Eduard Hiebert

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Electoral Reform:  Fixing The Democratic Deficit!  What Is The Problem?  Preferential Ballot?!  Proportional System??  Both?!

First, a table of contents (with links), followed by the full text.

What Is The Problem?  What's Wrong With Our Election System?

Two Approaches To Defining The Problem Of The Democratic Deficit
     1. Who Wins & Who Loses?
     2. Refining The Focus On Canada's Electoral System

The Democratic Deficit!
  A Question Of Process.  How To Find The Problem?
  What Is The Problem?
  Sharpening The Question.  The Big Picture
  Sharpening The Question.  Considering The Details
  Defining Three Voting Systems
       "First Past The Gate Post."
       "Preferential Ballot."
       "Proportional Systems."

  Honing The Question Further
     "Scoring" Election Outcomes.  Definitions
     "Scoring" Election Outcomes.  Examples
     "Scoring" The 2006 Election Outcome Table
     "Scoring" The Electoral Coverage By The Pundits
     "Scoring" The Electoral Outcome Of Several Constituencies

Comparing A Preferential System With A Proportional One

Concluding Summary


Electoral Reform:  Fixing The Democratic Deficit!  What Is The Problem? Preferential Ballot?!  Proportional System??  Both?!

February 10, 2006 A.D.

What Is The Problem?  What's Wrong With Our Election System?

Most Canadian citizens know instinctively that, Canada's elections contribute to making unfair winners and losers.  Through a step by step approach, designed so you can skip sections already familiar to you, anyone, who completes reading this entire paper, will have the tools to pin-point and see conclusively, with their eyes, what is wrong with our "first past the post" voting system and how to fix it.  This paper will also heighten awareness of how complex electoral fixes, may with near certainty contain new undemocratic Trojan Horses introduced by those who currently obtain unfair advantage.

Changing from a "first past the post" to a preferential ballot system is a relatively small step which accomplishes a large democratic step forward, without risking any undemocratic mis-steps.  So, how come virtually all reform measures being advanced so far do not advance the preferential ballot but instead, advance a very complex and complicated proportional ballot system?

Regardless of which organization's studies you may have reviewed earlier, unless, in the march towards true electoral reform, you have made your very own analysis of Canada's election system, I will almost guarantee you that by the end of this document,

  1. You will have a clearer, stronger grasp of what is the problem with our current electoral system.
  2. You will understand that there is much politics behind the problem of the democratic deficit.  Among those that benefit from the democratic deficit, the problem is grossly understated.  And among too many who advance reform, including making specific recommendations, their analyses has only seen the tip of the iceberg, neither properly understanding nor clearly defining the fundamental cause of the democratic deficit.
  3. This analysis will lead you to understand how and why, along the genuine path towards correcting the democratic deficit, the "first past the post" system is the fundamental problem and that the preferential ballot, in contrast to proportional representation, is the best next step.
  4. You will realize that the size and complexity of the step to change from "first past the post" to a preferential system, compared to proportional system, is but a tiny next step that could  easily be implemented in time for the next election, producing immediate and positive results without risk of an undemocratic mis-step!
  5. You will see that, in switching to a preferential system, most voters and election observers would be able to follow and understand the accuracy of all steps, from completing the preferential ballot (ranking candidates 1, 2, 3...), to the count of the ballots, to who is elected!  From beginning to end, ten different election observ[e]ors would all come to the identical conclusion as to who is elected!  No ifs, ands or buts in the preferential ballot system!
  6. You will see that, in a proportional system, from beginning to end, the process is much more complex than a preferential system.  How to use and properly fill out a proportional ballot usually involves more complexity and sophistication.  Regarding the count, very few voters and election observers would actually be able to follow and understand the results unassisted.  Ten different people designing, implementing the counting process and then counting the ballots would all very easily come up with a different list of who was elected!  Such complexity also increases the risks that undemocratic Trojan Horses would be snuck into the adopted proportional system. 
  7. You will see that the preferential ballot eliminates the undemocratic error resulting from the "first past the post" system while the proportional system, as advanced by electoral reform organizations like Equal Voice and FairVote, only cover up and mask the undemocratic component within the "first past the post" counting system.  Their proposals include maintaining the "first past the post" system.  Whatever advantages a proportional system does provide, those fixes could always be added later on top of a preferential system.

This paper's argument is designed so readers familiar with the basics of electoral reform might start with "honing the question" and circle back as necessary, while advanced readers or someone who would like to see the end target from page one, might first jump to the Concluding Summary.

After reviewing this document, you will be able to establish your own democratic standard of comparison, whereby you can evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, even the undemocratic holes, which are not being addressed in any of the political parties' solutions, including by Equal Voice's or FairVote's electoral reform measures advanced so far.

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Two Approaches To Defining The Problem Of The Democratic Deficit

1.  Who Wins & Who Loses?

In peace time, the era during which Canadians experienced the most significant reversal and social upheaval in Canada, began in earnest with the Mulroney period.

When Mulroney "took power", corporate income taxes were a large source of the federal government's income.  In fact, the total from corporate income taxes dwarfed personal income taxes by a large measure.  Thanks to the corporate tax holidays birthed by Mulroney, today's federal corporate income tax revenues are much less than personal income taxes!  In fact, the share of income taxes coming from the corporate sector is now less than the premiums the federal government collects regarding what was formerly called unemployment insurance.  When Mulroney "took power", unemployment insurance premiums, compared to either corporate or personal tax was relatively small!

To help put the size of this pro-corporate citizen-unfriendly transfer of wealth and taxes into perspective, please ask yourself, have corporate incomes decreased since Mulroney's time until now?  Of course not!  That's almost a stupid question!  Over this period of time and adjusting for inflation, Canadian personal incomes have generally plateaued, even dropped significantly, while the growth in total corporate assets and revenues are booming!

In comparison, how, during this time, have corporate assets and revenues increased?  The corporate sector has captured i) an increased share ii) of a growing economy;  iii) through what is called privatization, huge portions of public resources and institutions have been "transferred" from public control into the hands of private corporate control; iv) and in every year from Mulroney onwards, significant numbers of small business, including farmers, have incorporated, thereby shifting their tax load from personal to corporate taxes.

Each one of these changes represents a transfer of resources and wealth from the public personal side to the private corporate side.  In aggregate, despite the phenomenal growth in corporate assets and revenues, the total corporate income tax share in comparison to personal income taxes, keeps declining!.  In effect, the Canadian public economic pie is shrinking while personal income tax must pay for an ever increasing share of all our social services from roads to education to healthcare!

This restructuring of the economy was and continues to be accomplished by a two step cyclical repetitive approach.  First, through pressures from free-trade, implemented by Mulroney, our tax system had to be restructured and provided significant corporate-friendly citizen-unfriendly advantage. The combination of Mulroney's free-trade and tax restructuring produced the largest financial DEFICIT AND DEBT in the history of Canada!

Enter Paul Martin who through single-mindedness not only tackled the deficit, but with further pro-corporate citizen-unfriendly agenda placed a disproportionate belt-tightening burden on the personal tax paying public and thereby created many further infrastructure and social deficits (roads and healthcare crumbled).  Once the "financial deficit" was eliminated on the backs of the personal tax paying public, the goal posts were changed into reducing the debt and continuing his disproportionate pro-corporate citizen-unfriendly agenda by exercising "restraint" with the personal tax paying public.

Each of these "fixes" was no accident.  The rejigging of who pays and who benefits through our economic and taxation system was intentional!  Now with further "fixes" of continentalism, deep integration, harmonization and bi-lateral anti-terrorist measures more corporate-friendly citizen-unfriendly economic and tax measures are being advanced, with almost no seamless difference between Martin and now Harper.

In short, I submit that this huge and immense reversal in who pays and who receives the benefits from the Canadian tax dollar, which started big time during the Mulroney era, IS A DIRECT OUTCOME OF CANADA'S DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT. 

Canada's democratic deficit constitutes not only the largest Canadian deficit, but the most under-reported deficit as well!  This unloading of the corporate share in income taxes paid during times of significantly increased corporate profits is made all the more unreal when one considers that NO CORPORATION VOTES IN CANADIAN ELECTIONS, ONLY CITIZENS!

So how and why would the citizens of Canada effectively elect such corporate-friendly citizen-unfriendly forms of Canadian government?  Or does our election system put Canadians squarely behind the eight-ball, leaving them holding not only the tax bag but also having government that in practise is not of, by and for the people?

2.  Refining The Focus On Canada's Electoral System

The remainder of this review will focus on Canada's electoral system, keeping one eye on three known voting systems, the current "first past the post" system, the "preferential ballot" system and the "proportional voting" scheme, while keeping the other eye on who wins and who loses.

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The Democratic Deficit! A Question Of Process. How To Find The Problem?

I recall an older saying -- a problem properly defined is a problem already half resolved.  Conversely, if we don't ask the right question, we will not get the right answer, without which the better solutions remain out of reach.  Namely, the best answer is found by asking the right question. "Ask the right question and you will get the right answer."

Getting a "bull's eye" with the first shot, may be beginners luck.  In real life this happens rarely, if ever.  On a step by step bases and refining the question each time, we will continue to zero in on the Achilles Heal of our voting system and pinpoint with bulls-eye accuracy where and how the democratic deficit occurs.  Anything less than our full knowledge of this problem allows detractors the opportunity to divert, fog, confuse or more importantly, embrace the talk of well intentioned solutions while corrupting the actual solutions with their hidden but very effective citizen-unfriendly undemocratic Trojan Horses.

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The Democratic Deficit!  What Is The Problem?

By the time of the 2006 election, many many Canadian citizens knew with a certainty in their heart of hearts that there is a democratic deficit.  Few candidates and certainly no party leader, would allow himself to be caught flat-footed without having something to say about addressing Canada's democratic deficit. These words crossed both Harper and Martin's lips.  So, how is it that not a single leader has provided an analyses showing to whom the surplus accrues?  Or clarified exactly where in the electoral process a democratic deficit arises?  Despite the efforts at democratic reform by organizations such as Fair Vote, Equal Voice and the BC proportional plebiscite proposal, within their sites I could not find such analyses nor information.

Since it is common knowledge that many Canadian citizens feel they are getting the shaft within Canada's "first past the post" election system, does it not follow that someone else may be getting an unfair benefit?  Who gets the benefit?  If someone gets the benefit, does that not mean someone has an inside undemocratic advantage?

With regard to having an unfair inside advantage, have you ever flipped coins and played "odd-man-out" with a partner against a third?  And whether the first two recognize it or not, they have a distinct inside advantage. Even the person making the single "impartial" coin toss to break the tie, has an inside advantage to decide which of the two options should carry the day.  I will come back to this point.

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The Democratic Deficit!  Sharpening The Question.  The Big Picture

At first blush the following question may sound overly elementary.  With seriousness and sincerity, are all elections democratic?

"Democracy" by definition means "people" plus "rule". That is, "self-rule" arrived at democratically by "the collective".  "Self-rule" may also easily be contrasted with "other-ruled". However "other-ruled" by definition is undemocratic and need not be discussed further here.

After hybrids are excluded, there are also only two forms of elections: one-person one-vote; or, one-dollar (or one-widget) one-vote.  One-dollar one-vote elections common within a corporate setting are therefore by definition, not a democratic election, for it is some "thing" and not one person that counts.

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The Democratic Deficit! Sharpening The Question.  Considering The Details.

Having made these refinements, we can now more precisely ask the question again, are all one-person one vote elections democratic?

"Majority rule" is a common watchword or measure used to define the standard for a democratic election.  From this, the minimum standard for majority rule is 50% plus one.  Anything less is no longer majority rule. Thus, if the choice is between two people, other than a tie, the elected person will be elected by majority rule.  However, elections frequently involve more than two people and in most but not all Canadian elections, the "first past the post system" is the system that is not God-given, but the one we have adopted and use in such situations.

With this revised focus, are "first past the post" elections democratic when there are more than two to choose from?

This will depend on the actual outcome.  In order to compare one candidate with another, I will use a candidate's percentage of the votes obtained. Thus in an election involving 3 people, the range in percentage vote a winning candidate may receive is from slightly over 1/3 (where the votes are split almost evenly among all three) to 100%.  In elections with 4 candidates, the possible range becomes slightly over 25% to 100%. Thus, the minimum "first past the post" threshold by which a candidate may get elected keeps getting less as more people stand for election.  In cases involving more than two candidates, clearly if one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, then this is a democratic election.  If the winning candidate's percentage of vote is less than 50% plus one, I will simply say according to the "majority rule" such an election is undemocratic as a minority representative will act for the majority!  Canada's "clarity bill" (a federal act defining what percentage of vote is required should Quebec decide to secede from Canada) applies this same measure 50% plus one.  Thus in "first past the post" elections where the winning candidate's percentage of vote is less than 50% plus one, a democratic deficit occurs.

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The Democratic Deficit! Defining Three Voting Systems

"First past the post."  Regardless of how many candidates stand for election, the only test in a "first past the post" system is which candidate receives the greatest number of votes.

"Preferential ballot."  In the "preferential ballot" system, sometimes called a presidential voting system, instead of voting with one "x", voters MAY rank the candidates 1, 2, 3...  The first time around, when all the ballots are counted regarding their #1 choice AND if no candidate receives a majority (50% plus 1), then the candidate with the lowest vote count gets dropped and his/her ballots are redistributed among the remaining still-standing candidates.  This continues until one candidate has received majority support, meaning 50% plus 1.

Please note: The preferential ballot is neither a new method of voting nor unknown to Canada.  Every one of our current political party leaders was elected by some variation of a preferential ballot!  France's president is elected this way.  So are the farmer-elected directors of the Canadian Wheat Board.

"Proportional systems."  There are two types of proportional voting schemes; one called "mixed", the other strictly "proportional".  Both types involve a complex adjustment of all the votes cast for all the candidates and/or parties in order to arrive at a "proportional" outcome.  For example, if one party receives 30% of the overall vote, then that party receives 30% of the elected representatives.  This adjustment factor is applied in both a mixed proportional and strictly proportional system.

In a "mixed" proportional system, the first group of MPs get elected as representatives of a constituency.  These constituency elections may be exactly the same as our present Canadian election, including using the "first past the post"!  In a "mixed" proportional system, if one person is elected per constituency that is called a single-member constituency.  If more than one person is elected (even as many as 4 or more) within one constituency, these are called a multi-member constituencies.

In a mixed system, the second group of MPs are elected through the above proportional adjustment factor.  However, in a mixed system, the MPs elected by way of the proportional adjustment process are frequently taken from a predetermined "slate" until the number of MPs from the first group is "topped-up" so that a party with 30% of the vote total, also receives 30% of the MPs!

The counting of ballots and readjusting the outcome in a mixed proportional scheme and in a straight proportional scheme is always very complex and elaborate.  I have a university degree in Mathematics and found the BC proposed model that went to a plebiscite vote recently exceptionally difficult to follow.

Under a strictly "proportional" scheme, all Mps are elected by the proportional scheme. Not one MP represents any particular physical constituency as there are no constituencies.

As an aside, on the question of electoral reform, I have reviewed various electoral reform proposals put forward by organizations such as the NDP, Fair Vote, the BC proportional model and the Equal Voice organization promoting gender parity.  Within industry, I have also reviewed the voting schemes of organizations such as Manitoba Pool Elevator and Agricore, while they existed, as well as the Canadian Wheat Board, the Manitoba Canola Growers Association, several Credit Unions and Coops.

Except for the CWB elections and political party leadership elections, which use a preferential ballot system, all the others involved either a "first past the post" system or a proportional scheme, such as the one as advanced in the proposed BC proportional scheme.

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The Democratic Deficit! Honing The Question Further

What is wrong with our "first past the post" electoral system?

Earlier, under the definition for the "first past the post" system, it was stated that regardless of how many candidates stand for election within one constituency, the only test in a "first past the post" system is which candidate receives the greatest number of votes.  Thus, as the number of candidates increase, the minimum threshold percentage by which a candidate may be elected decreases from 50% with two candidates, to just over 33% with 3, to just over 25% with 4, etc.

Then at the conclusion of "The Democratic Deficit, Sharpening The Question, Considering The Details" I concluded; if the winning candidate's percentage of vote is less than 50% plus one, I will simply say according to the "majority rule" such an election is undemocratic and a democratic deficit occurs.  Canada's "clarity bill" (a federal act defining what percentage of vote is required should Quebec decide to secede from Canada) applies this same number.

To pinpoint further how the "first past the post" is undemocratic and does indeed give rise to a democratic deficit, consider the following examples. How many times have you heard an election pundit acknowledge with soothing matter-of-fact conviction that the "first past the post" system is a "winner take all" system which encourages stable majority government in contrast to what they call unstable minority government?  Invariably, stable for whom is not defined!

The Mulroney election illustrates how the democratic deficit arises precisely at the point when the "winner take all" system tips the balance of power to a minority candidate, representing a minority position, when more than one candidate represents the majority position.  One major issue was "free-trade".  Mulroney was for, the other two parties against.  Across the then total number of constituencies, the larger majority anti-free trade vote was split 30/30 between the Liberals and the NDP, while Mulroney got 40%.  "Thanks" to the "winner take all" bias provided by the "first past the post" system, Mulroney gained a "majority" government, when quite factually, only a minority of citizens (40%) supported him!  This is an example of what is called "splitting the vote" of the majority, so that a minority position can trump the will of the majority.

Mechanically, this splitting of the vote in an election is similar to what I pointed earlier, that two people flipping for coins and playing "odd-man-out" with a third, have a decidedly unfair advantage over the third player.  At the time of the Mulroney election, the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP made up the three players.  In effect, the first two were playing the equivalent of odd-man-out with the NDP.  Despite the Conservatives and Liberals both representing pro-corporate citizen-unfriendly agenda, by taking opposite positions on "free-trade", one of them was sure to split the vote with the NDP, in favour of the other.

As an aside, Broadbent also blundered badly by being slow to advance the New Democrat's anti-free-trade position, giving the Liberals the gift a further leg up.  Two terms later, when the Liberals again took power, they showed their true colors by having no intentions of undoing the pro-corporate "free-trade" "deal".  In the interim, despite posturing to the contrary, first the Mulroney Conservatives, then the Liberals, continued with pro-corporate citizen-unfriendly agenda,  like the creeping privatization of healthcare and pushing step by step institutions like the Canadian Wheat Board towards privatization.

Since Mulroney decimated the Conservatives, the Canadian vote splitting game appears to have become more complex, while in reality, insider playing for the Liberals and now the Harper Conservatives was made more easy.  Following Mulroney, those who in Quebec were tired of the Conservative and Liberal pro-corporate citizen-unfriendly look-alikes, joined forces under the Bloc. However, in the rest of Canada, when the Progressive Conservative grass-roots needed to find its feet again and later would not find home in the Reform/Alliance bundle, it became common knowledge that a "united right" would do much better against the Liberals.

Replacing the "first past the post" voting system with a preferential ballot, should have been a no-brainer that would have eliminated overnight the right's self-destructive vote-splitting.  If collaborative democratic objectives were Harper and Mckay's true objectives, would not the adoption of a preferential ballot have been a much more wholistic approach than any of the acrimony involved in Reform/Alliance's hostile takeover of the Progessive Conservative Party?  So why, when Harper and McKay themselves got elected as leaders through a preferential voting system, why, regarding all of Canada, was the preferential ballot not even on their radar screen?   Why would they forgo immediate positive changes and instead favour a risky and divisive unification process?  Or is there a longer term strategy and advantage to Harper, in remaining silent and not drawing attention to the major undemocratic flaw in the "first past the post" system?  If no electoral change is made, Who wins?  Who loses?

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The Democratic Deficit! "Scoring" Election Outcomes.  Definitions

In "scoring" elections outcomes, "turnout" is a commonly used criteria. "Turnout" is the ratio of the number of people who voted, compared to the number of people who may vote.  The ratio is normally expressed in percentage terms.

According to the Winnipeg Free Press, the highest ever Canadian turnout was 79.4% in 1958.  In 2006 the turnout increased to 64.9% from 60.9% in 2004. Manitoba, for example, scored well below the Canadian average at 62.7% and 56.7% respectively. Manitoba also has the poorest constituency in all of Canada!

Does poverty contribute in some way to a lower turnout?  If this is true, are lower election turnouts resulting from poverty, still democratic? (Remember, an election involving only those who have one dollar is not a democratic election.)  As election turnout decreases, at some point elections clearly become undemocratic.  I will however leave aside for another day, the question at which level turnout, regardless of cause, is undemocratic and contributes to the Canadian democratic deficit.

Another term used frequently is "popular vote". If the total election turnout is seen as one pie, then the "popular vote", say for the NDP, is the NDP's share of the turnout pie and expressed in percent.  That is, regardless of how many of the 308 NDP candidates won or lost, the vote count of all 308 NDP candidates is divided by the number of Canadians who voted and expressed as a percent.

However, since the candidates who lost have no part in Parliament, what value is there in expressing the "popular vote" when this measure mixes together those who were and were not elected to Parliament?

According to Webster, "plurality" "in an election (means) the greater number of votes one candidate receives over those of his closest competitor.  For ease of use and by definition, at the constituency level, an ELECTED candidate's popular vote is also the plurality by which a candidate is ELECTED.  Then, a party's plurality is calculated by taking the number of votes all ELECTED candidates of that party received and divided by the total turnout (and expressed as a percent).  The plurality of parliament expresses the number of votes all 308 ELECTED candidates received, divided by the total turnout and expressed as a percent. 

Between "popular vote" and "plurality of vote", election pundits' term of choice is virtually exclusively in favour of "popular vote".  However applying "popular vote" to all of Parliament is nothing more meaningful than to say that 100% of voters voted.  At the party, the term does indicate what percentage of all voters voted for that party.  At the constituency level, "popular vote" is simply the percentage of vote each candidate received.  On the other hand, "plurality of vote" for all of Parliament provides the percentage of Canada's entire electorate that actually voted for one of the 308 elected MPs.  At the party level, "plurality of vote" specifies the percentage of voters that actually voted for one of the ELECTED MPs of a particular party.  At the constituency level, "plurality of vote" refers to the percentage of vote the ELECTED candidate received.

Since plurality of vote for Parliament shows concretely the actual degree of electoral support all 308 ELECTED MP's have together (or the degree of support a majority or minority ELECTED government has) it is an excellent measure of comparison to the gold standard of democratic majority rule (50% plus one).

Oddly enough, given so many Canadians are concerned about the democratic deficit, have you ever even heard a single election pundit ever apply the yardstick of "plurality", that is, measure the degree of confidence Canada's citizens have in their Parliament? or the ruling party?  By the way, "pundit" is Hindu for "learned man".

Who wins and who loses by the pundits almost universally focusing on the popular vote of each party while ignoring whether the elected candidates, the elected minority or majority government or even all of Parliament, for that matter, whether they actually have the confidence of the majority of Canadians?

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The Democratic Deficit! "Scoring" Election Outcomes.  Examples

In order to see the following comparisons first hand, please see either of the spreadsheets and/or Election's Canada data, provided at this link.

If you then select the information only for the 308 elected MPs (the 1.1 option), that would be a good place to start to make most of the following comparisons. 

"Scoring" The 2006 Election Outcome  Table

  Vote Count Elected MPs Popular
Party* Plurality MPs
Share of Parliament
Con 3,151,509 36.25% 21.27% 124 40.3%
Lib 2,208,775 30.22% 14.90% 103 33.4%
Bloc 1,246,410 10.48% 8.41% 51 16.6%
NDP 599,648 7.49% 4.05% 29 9.4%
Ind 20,158 0.52% 0.14% 1 0.3%
Totals 7,226,500 94.3% 48.8%** 308 100.00%

Turnout of Canadians who voted?  64.9% or  14,815,680.

* "Plurality" is the percentage of vote a party's ELECTED MPs received in relation to the total votes cast.

** Should all 308 MP's, including Harper, vote in favour of any one bill, through the representational capacity of all 308 elected MPs, that bill would still only receive the support of 48.8% of the Canadian voter.  If voter disenfranchisement is included regarding all the people who did not vote or spoiled their ballot, then the Canadian confidence in these 308 MPs sinks even lower.  Since most, if not all bills are passed by much smaller margins than 308 MPs, this provides a graphic picture of the Canadian Democratic Deficit.

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2006 "First Past The Post" Election Oddities -  Parliament

Viewing the whole of Parliament, in the 2006 election, 64.9% of eligible Canadians, or just under 15 million people, voted.  Of these only 7,226,500, or 48.8%, voted for the 308 ELECTED candidates!  Thus, even if all 308 MP's, including Harper, unanimously support a particular bill, even then their combined support is not representative of the majority of Canadians who voted!

This represents a clear violation of the majority rule principle and is a democratic deficit!  Who all refuses to talk about this? Who pays and who reaps the benefit from this democratic deficit?

Turning to all 308 ELECTED MP's, their individual pluralities range from a high of 82.49% to a low of 32.69%.  THAT'S RIGHT!  One ELECTED MP has the confidence of less than one-third of the constituents who voted, yet was declared elected!  Furthermore, of the 308 MPs, only 123 MPs have pluralities greater than 50%.  In other words, only 40% of all 308 MP's (123/308) have the confidence of majority-rule while the other 60% or 185 MPs, to be exact, were elected by a minority of their constituents and elevated by the "first past the post" system to elected status!  Among the 185 MP's who were elected with less than the minimum majority rule (50% plus one), 47 MP's were elected by less than 40% of their voting constituents!  Eleven of these 47 MP's who do not even have 40% support are part of Harper's minority government!

Focusing more directly on Harper's 124 elected Conservative MPs, 69 or 56% (69/124) were elected with less than half of their constituents supporting them.  Thus, focusing on Harper's minority government and the number of his MP's who have the confidence of the majority of constituents, this amounts to a mere 18% (55/308) of Harper's MP's have the confidence of the majority of voters in their home constituencies!

These numbers clearly violate the democratic majority rule principle.  Who wins?  Who Loses in this system?  What is the true meaning of Harper's words when he says accountability is issue #1?

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"Scoring" The Electoral Outcome Of Several Constituencies

While any of the 185 constituencies where a minority plurality candidate was declared elected could be chosen, I will make note of Kildonan-St. Paul, where I stood for election.  Here, the 5 candidates' popular votes were 43.14%, 33.46%, 20.16%, 2.71% and 0.52%.  With the declared elected candidate having a plurality of less than 50%, this election violates the principles of majority rule.  Similarly for the other 184 MPs within this category!

However, with little additional cost and at no great additional complexity to either the voter or those conducting the vote count, the above undemocratic defects could be corrected with democratic majority rule outcomes if a preferential ballot system were used.  Instead of collapsing a citizen's democratic voice to only one choice among 5 different candidates, a preferential ballot, regardless of electoral outcome, allows the voter to focus on the very best candidate, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Then the second and third choice, etc. 

The first round of counting the votes would stay the same as per the above. As no candidate received 50% plus one of the votes, the lowest candidate would be dropped off and those ballots redistributed.  Depending on the splits of the 3 lowest candidates, when those ballots were being redistributed, their combined numbers could make either one of the still standing front two candidates receive the support of the majority of the constituents!

I say "still-standing first two candidates", as it is quite possible that as lower candidates are dropped off and their ballots redistributed, that lower ranking candidates may get to stand among the first two still standing candidates.

The Churchill Manitoba election provides example of this.  The popular vote of each of the six candidates in order of decreasing popular vote (and identifying the first three candidates), their popular votes were: 1) 40.67% (Keeper, Liberal), 2) 28.44% (Ashton, NDP), 3) 17.15% (Independent; former NDP Desjarlais), 11.55%, 1.61% and 0.58%.

Here several scenarios are possible. Depending on the redistribution pattern of fourth and lower popular vote candidates, the first place candidate could receive majority rule status and the election would be over, or neither of the first two received majority support or even the third place candidate could become the second placed standing candidate and the first place candidate got dropped off.

Summarized with regard to the original placements, the two remaining scenarios would be either i) #1 and #2, or ii) #2 and #3.  Then, upon the final redistribution, either one of the original #1 or #2 OR #2 or #3 still standing candidates could be elected with a majority of Churchill constituent voters!

In other words, in Churchill, depending on the will of the majority, any one of the first three candidates with the highest popular vote could have received the endorsement of the majority of the constituents.

The difference in outcome of these three very real possibilities is more than idle curiosity.  The first past the post system created an opportunity for the Liberal to slip through the middle.  Under all three possible outcomes, a preferential ballot would have resulted in a more democratic outcome, as in all cases, including if the Liberal was elected, the elected MP would have the confidence of the majority and 100% of the voters would have either voted for the elected person or the next nearest contender.

Even when the preferential ballot does not change the final outcome compared to "first past the post", the preferential ballot adds a qualitative democratic difference that is palpable by 100% of the constituents and is not to be minimized.

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Comparing A Preferential System With A Proportional One

Leaving aside for a moment further qualitative differences between the two voting systems, the step required to move from a "first past the post" system to a "preferential system" is a relatively small step.  Most voters will know how to rank their preferences IF THEY SO CHOSE.  People who scrutinise the ballot count can also follow the entire process with their own eyes, one ballot at time, one redistribution at a time.  Manual counts will take somewhat longer, but there is essentially no added complexity.

In mixed proportional systems, as advocated by some political parties, Equal Voice and FairVote, not one of them endorses the preferential ballot! FairVote actually dismisses the preferential ballot, claiming on the bases of the reviews they made, the preferential ballot would not change many final outcomes and is therefore not helpful.

All the proposed mixed proportional systems I reviewed (including Equal Voice and FairVote) would not even begin to address the democratic deficits regarding either the Churchill or Kildonan St. Paul example, nor any one of the 185 MP's whose pluralities were less than a democratic majority! 

Every single proportional system I reviewed, including the BC model, which would have involved multi-member constituencies, the implementation step from the present to those schemes is enormous, compared to the step to implement the preferential ballot.

The proportional ballot count involves significant complexity that simply can not reasonably be followed manually!  No scrutineer will be able to follow the results with their own eyes.  Regarding any and all proportional adjustments, this is where the devil is in the details, begins in earnest. If there is a slate used to select the proportional "fixes", who and how is such a list fashioned.  Central parties like a central list making it impossible not to elect some candidates...  And why should party parity be the only corrective.  Equal voice with justification advances gender parity, however their own numbers show that the proportional adjustment could never accomplish parity even if all the proportional candidates were women. 

The BC model and FairVote's fully proportional proposal involve multi-member constituencies.  Among these, despite very complicated counting schemes, none of the models I reviewed even addressed the notion as to how to prevent sophisticated vote-splitting schemes.  If I can find ways to create vote-splits in multi-member constituencies, I am confident those that currently benefit from "first past the post" vote splits could also find theme to advantage.  What I find problematic regarding multi-member proportional schemes, not one of the ones I reviewed could I find references as to how that reality was guarded against.

Nor should anything in this document be construed as an argument against eventually implementing proportional fixes.  First of all, a mixed proportional system could easily be layered onto a preferential system.

The advantage of layering a proportional system on top of a preferential system would be that the underlying undemocratic deficits of the above 185 MP's would first be addressed and the subsequent proportional adjustment could include more criteria than simply party parity, but possibly factors like gender, ethnic and regional diversity, etc.

Now, focusing further on the qualitative differences, the preferential system fixes the lack of majority representation in mixed proportional schemes advanced so far and that any fixes the proportional system can actually deliver, a proportional system can always be added to the preferential system!

Furthermore, by adopting this two step approach, first preferential then proportional, we get some very real and significant improvements.  The preferential ballot could easily be implemented in time for the next election without any risk of implementing undemocratic side-effects hidden in the details of a proportional fix.  By implementing first the preferential ballot, then a proportional ballot, we get some very significant democratic improvement immediately while also giving ourselves more breathing room to come up with true and honest proportional system without feeling we have to rush it because of the many defects in the present system!  No use taking a big, highly complex step quickly by implementing a proportional system and inadvertently through the devil being in the detail, falling from the pot into the fire.  A two step approach, first and immediate implementation of the preferential ballot followed with further study regarding proportional fixes, will, almost with certainty provide more satisfying and comprehensive democratic improvements than adopting a proportional system.

Restating this in the alternative, a preferential ballot system is easy to implement and be properly scrutinized by all concerned.  The preferential ballot fixes the vote-splitting democratic deficit within the "first past the post" system that the proposed mixed proportional systems do not address.  Lastly, from a democratic perspective, there is no harm done in adopting the preferential system, though to be sure there would be howls of disdain and contempt from various quarters that currently get unfair advantage from the "first past the post" system.

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"Scoring" The Electoral Coverage By The Pundits

In a "first past the post system", losing candidates have no say in the government that follows.  Even the members in "opposition" including the "back-benchers" of the reigning party have, as Ed Schreyer so nobly put it, ever decreasing levels of influence at the hands of a prime minister who is acting ever more presidential while never elected as a president.

So, given these realities, what is the significance of the almost universally accepted and unquestioned ritual among election coverage pundits in their comparing the "popular vote" of one party versus another?  As stated earlier, many election pundits can even be heard claiming the "first past the post" system is a "winner take all" system which encourages stable majority government, in contrast to what they call unstable minority government. Stable for whom is not defined!

Under the "first past the post" system, no regard is given to any candidate with a lesser popular vote than the front runner.   This paper has pointed out in the   Kildonan-St. Paul and Churchill examples, where the collective popular vote of the lesser candidates could have lead to a more democratic rule of the majority.  Why then would any election pundit be so eager to present the popular vote number instead of the actual realized plurality of only those candidates that were actually elected?

From this vantage point, its also an easy step to see why election pundits invariably claim "majority" governments provide stable governments. Only now the immediate next question becomes "Yes, and which minority groups are the ones that profit from these more "stable" but undemocratic governments?"! And "how come you have not brought forward any analysis nor benefits about the preferential ballot as a way to address and make a next good step to reducing the democratic deficit?"

As I am a private person advancing this analysis on behalf of the public good, I must bring this to a close for now.  If so inclined, I would ask for your help in advancing/funding this research further.  However in all circumstances, I would encourage that you yourself familiarize yourself with more of the undemocratic hidden biases cloaked within the "first past the post" system and many, if not all, of the other touted reform measures.

Examples of additional questions of democratic deficits arising from the "first past the post" system that may need further examination may be reviewed under Endnotes.

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Concluding Summary

Canada's "first past the post" election system has outlived its useful contribution to democracy.

Majority rule, is the cornerstone between democratic "self-rule" and being "other-ruled" where 50% plus one is the minimum standard in any democratic election.  By common practice, constitutional changes, for example require 2/3 majorities.

The most destructive undemocratic element within the "first past the post" system is that, through an orchestra of party candidates, votes can be split to the advantage of the most centrally dominated top-down party. 

However, Canada's "first past the post" election system elevates many minority candidates into elected status even though their popular vote was less than 50%, in one case even less than one-third of the constituents endorsed the elected candidate!

Currently, the system provides distinct and considerable inside advantage, which on the whole is corporate-friendly citizen-unfriendly. Nor is this stacked electoral deck a small feat of accomplishment to the distinct advantage of those within the corporate-friendly subset within our country. In Canada, no corporation may vote, only citizens. So why would citizens keep electing governments which on the whole are corporate-friendly citizen-unfriendly?

For a view of what Harper's view on all of this is, please see the first and third of three items provided at this link.

Proportional representation may be a step in the right direction, but ... (the) preferential ballot is a bigger step actually correcting democratic deficits arising from vote-splitting, which is a major factor in the "first past the post" system.  Nor do the mixed proportional systems I have reviewed correct this problem.

As well, all proportional systems involve much complexity, where the devil may continue to reside in the detail.  On the other hand, the preferential ballot is a small step to implement and could be done in time for the next election providing immediate democratic benefit.  If necessary, the proportional fix can still be implemented on top of a preferential system, providing a much more positive outcome than simply what a proportional system could provide.

However change will not come about without the citizenry informing themselves and through united action outside and across the political parties, demanding that the preferential ballot be implemented for the next election. Demanding further, that until there is a better more widespread understanding of how the preferential ballot redistributions work, that all elections ballot counts be required to be conducted manually without any computer assistance and thereby avoid the American black box voting controversies that have also plague the best of Canadian accounting firms who with the aid of a computer could not get the relatively simple process of redistributing the ballots one at a time correctly.

Only when the electorate, with a solid understanding of how huge the democratic deficit is, grows weary of it and demands that the no harm solution of a preferential ballot be adopted, will this change be brought about.

                            Eduard Hiebert
                            2186 HWY 26
                            ST Francois Xavier MB  R4L 1B3

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Examples of additional questions of democratic deficits arising from the "first past the post" system that may need further examination.

  1. Why do the "first past the post" elections tend to crown either the Conservatives or Liberals?
  2. And when they are elected, why more frequently with so called "majorities"?
  3. With finer subtleties, why do virtual unknown Conservative or Liberal candidates, simply stand for election to make sure the party runs 308 candidates?
  4. Why do these candidates pickup votes more easily than sincere grassroots NDP candidates?
  5. Why in turn do the majority of NDP candidates, who will never win, pick up more votes more easily than the Greens?
  6. Why in turn do the Greens, where many more candidates were not serious contenders but filling Jim Harris's wants of having 308 candidates, pick up more votes more easily than a string of 90 independent candidates across the country, many of them substantially superior but did not have much elective results? 

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