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Wednesday, June 19 2024 @ 11:12 MDT

Proportional Representation

Canadian PoliticsI've long been a proponent of proportional representation, the system of electing representatives in such a way that their numbers in a legislative body reflect the percentage of the vote their respective parties received in the last election. Now there are several different systems of PR, lists are one of the most common. My personal favourite is the Single-Transferable-Ballot with Multi-Member districts. Though complex, it gives the voter a good chance to make their vote actually count. This is different from our current first past the post system where a party that receives less than 50% of the popular vote, gets 100% of the power in the form of a majority government.

In the spirit of assessing PR for Canada, I took the results from the last federal election and applied the single transferable ballot with multi-member districts to the province of Alberta. I figured that if it works in Alberta, where politics is very skewed towards one party, it would work pretty much anywhere else in the country. Now you're probably asking yourself how did I squeeze STV data from first-past-the-post results. Check the methods section at the end of this post if you're interested in this particular part of this exercise.

For a start, the following information about the 2006 Federal Election in Alberta is given as a reference. Data is from Elections Canada.

Conservative Party Liberal Party New Democratic Party Green Party Christian Heritage Party Canadian Action Party First Peoples' National Party Progressive Canadian Party Western Block Party Marijuana Party Communist Party - Marxist-Leninist Communist Party Independents
Popular vote: 63% 15% 11% 6% 0.19% 0.07% 0.04% 0.04% 0.03% 0.03% 0.04% 0.02% 0.94%
Seats: 28 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Seat % 100% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%

As you can see, though getting 63% of the vote, the Tories got 100% of the seats. Leaving the other 37% of Albertans feeling left out. Now outside of Alberta it gets even worse, with most candidates winning with less than 50% of the vote and it's not uncommon for a party to have a majority in Parliament with only 38-45% of the vote. This is where PR comes in.

I reran the election using STV. Here's the results (I've only included the parties who gained seats).

Conservative Party Liberal Party New Democratic Party
Popular vote: 63% 15% 11%
Seats: 22 3 3
Seat % 75% 12.5% 12.5%

Now admittedly, not a perfect fit to the popular vote, and the Greens are still left out in the cold, but better than before. As an exercise it shows that using a form of PR, the STV, that a result that better reflects the wishes of the people can occur, even in Alberta. It is interesting to note that only one person made the quota on the first round so even in Alberta, the STV system keeps the dominant party in check.

Now if we were to elect Parliament by some form of PR, we would probably kiss majority governments goodbye as parties in a multi-party system would find it nigh impossible to gain a majority of votes. This would cause and endless stream of minority governments and elections unless there is also fundamental change in Parliament itself.

The rules of Parliament would need to change. The number of votes that could be considered a confidence motion would have to be drastically reduced to, perhaps, an actual motion of non-confidence. This would do a couple of things. First it would help stabilize minority governments, thus lengthening time between elections. Second, it would allow members to vote how their constituents would like them to, since government members wouldn't have to worry about the government falling because it lost a vote or two.

There'd also be another benefit to the country. Policy would tend to the centre. Any policy too far from the centre would not likely get the votes to pass through the house. Governments would have to work hard to build coalitions to get legislation through the house, and legislation seen as too far left or right wouldn't make it.

Of course none of this will ever happen. The current parties are too concerned with gaining the absolute power that comes with a majority to be able to want to change the system. This comes from a fundamental problem with our current parties and crop of politicians who for the most part seem to be in the system to get and keep power. Unless someone comes forward as a party leader who is willing to change the system radically (and lose that coveted majority in the process) things will not change. Most peoples' votes will just languish away while members elected with less than a majority ignore the majority. All the time voter turnout will dwindle as more people feel disenfranchised, which in turn will allow for rapid swings in government as the fringe elements on both the left and the right gain influence.


So the question is, how does one take first-past-the-post data and squeeze it into a single transferable vote? Well it's not easy. Here is the methodology I used to "re-run" the 2006 Canadian Federal Election for the Province of Alberta.

First I decided on the Droop quota for the election as it is considered the best for the job. Second was to re-distribute the districts for the election. Alberta would keep the same number of seats, but would now only have five electoral districts (ridings). Each riding would return more than one member. The new ridings are as follows:

Alberta North
Consists of the following four ridings:

  • Ft McMurray/Athabasca
  • Peace River
  • Westlock St. Paul
  • Yellowhead

Alberta Centre
Consists of the following four ridings:

  • Crowfoot
  • Red Deer
  • Vegreville - Wainwright
  • Wetaskiwin

Alberta South
Consists of the following four ridings:

  • Lethbridge
  • Macleod
  • Medicine Hat
  • Wild Rose

Each of these three new rural ridings would return four members. This gives the same total number of representatives for rural Alberta as there is now, 12 seats.

Both Calgary and Edmonton are their own new districts. Each return eight seats as they do now. This is a total of 16 seats for the cities bringing the total for the province up to the 28 seats it currently has.

The ridings were grouped according to geography. The rural districts return less members due to their geographical size and low population density.

To determine the vote preference that would be needed to run a STV election, the following rules were used:

Any excess votes (i.e. votes over the quota) were first distributed amongst the remaining candidates of that party in proportion to the vote that each person received in their FTP (first-past-the-post) riding.

Once excess votes were distributed, candidates were sorted by vote received in their FTP riding. Candidates in the bottom 5% of votes were then discarded and their votes re-distributed by the following rules.

If other candidates from the same party were still available, votes from the discarded candidate(s) were then distributed to the remaining party candidates in proportion to the vote those candidates received in their FTP riding.

If no other candidates from the same party remained, the votes were then distributed by having 75% of the vote transferred to the next closest party ideologically (split evenly if more than one exists). The remaining 25% were transferred to the remaining parties based on their proportion of popular vote.

For eliminated independent candidates their votes were transferred to the parties in proportion to those partys' proportion of the popular vote.

Now these rules aren't perfect. There's no guarantee that 75% of the vote from one party will go to the next closest ideologically for example. There's also no guarantee that all the people who chose one party for one candidate would choose the same party for the others. Despite these limitations, these rules give an approximation that will allow for the comparison of two incompatible voting systems.

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Proportional Representation
Authored by: Anonymous onMonday, October 09 2006 @ 06:59 MDT
I agree there should be a form of PR.. but I disagree that STV is the best system to use. I have long been on record as supporting Mixed-Member PR, and I support the version of this that the Globe and Mail supported in their editorials on the topic in the first week of May of 2005. My own commentary on that is here. - Scott
Proportional Representation
Authored by: Anonymous onMonday, October 09 2006 @ 02:02 MDT
Tried to post something with substance, but your spam filter isn't letting me...