Are elections worth our time?

They should be, provided they are fair. They are not!

Is the grass greener on the other side? While it may look so, it doesn’t have to be. Especially when it comes to elections.

Canada’s uses the first-by-the-post system. It has created quite a few anomalies. Such as: a political party does not really have to win the most of the votes. So long as it takes the most ridings and the corresponding number of seats in the House of Commons, it becomes government.
Add to it the undeniable fact that Canada has at least three mainstream political parties (in alphabetical order: Conservative, Liberal and the NDP, a.k.a. socialists).

We also have the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party. While not mainstream, they still contribute to the strange phenomenon known as vote splitting.

The result?

Those disagreeing with the party in government embrace a number of solutions that the four other parties offer. No need to debate here whether those solutions are really that much different from what the governing party proposes. The only result: the number of votes disagreeing with the governing party exceeds the number of votes the governing party has won, but they are divided.

The result, again?

We have been having governments that could be dead last so far as the popular vote (number of actual votes) is concerned, and yet, their guy gets to reside at the Prime Ministerial shack at 24 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, K1M 1M4.

Can we fix it?

One way is called “strategic voting:” we plug our noses and cast our precious votes for a party that (we hope) can defeat the scoundrels (as have got to call them). All that despite our dislike for the party we vote for: our own preference would have been one of the other parties but we can plainly see that they have no hope.

While superficially efficient, this approach defeats our freedom of choice.

What it does to our self-esteem is another matter.

But the question remains: can we fix it?

Theoretically, yes we can. A group that calls itself Fair Vote Canada has been trying to figure out better voting systems. They are inclined to propose proportional voting systems which, they claim, are much better than Canada’s first-by-the-post.

Strangely, would-be reformers of voting systems in countries that have been using proportional ways have been looking at first-by-the-post with envy.

Canada’s problem can be also expressed by the saying attributed to Henry Ford: customers can pick whichever colour car they buy, so long as it is black. Canada’s current Prime Minister is on the record as saying that voters can have any system they want, so long as it is a ranked system.

A definition

As Fair Vote puts it, proportional representation (PR) is a principle that says the percentage of seats a party has in the legislature should reflect the percentage of people who voted for that party. If a party gets 40 per cent of the vote, they should get 40 per cent of the seats.

Under Canada’s non-proportional voting system, a party can win a majority of seats and all the power with far less than half the popular vote. Proportional representation ensures that majority governments have an actual majority of the voters behind them.

Under Canada’s non-proportional voting system, in most elections, most voters don’t elect anyone to represent them. They don’t affect the election at all. Their votes are “wasted”. This is what leads to distorted results.

With proportional representation, almost every vote helps elect an MP. Almost everyone is represented.

With proportional representation, every law passed will have the support of MPs representing a real majority of voters. That means better policy decisions for everyone.

The first-by-the-post looks patently unfair in comparison.

Another way

The Swiss electoral system promotes direct democracy and federalism. Its unique political system is based on directly elected members of the executive (government) in the canton and the municipality as the basis of the country’s political stability.

Governments speak with one voice on all three levels, municipality, canton and federal government (Bund/Fédération). It’s the so-called principle of collegiality.

The government can never be dismissed by parliament; on the other hand, the government cannot call early elections or dissolve parliament.

The Konkordanzsystem and the Zauberformel of the national government mean, in short, that the seven members are appointed based on a fixed distribution of seats per party.

It reflects the political balance of power over a more extended period. A major electoral victory of a new party never leads immediately to a seat in the government. First, this party has to prove its stability and sustainability.

The seven seats are distributed among the four largest parties: 2-2-2-1, with one sometimes losing at the expense of the other. However, the parliament ultimately chooses the individuals.

The electoral system

Equally crucial for political stability, however, is the electoral system. Switzerland has two parallel systems: the Majorzsystem or absolute majority of votes per candidate, or the Proporzsystem or proportional representation based on the number of votes obtained by a party.

The representation of the people in the parliaments is, in most cases (not all), elected based on the proportional representation of the number of votes obtained by each party.

However, the senate (Ständerat/Conseil des États) is elected per canton on the basis of the Majorzsystem. There are two seats per canton, with a few exceptions.

The governments of the municipalities and cantons (usually 5-7 members) are directly elected based on the Majorzsystem. It is unique in Europe and perhaps around the world, too.

Advantage

Proportional representation focuses on parties. The political profile is more substantial. Smaller parties have a better chance to win seats.

The political profiling is less intense in an absolute majority choice between candidates (not parties). These individuals present themselves directly to the voters. They cannot hide behind the party. The bond between voter and candidate is much stronger.

Can it happen in Canada?

A straightforward answer: no.

Can you see a politician giving up her/his powers to make sure that the system that had got her/him into her/his position is fair?

It took the Swiss centuries to get where they are now. And that was long before ideologies became entrenched in political systems. Besides, Switzerland had already been neutral when they managed to push their system through.

Fair Vote Canada calls it a huge success: they had managed to convince Parliament’s Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to agree to debate on a proposal for a National Citizens; Study on Electoral Reform (their capitalisations).

Fine. Every one-thousand-mile-long march begins with the first step.

Will this one die on the order paper come next election in 2025?

I am not willing to bet against it.

Cynical? No. Realistic?

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