Saturday, September 17, 2016

Electoral reform could have big impact on Canada's smallest parties

When it comes to changing Canada's electoral system, who is standing up for the little guy?

The special committee on electoral reform will be hitting the road next week to hear directly from Canadians on changing the way they vote. The committee is made up of members from each of the five parties with representation in the House of Commons.

But there are a lot more parties in Canada than that.

You can read the rest of this article here.


  1. Unlikely to help any of them. No one is talking about an extreme version of PR that helps parties below 3-5%.

    1. They would argue that the new rules would make voting for them more appealing, and so the 3-5% threshold might be met. It is optimistic, to be sure.

    2. Oh, and the Animal Alliance, which supports STV, thinks they might be able to convince voters to give "a vote to the animals" in addition to the major parties.

    3. They can try, but the track record abroad suggests they are unlikely to succeed, and I hope your work reflects that in the future. Litterally 0 single issue parties represented in Ireland (either one), Scotland or Wales right now, and those are the models the committee has requested further material on.

    4. More likely is new parties emerging from the current mainstream. Even evidence for that is the change would be minimal though.

    5. Ryan,

      No single issue parties in Ireland? Ahhh No. What of Sinn Fein? You know the political wing of the Irish Republican Army who are committed to a united Ireland under a single state! This is a party that in the past has supported the use of any means possible including military force against civilians to achieve their political goal! Or the Democratic Unionist Party-equally as prejudiced party committed to keeping Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom. Or the Ulster Unionist Party. Even Fine Gael and Finna Fail at base are still the pro and anti treaty parties they were founded as arguing over the same old question; whether to have closer or more distant ties to the UK. It is no coincidence the UK gave Ireland 14 billion GBP bailout only after Fine Gael came to power. The previous government under Brian Cowan nearly went bankrupt but, his Finna Fail anti-treaty, anti-British sensibilities prevented him from accepting a bailout offer from the Treasury. The British were concerned Eire unable to pay its pensions or wages was about to become a failed state resulting in a mass exodus onto Britain's beaches.

      So as you can see Irish politics far from being devoid of single issue parties is dominated by them.

      Scotland has at least one single issue party you may have heard of; The Scottish National Party now in Government. They want Scotland to become an independent Kingdom separate from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Wales doesn't do much better, they have two single issue parties inside their Assembly; Plaid Cymru whose goal is to make Wales an independent state separate from England and the United Kingdom Independence Party who wish the UK to leave the European Union!

      This is simply another example of why a referendum on electoral reform is needed and required. Brokerage politics and parties help keep Canada united. Trudeau for all his good intentions is making us walk a dangerous road-Ireland is not the example we should follow-where after nearly 100 years of "independence" they are still economically, culturally and politically dependent on Great Britain.

      British Columbians rejected this "Irish" model during the 2009 referendum on electoral reform that presented BC-STV (based on the Irish Republic model of multi-member constituencies) as the alternative to FPTP.

      If we take the Irish example then parties are more likely to split than new ones emerge: Fine Gail and Finna Fail were once a single party. The Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party were once a single entity. PR, AV STV and the rest promote single issue or minimal issue parties not brokerage politics. It is the great fallacy of the electoral reform movement that their chosen system promotes good governance or prosperity-they do not! Peace, Order and Good Government promote good governance and prosperity! First Past The Post promotes Peace, Order and Good Government.

    6. Bede,

      Northern Ireland is an interesting example you bring up. They have STV with 6 representatives elected from the same 18 constituencies as they use for FPTP to send to the House of Commons in London.
      From the latest round of elections, STV gave: DUP 38 seats on 29.2%; Sinn Fein 28 seats on 24.0%; UUP 16 seats on 12.6%; SDLP 12 seats on 12.0%; Alliance 8 seats on 7.0%; and Green 2 seats on 2.7%, and People Before Profit 2 seats on 2.0%.

      FPTP gave 8 seats on 25.7%, Sinn Fein 4 seats on 24.5%; UUP 2 seats on 16.0%; SDLP 3 seats on 13.9%; Alliance 0 seats on 8.6%; and Green 0 seats on 1.0% plus 1 Independent with 2.7%.

      So a 1.2% difference in the FPTP vote resulted in DUP having double the seats as Sinn Fein, while a 5.2% absolute difference in the STV results (21.6% relative) gave 35.7% more seats.

      It’s not the voting system that has caused Northern Ireland’s political fragmentation. Changing how we vote isn’t going to drastically change our political landscape, just possibly how effective your vote is.

      As for BC-STV in 2009, 33.57% of registered voters voted to keep FPTP vs 35.47% in 2005 who voted to change. Part of the negativity was directly related to boundary redistribution.

    7. Ryan,

      First off, BC-STV lost twice! Of those who voted in 2009 over 60% decided to keep the current system, fudging the numbers makes it appear the vote was close but, it wasn't because the system was not popular among the electorate.

      Secondly, you wrote: "Litterally 0 single issue parties represented in Ireland (either one), Scotland or Wales right now,".

      This on examination is incorrect in fact you have brought two more single issue Irish parties to the fore; People Before Profit and the Green Party. So Irish politics is dominated by single issue parties!

      What you write about the DUP vs. Sinn Fein needs more context due to the sectarian nature of the political environment. While it appears on face value that a 1% difference has resulted in double the seats for the DUP I suspect the DUP is competitive in more ridings than Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein Max seat projection to borrow from Eric, would be 6/7 I estimate whereas the DUP max is closer to 12/13. Secondly, regarding Sinn Fein since, they do not sit in the Commons as they are unable to swear the loyal oath many of their votes are given by people who otherwise would not vote or would spoil their ballots. I suspect this makes the Sinn Fein vote less efficient.

    8. Mapleson - re boundary redistribution - the biggest factor actually just seems to be the government's change in wording on the question. Only 40% of voters even knew there was a referendum happening when they walked into the voting booth. In 2005 it was 60% (due to the government mailing everyone the Citizens' Assembly's report), and a more favourably worded question. You're measuring people's gut reaction to the wording on the page more than anything.

    9. bede,

      I believe you are responding to my post as if I were Ryan. Stating votes as part of the total electorate is not "fudging the numbers", it is presenting the facts in the light of the depressed turn-out. In 2005, BC-STV "lost" with 58% "of those who voted". However, the electorate breakdown was 38.5% non-vote, 0.2% invalid-vote, 34.5% for-vote, and 25.3% against-vote.

      I think you'd be hard pressed to recreate the negative conditions of ignorance of the debate on a Canada-wide referrendum that helped the loss in 2009.

      For your context on Northern Ireland, there were 10 ridings with unionists receiving the larger vote share (including Belfast North with only 47.0%), and 8 ridings with nationalists receiving the larger vote share (including Belfast South with 38.4%). Fermanagh and South Tyrone swung from Sinn Fein to UUP on a margin of 530 votes (1.04%) with a unionist party winning while 50.8% of the total vote were for nationalist parties, Belfast South was held by SDLP against DUP on a margin of 906 votes (2.33%), and South Antrim swung from DUP to UUP on a margin of 949 votes (2.60%).

      The DUP had four second-place finishes, Sinn Fein had five, and UUP had six. The other three were Alliance, People Before Profits, and Traditional Unionist Voice.

      The 12th largest riding unionist combined vote was 37.7%, the 9th largest nationalist combined vote was 38.4%, and the second largest other combined vote was 23.8%.

      Of Sinn Fein's first and second place finishes, the difference between first and second was under 10% twice (of 6 overall), under 20% three times (of 4 overall), under 30% twice (of 5 overall), and over 30% twice (of 3 overall).

      The problem of vote efficiency is one of the major issues with FPTP. Your vote is less worthwhile when you live in an area with mostly like-minded people, which drives down voter engagement/turnout.


      I agree that low turn-out and awareness contributed to the results. How we break that down is more difficult. Which people stayed away because they didn't know, which ones didn't vote because they didn't know the possible effects, which ones just got fed up with the politics, etc.

    10. I don't have anything handy but from what I've read the change in wording was decisive. Basically, on the old question, people who knew nothing about the subject were inclined to vote yes based on the wording of the question alone. The reverse was true in 2009.

    11. Bede - the 60% threshold wasn't promised by the BC Liberals, or part of the terms of reference at the start of the process. It was added by consent of the NDP and Liberals half way through the Citizen's Assembly process. 58% yes is a win. For any political party, it would be a crushing win. The referendum just wasn't binding, and the government chose to ignore it.

    12. Goprdon Gibson makes clear in his initial report to Geoff Plant the referendum was not binding, unless the Citizens' Assembly process was held under the BC Referendum Act which it wasn't. Rightly then the Government with the support of the Opposition made the decision. 58% is not and was not a win. Those in favour had almost seven years and two referenda to convince people, they failed and the people in their wisdom rejected the recommendation of the Citizens Assembly. The second referendum that proposed BC-STV and presented new electoral boundaries was defeated by a nearly 2:1 margin!

      Those in favour knew the rules: knew from the outset, Gordon Gibson's report to the Attorney General on the set-up, selection and constitution of the Citizens' Assembly that the results would not be binding on the Legislature. Gordon Campbell made a very large concession agreeing to hold a second referendum and during the intervening four years the pro-BC-STV crowd did little to nothing in terms or organisation, fund raising or consultation. Not only did the electoral reform people lose they are primarily responsible for their own loss.

  2. Eric what makes you think some "animals" don't vote now ??

    1. Seems to me that about 17.6 million animals voted last October.

  3. A 5% threshold can have unintended consequences on the vote outcome. In the last German federal election, the FDP was teetering on the edge of the 5% threshold in polls. It is plausible to think that some of its supporters switched to CDU to support the other coalition partner so that their vote wouldn't be wasted. Perhaps as a result, the FDP just missed out on getting 5%, so they got zero representatives. Even though the CDU vote total went up and the CDU and FDP combined got over 50% of the vote, the majority of seats ended up going to the left-wing parties because the FDP's votes didn't count.
    The threshold was put in the German constitution to stabilise the German party system. But pre-War Germany had an unstable party system because the country itself was unstable (lost war, attempted Communist revolution, crashing economy). Thresholds are not a good thing -- they reintroduce the need to vote strategically, disenfranchise voters and can distort the will of the people.

    1. Sorry, mangled that comment.

      The effective threshold for a 4 seat STV district is 15% of the vote in that district. So to have a roughly 50:50 shot at a seat, you need around 15% of the vote. Small parties with broad appeal can cross that in ridings where they run solid candidates. For example, the Greens in Ireland (centre-left by Irish standards) won 2/165 seats with 2.7% of the vote because in two districts star candidates punched well above the Greens' average.

      Renua Ireland - a socially conservative party that split from the governing Fine Gael over its support for ending the ban on abortion in the case of a threat to the mother's life - won 0 seats on 2.2% of the vote.

      Renua's leader ran in the same district as the Greens' leader, so if anyone wants to take a look at the results, just google Dublin Bay South. The Greens' Eamon Ryan won a seat with 11.4% of the vote, while Renua lost with 10.7% (as did Sinn Fein at 10.6%). The Greens were helped by second preference flows from parties to the left of them, but they were a head even just with first preferences.

      For a 12 seat MMP district the effective threshold is 6.5%, though in practice it can be a bit higher if you don't have enough top up seats available, as is often the case in Wales. Interestingly enough, because MMP is a more party centred system* than STV, it's actually no easier for parties to make 6.5% in a region under MMP than it is to make 10-15% under STV. For Liberal Democrats in Wales for example, while they received 6.5% across Wales as a whole, they actually only met or surpassed 6.5% in one region.

      TL;DR is you still need a big chunk of support to win seats, though in STV you can get around that with strong candidates rather than strong parties (hence the large number of independents elected). You don't need a de jure threshold beyond that.

      * - Note, while closed list MMP is more part-centred than FPTP, open list MMP is more candidate centred than FPTP, though still less so than STV.

  4. The 5% threshold is a bad thing. It reintroduces strategic voting, disenfranchises people and distorts electoral outcomes -- all of the things that otherwise would make PR more attractive than FPTP.
    Look what happened in Germany in the last election: voters switched from FDP to CDU because polls showed FDP on the cusp of 5% and therefore a vote for them risked not being counted. The result was that the FDP just slipped under 5%, they got zero representation, and the left-wing parties got a majority in the assembly without a majority of the votes.
    Germany has a threshold because the writers of the constitution thought it would stabilise the parliament, but pre-war Germany's parliament merely reflected Germany's unstable society, having just lost a war, endured economic collapse and undergoing several attempted communist revolutions before the fascist's electoral coup d'etat. Stable, modern democracies don't need 5% thresholds.

    1. I prefer a "soft" threshold. Parties under a '3-5%' threshold would half their potential seat total. Thus in Ontario, you'd need at least 1.6% of the vote for a seat (assuming all 121 seats were PR).

      One thing that seems to be missing from the overall debate is how well any system will fit across the country. PEI has 4 seats, so what PR is awarded in a situation of: 56% LPC, 31% CPC, 12% NDP, 1% GP? How does that square with Ontario having 121 seats under the same results?

  5. The Dutch Party for the Animals has consistently gotten representatives elected with just under 2% of the vote in the last few elections.

    1. "There's two things I can't stand-racial insensitivity and the Dutch"!-Nigel Powers as portrayed by Sir Michael Caine, CBE. A Party needs 1.5% of the popular vote to gain a seat in the Dutch Parliament.

    2. 2% won't get you squat under what's being proposed here.

  6. I already vote Libertarian in federal elections. But I don't think we should adopt a voting system that panders to me, or to any minority group.

  7. What I can't understand is why the NDP isn't fully going all in on preferred voting? It is the only way they could ever get the most seats in parliament, and they actually would have a decent shot of majority power, under the right circumstances, with preferred voting.

    Considering how far the the Conservatives are to the right these days, and how many potential left wing parties could spring up with any type of proportional voting, the NDP seems to be shooting themselves in the foot here. And it's clear the NDP will probably never get majority power with the first past the post system there is right now.

    Are there no math or stats people in the NDP to figure this out? Preferred seems to be the only system that could help the NDP. Why are they scoffing at it, when it makes no sense?

    1. The NDP have never been particularly fond of math. Have you seen their economic policies?

    2. 11Matt11,

      Firstly, I think there no agreement among Dippers themselves. From the Dippers I know most are in favour of some sort of PR with a good portion in favour of straight up PR. The Party would certainly be helped with a unified policy position.

      Secondly, preferential voting still presents most of the old challenges for the NDP as FPTP. It is geographically based and therefore, it is incumbent on parties to develop regional areas of support. If we look at Eire and Australia, two countries that use preferential ballot albeit in different forms, Eire uses multi-member districts whereas Australia has single member seats. Both countries still have dominant two party systems whereby, two parties regularly compete for government.

      In Australia, the system we are most likely to emulate, third parties are very small. From 1969 until 1990 there were no third party candidates elected to the Australian House of Representatives, this include nine general elections. Only coalition Liberal and National party members and Labor party members were elected. Since, 1990 the Crossbench (third parties and independents) has not exceeded five members 1996, 2016. So based on the Australian example we can see third parties do noticeable worse than under FPTP or at least FPTP in Canada. At the last general election 44 Dippers, 10 Bloc and Ms May were elected. Nearly 17% of the Canadian House of Commons are third party members compared with 3% in the Australian House of Representatives.

      All this is not to say things would not change under a new system or because something happens in Oz it will happen here. However, I think the stats clearly show preferential voting favours a two party system and this explains at least in my mind why the NDP has not endorsed preferential voting.

    3. Preferential voting in single member ridings helps parties when they're strong and hurts them when they're weak. It would not be kind to the NDP at 13% of the vote.


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