Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Does Justin Trudeau Really Want Fair Elections?

shutterstock_350731175

Prime Minster Justin Trudeau’s election pledge (and subsequent confirmation) that Canada will not have another election under first-past-the-post (FPTP) rules has morphed into a growing controversy. Trudeau’s evident attraction to one option for electoral reform – the so-called preferential ballot (or Instant Runoff Voting – IRV) – and his stated opposition to proportional representation has some analysts and commentators smelling a rat.

That’s because IRV is a system that favours parties who are able to lay claim to the ideological middle ground. That is, with a preferential ballot (where voters’ second choices determine the outcome in most ridings) the centrist party can garner second choice votes from both the right and left wing parties – as the Liberals clearly did in October’s vote.

Is the fix in – is Trudeau’s (and more importantly the Liberal brain trust’s) sudden love affair with electoral reform just a plan to stay in power permanently? Trudeau, as you would expect, denied any such nefarious motivation.

But more on Trudeau’s ambiguous position later. Let’s look at the claim behind the suspicions. A political junky friend of mine established the following rules for applying IRV to Canada’s federal scene. “When I did the calculations, I assumed that BQ votes would split roughly 70% to the NDP and 30% to the Libs and that Con votes would split roughly 70% to the Libs and 30% to the NDP.  I also assumed that Green votes would split roughly 50/50 between the NDP and the Libs and that Liberal votes would split roughly 70% to the NDP and 30% to the Conservatives.”

Applying  that formula to a hypothetical riding the outcome might look something like this:

Let’ assume first choice ballots were: NDP 35, Liberals 30, Conservatives 25, Greens 10. As the Greens received the fewest votes, these are redistributed based on the second choices of the Green voters.  That might give you:

NDP 40, Lib. 35, Con 25.  As nobody has reached a majority, the Conservative votes are then distributed based on the second choices of the Conservative voters. With 17 Conservative percentage points going to the Liberals and eight to the NDP you get NDP 48, Liberals, 52.  So the Liberals win – whereas under FPTP the NDP would have won.

Using the same rough formula regarding voters’ likely second choices here’s what could have happened in the October election:

The Liberals would gain 15 seats from the Cons, 7 from the NDP, 1 from the BQ and lose 1 to the NDP for a total of 206 (actual count: 184).

The Conservatives would lose 15 to the Liberals and 7 to the NDP for a total of 77 (actual count: 99).

The NDP would gain 7 from the Conservatives, 1 from the Liberals, 1 from the BQ and lose 7 to the Libs for a total of 46 (actual count: 44).

The BQ would lose 1 to the NDP and 1 to the Libs for a total of 8 (10).

The Greens would remain unchanged at 1.”

So under IRV the Liberals, with 39.5 percent of the vote would be awarded 61 percent of the seats. That is even more undemocratic than the FPTP system that IRV is supposed to fix. Under FPTP that 39.5 percent vote “only” got the Liberals 54 percent of the seats. Under FPTP in the October election the Conservatives received pretty much what they deserved: 32 percent of the vote got them 29 percent of the seats. But under the allegedly more democratic IRV their 32 percent vote would have given them just 23 percent of the seats. (For the NDP it was a wash – their 19 percent got them 13 percent of the seats under both IRV and FPTP.)

Of course this reflects just one election but it is easy to see why the Liberals would love to have IRV in place. In an election where they started off in third place they ended up winning by successfully occupying the middle ground. Of course you have to be smart to do that consistently – but the NDP and Conservatives would have to be even smarter given that their political bases include large chunks of voters on the left and right respectively.

It is simply a mistake to refer to IRV as a form of proportional representation because that is not what it sets out to achieve. Proportional representation is just what is suggests: a party receive seats in Parliament proportional to the percentage of votes it receives nationally. In the recent election strict proportional representation would have seen the Liberals awarded 134 seats, the Conservatives 108, the NDP 67, the Greens 11 and the Bloc 16, mandating a minority government and some form of inter-party co-operation.

The agitation for electoral reform amongst civil society groups has been focussed almost exclusively on the fact that people’s votes are wasted under FPTP – that the parliamentary seats awarded often have little relationship to the total number of votes received. Fair Vote Canada points out one glaring example: “In 2008, the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party achieved almost the same number of votes — but Bloc voters elected 49 MPs and Green Party voters elected zero.”

But, while the wasted vote phenomenon is most obvious with small parties like the Greens it can be just as true for the mainline parties. The last two elections were typical – both the Conservatives and Liberals achieved majorities of 54 percent of the seats with just 39.5 percent of the votes. Justin Trudeau’s statements and actions on the issue reveal that he knows what the problem is but is loath to do what is necessary to solve it. He told iPolitics: “I’ve met and heard from far too many Canadians who are frustrated that they don’t feel like their votes count,”

That is precisely the complaint that proportional representation is designed to address. But while Trudeau identifies the problem he has repeatedly rejected the only genuine solution. Trudeau voted against an NDP motion calling for a system of proportional representation called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)  on December 19, 2014. In a free vote the Liberal caucus was evenly split  with left-wing Liberals generally voting for the motion.

Following the vote Trudeau’s office replied to a letter from the Canadian Electoral Alliance, a group supporting PR, criticizing Trudeau’s ‘no’ vote. It stated, in part: “..[Mr Trudeau] does not support proportional representation, as he very deeply believes that every Member of Parliament must represent actual Canadians… not just the political party that appointed them to the House of Commons.”

But this is such an obvious red herring that it cannot sustain 18 months of scrutiny – the timeline for legislation on the issue. Trudeau’s stated objection to PR assumes that it involves a system in which voters will not have a local elected representative – in effect, that MPs will be appointed by the parties. But MMP, the system contained in the 2014 NDP resolution, does retain the riding system so every voter has access to a locally elected MP. The parties provide lists of regional candidates who are also voted for and used to  top up the final number of MPs for each party in line with the percentage of votes each received. No MP is just “appointed.”

Asking people whether they want IRV or MMP is about the same as asking whether they would prefer a watermelon or a toaster. The two electoral reforms address different issues. IRV seeks to increase the legitimacy of the elected Member of Parliament by ensuring the winner actually receives 50 percent or more support based on voters’ preferences. But MP legitimacy has not been a major cause of concern in Canada.

First, MPs in our multi-party system are not freelancers – they are tied to parties that express a set of values and policies and supporters expect them to vote for those values and policies. Most of the day-to-day “representation” done by MPs is related to help with filling out forms or addressing unfair treatment at the hands of some government agency. But these minor concerns don’t determine how people vote.

The desire for electoral reform is driven not by a passion for better quality representation in the riding – it is driven by a desire for a genuine, robust democracy where peoples’ votes actually count. The evidence in favour of PR is overwhelming. Eighty-five percent of our peer countries in the OECD have some form of proportional representation and as Fair Vote Canada argues they get what we want: “… fair results, a representative Parliament, greater voter engagement, more collaboration, more accountability, better representation of diversity and voter choice, and stability.”

And if Prime Minister Trudeau genuinely wants more legitimate MPs he can have that along with proportional representation. There is nothing stopping him from including a ranked ballot as a feature of a PR system. Now he just has to do it and continue to reject calls for a referendum. Sixty three percent of electors voted for parties supporting making every vote count – as strong a mandate for any policy that a government is likely to get.

More articles by:

MURRAY DOBBIN, now living in Powell River, BC has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years.  He can be reached at murraydobbin@shaw.ca

Weekend Edition
May 25, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
A Major Win for Trump’s War Cabinet
Andrew Levine
Could Anything Cause the GOP to Dump Trump?
Pete Tucker
Is the Washington Post Soft on Amazon?
Conn Hallinan
Iran: Sanctions & War
Jeffrey St. Clair
Out of Space: John McCain, Telescopes and the Desecration of Mount Graham
John Laforge
Senate Puts CIA Back on Torture Track
David Rosen
Santa Fe High School Shooting: an Incel Killing?
Gary Leupp
Pompeo’s Iran Speech and the 21 Demands
Jonathan Power
Bang, Bang to Trump
Robert Fisk
You Can’t Commit Genocide Without the Help of Local People
Brian Cloughley
Washington’s Provocations in the South China Sea
Louis Proyect
Requiem for a Mountain Lion
Robert Fantina
The U.S. and Israel: a Match Made in Hell
Kevin Martin
The Libya Model: It’s Not Always All About Trump
Susie Day
Trump, the NYPD and the People We Call “Animals”
Pepe Escobar
How Iran Will Respond to Trump
Sarah Anderson
When CEO’s Earn 5,000 Times as Much as a Company’s Workers
Ralph Nader
Audit the Outlaw Military Budget Draining America’s Necessities
Chris Wright
The Significance of Karl Marx
David Schultz
Indict or Not: the Choice Mueller May Have to Make and Which is Worse for Trump
George Payne
The NFL Moves to Silence Voices of Dissent
Razan Azzarkani
America’s Treatment of Palestinians Has Grown Horrendously Cruel
Katalina Khoury
The Need to Evaluate the Human Constructs Enabling Palestinian Genocide
George Ochenski
Tillerson, the Truth and Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department
Jill Richardson
Our Immigration Debate Needs a Lot More Humanity
Martha Rosenberg
Once Again a Slaughterhouse Raid Turns Up Abuses
Judith Deutsch
Pension Systems and the Deadly Hand of the Market
Shamus Cooke
Oregon’s Poor People’s Campaign and DSA Partner Against State Democrats
Thomas Barker
Only a Mass Struggle From Below Can End the Bloodshed in Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
Australia’s China Syndrome
Missy Comley Beattie
Say “I Love You”
Ron Jacobs
A Photographic Revenge
Saurav Sarkar
War and Moral Injury
Clark T. Scott
The Shell Game and “The Bank Dick”
Seth Sandronsky
The State of Worker Safety in America
Thomas Knapp
Making Gridlock Great Again
Manuel E. Yepe
The US Will Have to Ask for Forgiveness
Laura Finley
Stop Blaming Women and Girls for Men’s Violence Against Them
Rob Okun
Raising Boys to Love and Care, Not to Kill
Christopher Brauchli
What Conflicts of Interest?
Winslow Myers
Real Security
George Wuerthner
Happy Talk About Weeds
Abel Cohen
Give the People What They Want: Shame
David Yearsley
King Arthur in Berlin
Douglas Valentine
Memorial Day
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail