes.
3. Some Votes Count More Than Others
In the 2015 federal election, Andrew Leslie, the Liberal candidate for Orléans Ontario won his seat with 46,542 votes. In the same election, Yvonne Jones, the Liberal candidate for Labrador won her seat with 8,878 vote. Leslie, in the House of Commons represents over 46 thousand voters while Jones represents less than 9,000. Yet, each of these representatives gets exactly the same voice in the House; one vote each. It is unfair that voters in an Ottawa suburb are counted as being worth less than a fifth the value of voters in Labrador.
4. Some Votes Are Worth More Than Others
At election time, each of the party leaders and strategists roughly divide the 308 Canadian ridings into three categories. On one side of the desk, there are the ridings which that party will probably not win. These are ridings which historically have gone to other parties and where the polls show that a victory is unlikely. On the other side of the desk, there are the ridings which the party will probably win. These are
ridings which historically have gone to this party and where the polls show that unless something unusual happens, victory is in the bag. And in the center of the desk are those ridings where it is too close to call. They might win or they might not. These are the ridings where most of their campaign efforts will be focused. In the election campaign, it is a waste of effort and resources to go after votes for candidates who are unlikely to win and it is also a waste of resources to go after any more votes than is necessary to win the seat. Thus, if you happen to live in one of the hotly contested ridings, your issues will have a greater importance in the campaign than the unfortunately voters who happen to live in safe ridings.
5. Minority Governments Are Unstable
In my lifetime, there has been ten federal elections resulting in majority governments and eight resulting in Minority governments. Yet less than a third of the time do we actually have a minority government. Minority governments, on average, last less than half the time that majority governments do. The reason for this is inherent in the system. Party strategists know that they might be able to get a majority government with as little as 39% support from the voters. So, the leading party in a minority when they see that the polls show that their support is above 39% are not afraid of an election call and are more likely to really piss off the opposition and triggering an election. The truth is that minority governments more accurately reflect the wishes of Canadian voters. Seldom is there a clear majority of support for any one party. It is unfair that we get majority governments most of the time and that the minority governments we do get don't last.
6. Strategic Voting Is Institutionalized Cynicism
Many Canadians would like to vote differently than the end up doing. In my riding, for example, there are candidates from three of the major parties. But the candidate for the party I support, according to the polls is running in third place. The two other candidates are running a close race. One of these two leading candidates I strongly oppose, while the other I am somewhat lukewarm towards. I have a choice. I could vote for the candidate that I really like, which will do nothing to improve the standing of their party and which increases the probability of our riding electing a candidate that I am strongly opposed to. Or I could vote for the candidate that I am lukewarm towards, in order to prevent the candidate I don't want in from getting elected. It is unfair, that under our currently electoral system, my most rational choice is to vote for the lesser of two evils rather than for the candidate I truly support.
7. Most Of Our Votes Do Not Count
In the 2015 federal election, over half of us voted for candidates that did not win. If we had not voted, the results would have not been any different. Because we did not vote for the winning candidate in our riding, our votes are not counted in the decisions about how much representation each party has in Parliament. Furthermore, because one party has the majority of seats in the House of Commons, the opposition votes cannot affect the outcome of any legislative vote. So, in reality, our Parliament only represents the 26.5% of Canadian voters who voted for a winning Liberal candidate. In the 2011 federal election, our Parliament only represented the quarter of Canadian voters who voted for a winning Conservative candidate. The rest of us, about 75%, have no effective representation. It is not fair.