Monday, June 22, 2009

Proportional Representation in the 2008 Election

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to look at what the 2008 election would have been like if Canada had a proportional representation system. I chose a regional PR system, with each province voting MPs according to PR and giving them each the amount of seats they have presently. What do we get?
The Conservatives win a minority with 119 seats, rather than 143. The Liberals form the Official Opposition with 84 seats, rather than 77. The New Democrats form the second opposition party, rather than the third, with 56 seats. The Bloc Quebecois wins 29 seats and the Greens elect 17 MPs.

This would be a far more representative system of government. Rather than the Tories winning 72 of 95 seats in Western and Northern Canada, they would win 51. The Liberals would have 16 MPs from the West and North (rather than eight), the NDP would have 21 (instead of 15), and the Greens would have seven.

Ontario's representation would not change dramatically, but the Greens would elect eight Ontarian MPs. One of the major differences would be in Quebec, where the Bloc would elect only 29 MPs instead of 49. The Tories would elect 16 MPs rather than 10, the Liberals 18 rather than 14, and the NDP would have nine Quebec MPs instead of one. Even the Greens would elect three MPs from Quebec.

While this sort of system would all but guarantee minority governments, it would be far more representative and the parties would learn to work together. With this Parliament, a Liberal-NDP-Green coalition government could even be possible. Coalitions like that have worked in Europe and have worked well. Or, the Conservatives could have governed with the Liberals or on a case-by-case basis with any of the parties.

This sort of system would also encourage fringe parties, though there would probably be some mechanism requiring, say, 5% nationally before any MPs anywhere could be elected.

In any case, it is just an interesting little exercise. Based on the current projection, using this system would result in the following Parliament:

Liberals - 102 seats
Conservatives - 102 seats
New Democrats - 51 seats
Bloc Quebecois - 27 seats
Greens - 26 seats

That would be interesting to see. The Tories would have 45 seats in Western Canada, the Liberals 22, the NDP 19 and the Greens 9. Ontario would have 37 Conservatives, 43 Liberals, 16 New Democrats, and 10 Greens. Quebec would have 27 Bloc MPs, 24 Liberals, 11 Conservatives, 8 New Democrats, and 5 Greens. Atlantic Canada would have 13 Liberals, 9 Conservatives, 8 New Democrats, and two Greens.

At first it would cause some instability to have such weak minorities, but eventually I believe it would be more healthy for our democracy.


  1. I don't think that your conclusion is accurate. I think that we have the instability right now. The Liberals and CPC are working on a long tradition whereby loyal opposition function is to attack 99% of Gvt. measures. This has worked well for Canada in a two and a half Party system. Now we have a 5 Party system, and confrontation in the house is taking place between minority Party's. Our Parliamentary traditions are failing us, because there is no real likelihood of working majorities being formed in the house. At least if the fragmentation was formally recognised, some of the less useful traditions would go by the wayside, and we might get better government out of it.

  2. It is unfortunate I am unable to block comments like the one above yours, but I don't want to enact comment moderation just yet.

    To respond to your comment, I'd say that because majority governments are still possible, it will be difficult to get over the kind of partisanship we currently have. I don't believe my conclusion is invalid, considering that we would have smaller minorities that would be easier to defeat. That causes instability, more so than today where we need all opposition parties to co-operate.

    But I agree that after a few years in this kind of system, where majorities are virtually impossible, we would develop more workable relationships in the House of Commons.

  3. I don't see any of the 5 Party's dying off anytime soon. That makes a majority almost impossible to win. Surely most Parliamentarians know this to be true, despite fond desires to the contrary.
    Were PR implemented, I think that public debate would ensure that everybody realised that governments would likely be preceeded by negotiations over coalitions. That's one of the problems with getting it implemented. It would take years to hold a proper public debate. Also consider the head of state. The GG is currently constrain by old tradition. She would have to use a whole new rulebook to approve competing coalition proposals.

  4. Interesting 2008 projection. But I can't follow you on the Atlantic provinces. First, you're ignoring Bill Casey. Second, are you making them one province, not four? The number of MPs from each province cannot change.

    For a similar projection, but using smaller regions within the four larger provinces, see my blog:

    While the numbers have small shades of difference, the result is the same: the true majority of voters elect the majority of MPs.

  5. It has been a long time since I did this, but I believe I did, in fact, separate the Atlantic provinces in my own calculations.


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