Posts tagged elections

Tyranny By Minority: The Disgraceful History of Canadian “Democracy”

As a leftist, I was one of many Canadians disenchanted that Conservatives now control Parliament despite winning well less than half the support of Canadian voters.  I was aware that this was nothing new for Canada, but after consulting our electoral history, I now know I had no idea how undemocratic our system is.  Canada has had 28 majority governments, but only 6 of them won 50% of votes.  On average, the popular vote of a majority government is 15.45% smaller than its share of Parliamentary seats.  Obtaining a majority government is about as close as a Canadian leader can constitutionally come to holding absolute power.  The idea that one can attain this without the consent of the majority (you know, the actual majority) ought to be a national disgrace.

Here are some other figures.

Least Popular Election Winners (Cut-off: 40% of the popular vote).

  1. 1867 - Conservative - John A. MacDonald.  34.53% of the popular vote.
  2. 1979 - Progressive-Conservative - Joe Clark.  35.89% of the popular vote.
  3. 2006 - Conservative - Stephen Harper.  36.27% of the popular vote.
  4. 2004 - Liberal - Paul Martin.  36.73% of the popular vote.
  5. 1962 - Progressive-Conservative - John Diefenbaker.  37.22% of the popular vote.
  6. 2008 - Conservative - Stephen Harper.  37.65% of the popular vote.
  7. 1972 - Liberal - Pierre Trudeau.  38.42% of the popular vote.
  8. 1997 - Liberal - Jean Chrétien.  38.46% of the popular vote.
  9. 1957 - Progressive-Conservative - John Diefenbaker.  38.50% of the popular vote.
  10. 1874 - Liberal - Alexander Mackenzie.  39.49% of the popular vote.
  11. 1872 - Conservative - John A. MacDonald.  39.49% of the popular vote.
  12. 2011 - Conservative - Stephen Harper.  39.62% of the popular vote.
  13. 1945 - Liberal - William Lyon Mackenzie King.  39.78% of the popular vote.

Least Popular Majority Governments (cut-off:  50% of the popular vote).

  1. 1867 - Conservative - John A. MacDonald.  34.53% of the popular vote.
  2. 1997 - Liberal - Jean Chrétien.  38.46% of the popular vote.
  3. 1874 - Liberal - Alexander Mackenzie.  39.49% of the popular vote.
  4. 2011 - Conservative - Stephen Harper.  39.62% of the popular vote.
  5. 1882 - Conservative - John A. MacDonald.  40.40% of the popular vote.
  6. 2000 - Liberal - Jean Chrétien.  40.85% of the popular vote.
  7. 1921 - Liberal - William Lyon Mackenzie King.  41.15% of the popular vote.
  8. 1993 - Liberal - Jean Chrétien.  41.24% of the popular vote.
  9. 1896 - Liberal - Wilfrid Laurier.  41.37% of the popular vote.
  10. 1878 - Conservative - John A. MacDonald.  42.06% of the popular vote.
  11. 1988 - Progressive-Conservative - Brian Mulroney.  43.02% of the popular vote.
  12. 1974 - Liberal - Pierre Trudeau.  43.15% of the popular vote.
  13. 1980 - Liberal - Pierre Trudeau.  44.34% of the popular vote.
  14. 1935 - Liberal - William Lyon Mackenzie King.  44.68% of the popular vote.
  15. 1968 - Liberal - Pierre Trudeau.  45.37% of the popular vote.
  16. 1887 - Conservative - John A. MacDonald.  47.42% of the popular vote.
  17. 1930 - Conservative - Richard Bennett.  47.79% of the popular vote.
  18. 1953 - Liberal - Louis St. Laurent.  48.43% of the popular vote.
  19. 1911 - Conservative - Robert Borden.  43.56% of the popular vote.
  20. 1891 - Conservative - John A. MacDonald.  48.58% of the popular vote.
  21. 1908 - Liberal - Wilfrid Laurier.  48.87% of the popular vote.
  22. 1949 - Liberal - Louis St. Laurent.  49.15% of the popular vote.

Worst Discrepancies Between % of Votes and % of Seats (cut-off: 20%).  All are majority governments.

  1. 1935 - Liberal - William Lyon Mackenzie King.  25.93%.
  2. 1958 - Progressive-Conservative - John Diefenbaker.  24.83%
  3. 1984 - Progressive-Conservative - Brian Mulroney.  24.79%.
  4. 1949 - Liberal - Louis St. Laurent.  23.75%.
  5. 1874 - Liberal - Alexander Mackenzie.  23.13%.
  6. 1878 - Conservative - John A. MacDonald.  22.99%.
  7. 1882 - Conservative - John A. MacDonald.  22.63%.
  8. 1940 - Liberal - William Lyon Mackenzie King.  21.74%.
  9. 1867 - Conservative - John A. MacDonald.  21.03%.

Election Winners That Did Not Even Win the Popular Vote

  1. 1896 - Liberal - Wilfrid Laurier.  Won 85.88% of the number of votes won by Charles Tupper’s Conservatives.
  2. 1979 - Progressive-Conservative - Joe Clark.  Won 89.47% of the number of votes won by Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals.
  3. 1926 - Liberal - William Lyon Mackenzie King.  Won 84.60% of the number of votes won by Arthur Meighen’s Conservatives.
  4. 1957 - Progressive-Conservative - John Diefenbaker.  Won 95.20% of the number of votes won by Louis St. Laurent’s Liberals.

    Proposal For Electoral Reform In Canadam

    On Monday, Canadians elected Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative party to a majority government.  The Tories won in 167 ridings, more than enough for a majority, but only received 39.6% of the popular vote, which most Canadians feel should not qualify for majority and only does because of an archaic electoral system.  Conservatives received 5.8 million votes, totalling only 24.3% of eligible voters, but 9.25 million Canadians were either too lazy or too ignorant to go around the corner and vote.  The remainder of the popular vote was split this way: NDP (30.6%), Liberal (18.9%), Bloc Québécois (6%), Green (3.9%), various others (1%).

    It is typical for the victorious party of Canadian elections to lose the popular vote.  Our poly-partisan system makes it difficult for any one party to receive 50% of the votes.  Thus, nearly every election leaves a bad taste in the mouths of voters that feel our electoral system is not democratically ideal.  Various proposals promise elevated democratic representation.

    Some feel that each party should rank its members and send a percentage of these candidates to Parliament corresponding to its share of the popular vote.  Therefore, if you get 40% of the popular vote, the top-ranked 40% of your candidates serve in Parliament.  This idea is reasonable, since it has been a long time since the riding was the relevant unit of federal electoral participation.  Canadians realize that individual members of Parliament sheepishly tow party lines and thus, we vote for federal leadership and routinely ignore the qualities of the local candidates we technically vote in.  Essentially, Canadians behave as though they are voting for a President.

    Others suggest that our poly-partisanship is to blame, and that the NDP ought to merge with the Liberals so that Canadians with similar ideologies do not suffer merely because they have more options.  Even a merger between these parties would not represent a majority of Canadians: the Grits and NDP combined for 49.5% of the popular vote.  I do not like this idea.  I follow American politics quite closely, and in my opinion, the two-party system is a big problem: Both major American political parties constantly lick the boots of Big Business at the expense of the populace.  The fewer parties there are, the easier it is to buy off the entire group of elected officials.  A two-party system narrows the ideological scope of an electorate as both parties reach for the centre, thus further marginalizing members of society that don’t subscribe to a dominant national ideology and punishing people who think outside the box.  The last thing any electorate needs is fewer ideas.

    Still, we have a serious problem.  Since the Progressive-Conservative party merged with the Alliance, right-wing voters have had only one option, and this has benefitted the careers of prominent Tories like Peter McKay and Stephen Harper immensely (each were leaders of the aforementioned parties, respectively).  Meanwhile, voters on the left (I use the term “left” very loosely when applying it to Liberals) continue to split their votes between the NDP and Liberals, and even have a reasonable option in the Greens now.  While the Conservatives have been the most popular political party in the last three federal elections, they represent a set of ideas that starkly contrasts those of most Canadians.

    There are two different ways to define our political spectrum: domestically and historically-internationally.  I plan to address each.  According to our self-defined spectrum, the Conservatives hold far-right economic ideals while the Liberals appear left-of-centre.  The Green, Bloc and NDP cluster on our far left.  On social policies, the Conservatives tend towards authoritarianism while the other four parties lean libertarian (to various degrees; the Liberals are slight social libertarians, the Bloc and Greens are more libertarian, while the NDP is the most socially liberal party).  Thus, the Conservatives are alone on the right-authoritarian quadrant of our political spectrum while the other four parties hover in the left-libertarian quadrant.  That means that 39.6% of Canadian voters are in one ideological quadrant while 59.4% are in another.  With a majority Conservative government, 59.4% of Canadian voters have virtually no representational power whatsoever.  This is radically unacceptable to anyone who cherishes democracy.

    On the historical-international political spectrum, we have three general ideological sets.  According to global norms, the Conservatives remain far right economically and are much more authoritarian than they seem at home.  The Liberals are slightly right wing economically and slightly authoritarian socially.  The Greens appear squarely centred according to historical-international standards, while the Bloc and NDP are very slightly to the left of centre both socially and economically.  Using the historical-international scale, 39.6% of Canadians voted for far right, authoritarian values; 18.9% voted for marginally right wing authoritarianism; 40.5% voted centrist.  Simply put, our current electoral system does not accommodate Canadian desires.

    While our system desperately needs a tune-up, I do not think we need such radical change as proposed by my two aforementioned alternatives.  I think there is a very simple way to fix this with only the most minor of alterations.  This is not my idea; this is actually a popular way of tallying votes to reflect a consensus best.

    When we enter the voting booth, we place an X next to the candidate we wish to support.  This tells Elections Canada which candidate we like, but it does nothing to inform them of which candidate we do not like.  Rather than place an “X” beside the desired candidate, voters should write, “1.”  Then, beside the next-most preferable candidate, voters should write “2.”  Beside the next-most preferable candidate, voters should write “3,” and so on.

    For example, a riding offers the following choices: Conservative, Liberal, NDP and Green.  There are three rounds of vote tallying for this riding.  In the first round, vote-counters tally all the “1” votes.  Let us say that after round one, the Green has the fewest “1” votes.  This disqualifies the Green candidate and another round of tallying begins.  This time, vote-counters tally all the highest-ranked votes for the remaining candidates (so any ballot that preferred Green now defers to its “2” vote).  Now the Liberal candidate finishes last and thus disappears from the ballot.  The final round of vote counting begins, tallying all the highest-ranked votes between the two remaining candidates (so any ballot that favoured either the Green or Liberal defers to the “2” vote, unless that vote is also either the Green or Liberal, in which case that ballot defers to the “3” vote).  The winner of this count wins the riding.

    I believe this process would much better reflect the will of voters.  It is silly to pretend that each party not voted for was equally desirable to the voter.  This would help combat “strategic voting” wherein voters choose not to support the sincerely preferred candidate and instead vote to prevent an undesirable outcome.  People would be free to have their ballots reflect their actual desires rather than worrying about the votes of others.

    Most importantly, though, this process would force politicians to be more accommodating to voters.  Consciously alienating certain segments of the populace would no longer be politically viable.  As it stands now, politicians that cannot reasonably expect your support try to make life harder for you as an appeal to those whose support is obtainable.  That is immoral.

    Picking your favourite candidate works in a two-party system because there are only two choices, and thus your vote indicates both your preference and rejection.  However, in a poly-partisan electoral system, the question of whom you dislike is as democratically relevant as the question of whom you like.  It is bad when a government wins a majority without the explicit support of most voters, but when a government wins a majority on policies that most voters explicitly disapprove, the system is simply undemocratic and broken beyond hope.