Electoral Systems

Here’s an interesting post by a student on the effect of different electoral systems on the strategic calculations of voters. Would Canadian voters vote differently if our electoral system were PR? The evidence suggests that for a substantial minority, the answer is yes.

Here’s an example: in many (most) ridings, there is no chance that a member of the Green Party would be elected to parliament. Thus, rather than voting for the Green Party, many voters in these ridings who would prefer to vote Green, vote their 2nd preference, meaning that the Liberal Party and the NDP receive more votes during our elections than they otherwise would under a PR system. (Very few voters whose favoured party is the Green Party have the Conservative Party as their 2nd preference). Check out the post…

Electoral Systems.

More on Representation and Electoral Systems

Prompted by a comment on a previous post regarding how voter representation would be different if Canada had a proportional representation system, I decided to do some reading on the Fair Vote website and stumbled upon some interesting facts. The first is an illuminating quote regarding the difference between decision-making (rule) and representation by somebody named Ernest Haville:

 “In a democratic government, the right of decision belongs to the majority, but the right of representation belongs to all.”

As we noted in class earlier today, many of the votes cast in our elections are wasted as a result of our first-past-the-post system. Below is a screenshot from the website wastedvotes.ca, which shows that in the 2008 federal election in Gatineau, QC, fully 70% of the voters were not represented. This is because the Bloc Quebecois candidate, Richard Nadeau, won a tight four-way battle, garnering a plurality of the vote at 29.2%.

This is just the most egregious example of wasted votes (and, thereby, of non-representation), but every Canadian election and electoral district sees wasted votes. Indeed, the folks at wastedvote.ca have calculated that of the more than 14 million votes cast during Canada’s last federal election (2011) only slightly more than half (50.4%) were effective, while 49.6% were wasted.

Why is this bad for democracy? Well, here is another excerpt from fairvote.ca:

Does Canada actually have representative democracy? In the 2008 federal election:

  • 940,000 voters supporting the Green Party elected no one, while fewer Conservative voters in Alberta alone elected 27 Conservative MPs.
  • In the prairie provinces, Conservatives received roughly twice the votes of the Liberals and NDP combined, but took seven times as many seats.
  • Similar to the last election, a quarter-million Conservative voters in Toronto elected no one and neither did Conservative voters in Montreal.
  • New Democrats: The NDP attracted 1.1 million more votes than the Bloc, but the voting system gave the Bloc 49 seats, the NDP 37.

What about majority rule? Canadians are usually ruled by majority governments that the majority voted against. In some provincial elections, parties coming in second in the popular vote have won majority control of the legislature.

In class, we noted the irony of the part above that is in bold font! The 1988 federal election was fought primarily on the basis of a pending free trade agreement amongst Canada, the United States, and Mexico. In Canada, the Progressive Conservatives (led by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney) were in favour of (what would become) NAFTA, while the NDP and the Liberal Party were against. In the end, a majority of Canadians voted for parties that were against NAFTA, yet the PCs won a majority of seats in parliament, enabling them to push through the necessary legislation.

Why do Young Canadians Vote Less than Others?

In POLI 1100 today, we looked at a table (from Dyck–Studying Politics) that demonstrated low (relative to other age groups) levels of political interest and politics are amongst young Canadians. We explored (that is, I asked students to conjecture about) some of the potential reasons for this in class.

A recent report by Marion Menard of the Social Affairs Division of the Canadian Library of Parliament explores a few potential causes of low voter turnout amongst Canadian youth. She lists four:

1 No Issues of Interest to Young People?

The explanation most often provided is that the issues that are important to young people are not part of the political parties’ election platforms. However, this hypothesis is challenged by political scientists who conducted a study for Elections Canada following the federal election in 2004. According to Elizabeth Gidengil and her fellow researchers, for instance, health was cited as a key issue for all survey respondents, regardless of age:

Issues that concern many young people are on the political agenda, and the political parties are taking positions on these issues. The problem seems to be that too often these messages are just not registering with a significant proportion of younger Canadians

2 Lack of Political Knowledge?

The authors of the Gidengil study asserted that there were “striking” gaps in young Canadians’ knowledge of politics.6 There is also consensus in the academic community that a significant number of young voters go to the polls without the necessary tools to make an informed decision.7 According to researchers, young people know little or nothing about the politicians and have no idea how the political institutions that run the country function. In a study conducted for the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IPRP), Henry Milner established a cause and effect relationship between the level of political knowledge and youth electoral participation.

3 Lack of Trust in the System?

According to Brenda O’Neill of the University of Manitoba, beyond limited knowledge about the political system, voters both young and old show a lack of interest in public affairs. She says that many voters doubt that voting every four years can truly influencethe decision-making process, and as a result, people stay away from the polls, which can lead to distrust and even cynicism over time

4 Media Influence?

When the issue of cynicism is raised, the media are often singled out as the culprits. Television is mentioned in particular since it tends to focus on the conflicts in politics.10

Yet media use reportedly has a positive impact overall on the acquisition of political knowledge, although its efficacy depends on the medium used. Reading newspapers and news websites has a strong positive impact on the electoral participation of young Canadians, while watching television and listening to the radio do not have as marked an effect.

Which of these do you think is the most important? If so, what is a potential remedy (assuming you share the view that youth political participation should be increased)?

The History of the Recall in BC Provincial Politics

As we noted in POLI 1100 earlier today, the recall mechanism is one of the tools of direct democracy that citizens can use to influence the political process. A student asked whether any provincial politician (in BC) had ever been recalled. The answer is that since the passage of The Recall and Initiative Act (1996), of 24 attempts at recall, not a single one of them proved successful. (Of course, we witnessed the successful recall effort last year of the HST legislation brought in by the Campbell government.) In 23 of these efforts not enough valid signatures were collected, while in one effort the MLA–Paul Reitsma (Lib–Parskville-Qualicum)–resigned prior to the process reaching its conclusion.

Here is an overview of the recall process, from Elections BC:

Recall is a process that allows registered voters to petition for the removal of a Member of the Legislative Assembly between elections.

Any registered voter can apply to have a petition issued for the recall of their MLA (the elected Member representing their electoral district in the Legislative Assembly). A registered voter who wants to start a recall petition must obtain an application form from the Chief Electoral Officer. The completed application form must be submitted to the Chief Electoral Officer with a non-refundable processing fee of $50 and include a statement of 200 words or less of why, in the opinion of the applicant, the Member should be recalled. A Member cannot be recalled during the first 18 months after their election.

If the application is complete and meets the requirements of the Recall and Initiative Act, a petition is issued to the applicant (called a “proponent”) within seven days. The proponent then has 60 days to collect signatures from more than 40% of the voters who were registered to vote in the Member’s electoral district in the last election, and who are currently registered as voters in B.C. The proponent may be helped by volunteers when canvassing for signatures.

When all the signed petition sheets are submitted, the Chief Electoral Officer has 42 days to verify that enough eligible individuals have signed the petition. If enough valid signatures are on the petition, and the financing rules have been met by the proponent, the Member ceases to hold office and a by-election must be called within 90 days. A recalled Member can run as a candidate in the by-election.