Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

NDP rising, but whither the seats?

The NDP is closing to within six points of the Tories, according to the latest Nanos. This potential political upheaval generates huge excitement, but it also provokes a big question: will the House of Commons reflect the popular vote at all?

There are obvious problems with making predictions based on uniform swing, but as an experiment, we can nevertheless get a picture of what the post-May 2 universe might look like – and, more importantly, we get a clear picture how First Past the Post distorts electoral results to favour region-dense parties over parties with broad, national appeal.

I’m using the Hill & Knowlton Predictor (since I’m finding it fun at the moment) and, to illustrate the point, I entered a prediction that shows the CPC and the NDP each receiving 34.0% of the popular vote. An exact tie. (I gave the LPC a dismal, but not unlikely, 21% of the vote. Greens get 5%, and Bloc holds onto 6%)

The predicted seat count would be a travesty. Despite a national tie in popular vote, the Conservatives would emerge with +/- 135 seats, while the NDP would capture +/- 87. That’s the seat count we might get with an exact tie in the popular vote. I mean, wow.

On the one hand, all us Orange Wave Surfers would probably be mostly exhilarated at the prospect of 87 New Democrat seats. But that exhilaration collapses when comparing the relative successes. A party like the Cons, with its depth in the West, would massively outgain the NDP, which draws support relatively evenly from coast to coast to coast.

This isn’t about splitting the leftist vote – it’s about an electoral system that does not remotely account for the popular will.

There is every reason to expect a result like this on Monday. New Democrats nationwide, assuming they can get out the vote in an effective way, are on track for record gains. But placing a very close second in a hundred ridings, or two hundred ridings, won’t mean a single new MP. Tens of thousands of Canadians’ votes, even hundreds of thousands of them, might have zero impact on the composition of the 41st Parliament.

Outrageous, no? But why isn’t electoral reform on the radar this election?

Partly because it’s still seen as a bit wonkish. Political nerds get excited by electoral reform discussions, and no one else. Partly, too, because anytime a politician proposes changing the system, voters smell a rat. What’ve you got up your sleeve, then? Add that to the prospect of renewed constitutional wrangling, and fine, no one dares go there.

But all that caution and disinterest could vanish if we get an abysmal result like the one predicted above. Electoral reform could work its way into the heart of how we work towards renewing our democracy.

The Brits will soon be heading to the polls, on 5 May, to vote in a referendum on abandoning First Past the Post, and adopting Alternative Vote, or Automatic Runoff. It’s seen as a small change, and not really full proportional representation. It does, though, strike a balance between keeping a House of Commons comprised of constituent MPs while also ensuring that no MP shows up to work without being secure in the knowledge that 50% of the constituency has offered an endorsement.

(As an aside – for now! – the British public is torn on the question – some polls indicate that voters will reject the change, but other polls have also had the yes and no camps tied in recent weeks.)

As regards the NDP’s chances on Monday, I am steeling myself for what I consider to be the worst likely scenario – huge NDP gains in the popular vote, but absolute robbery of the seats they deserve through a crude electoral system designed for the bipartisan Britain of yestercentury. Should we witness such a crime, here’s hoping it might at least provoke the requisite national outrage to create the conditions for a change.

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