Strange Notions of Representation

The chief victims of the January 23 federal election were:
Western Liberals: In the prairie provinces, Conservatives got three times as many votes as Liberals did, but won nearly ten times as many seats. In Alberta, the Conservative Party won 100% of the seats with 65% of the votes. The 500,000 Albertans who voted otherwise elected no one.

Urban Conservatives: The 400,000-plus Conservative voters in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver should have been able to elect about nine MPs, but instead elected no one. The three cities together will not have a single MP in the governing caucus, let alone the cabinet.

New Democrats: The NDP attracted a million more votes than the Bloc, but the voting system gave the Bloc 51 seats, the NDP 29. Nearly 18% of Canadians voted NDP, but the party won less than 10% of the seats and does not hold the balance of power, unlike the Liberals and the Bloc.

Green Party: More than 650,000 Green Party voters across the country elected no one, while 475,000 Liberal voters in Atlantic Canada elected 20 MPs. “

-taken from Fair Vote Canada

“Don’t these people ever give up?” -Colonel Kilgore from Apocalypse Now

Boy, I’m apparently not so sick of this argument as to prevent me from discussing it. Lets start at the beginning. Since we are picking a government, at some scale, a majority is desired otherwise no bill would pass in the house. It becomes a question of scale then where this majority should be located. Across the country? Just in Parliament? As an aggregate of ridings? Obviously, the current system is one where the base unit is the riding and the party with the most base units forms government. This ‘first past the post’ system does create some mathematical curiosities as noted by the authors above. They present several of these but for example I will talk about the 1/2 million Green party votes but no Green party seats example. The authors interpret this discrepancy as an absence of representation, but there is a slight of hand here when dealing with Green Party votes in the aggregate. In any given riding, it does not follow that the hundreds of people who voted for the Green party are not represented. By the same logic, if you don’t vote for the winner, you are not represented. As a matter of fact, you are represented by the winner whether you voted for them or not. In fact even if you didn’t vote at all you are still represented by them! The slight of hand in their argument is really ridiculous: “Urban Conservatives should have been able to elect…” They speak of this group as though it were a riding, as though by virtue of being able to speak of them as an aggregate it ought to have a representative. But the aggregate boundaries have been already established. Urban Conservatives come and go but Calgary Centre is a real thing with a real representative who was most people from Calgary Centre first choice!
By inspection, the fact that a single issue (and frankly utterly myopic to the complexities of real governance) party does not easily win seats tells me that the system works quite well! It would be stereotypically Canadian somehow to actually have a party holding seats in parliament that was virtually every riding’s last choice!
The current system picks people to represent small groups of people. The authors above want the system to pick small groups of ideas. This is supposed to be miraculously better. Accountability is hard enough in an apathetic culture, but at least a person from the community is accountable to their community and is seen as the best candidate by the most people possible in that community. A system that picks ideas and platforms and then somehow attaches a person to it (the proportional representation advocated by the authors) seems like one that is not in our best interest.

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5 Responses to Strange Notions of Representation

  1. rainswept says:

    You mix criticism of the site with criticism of proportional representation. You probably should have seperate posts for each.Criticism of PR in this context would show how it is less representative than first-past-the-post. Simply saying that one doesn’t see how it’s better (‘This is supposed to be miraculously better’) isn’t criticism, so I assume that comment is directed at the site. However, the site argues here that ‘…the voting system ignores or distorts what voters say,’ and therefore ‘democracy is compromised’. Your bald assertion that “…you are represented by the winner whether you voted for them or not… even if you didn’t vote at all…” is no refutation of the argument given, and needs to be justified itself before it approaches criticism.I will save my opinion of what ‘seems’ to be in our best interest for a different milieu, and propose discussion of which system is best described as “…pick[ing] ideas and platforms and then somehow attach[ing] a person to it…” as an exercise for other readers.

  2. rainswept says:

    Hey, you haven’t answered the Fun Quiz yet. What will happen to the Big Prize? Did Johnny ever find anyone to love his ironies?

  3. Nice to hear the counter arguement. And you present it with so little disdain. How do you manage?

  4. if you feel like talking about this I can but I can’t be bothered to respond here. a few quick responses to your comments though1 I mixed the criticism because their site mentions PR 9 times and clearly endorses it2) “distorts what voters say” like I said, by having a majority at the scale of the riding, there is far greater potential for accountability. Of course, by adding up all the ridings, some winners will win by different margins. I’m not sure how these different winning margins explode into distortions of voters’ ‘say’3)I can’t stand this anymore!

  5. rainswept says:

    You still didn’t give your Fun Quiz answer…According to the formula, Baynes is 7 times more likely to be rolling over in his grave than before.Qpcuepjb.

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