Calgary Centre By-election. Calgarians Will Get What They Don’t Want

On November 26th Calgary Centre will have their much discussed federal by-election. From all of the recent polling and discussion in the press, it appears that the result will be clear. We need a new electoral system. All of the talk is about the surprisingly tight race developing in Calgary Centre. A Conservative stronghold for more than forty years, current polling has the Conservatives just barely ahead, with 35 percent of the vote. The Liberals are polling at a close second with 30% of the vote, the Greens with 23%, and the NDP with 12%.

Most pundits agree that the Conservatives will likely pull off the win, and there is much discussion that perhaps this race will serve to unite the left. This is a sensible argument if we continue to keep overlooking the elephant in the room. We have a ridiculous system of electing representatives. The Conservatives can win in this riding even if 65% of voters want anyone but Conservatives governing them. It seems like a remarkably small minded view to suggest that the solution to this is to combine all of the progressive parties so that they don’t split the vote. What the Liberals, NDP, and the Greens share in common is a very different worldview from that of the Conservatives. A worldview shared by the vast majority of Canadians. But they are very distinct parties, and Canadians are fortunate in being offered very different choices for who they want to govern them. It’s just that, tragically, we have no way of effectively voting for these choices. The obvious solution isn’t to give Canadians less choice, it is to make their votes reflect their choices. A simple system of ranking parties instead of voting for only one would be much fairer, but there are many possible solutions.

It is also important to note that this isn’t just a solution for the so called left to solve the current problem. It is an ongoing problem in Canada. The entire governing of Canada over the last twenty years has been badly distorted and unrepresentative because of our unjust electoral system. In the 1993 Federal election, the Progressive Conservatives went from a majority government with 169 seats, to winning only 2, despite the fact that they received 16% of the popular vote. The quite new Reform Party received about the same amount of the popular vote (18%) but went overnight from zero seats to 52 seats. We all know what came of that. The same arguments were made about uniting the right to avoid splitting the vote, and the Progressive Conservatives were essentially taken over by the Reform party and now cease to exist. Those Canadians who believe in the values of the Progressive Conservative Party have had no representation since that time.

The solution to vote splitting is not to limit our choices, it is to reform our electoral system so that we can effectively vote for those choices.