Ed Broadbent on electoral dysfunction; the Parliament that could have been

Ed Broadbent on 19th-century democracy in 21st-century Canada:

If seats represented the proportion of actual votes, the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens would have a majority of seats (161) and, following the European pattern, would combine to form a government, with each party having seats in the cabinet and a program that actually reflects how a majority of Canadians voted. Instead of the instability that comes from our “minority governments” headed by one party based on a minority of votes, evidence shows that most majority-based coalition governments are stable over time precisely because the parties involved have a direct stake in the durability of the government. Europe’s most stable democracies have some form of proportional representation. Their elections are no more frequent than our own, and the need for consensus encourages greater civility in political debate.

As all Canadians know, the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens did agree on a number of economic measures, on social policy, the environment and protection for families in the current economic crisis. Since a majority of Canadians voted for these parties, they, not the Conservatives, should be determining our political agenda. Such democratic conditions work well elsewhere. Why not in Canada?

It’s time Canadians got the governments we vote for, not the ones our outmoded electoral system continues to regurgitate. It’s time our Neanderthal journalists and politicians started telling the truth about our lack of democracy and how most democracies have electoral systems much more effective, representative and stable than our own.

So what might the results have looked like under a more reasonable system? Here’s one possible allocation of the 2008 election results:

Party Actual Seats Votes Seats Under PR
Bloc Québécois 50 16.2% 1,379,565 10.0% 31
Conservative 143 46.4% 5,205,334 37.6% 116
Green Party 0 0.0% 940,747 6.8% 21
Independent 2 0.6% 94,982 0.7% 2
Liberal 76 24.7% 3,629,990 26.2% 81
N.D.P. 37 12.0% 2,517,075 18.2% 57
308 13,832,972 308

To calculate these numbers, I simply assigned each party a number of seats proportional to their popular vote. The exact distribution would depend on which proportional voting method was used. I’ve arbitrarily assumed that Bill Casey would still win a seat as an independent under any reasonable voting system (after all, he took his seat by 22,429 votes!), and that independent André Arthur would hold the seat he won in 2006 (he won by just 661 votes this time but as a popular radio host would likely attract support from beyond his current riding).

As just one example of how random our current system is, the NDP saw a 0.7% gain in their take of the popular vote, but that translated to an additional 8 seats over 2006, despite that percentage of the House corresponding to just two seats. Of course, they and the Greens are still badly underrepresented. For reference, here are my calculations of the 2006 results.