Is this any way to run a country?

One last—I promise—look back in befuddlement to the results of last week’s federal election.


If we are to believe the pundits—and who are we not to—Canada has just gone through a dramatic, head-shaking, concussion-making electoral re-alignment in which our national consensus has become far more conservative and the political centre has disappeared, leaving us with only a bi-polar, left-right, take-it-or-leave-it choice.

In the process, the Conservatives have become our new Natural Governing Party (NGP), the Liberals and Bloc are wiped out and the NDP is in the process of making itself over as a kind of leftish Permanent Opposition (POed).

And yet…

And yet, if we are to believe a couple of young Facebook buds with calculators, the real difference between all of the above and almost none of the above is actually 6,201 votes out of the 14.7 million cast last Monday.

If 6,201 voters in the 14 most closely contested Conservative ridings in the country—none in Atlantic Canada; don’t blame us—had voted a different way, Stephen Harper’s unassailable majority would be yet another minority government.

“When one becomes aware of how easy it is for the intentions of the voters to become distorted,” notes Matt Peters, who did the “’rithmatic,” “it is hard not to conclude that some kind of electoral reform is needed.”


If Peters’ what-if history had happened, we would now be speculating—given that two million more Canadians voted against Harper than voted for him—on whether the man the pundits have seemingly anointed prime minister for life actually had a political future at all.

Or… what if the Liberals had received the number of seats their percentage of the popular vote merited. They would have 58 MPs instead of 34, still nowhere near the 77 they started with, but more representative of their current level of voter support…

Representative of their level of voter support… What a concept!

Is there a rational reason why we’re one of only four countries in the industrialized world that still employs an electoral system that allows a party chosen by a minority of voters to govern like they have just won the winner-take-all sweepstakes?

  1. PR is as undemocratic as FPTP but via a different mechanism. Preferential balloting is fundamental to democratic governance, but it too would have some unfavourable (to the citizenry) ramifications. The answer, however, can be found at .


  2. Proportional Representation, while great in theory, has the problem that it is too complicated to explain to a ten-year-old.

    And anything that is too complicated for a ten-year-old who is paying attention is going to be too complicated for your average voter, who is too busy balancing employment, home-life, feeding the family, and the latest goings-on of their favourite celebrities to care much about complicated voting.

    If something is too complicated, people will doubt its veracity — for good reason! Proportional representation is dependent on computers, and as the residents of Ohio know after the 2008 US election, inserting computers as a necessary component into the electoral process is not to be trusted.

    Some form of priority voting has the advantage of being much “less worse” than true proportional representation. It also has the advantage of being easily explained to a ten-year-old. It has the advantage of being independent of computers — you can do the whole thing in the polling station — with scrutineers looking on — with pencil and paper. People simply vote for as many candidates as they care to, using “1” for their first choice, “2” for their second choice, etc. When the votes are separated into piles and counted, if no candidate receives a majority, the pile for the candidate with the least number of votes is re-distributed according to the next choice. Lather, rinse, repeat — until a candidate achieves a majority.

    This way, people are always voting FOR someone, rather than against them. If my second or even third choice gets in, I can proudly support them and claim I voted for them. This is a powerful psychological motivator for participation.

    Contrast this with proportional representation, where if I vote (for example) “Green” in my riding, but the Greens finish last locally, some Green candidate half-way across the continent may end up getting into office. I didn’t vote for that person! Proportional representation destroys local representation! Proportional representation strengthens political parties at the expense of individual candidates.

    But most of all, it’s just too darn hard to understand. If it can’t be explained to a ten-year-old, don’t do it!


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