Monday, September 14, 2009

Blame it on the Separatists

If Canada has become ungovernable, we need not look any further than Quebec to know why. Simply put, the refusal of the Quebec electorate to support either one of the traditional governing parties combined with the inordinate distortion of the popular vote in favour of the Bloc Quebecois make it next to impossible to form a single-party majority government.

Although both the Liberals and the Conservatives have seats in Quebec, the number is insufficient to contribute to the formation of even a false majority. In general, the first-past-the-post voting system provides a bonus for the party that wins the plurality of the votes. Most often, 40% of the popular vote translates into 60% of the seats and consequently a majority government. However, in looking at the results of the last general election, it is the size of the distortion that the Bloc receives that thwarts the ability of the Conservatives to form a majority government.

With regard to their performance of obtaining popular support across the electoral districts in which they present candidates, the Bloc and the Conservatives both receive approximately 38% of the votes cast. The Bloc does this in the 75 ridings within Quebec while the Conservatives accomplish the same feat in the 308 ridings across Canada, and there’s the rub.

Calculating the popular-vote-to seats ratio for both political parties, the Bloc receives one seat for every 28,163 votes cast for the party in Quebec, and the Conservatives receive one seat for every 36,427 votes cast for the party in Canada. Breaking this down into electoral districts where each party presents candidates, the same level of support in the popular vote garners 65% of the available seats in Quebec for the Bloc but only 46% of the available seats across Canada for the Conservatives. In other words, those electors that vote for the Bloc have a significantly higher voting power than those electors that vote for the Conservatives. In fact, the votes for the Bloc produce 30% more seats than the same number of votes for the Conservatives.

Ironically, the essential component of this majoritarian electoral system has been appropriated by a relatively small minority of voters as to prevent the system form operating in the manner in which it was intended, thereby rendering the entire electoral system dysfunctional—we maintain a majoritarian electoral system that is presently incapable of producing a majority government.

To escape from this cul-de-sac, we must abandon the present out-dated method of voting. Indeed, proportionality should be a required feature of a new electoral system so that we do away with the notion that a political party forms a majority government of the basis of the systemic distortion of the popular vote. This would pave the way for the formation of majority coalitions that would extend the life of our current governments substantially.

The challenge is to convince those who have benefited from the egregious fault of the present system to abandon it in favour of a system where the benefits accrue to the electorate at large, which will find itself with a much more accurate reflection of its political diversity in the composition of Parliament. What is required is that the traditional governing parties recognize the futility of hanging on to first-past-the-post method and move forward to implement a systemic change that puts the well-being of the nation before partisan self interest.

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