Sunday, May 20, 2012

Stéphane Dion is right: the Alternative Vote Would Not Help Canada

Stéphane Dion says:

“Our voting system weakens Canada’s cohesion. It artificially amplifies the regional concentration of political party support at the federal level. With 50% of the vote in a given province, a federal party could end up taking almost all the seats. But with 20% of the vote, it may end up not winning any seats at all. This is how Ontario appeared more Liberal than it really was, Alberta more Reform-Conservative, Quebec more Bloc, etc.

Exaggerated regional differences

Dion says “This regional amplification effect benefits parties with regionally concentrated support and, conversely, penalizes parties whose support is spread across the country without dominating anywhere. A party able to reach out to voters across the country is disadvantaged compared to another whose base is only in one region.

“I do not see why we should maintain a voting system that makes our major parties appear less national and our regions more politically opposed than they really are. I no longer want a voting system that gives the impression that certain parties have given up on Quebec, or on the West.”

Preferential voting (AV/IRV) won’t help

The Liberal Party of Canada voted in January 2012 to support preferential voting (also known as the Alternative Vote, or Instant Runoff Vote). However, Dion now says “Preferential voting . . . does nothing to correct the distortion between votes and seats and the under-representation of national parties compared to regional ones. Other changes are needed to find a voting system that best fits the Canadian context.”

So I checked the 2011 election results to see if Dion is right. On the votes cast in May 2011, would preferential voting (the “Alternative Vote” or “Instant Runoff Vote”) do anything to fix the problems he's dismayed by?

To get voters’ second preferences, I used the EKOS poll of “which party would be your second choice” taken April 28-30, 2011.

Justin Trudeau and Marc Garneau would have lost

Liberal voters in Quebec are under-represented. They elected only seven MPs, not the 11 MPs their voters deserved.

AV/IRV would have cut them down to five MPs. Justin Trudeau and Marc Garneau would have lost to the NDP, thanks to Bloc and Green voters’ second choices.

Conservative voters in Quebec are under-represented. They elected only five MPs, not the 12 or 13 their voters deserved.

AV/IRV would have cut them down to four MPs. Jacques Gourde would have lost to the NDP, thanks to second choices of Bloc and Liberal voters. 

That’s because AV hurts third parties, and in Quebec, the Conservatives and Liberals have become the third parties.

Liberal voters in the West are badly under-represented, where they elected only four MPs, not the 11 MPs their voters deserved. According to my spreadsheet, would AV have let them elect more MPs?

Not in BC: second choices would not make any BC seat change hands.

Nor in Alberta: same result.

Not in Saskatchewan, although Liberal and Green second choices would have elected NDP candidate Noah Evanchuk in Palliser.

In Manitoba NDP second choices would have let Anita Neville hold onto Winnipeg South Centre.

In provinces where we already saw three-way races, AV would make a few seats change hands.

Stéphane Dion is right

But as to his very justified concern, exaggerated regional differences, Stéphane Dion is right: AV would do nothing to help. In fact, it would hurt more than it would help.

Dion says "There are also Conservatives in Quebec, traditionally "blue," particularly in the regions, who are entitled to be heard. Despite my Liberal allegiance, I am convinced that the general interest requires that Quebec’s Conservatives be able to make their full contribution to the building of Canada alongside Conservatives from elsewhere in Canada.
I want a federal voting system that fully honours Quebec’s rich political culture, of which we are rightfully proud."

But he is right: AV will not do this. It's not even a step in the right direction; ask Jacques Gourde.


observer said...

i don't understand how you came to the conclusion that Garneau would have lost under AV.

i'm interested, not trying to be a smart alec. can you lay out any of the math?

Wilf Day said...

Fair question, Observer. According to the EKOS poll of second choices polled April 28 – 30, 2011, the 1,516 Green voters would have given their second choice as 33% NDP (500), and 17% Liberal (258). The 2,278 Bloc voters would have had second choices of 49% NDP (1,116), 11% Liberal (251). The 7,218 Conservative voters would have had second choices of 23% NDP (1,660), 18% Liberal (1,299). You may have been expecting them to prefer the Liberals, but 47% of them told EKOS they had no second choice, and indeed many voters don’t use their second choice on a preferential ballot (even under STV). Result on the final count: NDP 17,981, Liberal 17,154.

observer said...

let's take the 47% figure of CVPC voters not having a 2nd choice.

in the EKOS poll, it looks to me as if the 47% is country-wide and not provincial-specific. is that right?

Wilf Day said...

Indeed, those EKOS figures are country-wide.