Two questions on the Ontario Green Party that I hope someone can answer.
1. What happened to their campaign this time? In 2007, they came pretty close to winning one riding (district).1 Apparently they have almost no chance this time, despite this being the year when the national Green Party got its first seat (in British Columbia).
2. Is the Green Party of Ontario really to the right of the Liberal Party (on the socio-economic dimension), as well as more socially conservative? That is what the CBC’s Ontario Votes-Vote Compass says.
I can’t recall which one. So I guess that’s yet another question that I hope someone can answer! [↩]
Update: In a comment (#7), I compare the result to the seat-vote equation estimate.
Three Canadian provinces have elections this week. Voting has already been completed in Prince Edward Island (PEI) and Manitoba, and is taking place today in Ontario, the largest province. Each elections shows–or is likely to show–the vagaries of FPTP.
First, the election in PEI produced a lopsided majority–again. The incumbent Liberal party returned to office with 22 of the 27 seats, on a slightly reduced vote percentage (51.4% compared to 52.9% in 2007). This was a loss of one seat, with the Conservatives winning 5 (+1). For the second straight election, the Greens supplanted the NDP as the (distant) third party, with 4.3% (up from 3%).
The province has a history of lopsided results (as I have shown in graphs); the 2003 Liberal victory marked an alternation from a Conservative government, which itself had 23 seats. In the election before that, the Conservatives had 26 of the 27 seats. In 1996, the last time no party won a majority of the vote, the Conservatives, with 47.4% could manage “only” 18 seats (a 2/3 majority).
The seat-vote equation, which estimates seats under FPTP systems, based on jurisdiction-wide votes for the top three parties, the size of the assembly, and the number of voters, says that a party with around 51% of the votes, where the second party has around 40%, “should” be expected to win around 65% of the seats, rather than the 85% it won in this election.1
One key reason why PEI has such lopsided results is that its assembly is about half the size that the cube root rule says it “should be,” for its electorate. With around 80,000 voters turning out in recent elections, an assembly of 55 seats would be more appropriate than 27. The undersized assembly is why the seat-vote equation sees as “normal” for FPTP even a a party with just over 50% of the votes potentially getting almost two thirds of the seats. The geographic distribution of the vote in PEI, and its tendency towards big island-wide vote swings, only exacerbate an inherent tendency for big seat bonuses for the largest party.
In Manitoba‘s election, the incumbent NDP was returned to office with 37 of the 57 seats (64.9%) on just 46% of the votes. The NDP had won 36 seats in 2007 on 48% of the votes. So the party’s votes declined, but it seats increased. The second-place Conservatives substantially increased their votes, from 37.9% to 43.7%, yet saw their seats remain steady on 19. Such are the vagaries of FPTP. Liberals saw their votes fall from 12.4% to 7.5%, and dropped from 2 seats to 1.
The seat-vote equation would expect such a close race between the top two parties to have resulted in a seat split of about 30-27, instead of the actual 37-19.2
Manitoba has no record of particularly odd results, although in both 1990 and 1995 the second largest party won many more seats than it “should have” won. This is a pattern that can result in a plurality reversal (higher seat total for the second largest party in votes), if the election is close enough. In both of those elections, the Conservatives won narrow seat majorities on less than 43% of the votes, while the second-place NDP in 1995 had 40% of the seats despite only 33% of the votes.3 Evidently, in several recent elections the NDP’s geographic distribution of its votes has been such that it can translate them into many more seats than expected, whether it is the largest or runner-up party. I point this out simply because this week’s election was quite close in votes (46%-44%) yet produced an unexpectedly large seat bonus for the NDP. A plurality reversal may have been barely more than a couple of percentage points of the provincial vote from happening.
In today’s Ontario election, we see real three-party competition, with the third largest party, the NDP, polling at around a quarter of the votes. The incumbent Liberal party won 71 seats in the 2007 election, or 66.4% on just 42.2% of the vote. For most of this year, it was expected to lose, possibly by a wide margin, to the Conservatives. Yet as the official campaign got underway, the Liberals and NDP made gains in polls. For a while the Liberals and Conservatives looked headed for a near tie in seats, with neither winning a majority, and a potential plurality reversal. Now the Liberals could retain a majority of seats, depending on how some key ridings (districts) turn out.
The ThreeHundredEight final projection sees the Liberals winning 58 seats (54.2%) on 36.6% of the vote (to 33.3% for Conservatives). No party in Ontario4 has won a majority of seats on less than 40% of the votes since the NDP won 74 of a then 130-seat parliament on 37.6% of the vote in 1990–the only time the NDP has been the governing party. For the record, the seat-vote equation agrees that this projected vote split would produce a majority (about 56 seats); what it does not expect is the mere 29 seats the Liberals are expected to win, according to the ThreeHundredEight projection. The seat-vote equation expects such a close second place to be good for 44 or 45 seats, which would leave only 7 for the NDP. That the NDP could be projected to win 20 seats by ThreeHundredEight–which takes into account district-level information unlike the seat-vote equation5 –only shows how much the existing FPTP electoral system favors the NDP. Their huge manufactured majority in 1990 shows this pro-NDP bias is not new.6
Finally, both Manitoba and Ontario, like PEI, have undersized assemblies. For their population sizes, the cube root rule expects around 100 seats in Manitoba (instead of 57) and 200 in Ontario (instead of 107). Small assembly sizes only exacerbate the chances of anomalous results, although if one wanted seats distributions more reflective of votes distributions, a proportional electoral system would do the trick without needing to increase assembly size.
For more on the seat-vote equation and estimating the seats in first-past-the-post systems, see:
Matthew S. Shugart, “Inherent and Contingent Factors in Reform Initiation in Plurality Systems,” in To Keep or Change First Past the Post, ed. By André Blais. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Past election data and estimates of seats come from the data set originally prepared in conjunction with the chapter, and updated since.
Error on year of NDP majority in original entry corrected.
Four seats in PEI were decided by fewer than 100 votes, and some of these might swing on recounts. Each major party has won two of these seats, based on current results. [↩]
Given the greater gap in votes between the top two, we would expect the 2007 election to have split the seats 37-20; in other words that election turned out almost exactly as expected. [↩]
In 1990, it had only 28.8% of the votes, yet 35% of the seats. [↩]
at least since 1967, which is the first year in my data. [↩]
As I often point out, the seat-vote equation is not a projection tool. It is only meant to see how close an actual result deviates from what a “typical” FPTP election would produce, for a given jurisdiction-wide votes breakdown, and number of voters and seats [↩]
Of course, potentially winning in this election nearly three times the number of seats as could be expected in a “normal” FPTP system offers minimal benefit when some other party has won a manufactured majority. Clearly the NDP today–although not back in 1990!–would benefit from a proportional system that would promote minority or coalition governments in which such a strong (in votes) third party could have real policy influence. [↩]
The campaign for 6 October provincial parliamentary elections in Ontario is underway.
According to the ThreeHundredEight projection as of today, the province is headed towards a no-majority situation. Conservatives and the NDP could each make big gains.
The current government is Liberal, (re-)elected in 2007 with a large seat majority. The Liberals would fall to second place, behind the Conservatives, according to current polling.
The province has some history of rather odd votes-seats relationships, which is why there was a review of the electoral system initiated following the 2003 election that brought the Liberals to power. A Citizens Assembly proposed MMP, but the proposed reform went down to resounding defeat in a referendum concurrent with the October, 2007, provincial election. So Ontario has remained stuck with an ill-fitting FPTP, at least for now.
As has been discussed extensively already in the previous thread (the comments to which have been very interesting), the voters of Ontario rejected a proposal to change their provincial electoral system to MMP. It was not even a close call; a change to MMP would have required the support of 60% of voters (and majorities in 60% of the districts). It received the support of only 36.6%.
The support MMP achieved was somewhat less than what the incumbent Liberal party obtained in the parliamentary elections, which was 42%. Yet that 42% has translated into 71 of 107 seats, or more than 66% (one seat less than a two-thirds majority). This represents a four percentage-points decline in popular support for the Liberals. In 2003 the party also won 71 seats, though out of a total then of 103.
The Conservative party also lost votes, going from 34.6% in 2003 to 31.7% now. It will have 26 of the 107 seats (compared to 25 of 103 in 2003). Its leader, John Tory, was defeated in his own district.
The big vote winners in this election were the New Democrats and Greens, especially the latter. The Green party won 8% in this election, about double what it had before. And, while the NDP would be the closest party to the Greens on many programmatic questions, the party’s vote surge did not come at the NDP’s expense, as the NDP votes went from 14.7% to 16.8%. The NDP also gained seats (from 7 to 10).
The Greens, of course, won no seats. They came closest in the district of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, where their candidate won 35% of the vote, but was defeated easily by a Conservative with 46%. (Do any of my readers know anything about this district? I am intrigued by the sort of place where a Green could get more than a third of the vote! Update: We now have such information in the comments!)
As far as the trusty seat-vote equation is concerned, this is a somewhat unremarkable result. Supporters of MMP will point to the huge manufactured majority, or to the Greens vote gain with no seats, and say, see, we told you so! But it is ho hum. Given this number of voters in the province, this number of seats in the legislature, and these vote totals for the various parties, we would expect a party with 42% of the votes to have won around 69 seats. So it won 71. Yawn. We would expect the Conservatives to have won around 34. So, they were a bit under-represented, relative to expectations, but 8 seats not won out of 107 is hardly enough to prevent the main opposition from functioning.
The NDP is, of course, considerably over-represented. Oh sure, it got only 9.3% of the seats on nearly 17% of the vote. But a third party with just over half the votes of the second party “should” win no more than 4 seats. Luckily for the NDP, it is adapted to FPTP in Ontario. It is sufficiently concentrated to win several seats. In fact, the 7% of seats it won in 2003 was its worst showing in many years. It won as many as 14% of the seats as recently as 1995,1 and actually had a majority in 1990, on a mere 37.6% of the votes–talk about being adapted to FPTP! It is the Greens, on the other hand, who are the maladapted party, with a voter base far too dispersed to win any seats.2
The only “contingent” factor, among those I identify in my academic work on reform in FPTP systems, that was present in Ontario was the coming to power of a party that had long been out of power. Before 2003, the Liberals had spent decades out of power, aside from 1985-90. In 1985 they formed a minority government despite having the second highest seat total, which in turn they had despite having the most votes (in the only somewhat anomalous election in the province). In 1987 they won a very large majority, only to be voted out after one full term. So, it is not surprising that such a party might come to power (as it did in 2003) with a program of “Democratic Renewal” and that it might even want to open up the question of whether to change an electoral system that, if not systematically biased, had not let the party exercise even a share of power (aside from 1985-90) despite its being a party that regularly won 30% or more of the vote.
In other words, the systemic factors predicting a reform process in Ontario were always weak. But there was some partisan-interest factor at work for the Liberals. The problems with partisan-interest factors, of course, are that they (1) may make it harder to convince voters who favor other parties to think reform is also good for them, and (2) the very interest-based factors may shift if the party starts doing better. This is clearly a good time to be a Liberal in Ontario. It is an even better time to be a Liberal under FPTP. And, apparently it is a good time to be an Ontarian: In the absence of systemic factors (whether the electoral system itself, or perceived policy failures and government mandate violations, as during New Zealand’s reform process), there was no general ill feeling towards politics-as-usual to impel voters to vote for reform simply because there is “something wrong.”
The result for the MMP referendum was by no means foreordained. The province has a multiparty system, for which some form of PR would make a lot of sense. Its Citizens Assembly was a model of civic participation, and its 103 members crafted a really sound proposal. But they faced an uphill battle. The result is not a surprise. However, the proposal is out there, and isn’t going to be totally forgotten. If the Greens’ success was not a blip, or if the Liberals are reelected again in 2011 despite losing the party vote (which would be very much within the realm of the possible), or the Conservatives come to power and are perceived to have done so only because of a divided center-left, the supporters of MMP will have their “we told you so!” moment. Maybe somehow the proposal, or something similar, would be dusted off and be put to another vote.
I do not think electoral reform is dead in Ontario. But it is certainly dormant.
I am using seat percentages here, rather than actual numbers, because the size of Ontario’s parliament has been something of a moving target in recent years. [↩]
Ontario has a very small parliament, for its population size. By the cube-root law, it “should have” around 200, or double the current size. But even such a big increase would have made little difference in the expected seat balance in this election. Of course, in the real world, it might have made one Green seat possible and might have put the Conservatives closer to their expected share. I would guess that a doubling of the size of the parliament would be an even tougher sell than MMP–which was to include a 20% increase in the size of parliament (or to about where it was as recently as 1995). [↩]
in P.E.I., a proposal for MMP was defeated in a referendum. Click the link on the province name for discussion. [↩]
In New Brunswick, a planned referendum on a proposal for MMP has been called off. Click the link on the province name for discussion. [↩]
And, oh, by the way, the Liberals won nearly two thirds of the seats on only 42% of the vote.
More later. Meanwhile, this thread continues to grow. Thanks for the comments. (I have weighed in there a few times, too.)
On 10 October, voters in Ontario will vote in a general provincial election. They will also vote in a very important referendum on whether to change the electoral system for future provincial parliamentary elections from the current FPTP to MMP.
The proposed MMP–mixed-member proportional–electoral system was recommended by a Citizens Assembly, made up of ordinary citizens selected (mostly) at random from the voter rolls (sort of like a grand jury). The assembly was given the task, under law, of deliberating about how elections actually work in Ontario and whether there might be a superior model. If it recommended an alternative, it was legally guaranteed that its proposal would be put up against the current system in a provincewide referendum. That time is now, and Ontario voters can decide whether to keep or change FPTP. Or, rather, a super-majority of Ontario voters can decide to change, as the proposal must obtain 60% provincewide, and majorities in at least 60% of the 107 provincial ridings (electoral districts).
Under the proposal, voters would have two votes–one for a candidate in their local riding (as now), and a second vote for a party list. There would be 90 (instead of the current 107) districts in which a single legislator would continue to be elected by plurality of votes cast. There would be 39 compensatory seats, from closed party lists, allocated to “top up” the seats of any party that had won more than 3% of the provincial party vote, but whose number of districts won was a proportional share (of the full 129 seats) that was less than its party vote share.
There is video debate on CBC that you can watch (about 6.5 minutes long), and CBC also has a list of some of the key arguments for and against.
Meanwhile, in the provincial election, it will be business as usual for FPTP. One party–and it will be the incumbent Liberal party, unless there is a very big surprise–will get “reelected” with around 42% or so of the vote, and is projected to win more than three fifths of the seats. The Conservatives–led by, and I kid you not, John Tory–will win around a third of the votes, but probably under 30% of the seats. The New Democratic Party (NDP) may win around 17% of the votes, but only around 11 seats (10%). The Greens may win five or six percent–and one poll says 11%–of the vote, but almost certainly no seats.
Obviously, Ontario has a multiparty system, and would be well served by a more proportional electoral system, which would raise the prospect of Liberals cooperating with one or more parties. If MMP were being used in this election, perhaps the Liberals would cooperate, after the election, in forming a government and passing policy with the NDP. Or they might strike a deal with the Greens, who would win anywhere from 7 to 14 seats, depending on their vote total, rather than zero. Under the current system, the Liberals will rule alone in spite of their having only 43% (or so) of the vote. Nonetheless, the referendum’s chance are considered a long shot.
The MMP proposal may not even make it over 50%. To get to 60% is hard. After all, one former FPTP jurisdiction, New Zealand, has MMP today because a vote of more than half the voters was sufficient in its 1993 referendum. The MMP proposal would have been considered defeated if 60% had been required; the change was endorsed by “only” 54% of the voters. In British Columbia in 2005 a referendum on a different electoral reform, also proposed by a Citizens Assembly, obtained around 58%, where, as in Ontario, 60% was required. (In BC, a second referendum is scheduled on the proposal.) Meanwhile, most governments in New Zealand under FPTP, as well as in Ontario and BC have been single-party majorities based on well under half of the vote–and sometimes on less than 40%.
It is perhaps surprising that a jurisdiction such as Ontario in which the ruling party usually is endorsed by well under half the voters, and where there are important parties other than the top two, would not be “ripe” for some form of proportional representation, such as MMP. However, Ontario is not exactly the most likely case for an electoral reform process to have emerged in the first place. It has had none of the serious anomalies–such as a party with the second most votes winning a majority of seats–as New Zealand had for two elections in a row (1978 and 1981), or as British Columbia had (1996).
With its multiparty politics, it has had some erratic results under FPTP, but nothing out of the ordinary. The graph below shows the patterns over recent decades.
This graph–as with others I have shown here in the block on the “seat-vote equation”–shows, in the lower segment, the deviation of the second largest party (in seats) from what it would be expected to have won, for the given votes for the parties and the size of the assembly and the number of total votes cast. On that lower (dark green) trend line, we see the identity of the second largest party. The trend line in the upper part of the graph shows how close elections have been.
The one really noteworthy–and perhaps “anomalous” election–was over twenty years ago. In 1985, the party with the most votes was the Liberals, with 37.9%, but the Conservatives, who had 37.0%, won the most seats. The Conservatives did not, however, win a majority. They won 52 of 125 seats, and the Liberals were actually able to form a minority government, with the support in parliament of the third party, the New Democrats. Then, in 1987, the Liberals called an early election and won a very large majority: 95 of 130 seats, on 47.3% of the vote.
As can be seen by the trend line in the lower portion of the graph, the electoral system has been somewhat biased against the second largest party–except in 1987, when that party was the NDP. In most elections before 2003, the second largest party was the Liberals, and they have won fewer seats than the second party would have been expected to have won (given the vote shares of the parties, the number of seats at stake, and the number of votes cast).
However, the bias has not been great, and the anomaly (if it was one) of 1985 was a long time ago. It is somewhat surprising that the Liberals actually promised prior to the 2003 election to convene a Citizens Assembly, and that they then went ahead with it. Now we are at the decision point. Will Ontario voters agree that MMP would be an improvement, or do they like the status quo electoral system in which they will most likely reelect their current government on 43% of the vote?
The Globe and Mail has a rather odd editorial. It almost seems to think the electoral reform is a good idea, but says to vote against it, partly because it claims the idea has been given short shrift in the general-election campaign. It suggests, rather strangely, that MMM would be better. And it wishes the threshold were at 5% instead of 3%.
In a church basement, a group of voters here for a meeting to improve their speaking skills agree on one thing: the proposed mixed-member proportional electoral system is baffling.
I would certainly take issue with that. And with the claim by one audience member that the list MPs are “not representing anyone.”
Predictably, some in the audience object to dual candidacy. As one put it:
That doesn’t seem terribly fair… It seems you [should] get one or the other. You don’t default to the second because you lost in the first.
As I have noted before, it really is necessary to have dual candidacy for MMP to work well. In fact, members who run in a district but win due to the list are representing voters more than those in a (hypothetical) MMP system who did not run in a district yet win via the list. But I recognize that it is a hard sell, because the quaint old notions of clear winners and losers upon which FPTP–and all its attendant disproportionality and wasting of votes–is based is so entrenched.
I might note that a thread on dual candidacy is, I believe, the most commented-on here in the two years of F&V.
Meanwhile, the Edmonton Sun has a really crackpot editorial about how Ontario “could muck up” all of Canada by opening the door to “extremists” like “burka wearing Muslims, evangelical Christians and the ultra-orthodox Jews.” It also claims, in the face of clear evidence, that MMP and party lists would not result in more women being elected.
â€œWe have a consensus.â€ By a secret ballot vote of 86 to 16, the Ontario Citizensâ€™ Assembly prefers MMP to FPTP.
And on the overhang front, there will be no overhang hangovers in the referendum campiagn. They decided on staff advice that, even allowing for a five percent shift towards split ballots, only in the most exceptional cases would more than three overhangs arise in Ontario. Not worth arguing about. Gone.
Why five percent? Well, Massicotteâ€™s survey of Germany, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales found â€œconflicting allegiances, even if held by many voters, tend to cancel each other out. So the net spread between the two standings of one party is usually not very great. Seldom does it exceed 4 percentage points.â€
The center-right Australian Liberal Party government of John Howard has announced a plan to phase out standard lightbulbs in favor of energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs by 2009. From the Sydney Morning Herald:
Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the expensive bulbs will pay for themselves within a year by reducing household electricity bills by up to 66 per cent and eventually cutting Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by four million tonnes a year. [...]
Mr Turnbull said that during the Kyoto Protocol target period between 2008 and 2012, the light bulb phase-out would cut 800,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia each year.
Meanwhile, the government of Ontario is considering making the province the first in Canada to enact a similar measure. From the Toronto Star:
No one in Ontario should underestimate the importance of replacing standard bulbs with more energy-efficient ones, [provincial Environment Minister Laurel] Broten added. By Premier Dalton McGuinty’s estimate, replacing every old-fashioned bulb with an energy-efficient one would allow the province to shut down one coal-fired power plant.
The Ontario government is headed by the Liberal party (which is a good deal more center-left than Australia’s conservative party of the same name), but it is being urged to adopt this measure not only by environmental organizations, but also by its main opposition, the Conservative Party.
Oh, if only we could have “conservatives” in this country like those in Australia and Canada!
An early consensus. The Citizens Assembly voted on Sunday on their first preferred alternative system. They plan to design two, and then choose one.
Mixed Member Proportional – 78
STV – 8
Parallel – 6
List PR – 3
Alternative Vote (IRV) – 2
Two Round System – 0
Thatâ€™s a lot stronger consensus than most expected.
On Saturday they settled their three key objectives for system design, after breaking out into five group sessions. Chair George Thomson quipped â€œyouâ€™re making my life easyâ€ when all five groups chose the same three:
â€œThe number of seats a party wins should closely reflect its vote share;â€
â€œEach MPP should represent a geographic area of the province;â€ and
â€œVoters should be able to indicate their preferred party and candidateâ€ separately, that is, have two votes, one for the party, one for the local candidate.
Next step: preliminary design of the first alternative (MMP) on the weekend of March 3 and 4. Apparently thatâ€™s two-vote regional MMP.
The Ontario provincial government will introduce legislation to enable a referendum next October on whatever new electoral system the Citizens Assembly might recommend. The referendum would be concurrent with the next provincial parliamentary election. Currently, Ontario has no law on referendums.
The long-awaited convening of the Ontario Citizensâ€™ Assembly on Electoral Reform took place at York University campus on the weekend of September 9-10. One hundred and three citizens, representing every riding in the province, began their work to determine whether Ontario needs a new voting system.
Assembly Chair George Thomson welcomed the 52 women and 51 men who will be meeting on several weekends each month through the fall and winter to learn about voting systems. They will hold public meetings across the province from late November to the end of January, and then make a recommendation in April or May on whether the voting system should be changed. If they do recommend a new system, that recommendation will go to a referendum, all but certain to be held with the October 4, 2007 provincial election.
The agenda for this first weekend session included an introduction to the role of voting systems. To gain first-hand experience on how different voting system can produce very different outcomes, the Assembly used three different voting systems to select their snacks for the three coffee breaks on the second weekend. To wrap up the weekend, Assembly members discussed what they expect elections to accomplish. The next five weekend sessions will go into detailed reviews of all major voting systems.
As always, J.H. Snider has regular updates and links to news accounts, including a rather hysterical warning from Ian Urquhart in the Toronto Star of 9 September about “a leap of faith into electoral darkness.” In the Star article, we get these nuggets:
Two years ago, a similar assembly in British Columbia recommended a loopy new system called the “single transferable vote,” which hardly anyone understood…
Urquhart alleges that in BC,
the research director for the assembly was an individual who was already predisposed toward the single transferable vote…
I know who this is, and while he has done research on STV and probably thinks it has been, on balance, pretty effective over the past 90 or so years in Ireland, to say that this makes him “predisposed” (as in biased in favor of) the system strikes me as unfair and unreasonable for the reporter to say (unless he has some very specific evidence). Essentially, he is calling into question the sholarly integrity of an professional researcher. Anyway, in Ontario, the reseach director will be a:
professor of political science with no published record on the issue of electoral reform.
Wonderful. We certainly would not want someone who actually is an expert on electoral systems working to assist a group of citizens–most of whom have never thought about electoral systems before–tasked with recommending either a new electoral system or the retention of the current one! (I do not wish to imply that the scholar chosen is unqualified or will not do a good, professional job. I simply am questioning the principle of having chosen someone who is not a specialist in the field. Additionally, Wilf notes in a comment that the model of a non-specialist Academic Director supported by a team of elections experts was precisely the model that Fair Vote Ontario recommended.)
Urquhart also fears that “the playing field is already tilted against the status quo.” In a sense, that is probably correct. Given that jurisdictions do not regularly hold such extensive reviews of their electoral systems (though perhaps they should!), the very fact that a process is underway suggests there is doubt about how well the status quo serves the jurisdiction. And well there should be, though my own research on reform away from plurality shows that Ontario is not one of the cases that is most “objectively” in need of reform. The province has not had the record of severe anomalies that British Columbia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, or pre-reform New Zealand have had.
Then, even after criticzing BC-STV, Urquhart implies that proportional representation necessarily is a system of “party lists” notwithstanding that there are no party lists under STV. He also claims that under PR candidates run on such lists “rather than in constituencies” (my emphasis), notwithstanding that one can have both, if one understands “constituencies” to mean single-seat districts and the form of PR adopted is MMP. (Of course, most non-MM PR systems, including STV, indeed have constituencies; jurisdiction-wide party-list systems, a la Israel or Ukraine, are exceedingly rare.)
Urquhart says that “permanent minority government” would be a cure worse than the disease, which he diagnoses as “presidentialization.” The latter term–highly misleading in any parliamentary system, but that’s a topic for another day–refers to the concentration of power in the premier. Apparently it has not ocurred to Mr. Urquhart that the reason the premier is so powerful is that there are no checks and balances on a single minority party (in votes) that is frequently given a majority (in seats) by Ontario’s current electoral system. Your premier will be a whole lot less “presidential” (not that he is now, but, again, that’s a topic for another day) once you have an electoral system that ensures, when there is no party with a majority of votes, that a minority party leads a minority government–or else, of course, a majority coalition.
The idea that one can genuinely empower “ordinary MPPs,” as Urquhart wishes–at least without real presdentialization, that is, electing legislators and the executive separately and eliminating confidence votes–is quite frankly naive. Under a parliamentary form of government, individual members are arguably at their least powerful under plurality voting and the resulting tendency towards single-party governments. PR–of some form–is essential to what Urquhart claims to want to accomplish.
It seems Urquhart and his newspaper could use a primer from an electoral systems specialist. But of course we can’t be trusted to be objective about our areas of research specialization, can we?
A group of randomly selected Ontario residents will soon be asked to decide whether the province’s electoral system needs a shakeup.
The province said Monday it will convene a 103-member citizens’ assembly… If the group recommends a change, the government will then hold a referendum on the issue some time within its current mandate… Selection of panel members will begin this spring. [read more]
I noted earlier that the election in Canada resulted in a leading party with the smallest plurality of seats in Canadian history: 40.26%. Here I want to compare this result to other plurality jurisdictions. As part of an academic paper that I am working on now, I have collected data on 187 elections held under plurality electoral rules in parliamentary systems that have mostly nationalized party conpetition.* These elections cover a period of 30-40 years in the U.K., Canada and the Canadian provinces, New Zealand (prior to its shift to MMP), and several Caribbean countries.**
How many of these 187 elections produced a plurality smaller than what the Conservative party currently holds? One.
In Nova Scotia in 1998, the Liberal party obtained 19 of 52 seats in the provincial legislative assembly, or 36.5%, on 35.3% of the votes. That election produced a tie in seats, with the NDP also obtaining 19 seats on 34.6% of the vote.
These are the only cases in my data in which the largest party in parliament won under 43% of the seats.
As I noted in a post on election day, Canada’s federal minority parliaments have averaged a life of about 18.5 months, or about the length of the minority parliament elected in 2004. Given what a dysfunctional parliament this is likely to be, it will be hard pressed to keep itself together even that long.
Something about Martin’s tone when he said that ‘the people of Canada have chosen Harper to lead a minority government’ made me feel that he was trying to hide his glee about how Harper would suffer trying to do just that.
Declan also notes, in his running commentary from election night: “Is Stephen Harper still speaking?” I saw it on C-SPAN and I have to admit, I stayed up past my usual bedtime to hear what Harper had to say, and I thought it was the worst victory speech I had ever heard any politician give. I am not sure how I stayed awake.
*The data therefore do not include India, where a very large share of the seats and votes are won by state-specific parties. In India coalition governments have been the norm in recent decades because the largest party usually has under 30% of the votes and seats. I also did not include cases that hardly have a party system at all, such as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
**Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.
***In this election, the second largest party in parliament (which had obtained a higher votes percentage) formed the government with the support of a third party.
It is, of course, possible that the Canadian election today will not produce a clear ‘winner.’ It would be a surprise if any party emerged from the election with a majority of the seats, and it would not be a surprise if the party with the most seats was in a less-than-commanding position to form a minority cabinet.
Canada has had considerable experience with federal elections in which no party obtained a majority of the seats. In each of those cases, the party with the most seats has formed a cabinet consisting of ministers only from that party, and that remained in office only if the other parties in the House of Commons did not join forces on a no-confidence motion. This is what is meant by the term, minority government, as opposed to a majority government (one party having over 50% of the seats) or a coalition (two or more parties sharing executive and legislative power and dividing up the cabinet ministerial portfolios among themselves).
Not counting today’s election, Canadians have gone to the polls in a general election sixteen times since 1957. In almost half of those elections–seven–no party has obtained a majority of seats. (Of the other nine in which one party formed a majority government, only twice did that party have a majority of votes: 1958 and 1984, both times the Conservative party and both times the party won around 3/4 of the seats.)
Many of these minority governments have been quite close to a majority. Here are the dates of those elections, the party that won the most seats, and the percentage of seats it held.
The average seat share of these minority governments has been 45.4%; in three cases, the party forming the cabinet had over 48% of the seats.* With the largest party short of, but often fairly close to, a majority of seats, parliament has been “workable,” by which I mean the government has been able to govern and legislate, albeit cautiously, by making ad hoc agreements with other parties or by those other parties’ selective abstentions on parliamentary votes.
The 2006 election, however, may produce the least workable plurality in the Commons in more than half a century.
My estimate based on an average of several polls published on 19 January suggests around 143 seats for the Conservatives, or 46%, which would be near the average for minority governments in Canada. However, other estimates–including alternate scenarios using my estimation method, only based on a closer result than the recent poll average–have the likely Conservative plurality of seats being in the range of 38â€“42%. Even the high end of that range would be a smaller share than the current Paul Martin government holds, and the lowest since 1972. Moreover, given the current make-up of the Canadian party system, a Conservative plurality could be particularly unworkable: The NDP has little in common programmatically with the Conservatives, and the Bloc Quebecois is a separatist party (which also has some signifcant policy differences with the Conservatives).
As Wilfred Day notes in a really interesting comment to an earlier post, there is no provision granting the plurality party a right to make the first effort to form a government (as there is in some other country’s constitutions, notably Iraq’s, as I have discussed at length previously). In fact, Wilfred quotes a Canadian parliamentary scholar as saying that the incumbent cabinet gets the first move in the event that an election has produced no majority: it decides whether to resign, or to face the new house and seek a confidence vote.
I recommend reading the entire excerpt that Mr. Day posted in his comment. The thrust is that a plurality of seats does not in any way prove that the party has “won.” Only a vote by the people’s elected representatives can do that. He cites the case of Ontario in 1985 when the Conservative party (then the incumbent, with a majority in the preceding provincial parliament) won 41.6% of the seats, but after a month of post-election negotiations, the Liberals (with 38.4% of the seats) were able to form a government with the support of the NDP (20% of the seats). It is worth noting in that case that the Liberals had won the popular vote, 38-37. It is also worth noting that the combined Lib-NDP seat share in that election was well over 50%.
In Canada’s federal parliament after today’s election, it is possible that the Liberal and NDP share will be greater than that of the Conservatives, but it is not likely to be a majority, given that the BQ will probably win 58-63 seats and be pivotal. Will either major party be willing to be seen negotiating with the BQ to make a government deal? I would think not. But the smaller the Conservative plurality and the closer the election, the less we can be assured that the party in the lead tonight will be the party granted the exclusive right to appoint cabinet ministers.
Whatever happens with the outcome of the election and the ensuing inter-party negotiations, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Canadians will be called back to the polls before long. A maximum term of parliament in Canada is five years, although elections often happen in the fourth year of a parliament. However, if a government loses a confidence vote–as minority governments are especially vulnerable to doing–or if it sees an opening to seek a greater mandate, a goverment may request, and the Goveror General usually will grant, an earlier election. For each of the above minority governments, here is when the next election was held (with the month noted for both dates), and what resulted from it:
1957/6 –> 1958/3, Conservatives reelected with majority (78.5% of seats)
1962/6 –> 1963/4, alternation to Liberal minority
1963/4 –> 1965/11, continued, but larger, Liberal minority
1965/11 –> 1968/6, Liberals reelected with majority
1972/10 –> 1974/7, Liberals reelected with majority
1979/5 –> 1980/2, alternation to Liberal majority
2004/6 –> 2006/1, ????
The average parliament without a majority party in the last 49 years has sat for a little over 18 months, or almost precisely the length of the one elected in 2004.
*It is worth noting that in two of these cases, the party with the most seats was not the party that the plurality of Canadian voters had voted for: “reversed pluralites” happened in 1957 and 1979.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4