Strategic Voting in Canada, and the charade of electoral reform

In the lead up to the 2015 election, the Strategic Vote activists came up with a second way to persuade NDP supporters to migrate to the Liberal party. And like the first, it too is a charade.

The activists saw that the NDP supporters were reluctant to donate their vote to the Liberal party. The suggestion of “strategic voting” with the promise that both Liberal and NDP supporters would vote for the leading local candidate, was only being partially successful.

Therefore a second reassurance was offered. That the NDP voter will only have to do this once, will only have to donate their vote to the Liberals once.

The suggestion is that the Conservative Party only wins because our political system is broken. And the NDP and Liberals promise to fix this problem if elected. Therefore, you only need to to hold your nose and donate your vote this one time. All future elections will be fair and you’ll be free to vote as you wish.

Is our political system broken? In Canada we have a First Past the Post System. We vote for a candidate in each of our 338 ridings. Each riding is a mini election. The party that wins most of these mini elections becomes the government.

The NDP complain that in 2011 Harper received 39% of the votes, but that was unfairly translated into 53% of the seats. And that part is true. Accordingly, we should adopt Proportional Representation. Instead of mini elections, we would count up the total votes nation wide. 39% of the votes should only mean 39% of the seats.

But First Past the Post had nothing to do with Harper’s win. Of course the percentage of votes never translates into exactly the same number of seats. It’s always going to be an approximation. And what they don’t mention is that the NDP also benefited from a variance. In 2011 The NDP received 30% of the votes, but received more seats than that. The Liberals received 18% of the votes and received a bit less seats than that.

And this protestation of unfairness is not really about unfairness at all. In the 2011 election, the exact same pattern repeated itself. The Liberals received 39% of the vote, but this translated into 53% of the seats. Exactly the same experience of the Conservatives in the previous election.

Yet there is no outcry about this.

Getting back to the 2011 election, First Past the Post had nothing to do with the Conservative Party win. They won because they were the most popular party in Canada. Nearly 40% of Canadians voted for them, versus 30% for the NDP and 18% for the Liberal. Should the NDP or Liberal have become the government when less Canadians wanted them?

Yes, this variation did elevate Harper from a minority government to a majority government. And while that might be wrong, it had nothing to do with him winning. And Harper still did right wing things in his previous minority governments. He still would have done right wing things with another minority government in 2011.

Again this is just classic misdirection by the centrists. And the carrot they offer in this charade is the same. NDP supporters will donate their votes to the Liberal party, but can tell themselves that they have not become Liberal, they are just voting for needed electoral reform, and only doing it this one time, just so they never have to do it again.

It’s of course a charade. Strategic voting is based on vote splitting and vote splitting will still exist when we have Proportional Representation. Strategic voting will still be pressed on us in future elections. It is not “just this one time.”

The Liberals won this time. And they will likely bring in Proportional Representation. And that will be fine, it’s a perfectly good system. The downside is that local representation is diminished. But the upside is that the new government has no variation at all, between the number of votes and the number of seats.

It appears that what First Past the Post does, is often elevate a strong minority win into a majority win. The 39% of the popular vote for the Conservatives in 2011 and the 39% of the popular vote for the Liberals in 2015 is less than half, meaning that technically the other two parties could team up and make it harder for the government to make some new laws.

But when the votes-to-seats variance elevated the 2011 government and the 2015 government to over 50% of the seats, the losing parties could no longer outvote them, even if they joined forces.

What the NDP supporters don’t understand is that changing from First Past the Post to Proportional Representation will only help the Liberal Party. The Liberals will proceed to change systems, as it is in their own interest to do so.

What First Past the Post does, is elevate a minority win into a majority win. It does that regardless of which party wins. Once we have Proportional Representation, we will have a lot more minority governments.

It won’t prevent the Conservative Party from winning. They stand exactly the same chance of that, as before. It just means we will have a string of minority governments.

And this is arguably a bad thing. If more Canadians vote for the NDP party than for the others, then of course the NDP should become the government. But with a mere minority government, the Liberal and Conservative Party can combine forces and block the NDP from engaging in anything seen as too left wing.

This is arguably non democratic. Canada elected the NDP. Why should back room deal making be the way that decisions get made?

The Conservative Party would be similarly weakened. The Liberal and NDP party would be making back room deals, threatening to use their combined power against the Conservative Party unless concessions are made.

The Liberal party, however, does not really have to worry about this. It is very unlikely the NDP and Conservative Parties, being at the extreme outer edges of the political spectrum, could get together and agree on issues to press on the Liberals.

No, the Liberals are going to proceed with replacing First Past the Post with Proportional Representation. And they will do so because it weakens the other parties. Canada’s future will be minority governments. Even if the Liberal party loses, it can always combine forces with the other losing party to hamstring the government. Yet the Liberal Party is immune to this threat. The Liberal party can proceed freely even with a minority mandate.

The NDP supporters, by failing to understand how they are being played by the Strategic Vote advocates, are constantly undermining the NDP party.

John M. Noble

October 25, 2015