Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Three Wise Men

Yesterday, I attended an event organized by Canada 2020. Hosted by former CBC journalist Don Newman, the event featured Frank Graves of EKOS Research, Bruce Anderson of Harris-Decima, and Nik Nanos of Nanos Research. It was an extremely interesting 90 minute discussion, with presentations from the three pollsters preceding a panel discussion and a short question-and-answer period.

The first to present was Mr. Anderson. He brought a lot of numbers and many of them were very fascinating. He put up voting intention charts for Ontario, Quebec, and Canada as a whole, and from what I could see on the chart their last set of polling running up to October 3 or 4 put the Conservatives at 33% to the Liberals' 29%.

Mr. Anderson emphasised that urban and suburban women are the most politically significant demographic at the moment, as it is there that the Conservatives and Liberals have been fighting for support.

He also took a look at core vs. potential support. Harris-Decima's findings were that 18% of Canadians would only vote for the Conservatives. That represents their floor and their base. They also found that 50% of Canadians would consider voting Conservative. That would be their ceiling.

For the Liberals, the base or core support is made up of only 10% of Canadians, but 56% of Canadians would consider voting Liberal. While the Liberal floor is far lower than the Conservative floor, their ceiling is higher.

Harris-Decima also found that 11% of Canadians were on the fence between the Liberals and the Conservatives, the only two parties that they would consider supporting.

Mr. Anderson also hypothesized about a Canadian "Tea Party", finding that 19% of Canadians would consider joining such a party. While you might think that this group is made up entirely of the Conservative base, it isn't. The voting intention split of this group was more or less proportional to national voting intentions. I thought that to be incredibly interesting. He also found that on a divisive issue like the census, these "Tea Partiers" were split, indicating that it would be very difficult to form a Canadian Tea Party as its potential adherents aren't a monolithic block.

Next was Frank Graves, who embraced his new persona of a rabble-rouser, and was the comedian of the bunch. He also brought a lot of numbers, but most of them we've already seen in their weekly polls.

Mr. Graves was adamant that a majority government is not in the cards, but did say that he thought a Green Party seat could result from the next election.

With some numbers stretching back ten years, he argued that one of the most important changes in the Canadian political landscape of late has been that the concerns of Canadians have shifted strongly from social issues to economic ones. This seems to have happened primarily since the Liberals were defeated in 2006, and helps explain why the formerly "natural governing party" has been struggling.

Then it was Nik Nanos's turn. He didn't bring a Powerpoint slide but instead spoke about some of the new dynamics of Canadian politics. It was very interesting, and Susan Delacourt has a transcript of his remarks. Apparently I missed her, as I didn't see anyone I recognized in the crowd.

Mr. Nanos disagreed with Mr. Graves that a majority was impossible. He didn't argue that it was plausible, but just that it was still a possibility. He believes that the Conservatives are using a strategy of wedge politics to further their goals, focusing on pockets of voters rather than broad appeal. He said that the Conservative strategy seems to be as focused on getting their own supporters out to vote as urging the supporters of their opponents to stay home. Repelling voters in this way negatively effects how politics are done in the country.

While he has a point, this strategy can also backfire. I know several people who are so unhappy with this Conservative style of politics that they will be impelled to vote against the Conservatives, and for a Liberal Party that doesn't excite them whatsoever.

He spoke about how a Conservative majority without Quebec (which I believe to be virtually impossible) could radically change Canada's currently mild national unity debate. With the Parti Québécois poised to form the next government in Quebec beginning in 2012 or 2013, a Conservative majority elected in 2011 (and presumably surviving until 2015 or 2016) could mean dealing a strong hand to the sovereignty movement.

Mr. Nanos dismissed talk of a base or ceiling, such as the one featured in Mr. Anderson's presentation, as he said that a Gomery-type event can transform the political landscape. While I agree with him on that point, we really can only go on what is most likely to happen. We can't plan on such a thing happening, since you never know if it will or how it will benefit or punish a given party.

He spoke at length about how the internet has changed Canada's political discourse. Whereas before Canadians were more limited in how they got their information, and so were exposed to more differing views, the internet allows people to view only the kind of news or analysis that fits into their own worldview. What that does is group people together who share similar ideas but separates these groups from one another. It makes a more divided Canada.

All in all, it was a very interesting debate and set of presentations. Most of the time, you only get to see one pollster on TV for maybe eight minutes. But with three pollsters and 90 minutes, the audience was spoiled and, I think, better for the experience.

37 comments:

  1. "and helps explain why the formerly "natural governing party" has been struggling."

    Maybe if they came out with some sort of platform and actually addressed some of the issues facing Canadians...I don't much like Harper or Jack, but at least I know where they stand.

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  2. I found the whole discussion about Canadian attitudes towards the "Tea Party" to be quite useless. When you look at the fact that Canadians who claim to like the idea of a Canadian Tea party have political preferences that mirror Canadians as a whole and that they are all over the map on the issues - it makes me think that very few people in Canada actually have the slightest idea of what the Tea Party stands for and most of them probably say they are interested in the Tea party - because they like their Red Rose tea with sugar and lemon!

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  3. the real issue is the inherant dangers to national unity and civil liberties presented by a Harper majority that has no ties to Quebec and has such draconian social views... the Harper legacy could very well be a yes vote in favor of seperation...

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  4. Heh I would have called this a wise man, a pollster, and a village idiot and let people decide who was who.

    The Canadian tea party thing is bogus.

    20% of Canadians would probably say they would join ANYTHING. These aren't even voters either, just adults, many of whom are probably among the 1/3 who don't vote.


    As for this business about wedge politics damaging our democracy I don't buy it one bit.

    I get the feeling that its only wedge politics when Harper does it.

    When Ignatieff says "schools not prisons, health care not fighter jets" isn't he wedging Canadians ??

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  5. The American Tea Party has very inconsistent messaging. Is it primarily concerned about overspending? Or moral values? Or national security?

    Or they just angry (and not all about the same thing) and all those issues are just a thin veneer of supposed reasonableness?

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  6. I find it unsettling when pollsters go beyond discussing trends and patterns and begin to make value judgments about those trends and patterns. Nik Nanos is right that the Conservatives have been actively driving down Liberal voter turnout, but I see no reason to use pejorative language to describe that tactic.

    If people are voting Liberal out of habit, rather than a considered preference, wouldn't we rather those people not vote? People who don't really care about politics only introduce noise into the electoral signal.

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  7. I think everyone should vote and doing anything to try to drive down the vote is a very undemocratic thing to do, regardless of which party does it. Ideally each party would try to show why we should vote for them and leave it to the media to describe the realistic (or unrealistic) nature of any promises made. Of course, that hasn't happened at any point in human history as media companies are owned by people who have their own viewpoints and those will influence what is written.

    Right now though the average voter has more information available than ever. Everyone with a web connection (or access to a library) can read every parties position on pretty much anything. They can check voting history for parties in parliament to know if they vote for what they say they will (or at least introduce private member bills for it).

    Sadly, too many just vote for whoever has the most signs up (ugh) or just don't vote at all. Still, I'd rather they voted based on signs than nothing at all. Hardly ideal, but at least they took a few minutes to vote.

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  8. Very interesting I think Anderson is right about the % vote for libs and cons. I think EKOS backs him up on his floor ceiling idea with more people supporting somre kind of lib govt vs the tories.As for a majority-not possible until after the next seat redistribution-Q becomes less important,

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  9. And off all these pollsters no one examined the impact of Leadership on the up coming election results.

    They would all agree that our system has evolved to a powerful PMO controlling everything and making all the key decisions but yet don't see that who would make the best leader will always be the #1 election issue.

    With only 10% of Canadians thinking that Mr. Ignatieff would be the best Prime Minister the CPC majority is on the radar, if not the inevitable result of the next election.

    Everyone knows this and is the reason that the Liberals/NDP will continue to support the CPC minority at all costs.

    These emperors have no clothes!!

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  10. On my previous post I should have used:

    The Three Wise men have no clothes


    No feedback on how they were so off in their polls for the last Federal election? The NB election?

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  11. Leadership is a factor - but its only one of many factors. The PCs managed to win the 1979 election even though Trudeau led Joe Clark by about a 3-1 margin on "Best person for PM". Harper himself had pretty dreadful numbers when the writ was dropped for the 2006 election. Believe it or not in 2001 Ujjal Dosanjh beat Gordon Campbell in every poll on "Best Premier", yet the BC Liberals beat the BC NDP 77 seats to 2!!

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  12. ...according the the latest Angus Reid poll - Harper's approval rating among Canadians is a measly 25%!! That is pathetic for someone who has been PM for 4.5 years and who is well know. Ignatieff at least has the excuse that most canadians still don't know him.

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  13. John Northey on what grounds do you think universal or high turnout is an inherent good ?

    In my view much of the public is uneducated and apathetic when it comes to politics.

    Encouraging them to vote for the sake of it is likely to harm the goal of getting the best possible government.

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  14. DL do you have any evidence to back up your assertion that Canadians don't know Michael Ignatieff ?

    He just completed a cross Canada tour for goodness sakes.

    Approval ratings are relative. Harper's numbers aren't pathetic, they're among the best in Canada.

    Danny Williams, Brad Wall, and then Stephen Harper followed by every other premier.

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  15. DL

    The 1979 election was 31 years ago.

    Even then, despite the Liberals Trudeau horrendous record he only took a brief vacation from power as people thought him to be a better PM than Clark.
    ================

    Harper was effectively made scary and polled as the worst PM from the time that he became leader of the CPC. It took two election campaigns and well over two years to move into polling as the best PM.

    There is a direct correlation between who is the best PM and the party that gets elected your Trudeau example not withstanding.

    The Liberals are not ignoring this fact with the huge unnatural makeover they are trying on Mr. Ignatieff. He has to double his appeal as being the best Prime minister to hold onto the same results as Dion held.

    Dion never was as low in the best PM poll as is Ignatieff.

    The AR poll did not ask the question: Who would make the best PM?

    It basically asked what is most wrong with these guys. What do you dislike the most.

    Harpers 25% under the circumstances is quite good... He is running against Ignatieff, not 1968 Trudeau or the the 2008 Obama.

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  16. Shadow - so you don't believe in democracy as a good form of government then? If you truly feel that the masses are too ignorant to choose then who should choose? Should we go back to landowners only? What about removing women from the vote, or minorities, or some other group?

    Yes, that is going quite far but saying that "Encouraging them to vote for the sake of it is likely to harm the goal of getting the best possible government." is just plain insulting to most voters. In fact, it sounds a lot like how some are viewing the Toronto election - that only those who shouldn't vote are voting for Rob Ford.

    As to my earlier comments about people voting only on the basis of what signs they saw - while I don't see it as a good way to choose who is in government I certainly believe in the right of people to decide based on whatever they choose to decide based on. That my friend is what true democracy is all about - everyone voting based on what they think matters, even if that is just sign volume or whatever name catches their fancy on the ballot.

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  17. "If you truly feel that the masses are too ignorant to choose then who should choose? Should we go back to landowners only? What about removing women from the vote, or minorities, or some other group?"

    John,

    I can't speak for Shadow, but I don't think it undemocratic to say that its not a bad thing that people who are too apathetic/lazy/ignorant to vote probably shouldn't.

    That isn't the same thing as saying that they shouldn't be allowed to vote (that certainly isn't what Shadow suggested). After all, no one is denying them their franchise, they are the people who are choosing not to exercise it. They're the ones who, by not voting, are delegating control of the country to others. Who are we to question their judgement?

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  18. I've got to comment on the "would consider voting _____" numbers. When the pollsters indicate that 50% would consider voting Conservative vs. 56% considering Liberal, this does not necessarily indicate a greater preference for the Liberals because it fails to take into account the feasibility of achieving those figures.

    The LPC tends to position itself as the middle road between the CPC and NDP, and for all intents and purposes, that's where it sits. Therefore, it has attraction to both outer edges of the centre, from both the 'outer' parties. However, to realize this soft support at the ballot box, the LPC has to tack to one side or the other, stealing those votes away from the parties that currently hold them. However, if they tack left, they lose the soft CPC supporters and vice versa. They may appear to have higher potential support, but it would be impossible for them to realize that level of support without alienating one half or the other. Their 10% base is made up of partisans who wouldn't support any other party because of loyalty to the brand, not because of any particular ideological bent.

    Ignatieff seems to understand this, hence the "big red tent" rhetoric, trying to appease both soft support camps at once. However, his execution is weak and as everyone knows, if you get greedy and try to chase two birds at once, you'll lose both.

    The CPC support, however, is much more attainable. If they tack to the centre while throwing enough bones to their 18% base on the right, they can snatch up soft Blue Liberal support, red tories etc. Will they achieve 50% at the ballot box? no. but 40-45% isn't out of the question once Gilles is done in Quebec and Layton retires (as the Libs may migrate to the left to pick up that support).

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  19. John Northey I believe firmly in democracy and universal enfranchisement.

    Information surrounding elections should be well advertised and there should be no barriers to voting rights.

    However, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.

    If people don't care or aren't informed enough to vote then i'm perfectly fine with them choosing to not vote - they probably would have made a bad choice anyways.

    Let me paint the following scenario I find idiotic:

    Voter to Adult: Hey you gonna vote??

    Adult: No, I don't know anything about the election.

    Voter: Vote anyways! That's democracy! Voting in and of itself is an inherent good.


    The right not to vote is part of democracy too. And its not necessarily a bad thing either.

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  20. DL said:

    Believe it or not in 2001 Ujjal Dosanjh beat Gordon Campbell in every poll on "Best Premier", yet the BC Liberals beat the BC NDP 77 seats to 2!!
    ___________________________________

    While I agree that Dosanjh was a much more likable guy than Campbell, your assertion is not quite accurate.

    Dosanjh became premier on February 24, 2000 and here are the "Best Premier" results (from Mustel) thereafter:

    March 7, 2000 -
    Campbell: 42%
    Dosanjh: 40%

    http://www.mustelgroup.com/pr/20000307.htm

    Sept. 1, 2000 -
    Campbell: 49%
    Dosanjh: 32%

    http://www.mustelgroup.com/pr/20000901.htm

    Nov. 6, 2000 -
    Campbell: 50%
    Dosanjh: 31%

    http://www.mustelgroup.com/pr/20001106.htm

    February 20, 2001 -
    Campbell: 50%
    Dosanjh: 32%

    http://www.mustelgroup.com/pr/20010220.htm

    Then election day, May, 2001 comes around.

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  21. They have the right to choose, but they also have the right to be apathetic. Or disillusioned.

    I think only people have a strong preference with regard to the outcome should vote.

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  22. Adult: No, I don't know anything about the election.

    ...they probably would have made a bad choice anyways
    .
    Such as not voting CPC.

    I think only people have a strong preference with regard to the outcome should vote.
    That would be very convenient, since it would eliminate those who don't have a strong preference for who wins, just a strong preference about who loses; the ABC vote.

    I thought the Liberals were supposed to be the elitists, looking down their noses at the great unwashed, patting them on the head and telling them it's ok not to vote, since the issues are far too complicated for people that likely wouldn't vote for them anyway.

    But it looks like the CPC supporters are most interested in increasing the value of their own votes by convincing others not to vote. I suppose if that fails, they could always fabricate voting problems which would be solved by introducing Diebold.

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  23. I strongly disagree with this:
    "Whereas before Canadians were more limited in how they got their information, and so were exposed to more differing views, the internet allows people to view only the kind of news or analysis that fits into their own worldview"

    I think it is exactly the other way around. Go to any large-enough online forum and you'll see all sorts of weird opinions that people wouldn't say in public. Anonymity is great for that sort of thing. One of the defining features of the internet are the fireworks that happen when people of widely diverging views meet.

    I actually think that the internet, more than anything, has been responsible for making postmodernism mainstream (specifically its ideas about "everything is relative", which became mainstream because people went online and for the first time bumped into people who had a completely different outlook on life).

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  24. "Such as not voting CPC."

    Liberal Supporter anything to back up your assertion that people who vote for the Conservative party are uninformed about the issues facing this country ?

    Or was that just pure, disgusting elitism ?

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  25. Liberal Supporter said: "But it looks like the CPC supporters are most interested in increasing the value of their own votes by convincing others not to vote."

    Who's trying to convince others not to vote? All anyone has said is that if people choose not to vote, their absence is no great loss. And that is isn't a value judgment imposed by "elitists", it's a judgment that reflects the opinions of the non-voters themselves - i.e., it isn't worth their time to vote.

    In any event, it's pretty weak to suggest that the Tories are "convincing [non-tory supporters] not to vote" for the other parties. You know, traditionally, parties were expected to actually have to pursuade voters to vote FOR them. If the Grits (or NDP or Bloc) can't do that, that really says more about them than it does about the Tories.

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  26. In general, when turnout is low, it makes more sense for a party to try to maximize the turnout of its supporters than to appeal to supporters of other parties -- there's more room to grow there. The higher the turnout, the greater the rewards for getting existing voters to change sides. So I'd argue that low turnout actually promotes divisive politics -- especially in a country where gaining power is a question of getting 32-33% support, not 50% support as in the US.

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  27. Coalitions fears alive and well:

    http://www.thestar.com/article/870962--hebert-duceppe-hands-harper-fresh-anti-coalition-ammunition

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  28. Ira: I think only people have a strong preference with regard to the outcome should vote.

    Why exactly is a "strong preference" important? Why isn't "knowledge of the issues"?

    Admittedly, this is a crisp summary of CPC strategy.

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  29. I guess when it comes to voting the big question is do you want people to vote or not?

    Negative advertising is all about encouraging people to not vote. Few people in a multi-party democracy (such as here vs the US with a 2 party system) will go 'I hate party xyz so I'm voting for qrs'. They are far more likely to go 'I was going to vote for xyz but if they are that bad I just won't vote'. Even in a 2 party system it seems to drive down the vote more so than switching parties.

    Right now you ask most people what they think of when it comes to politics and you will get them talking about negatives - money blown on G8, vague awareness of census mess, broken promises (Ontario Liberals & federal CPC have done lots of this), general feeling that all parties are the same so what is the point.

    The more people are disillusioned the fewer vote. The fewer who vote the more valuable a 'get out the vote' program becomes. The more valuable GOTV is the less an election becomes about issues and the more it becomes about a parties ability to find its supporters and drag them to the poll.

    Now, maybe some here see that as a good thing. I see it as a horrible thing though as it changes the debate from being 'what party has the best vision for the country' to 'who has the most money' as money allows you to hire phone operators to make hundreds of calls, money lets you put out 1,000's of signs and ads. None of those (ads, signs, call centres) have anything to do with making Canada better. It only has to do with the ability to fund raise. IMO the last thing I want a political party to be good at is sucking more money out of people.

    Btw, as you can guess I strongly favour the per vote subsidy (get a vote get money, get no votes get no money) over the 75% rebate subsidy (suck money out of people) and both over the idiotic 60% rebate of all expenses that individual ridings get (if they get 10% of the vote or more) and the 50% rebate the parties get for all expenses (gee, lets encourage politicians to go into debt and spend more - that is just what we all need).

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  30. Why exactly is a "strong preference" important? Why isn't "knowledge of the issues"?

    Someone could be knowledgable about the issues and still not care. That's why.

    That would be very convenient, since it would eliminate those who don't have a strong preference for who wins, just a strong preference about who loses; the ABC vote.

    Way to contradict yourself, there. A strong preference is a strong preference, reagrdles sof whether its positive or negative. I'm come out strongly in favour of strategic voting in the past; a negative preference is still a preference.

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  31. Oh, and I'm not in favour of any political subsidies (or subsidies generally), so I'm not trying to reduce anyone's fuding by driving down the vote.

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  32. Ira - so you'd prefer to remove the massive subsidy given to people who donate to political parties too?

    It is obscene how a donation to a political party is discounted by more than a donation to a charity (up to a certain point).

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  33. "Why exactly is a "strong preference" important? Why isn't "knowledge of the issues"?"

    Now who's being elitist? Besides, if the franchise was limited to people who are "knowledgeable about the issues" in any meaningful sense only a tiny fraction of the Canadian population would be allowed to vote. And it would probably exclude most of our MPs.

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  34. Ira: Someone could be knowledgable about the issues and still not care. That's why.

    I need some help here. Why is deeply caring about the issues a good reason to vote, if the basis of that vote is flawed? And why is understanding the ramifications of a vote unimportant unless there's associated passion?

    Decisions can be made on evidence or emotion. Our entire business, scientific, engineering, technological, medical, educational and legal systems are based on the former. Our appreciation of art, not so much.

    Do we treat the management of this country as a fine art instead of a business or a science?

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  35. Ira - so you'd prefer to remove the massive subsidy given to people who donate to political parties too?
    Yes.
    It is obscene how a donation to a political party is discounted by more than a donation to a charity (up to a certain point).
    Those political subsidies are absurd. Instead of the subsidy on charitable donations, though, I'd just make them tax-deductible.
    I need some help here. Why is deeply caring about the issues a good reason to vote, if the basis of that vote is flawed?
    I didn't say saring about the issues. I said caring about the outcome. That's a political question, not a policy question.
    Do we treat the management of this country as a fine art instead of a business or a science?
    It's a democracy. We treat it as a popularity contest. As long as we let people vote at all, that's what it is.

    But as long as that's what it is, let's distill the result by removing the indifferent voters.

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  36. Carl,

    "Besides, if the franchise was limited to people who are "knowledgeable about the issues" in any meaningful sense only a tiny fraction of the Canadian population would be allowed to vote. And it would probably exclude most of our MPs."

    I'm not as diplomatic as you are: a little rephrasing to prove my point --

    "[...] And it would DEFINITELY exclude most of our MPs."

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  37. As an aside, I'm reminded of a joke bill that was submitted in model parliament during my mispent youth. The tories proposed to change the basis for representation in parliament from representation by population.

    One of the early draft proposals was representation by education (which is how this, barely ties into this discussion), but we ultimately settled on an arrangement for representation by wealth. So instead of having 300 ridings with roughly equal (in theory) populations, you'd have 300 ridings with roughly equal levels of wealth. The rationale for the proposal was largely that it allowed us to come up with riding names like, on the one hand, "Forest-Hill South Center East", "Forest-Hill South Center Center, "Forest-Hill South Center West", "Forest-Hill Center Center East" (ad nauseum) and, on the other hand, "Saskatchewan-Manitoba-North-West Territories" or "The Atlantic Provinces". As these things go, it was a pretty funny proposal.

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