16 October 2008

Election Post-Mortem

Damn. I can't say I'm surprised that Harper got another minority, but I definitely am disappointed. I have a few (somewhat disjointed) thoughts about the election results:

On the one hand this really is a victory for the Conservatives. The timing of the election (although calling it early broke that pesky law that the Cons themselves had pushed through) could not have been better: the looming financial crisis in the US turned the economy into the single biggest issue, which certainly worked in Harper's favour. It's not so much that the Conservatives are unarguably better on the economy than the other parties (in fact, I think they are worse, but it's at least somewhat debatable), but that they are not unarguably the worst the way they are with other issues, such as the environment, women's rights and the arts. And they did win another minority government, which allows them to appear more moderate than they are while at the same time sneaking in little nasties like Bill C-484, which would grant an unborn fetus legal status--something that could have serious ramifications for abortion rights in Canada. If they play their cards right and continue to gain seats as they did in this election, we could be looking at a Conservative majority within the decade.

On the other hand, it may prove to be an illusive, or at least temporary victory. For starters, I doubt I'm the only person to question the wisdom of breaking the law in order to call a costly election ($290 million taxpayer dollars--in these oh so uncertain economic times, natch) that did not result in a majority--or even a particularly significant shift in the status quo. In fact, some conservatives (to say nothing of the opposition) are already calling it a waste:

"I think we'll have wasted our money if we don't get a majority," Conservative supporter Jan Sproule said as she watched the results.

(from BC's Province newspaper, which is a bit of a rag but is also, I suspect, just the first of many to be making comments of this type).

I won't be surprised in the least if the election's failure to accomplish much of anything will become a bit of an issue in the weeks and months to come. The fact that we are still looking at a minority government also gives me some small amount of hope. While it may help make him look more moderate and potentially gain more votes down the line, Harper's need for cooperation from the other parties (all of which sit to the left of him on the political spectrum) to make this government work--especially now that he failed to win a majority for the second time in a row, which is not exactly a show of voters' unfailing trust in the Conservative party--means that he will have to compromise on issues where he faces the most opposition from those parties. Issues like, oh, the environment. Or the arts. Once again, that fine Canadian art of compromise may actually make this end in everyone's favour (or at least make sure that no one group gets stomped too hard).

Political implications of the results aside, I think this election also demonstrates clearly (and, yet again), the shortcomings of our first-past-the-post electoral system, where whoever wins in a riding (by any margin) gets a seat in parliament, and the actual amount of votes they won is essentially irrelevant. All it takes is a quick look at the numbers:

Parties Ranked by # of Seats won (i.e. rank determined by our current system):

1. Conservatives (143 seats)
2. Liberals (76 seats)
3. Bloc Quebecois* (50 seats)
4. NDP (37 seats)
5. Independent (2 seats)
6. Green Party (0 seats) = "Other" (0 seats)

Parties Ranked by % of Popular Vote (i.e. how it would have played out under a system of Proportional Representation):

1. Conservatives (37.63%)
2. Liberals (26.24%)
3. NDP (18.20%)
4. Bloc Quebecois (9.97%)
5. Green Party (6.80%)
6. Independent (0.65%) ~ "Other" (0.51%)

When you're dealing with the winners in an election (i.e. the top two spots, reserved for the ruling party and official opposition), there's little variation between the two sets of results, except that the second list shows a smaller gap between the two parties in terms of support. Where things get really interesting is with the lower half of the list. Take, say, the NDP and the Bloc: although the NDP won almost twice the number of votes that the Bloc did, it ends up with less seats (and thus less power in parliament) under our current system. Likewise, the Green Party, which got a solid 6.8% of the vote gets no seats at all (and so about 2.2 million people get zero representation**). I don't think either of those results is particularly fair, or directly reflective of the wishes of Canadians.

It's time for a change in how we elect our governments.


* The PQ is a bit of an oddity here, in that it only runs candidates in the province of Quebec. I find it fascinating that a party that residents of 12 of Canada's 13 provinces and territories can't even vote for can gain about a 5th of the total seats in parliament.

** My numbers are based on the latest Statistics Canada population estimates I could find, taken from here.

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