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May 3, 2011 / amanda stratton

proportional reprezza-whutta?

In a democracy the size of Canada, or really any size bigger than about fifty people, it doesn’t make sense for every single person to get an actual vote very often.  So instead of all going to Ottawa to cast our vote on every decision about every thing, we get into groups and each group chooses one person they trust to make a good decision for the whole group.  That way the rest of us can go about our business and all the people we chose can go make the decisions that affect everyone.  Works in theory, right?

The problem is the way we choose our groups.  They’re chosen according to geography. Now, if I had to choose someone to go represent me in making decisions that would affect my life and my children’s lives, I would want to choose someone who thinks like me.  And if I had to share that person with someone else, I wouldn’t just turn to the person next to me and say, “Hey, you want my guy to speak for  you, too?” because maybe the person standing next to me doesn’t think the same things I do, and then our guy is going to have to choose which one of us he wants to speak for.  And if he’s smart, the person standing next to me would recognize that and say, “No, thanks, I’ll go find a guy who thinks like I do.”

So instead, I’d go find someone with whom I was like-minded and I’d say, “Hey, my guy thinks much the same way we do.  Wanna share my guy?” And a bunch of us who think that way would get together and share him and he’d go vote for us. Doesn’t that make more sense?  That’s the simplified version of proportional representation.  Essentially, it amounts to organizing us into groups based on what we think instead of where we live.

Instead, we organize ourselves into geographical groups, and because we don’t all think the same things, we hold elections to decide who should go represent us, based on the idea that the person who gets elected will at least represent most of the people in that area.  Which kinda sounds like it should work in theory, too, but we’re supposed to all get a say about actual decisions, via these elected representatives, and invariably, large numbers of Canadians end up having to forfeit their say when it comes to actual decisions being made in Ottawa.

In Favour of Proportional Representation
A Case Study of Canada on May 3, 2011

So, here’s how it shook it in our last election – the basic facts as to the number of seats earned by grouping us geographically, the percentage of seats that is out of the 308 available, the amount of the Popular Vote they received (that is, the actual percentage of people in all of Canada who voted for someone in that party, even if that person didn’t win), and the number of seats that the party would have in a world of perfect democracy.

Seats: 167
/ 308 = 54.2
Popular Vote: 39.6
In a Perfect World: 122

Seats: 102
/308 = 33.1
Popular Vote: 30.6
In a Perfect World: 94

Seats: 34
/ 308 = 11
Popular Vote: 18.9 
In a Perfect World: 58

Bloq Quebecois
Seats: 4
/ 308 =  1.3
Popular Vote: 6 
In a Perfect World: 18

Green Party
Seats: 1
/ 308 = 0.3
Popular Vote: 3.9
In a Perfect World: 12

Seats: 0
Popular Vote: 0.4
In a Perfect World: 1

Seats: 0
Popular Vote: 0.5 
In a Perfect World: 1

Now, consider that every seat in the House should represent the wishes of ~3.25% of Canadians (1 seat out of 308) or about 77, 830 electors, based on the number of people eligible to vote in this past election.  If we just count the people who actually bothered to vote, each MP is essentially representing 47,794 voters.

5,832,401 people voted for a Conservative candidate–effectively saying “Those are the people I want to vote for me when we make decisions in this  country.”  With their 167 seats, the Conservative party is actually representing and voting for 7,981,598 voters.  So, basically, according to the principles of proportional representation, there are 45 people in Parliament representing Canadians who simply don’t exist, according to what we actually think and not where we live.

And, the flip-side, there are 2,150,734 Canadians who took the time to vote but are not represented.

The problem is clear to everyone–the solution is not.  There are a lot of different ways to implement proportional representation, so I’m going to keep researching that and once I’ve wrapped my head around it, I’ll get back here.

Sources for this article:
2011 General Election results from
Wikipedia article on proportional representation
Believe it or not, my own head for a lot of the math!



Leave a Comment
  1. Jay Menard / May 9 2011 5:58 pm

    Thank you for posting this! I’d love to see this come about. It’s very frustrating to know that, thanks to our first-past-the-post system, about 60 per cent of people who vote aren’t having their voices heard in parliament. To continue your argument, it’s not just the guy next door with whom I’m lumped in — thanks to party politics, I have to agree with the main guy in Ottawa. With Whips and a lack of free votes, it’s almost come down to a matter of “Who cares what my constituents think? I’ve got to toe the party line.”

    Ideally, your MP (or MPP or Ward representative) would vote based upon the will of the majority of his or her constituents, regardless of party affiliation. For example, if 70 per cent of people are against a GST cut, preferring a lowering of personal income tax, then that’s how that person should vote — not the way their leader says. Even then, though, 30 per cent of people aren’t being represented by their alleged representative.

    Wouldn’t it be amazing if everyone who votes is represented? Bigger ridings, sure, but more reps. So you have, say, 10 elected positions. If the vote goes 40-30-20-10 (Con/NDP/Lib/Green) then you have four, three, two, and one representatives federally. They all vote based upon their constituents’ ideals — and EVERYONE has a voice in how our country is run. It’s not just the plurality (and, even though the Conservatives have a majority, it’s built upon a plurality of votes, not a true majority of voters) who have the power.

    I actually wrote about proportional representation many moons ago, and my feelings haven’t changed: Unfortunately, it seems that we’re just so apathetic, or uninformed on the way our parliament works, that people just don’t care. This is the way we’ve always done it, so that’s the way it’s going to be.

    Sadly, I just don’t think people care enough.

  2. Oathbreaker / May 12 2011 10:25 pm

    Great points Amanda. I wanted to point out that “picking someone to represent your views” is what we are mostly doing when we side with a party instead of a local candidate. The reason people vote strategically or vote blindly for a party with no knowledge of the local candidates is precisely because they value aligning their way of thinking with the elected government more than they care about electing someone to represent their region and I contest the majority of voters prefer that criteria.

    It’s also worth pointing out that not all ridings are equal so the representation skew of the current system may actually be worse. For example the single Nunavut riding went Conservative with only 8,247 total votes, (only 4,111 or 49.9% for con) whereas the Ontario riding of Mississauga–Brampton South had 53,198 voters where 23,632 (44.7%) went Conservative and 18,579 (35.2%) lost voting Liberal. Consider that. 18,579 did not even get their views represented in Parliament and on top of that 4,111 people got an equal seat for theirs. How is that fair?

    Sure the argument is that all of Nunavut only gets 1 seat to represent their entire set of regional views, but considering the obvious flaws you point out with regional representation and the way parties enforce caucus solidarity, what it really amounts to is disproportionately small slice of citizens getting a huge slice of pie at the “think like I do” table.

    Perhaps we need to have a set of non-partisan (no party affiliations allowed) regional MPs and then a fair share of purely representationally elected partisan MPs. You would vote twice, once for your regional representative that is based solely on regional issues, and once for the party who’s values you believe in. Perhaps instead, those regional reps could replace the Senate.

    Also no vote today is truly wasted, as long as the party fund reimbursements are in place every vote yields a small amount of financing for the party you voted for. That is until Harper ends that and then your under the post vote will be truly pointless.


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