Congratulations to the Alberta New Democrats on ‘winning’ the 2015 Alberta general election. Everyone put in a tremendous effort, led by new NDP Leader Rachel Notley and a Notley Crûe of candidates, volunteers and eventually voters who turfed the 44 year Progressive Conservative dynasty. Another ‘orange crush’. Democracy is great, when it works.
What Alberta voted for is not what Alberta got because of the archaic Single Member Plurality system (SMP), more often known as First Past The Post (FPTP) we continue to use. While the television reporters and pundits were wondering at the magnitude of the NDP ‘win’, others were looking behind the numbers on the screen.
There are about 2.5 million ‘electors’ in Alberta and about 58% turned out to vote, according to Elections Alberta which also says 1,162,877 votes were cast. My Vote Should Count says 797,564 votes did not help to elect anybody. That’s 797,564 / 1,162,877 (53.82%) wasted or ‘unrepresented’ votes. So if just over half the electorate voted, and less than half of those votes served to elect someone – was democracy served? Since the NDP obtained 41% of the popular vote, did they really ‘win’ the election?
Because of inherent bias in our SMP/FPTP system (which was designed for two-candidate elections), the results are a grossly distorted ‘false majority’ (as were the 2012 provincial general election, the 2011 federal general election, and most others before that).
The MLAs we voted for if we had province-wide proportional representation [PR] would have been:
NDP: 36, PC: 24, WRP: 21, ALP: 4, Alberta Party: 2 seats.
What we got was:
NDP: 53, PC: 10, WRP: 21, ALP: 1, Alberta Party: 1 seat.
That assumes that everyone would have voted under PR the way they did under SMP/FPTP, which is unlikely. Under PR there would probably have been a larger turnout of the electorate since more votes would have helped to elect someone.
SMP/FPTP leads to strategic voting which further distorts the results of an election: ‘I have to vote for A (who has a better chance of winning) so as to defeat B (who I don’t like and don’t want to win) when I would prefer to vote for C (whose policies I really agree with and want to see implemented)’. How many voted like that on May 5, to ‘punish’ the party or candidate that ‘misbehaved’ in the eyes of a voter? Would a different result have come about if no-one ‘had to’ vote strategically? That is the biggest advantage of PR. A voter can be confident that the candidate, or at least the party they represent, will be elected to the legislature in proportion to the popular vote so everyone’s voice is heard to some extent.
Now is the time to change the voting system, to Make Every Vote Count and ensure that 2015 is the last unfair election. The New Democratic Party has made proportional representation its policy, both federally and provincially, so here again is an opportunity for the NDP to show that Alberta is a progressive place and become the first jurisdiction in Canada to introduce PR – and catch up to most of the modern democracies in the rest of the world (85% of OECD countries use PR). In a poll conducted for LeadNow and Fair Vote Canada in 2013, 70% of Canadians were reported to be in favour of PR. All the many commissions conducted over recent years have recommended PR as the new, right way to go. (See Wilf Day’s blog post here). It hasn’t been adopted because politicians in power have obfuscated and rejected change; the system that got them into power is just fine for them! We mustn’t let the NDP adopt that position. Now is the time to initiate this change in Alberta. There are four years ahead of us to assess and design a system which would be used in 2019.
The Calgary Herald called for letters advising the (at that time unknown) Premier what should be task #1 after the election. My letter said:
• Imagine a legislature which reflected the members that Albertans voted for and wanted to see there!
• Imagine not having to vote strategically to ensure someone you didn’t want was elected, to be sure someone you really didn’t want was defeated.
• Imagine an electoral system where every vote counted to electing a legislature member.
• Imagine a legislature where the membership reflected the popular vote.
• Imagine a legislature where debate was collegial, not adversarial, in the best interest of all Albertans.
• Imagine, and work for, a proportional representation electoral system;
• Make 2015 the last unfair election.
It is up to Albertans to make sure their MLAs know our priorities and pressure them now to introduce this up to date electoral system.