May 2011
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Interactive Tool: The 41st Federal Election

This is the result of many hours of work. I wanted to come up with a way of viewing Canada’s 308 ridings based not on their geographical area, but as the groups of voters that they are. Luke Andrews did a great example of this kind of map, and that inspired me to make my own, but using hexagons instead of squares. I took great care to try to keep the ridings positioned next to their neighbours as best as I could.

I coupled the resultant cartogram with the output of some of my analyses of the election results, to generate the following interactive tool. I hope you like.

Click here to go to tool
I have moved the tool to its own page. Click the image above to go to it!

14 comments to Interactive Tool: The 41st Federal Election

  • Hot Dog

    Wow this is a ton of great work – congratulations. Although it depresses the hell out of me.

    So how do we get this kind of info heard so that it makes a real difference. ie: Who signs up to groups that want vote reform? People that already want to reform the voting system.

    FB user groups end up just preaching to the choir. There needs to be some solid journalism revealing this kind of thing to the average Canadian. And then it needs to be pounded into their heads. Canada is a centre left country (see #4 in the drop down menu above), it should be represented that way.

    Once again, great work keep it up.

    • Orphaned Voter

      It depresses me too. That’s why I made this site. 8)

      Getting the information out is very difficult – I wish I had the answer. I put this tool together in hopes that it’d be easily-digestable, and if people learn from it and share, maybe it might in some small way make a difference. I’ve promoted it on Twitter and to FairVote Canada, and intend on writing to my local papers soon (but they’ve got me “locked out” for now since I wrote to them before the election!). But in the meantime, I’m hoping others will share it – and other information promoting electoral reform.

      Write to your local papers, discuss with friends and family, maybe try contacting people in the media… that’s all I can suggest. If we’re lucky, we might eventually hit the right person to finally push the issue to the fore and get more national exposure.

      The trick is to do it in a way that doesn’t sound too partisan. Obviously at this point, reform would “hurt” the Conservatives, and the 40% who voted for them see this as an attack. Some see this as ‘payback’ for when the Liberals had unfair majorities… which is unfortunate, but just the kind of vindictiveness which FPTP engenders. The problem is next time, the Conservatives might be locked out for 4-5 years (particularly if the NDP+Liberals did merge!). So I’m hoping we can reach this point where most people realize that it’s in our best interests long-term to switch to a fairer voting system.

      Anyway – rambled here long enough. Thanks, I’m glad you like the tool. :)

  • derek

    It looks great. I would have made the Northern Ontario ridings a bit closer together though, as opposed to a string connecting two parts of the country (though this also shows off how separate eastern and western Canada are).

    • Orphaned Voter

      There’s so few ridings in Northern Ontario… but I wanted to keep mainland Canada contiguous, leaving the breaks just for the islands on the coasts. 8)

      I’m glad you like it though. :)

  • garydale

    One interesting thing is that the Liberals continue to flirt with AV while this simulation suggests they would do better using proportional representation.

    However, it’s worth noting that AV results are even more variable than FPTP. A party could win dramatically fewer or more seats for a given vote share. AV turns our already broken system into a real crap shoot.

    More importantly, PR removes the large monocolour patches that exist in the FPTP and AV results. Your vote is still effective no matter where you live.

    It’s this idea of effective votes that is really important. When parties need to work for your votes everywhere, instead of only in the ridings they are trying to hold or take, then voters have control.

    PR would probably lead to mainly coalitions with the Liberals determining whether we get a nominally centre-left or centre-right government. These types of coalitions have been effective in most of the industrial world while Canada remains the poster child for dysfunctional government (more elections over the last 60 years than any other nation).

    Given they have so much to gain from supporting PR, I’m surprised the bright guys who convinced the Liberals to join the Conservatives in defeating the NDP’s PR motion a couple of months ago haven’t been fired.

    • Orphaned Voter

      Thanks for your comments.

      Yes, I noted that “…with very slight changes in voter preferences, things could get more unbalanced – even providing the Conservatives or NDP with majorities”, in regards to the AV.

      One thing I really wanted to do with this map was the PR version where you can see that there are numbers – often large numbers – of other voters in those “monocolour patches” that are unrepresented. I think it’s quite striking. :P

      I was amazed that the Liberals didn’t embrace PR, or make it a key part of their platform. Indeed, their “Renewing Democracy” section looked poor for its absence, and I think had they pushed it their fortunes would have been quite different.

      I’ve been arguing the case for PR with my (Liberal) MP for a while, who seems to prefer AV… I kind of think he (and many others) might be re-thinking their stance now, with the NDP’s rise. Here’s hoping some good can come out of it.

  • thenewnick

    The one reason I would vote “NO” to a proportional system is the party list. I don’t like the idea of a person benefiting from party supporters or a rebellion vote. A concern I hear a lot about proportional voting from rural areas is that the party list would give the big city friends of the leader or an influential party member a free ride (think Senate appointments). I too am concerned about the possibility of lacklustre representation from this list.

    My proposal would be to replace the party list with a list of defeated candidates in order of most votes to least. As a voter, at least I know the MPs elected had support of their locals, fought a good fight, and earned the right to sit on parliament! The party list is, in essence, unnecessary since you will always have defeated candidates.

    As a side note, I did do a calculation that determined “happy voters” to be in at 60.2%. Happy voters were determined by either their MP of choice was elected, or they voted a CPC candidate (sourced from Elections Canada poll data). This suggests that things are not as unfair as people make it to sound, although not as good as one would hope.

    • Orphaned Voter

      Sorry, I don’t follow.

      There are various types of PR systems, and although some have issues, they generally produce far better representation in government than FPTP.

      I think the concern you cite – “giving big city friends of the leader a free ride” – is one often levelled at closed-list PR systems, where the party chooses the order members are elected to list seats, securing seats for their “most preferred”.

      However, a better system is open-list PR – where voters can choose the candidates from the Party List themselves. Even better still is when these open lists are made regional. This is the system that the Law Commission of Canada proposed in 2004.

      Your idea of using a list of candidates based on the number of votes they received has potential. But, it’s certainly a tricky balance. The Green Party of Ontario tried to be “open” about how it would put together its party lists (when Ontario’s MMP system was proposed) – basing their list on the vote-percentages in each riding from the previous election. (They also interleaved female and male candidates in the list, to ensure equal representation).

      As to your determination of “happy voters” at ~60%… I’m sorry, I think that’s a flawed metric. ~40% of Conservatives might be happy with the outcome of this election (even if their local candidate didn’t win), but then saying that 20% of other voters should be “happy” just because their local candidate won – despite the fact that their party of choice has little power under a Conservative “majority” – is a bit of a stretch.

      The truth is that just over 50% of votes cast went towards electing anyone, and 60% of the electorate feel that they are shut out of debate in government. Even for the 20% of non-Conservatives whose candidate of choice won their riding, their MPs victory is small consolation.

      • thenewnick

        To address the 60% calculation: is it possible to have a happy voter if the party the individual elected isn’t the major influence of parliament? For example the green party may never be that influential in parliament with their current percentage of popular vote. I vote for the government of my choice and if it only managed 7% of the seats, it still isn’t my government, just better than before. Most metrics are probably flawed in terms of “happy” voters, I just approached it this way because my MP would ideally represent my riding and its constituents, not their party. I definitely favour weakening the party whip and allowing freer votes. It is easier than trying to reform as can be seen in the Ontario MMP Reform vote and UK’s AV Reform vote.

        This is one of my pet peeves with election analysis – the assumption we all conference and vote in a specific way to get the government an individual wants. From an example of the 2006 election: [Canadians wanted to try out the Conservatives, but didn’t want to give them too much power] (An approximation of a quote from a CBC analysis).

        As for the defeated candidates list, the biggest issue I can foresee is a candidate who has strong local convictions and ideologies that earned them significant portion of the popular vote, but are contrary to the national population.

        I haven’t spent to much time researching all possible electoral reforms that are possible, but I just can’t bring myself to trust a party list.

        • Orphaned Voter

          Is it possible to have a “happy voter” if their party of choice isn’t a “major influence” in Parliamnet?

          With PR, I think so. Such a system would very likely create minority governments, meaning parties will have to actually discuss plans and compromise with each other. Coalitions would likely form, with the larger party likely leading policy debate – but smaller parties neccessarily have to be a part of the discussion to shape that policy (so I disagree that the Green Party wouldn’t have great “influence” with “just 7% of the seats”). So voters who voted for those smaller parties can be more content that their vote has helped shaped government. Opposition parties also have more of an ‘opening’ as they still have opportunities to try to sway support, and be a strong limiter to what kinds of reforms are put in place as if they can make a strong argument that resonates with voters, coalition partners will take note.

          Some people won’t be “happy” (some never are). But a PR system at the very least means that a majority of voters will have contributed to electing a ruling government. If that doesn’t make people “happy”, I think at least would keep most people “satisfied”.

          I vote for the government of my choice and if it only managed 7% of the seats, it still isn’t my government, just better than before.

          But it would be “your government”, particularly if that 7% was needed to help form a majority. Consider that to secure support from smaller parties, the larger ones have to make concessions, find concensus. Already that’s better in my mind than just pushing through whatever they want unopposed.

          “because my MP would ideally represent my riding and its constituents, not their party.”

          I agree that would be the ideal. But… in practice, that’s rare – and unless the single MP has multiple personalities, they can’t possibly represent everyone in their riding well. Let’s say an MP won a seat under FPTP with 40% of the votes. His party wants to push through a policy that’s unpopular with 60% of his constituents. He’ll still vote with the party, as he/she wants to be re-elected next time by the 40% that helped them win the last time, party whip or not.

          With PR, at least if a voter’s MP doesn’t share the same ideals in policy, there’s a share of government that does represent the voter. (However, I agree that there should be more “free votes” in Parliament).

          “It is easier than trying to reform as can be seen in the Ontario MMP Reform vote and UK’s AV Reform vote.”

          I’m not sure it’ll be easier… particularly with strict control exerted by certain party leaders. Passing the Ontario MMP referendum or the UK’s one on AV… I think those failed for different reasons (Ontario: poor education of public – many didn’t even know about the referendum! – and not an ideal implementation of PR anyway; UK: most people knew that AV wasn’t much of a reform, being just about as bad as FPTP. Both cases that could have been overcome with better proposed systems and better education of voters. Not to mention having large parties backing the reform, unlike in Ontario where the Liberals didn’t make a stand for it).

          “This is one of my pet peeves with election analysis – the assumption we all conference and vote in a specific way to get the government an individual wants”

          Agreed – there’s no way people can do that, particularly when we have 308 separate elections that can’t influence each other under FPTP. It’s a very strange line from some journalists.

          “I haven’t spent to much time researching all possible electoral reforms that are possible, but I just can’t bring myself to trust a party list”

          If it were an open party list, would that change your mind? (ie. you can pick and choose from that list)

  • Garydale is a bit pessimistic about the Liberals. In the House debate March 3rd they mostly seemed to favour looking at a PR system of some kind. We’ll never know how they would have voted on the PR half of the NDP’s motion, which was only to set up a House Committee with a mandate to pursue the issue; they might well have voted for it. But the other half was a referendum on Senate abolition, which they opposed. Moral: don’t mix the two issues.

    Since the election, their democratic reform critic, now unleashed, Carolyn Bennett, has explicitly called for PR, and many Liberals are joining Fair Vote Canada whose President is a Liberal Party member. The more, the better!

    • Orphaned Voter

      I agree, mixing the two issues – Senate and House reform – creates too much at once, pretty much dooming the motion from the start.

      Hopefully more Liberals (MPs, former MPs, and supporters) will realize that PR is in their best interests (indeed, everyone’s best interests) and join the push towards a better voting system.

  • Thenewnick wants “to replace the party list with a list of defeated candidates in order of most votes to least.” That’s what the German province of Baden-Württemberg does.

    If a government is elected that proceeds with MMP, it would start with a consultation of some kind for 6 or 12 months on the design details: how many MPs? What proportion of local MPs to “top-up” MPs? How large are the “top-up” regions? Do the top-up MPs come from open lists, closed lists, open “flexible” lists (vote for the list or for one person on it), or the no-list model (“best runners-up”) that thenewnick likes. Then we’ll need new Boundaries Commissions to set up the new ridings. No problem, as long as the new government starts right away before it gets cold feet. (I’m nervous about the idea of waiting to see if a Senate crisis erupts that might let a government get a consensus of all ten provinces on eliminating the Senate; while simultaneously adopting MMP for the House and adding more MPs to the House.)

  • The remaining question is, how large are the regions? The Jenkins Commission in the UK recommended smallish regions having an average of eight MPs each. Their colourful explanation accurately predicted why closed lists would be rejected in Canada: additional members locally anchored are “more easily assimilable into the political culture and indeed the Parliamentary system than would be a flock of unattached birds clouding the sky and wheeling under central party directions.”

    The Law Commission’s inspiration, they said, was Scotland and Wales, with regions of 16 and 12 deputies. So some projections for Canada have used regions averaging 14 MPs (nine local, five regional). But Stephane Dion proposes five-seaters, and Justin Trudeau wants all MPs to represent real communities.

    How would regions averaging seven MPs work out?

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