POLITICS

How to get elected without actually winning

WALTER STEWART November 1 1973
POLITICS

How to get elected without actually winning

WALTER STEWART November 1 1973

How to get elected without actually winning

POLITICS

WALTER STEWART

In the last federal election, the Canadian voter turned perceptibly away from the Liberals, but not decisively toward the Tories; he showed himself to be underwhelmed by the NDP, but not ready to write that party off; his message to every one of the parties was the same: “Go back and do better.” He rebuked the Liberals in Ontario, the West and (to a lesser degree) in Quebec; he gave the Tories a better showing in the West and Ontario, a marginally worse one in Quebec and the East; he rewarded the NDP marginally in western Canada, gave it a substantial boost in eastern Canada, and a tiny one in Ontario; he gave the Socreds substantial gains in Quebec, New Brunswick and Alberta, and at the same time chastised them in British Columbia.

That’s what the voter did. Did the

new parliament reflect those choices?

In a pig’s eye. What the new House of Commons purported to show was that the Liberals own Quebec, the Tories own Alberta, the NDP nearly doubled in Ontario and is nonexistent east of that province, while the Socreds are nonexistent outside Quebec. It was the parliamentary result, and not the voting pattern, that led to all those stories about the isolation of Quebec, the alienation of Alberta and the smashing of the Liberal machine in Ontario. The parliamentary result was a fraud on the people; in fact, the Liberals got less than half the vote in Quebec (although they wound up with 76% of the seats) and one vote in every four in Alberta (where they got no seats). The Tories won just over half the vote in Alberta (although they got all the seats), and there were more NDP votes in Quebec (where they took no seats) than in Saskatchewan (where they were able to take five).

The present system, which gives the riding to whichever candidate gets the most votes locally and disregards the general pattern of voting, is not only dumb but dangerous, because it stresses the regional strains that already threaten to sunder this country. The hometown boy, the provincial chauvinist, the language nationalist are all rewarded, while the federalist works under a handicap.

The obvious solution is some form of proportional representation. The total vote in each province would be divided by the number of ridings to obtain a vote-riding ratio. In PEI, for example, there were 56,349 votes cast: that makes the vote-riding ratio 14,087. To win a riding, any party would need that number of votes, plus one. The Tories would thus be entitled to two seats, the Liberals to one, and then the fourth seat would go to the Liberals, who had thé larg-

How the Commons would look under proportional representation based on 1972 vote, with the actual results in brackets.

Province Liberals PC’s NDP Socreds Others Totals BC (4) 8 (8) 8(H) 23 Alta. (0) 11 (19) 2 (0) 1 (0) 19 Sask. (1) 5 (7) 5 (5) 13 Manitoba (2) 5 (8) 4 (3) 13 Ontario 34 (36) 35 (40) 19 (11) 0(1) 88 Quebec 36 (56) 13 (2) 5 (0) 18 (15) 2(1) 74 NB (5) 5 (5) 10 NS (1) 6 (10) 1 (0) 11 PEI (1) 2 (3) 4 Nfld. (3) 4 (4) 7 NWT-YT (0) 1 (1) 0 (1) 2 Totals 104 (109) 95 (107) 44 (31) 19 (15) 2 (2) 264 This column is an adaptation from Divide and Con, a study of the Canadian voting system by Maclean’s Associate Editor Walter Stewart, recently published by new press.

est remainder. Such a system, applied across Canada, would not have changed the 1972 voters’ obvious intent to return a minority government, but it would have given each party a much better regional balance, as the table shows.

Proportional representation would not end regionalism in Canada — geography and history made us regional, not a dumbheaded way of counting votes — but it would end a system that rewards those who play on parochialism. Most importantly, it would give us a parliament that reflects the way we vote, rather than the hoking up of that vote by a biased, clumsy, inaccurate and divisive electoral machine.