Tories Sweep By-Elections – Oh, Really?
So, we had four provincial legislature by-elections on Monday 27 October 2014 and according to the Calgary Herald and most other media, ‘Tories sweep byelections’. However if you carefully examine the count and turnout – that’s a good headline but not entirely accurate.
According to the Calgary Sun, “Interest at the ballot boxes in the three Calgary and one Edmonton riding ranged from about 35% to 40%. The highest turnout was in Edmonton-Whitemud, with 40% of eligible voters taking part”. So the sweeper had less than half the bristles in the broom, and only about one-third in Calgary; not a very effective sweeping tool.
Only in Calgary-Foothills, where Progressive Conservative Jim Prentice took 58% of the vote, could anyone legitimately claim anything approaching a ‘sweep’. The other 42% of the vote was scattered among six other candidates and ‘wasted’ in that those votes didn’t help to elect anyone.
In Calgary-Elbow, PC Gordon Dirks took only 33% of the vote and was declared elected (with a false majority) and two thirds of the votes were wasted.
In Calgary-West only 2% separated the PC and Wildrose candidates at 44% and 42% respectively; even so, 56% of the votes were wasted and the PC candidate was elected with a false majority.
In Edmonton-Whitemud, PC Stephen Mandel was elected with only 42% of the vote, giving him a false majority and leaving 58% of the (wasted) votes split between the Green, Liberal, NDP and Wildrose parties.
In summary, 44% of the people who did vote elected 100% of the four new members of the legislature, perpetuating the distorted results of the 2012 general election.
The irony is that if there were an effective, well designed proportional representation (PR) system in place, the by-elections would have been unnecessary and we could have saved a lot of time and tax-payers’ money. Electoral System Design: The New International IDEA Handbook* at paragraph 218 suggests that –
“If a seat becomes vacant between elections, List PR systems often simply fill it with the next candidate on the list of the party of the former representative, thus eliminating the need to hold another election”.
Assuming the PC party would have modified its list so that its preferred candidates were at the top, Jim Prentice, Stephen Mandel and Gordon Dirks would have been saved the cost, wasted time and embarrassment of having to persuade the voters to give them a seat. The fourth vacancy might or might not have been filled with the new candidate in Calgary West.
An effective PR system would have elected a legislature in 2012 that reflected the popular vote at that time. That legislature could have continued to the next general election in 2016. The present vote shows that no change occurred in the by-elections, so presumably the voters in those electoral districts are reasonably happy with the present situation – except that democracy is not served when a majority of the votes are wasted, and do not help to elect anyone.
One can speculate how the electorate might have acted in a general election under PR — less strategic voting, a better turnout knowing that almost every vote would count toward electing a member of the legislature, greater participation by marginalised voters — might well have produced a different result and certainly a more balanced and effective legislature.
So how do we get from First Past the Post to Proportional Representation? Keep on demanding change from your member of the legislature, pointing out that being in power or in the legislature means representing all the people of an electoral district and Alberta – not just the minority who cast so-called ‘winning’ ballots in the legislative horse race to be First Past the Post.
It is time to make 2016 the last unfair election in Alberta! Demand Proportional Representation!
* IDEA – International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, ISBN1-85391-18-2, http://www.idea.int/