June 2018
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In support of Nathan Cullen

It’s been a while since I posted something here. I wanted to post analyses of the various Provincial elections that took place throughout Canada last year, after the Federal election… as usual, the results were fertile ground for showing just how awful our voting system is and how it skews voter intention in the seat allocations. Frankly, it’s depressing, and given various other stresses I’ve been under, I just couldn’t get my head into it.

The unfortunate passing of Jack Layton last year has led to the NDP now having a race for a new leader.  And out of the many candidates, one stands out to me: Nathan Cullen.

Before the last election I wrote an open letter to Jack Layton, Michael Ignatieff, and Elizabeth May – which I doubt any actually read, but I posted it anyway – which described how I felt that working together strategically in various ridings was the best way to give Canadians a progressive, working government, and a path towards electoral reform.  My thinking was – and still is – that:

  • sharing power between the NDP, Liberals, and Greens is still better than them having no power at all if the Conservatives won a false majority.
  • working together would engage traditional non-voters who have grown accustomed to their voice not counting under FPTP, and result in higher turnouts.
  • we could see politics in Canada become one where reasoned argument and compromise would be the basis of legislation, rather than the dogma of one party.
  • voters wouldn’t feel like they had to vote for the lesser of two evils, be threatened that they needed to vote a certain way, even if it wasn’t their first choice, or – as many tried – entertain notions of vote-swapping in a loosely-organized effort. Instead, the parties worked strategically so voters didn’t have to.

Obviously, this failed to transpire, and we can see the results today in a Parliament comprised of a majority of Conservatives who received 39% of the vote, and record-low turnout at the polls.  My letter was written before the decline of the Bloc in Quebec, and the rise of the NDP in that province, but I think the principle still stands on its own merits – after all, the NDP gains outside of Quebec were quite modest… vote-splitting in Ontario was a major factor in giving the Conservatives a majority.

Nathan Cullen

Charismatic, fluent in English and French, world-wise, experienced campaigner against Conservative candidates, a champion for the environment, and a sincere backer of Proportional Representation, I think Nathan Cullen would be an ideal leader.

But there’s more – he has a plan to win that doesn’t rely on blind hope and fighting against the Greens, Liberals, and Conservatives – the old-fashioned politics that have led us to this state where the unified right profits from a fractured left under our broken First-Past-the-Post electoral system. He wants to cooperate strategically; pretty much the same thing I was hoping for last year.

In a nutshell, he proposes that in Conservative-held ridings, the riding associations decide in conjunction with the Liberals and Greens whether they want to field a single candidate between them, and vote on which.  With clear communication to their supporters in that riding as to why they’re doing this, the goal is that their candidate will win over the Conservatives where before vote-splitting cost them, and led to Harper’s majority.

Brian Topp, Thomas Mulcair, Peggy Nash, and the other candidates dismiss this strategy, outright or without seeming to grasp the elegance of the plan.  They think that Liberal supporters, denied a Liberal candidate in their riding, would instead vote Conservative in great numbers (some say as much as 50%!) – or NDP supporters, denied an NDP candidate, would do the same.

I think they’re wrong, and not giving these voters enough credit. The voters in these ridings aren’t stupid. These are voters who absolutely know how vote-splitting has given the Conservatives a majority of seats, and I think many of them are not happy with this situation.  Given a solution that might give their party a voice in government – even if it means they have to vote for “the other guy” – I think most would jump at the chance.  And I think apathetic non-voters in those ridings might vote as well.

Another argument is that denying an NDP supporter the chance to vote for an NDP candidate is unthinkable. To this, I’d simply say – our voting system is what has denies the NDP a voice in government. By not working strategically, by letting them vote NDP when doing so has a high probability of splitting the vote – that is what has cost the NDP and Liberals a voice. If you explain to those voters why you’re doing this (and as I said above, I think most would understand), they’ll accept it.  Particularly if the joint candidate runs with a combined party label (eg. “Bob Smith – (Liberal/NDP/Green Joint Nomination)”).

EKOS polling data just before the last election included information about voter’s second preferences – with that data, I previously simulated how an election using the Alternative Vote might have turned out.  But it was clear from the raw data that the majority of Green, Liberal, and NDP supporters had either another of those parties as a second choice – only about 15% of each would have chosen the Conservatives second.  This is quite different than the “50%” number – these people are progressive-leaning, and want a progressive government.

I would strongly recommend reading Stuart Parker’s study of Nathan Cullen’s proposal – The Logistics of Cooperation – for an in-depth explanation and analysis of the idea.  But in summary, he concluded that at best, 35 seats could be switched from Conservative to a cooperating party – at worst, they’d stay Conservative-held, which is exactly the same outcome as if no cooperation were attempted anyway. In my mind, why not try it?

(Of course, the NDP shouldn’t rely on this strategy alone, and Cullen doesn’t propose that. They’d still need to push for more of the rural vote across the prairies and the maritimes, for example – traditional Conservative strongholds. But fighting the Liberals and Greens tooth-and-nail should not be relied on; this just benefits the Conservatives)

Tomorrow I hope to post an analysis I did of my own, based on the election results and the “second choice” selections of voters, to illustrate how Cullen’s proposal might work.

“The alarming decline in voter turnout” (Letter)

In response to John Ibbitson’s article in the The Globe & Mail, I felt compelled to write the following response.

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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!

Updated Theme

I have just finished updating the look of the site; I wanted to increase the amount of horizontal space available to a post, and centre the content. Various upgrades to the back-end code of the site have been implemented also. I hope you like the refresh, and I hope to be adding some new posts shortly.

A follow-up to my “What if we used AV?” analysis.

One commenter on this CBC story, replying to my mention of my earlier post, seemed to dismiss it on the basis that under AV, the amount of “strategic voting” would be significantly reduced, so I can’t rely on the single FPtP results which might include strategic voting.

This is true to some extent – however:

  • I feel the use of the “2nd choice” answers is a fairly decent metric to use, with the understanding that it’s imperfect.
  • If strategic voting factored heavily into the election, we’d likely see much stronger pre-election polling numbers for the Green Party than they actually received. And despite numerous grassroots efforts to encourage voters to vote strategically to prevent a Conservative majority (eg. Catch 22, Project Democracy, PairVote, Avaaz.org, etc.), it obviously didn’t have the effect those groups were hoping for, as evidenced by the results – particularly in Ontario’s GTA. And even if more voters felt comfortable voting, say, Green as thier first choice, without a high percentage to make it into farther ’rounds’ of elimination, those votes would likely instead go to the NDP, Liberals, or Conservatives anyway.
  • The point of this exercise wasn’t to say that the seat allocations would be a certain way. It was to demonstrate that AV can easily skew the seat allocations as badly as our current system, and still results in high numbers of orphaned votes (as frequently 30-50% of votes don’t go towards electing anyone in each riding).

One only needs to look to Australia – which uses AV to elect members to its House – to see how skewed the results can be. In their last election (2010), the Green Party achieved 11.76% of popular support, and won one seat out of 150. In 2007, the Australian Labor Party had 43.3% of first-preference support, and won 55% of the seats. And similar bizarre results can be seen throughout the country’s history since instituting AV (in 1918).

Despite on the surface it sounds like AV is “fairer”, it still results in millions of votes not going towards electing anyone (and many of the votes that do will often be for second, third, or lower choices).

I don’t think Canadians should settle for a system that means their first choice still might not count. Only a Proportional Representation system ensures that (almost) every voter’s first choice in parties will contribute towards the seat allocations.

The National Day of Action for Electoral Reform – write your representatives!

After last week’s Federal Election resulted in a majority government with less than 40% of the vote, I have been heartened by the increased discussion of the need to reform our electoral system. Canadians – who I think have long been aware of the problem – are realizing that First Past the Post’s inherent problems are not something we have to live with, and are starting to demand a move to a fairer system.

At 2pm on Saturday, May 14, at cities across Canada – Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Charlottetown, Halifax, Kelowna – there will be rallies for electoral reform. I intend on going to the one in Toronto, at Queen’s Park.

Below is the copy of a letter I have sent to my recently-elected MP and my sitting MPP. I’d propose emailing your own representatives – regardless of their party alignment – with similar letters.

I am writing to ask for your support at Saturday’s (May 14th) “National Day of Action for Electoral Reform”, being held at multiple cities across Canada, including at Queen’s Park in Toronto and Ottawa on Parliament Hill, at 2pm. Details can be found here: http://www.nationaldayofaction.ca

As I’m sure you are aware, dissatisfaction with our antiquated “First Past the Post”, single-member plurality system for electing members to our government has been growing for some time; and with the recent “majority” government that Harper and the Conservative Party achieved in last week’s Federal Election – despite receiving less than 40% of the vote, and less than 2% more of the popular vote than they received last time – may well be the “tipping point”.

People are unhappy with the concept of a party that most people didn’t vote for having 100% of the power. Millions of votes don’t go towards electing anyone, and our legislative bodies don’t reflect the broad range of political ideologies that Canadians have. Every election, voters are urged to vote strategically, instead of perhaps voting for the party that they feel best represents their values. Indeed, a large portion of Canadians don’t even bother to vote, and I strongly believe much of this can be blamed on First-Past-the-Post: Why vote when the party or candidate you like the most doesn’t have a chance of winning?

Instead, our government should be a representative democracy – one where conservatives, centrists, and socialists all have a voice matching that of the voters they’re supposed to represent, rather than the potential of being shut out entirely from power based on the vagaries inherent in our current system. We need a Proportional Representation system, like MMP with open, regional lists, like the one that the Law Commission of Canada proposed in 2004, and countless constitutional and political experts have recommended.

I hope that you will come out and support this important movement to improve our democracy.

The 2011 Federal Election Results – Why we need electoral reform

The results of last week’s Federal election have yet again shown clearly that our electoral system is indeed broken. 40% of voters have elected a Conservative government with 54% of the seats and 100% of the power. In addition, voter turnout – while slightly higher than in 2008 – was barely 61.4%.

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What if we had the Alternative Vote in the last election?

After my earlier analysis of the election results, where I simply summed the votes of two (or all three) of the NDP, Liberal, and Green votes in each riding to see what impact that would have had on seat allocations, I wanted to do a more nuanced study. Not all Liberal voters would have chosen the NDP or Green Parties as their second choice, for example.

Some people have proposed Instant-Runoff Voting (also known as AV) as a “solution” to the inequalities of First-Past-the-Post. And the problem above is basically a “what if we had AV in the last election?” question. (This is the same system that Australia uses for its elections, and that the UK just voted “no” to in its recent referendum).

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The effect of vote-splitting on the 2011 Federal Election

Updated: May 4th with latest data from Elections Canada. I also improved my routine, catching a few small problems and able to calculate the number of orphaned votes in each case.

Using the (preliminary) data from Elections Canada, I calculated what the seat distribution might have been like if two or more of the non-Conservative parties were merged into a fictional “United Party”. The results are below.

Actual/Final results:

CON:167, NDP:102, LIB:34, BQ:4, GP:1
Conservative: 167, NDP: 102, Liberal: 34, Bloc Québécois 4, Green: 1
163/308 ridings had more than 50% orphaned votes
49.6% of votes cast orphaned
Gallagher Index of Disproportionality: 12.59

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Strategic Advice – it’s time for Electoral Reform

Dear Mr. Ignatieff, Mr. Layton, and Ms. May,

I am a concerned Canadian, who doesn’t want the Conservatives to win a majority of the seats in the House, which is a sentiment I’m certain you share as well. However, it’s frustrating for me to watch politics continue “business as usual”, when it’s obvious that strategy is failing Canadians, and your own parties.

I’m not a political strategist, but I’m good with numbers, and I’ve studied our electoral system and the 2008 Federal Election results in depth, and I think the following proposal is something you should strongly consider.  I believe it provides the means for you to form a strong coalition government – without relying on the Bloc Quebecois.

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