No small wins in supersizing

By Licia Corbella
Published November 24th 2004 in Calgary Sun

If supersizing is food porn then the first-past-the-post system is electoral porn.

Supersizing at a fast-food restaurant means that for just pennies more you get exponentially more fries and artery-clogging transfats. That's what happens electorally in Canada. A few extra points of the popular vote and watch the exponential jump in seats blocking out real debate and representation in the process.

Consider this: On Monday, the reigning Tories won three-quarters of the available seats with less than half of the popular vote?

For the second time in 11 years and four mandates, Ralph Klein did not win a real majority government.

Sure he has won the majority of the seats in the legislature, but his majority is a phony one and points to the need for electoral reform as much in Alberta as federally.

The Progressive Conservative Party won just 47% of the popular vote Monday, but garnered 61, or 73% of the 83 available seats in the legislature, thanks to our first-past-the-post electoral system, which dates back as far as the 11th century.

In other words, Klein's government got supersized.

This has happened federally ever since 1984 when Brian Mulroney won the last real majority government federally.

I have been carping about Jean Chretien's record of phony majority governments for years now and while I find a Klein phony majority less painful -- a lot less painful -- on principle it should cause angst to all fair-minded people who believe in democracy.

"Voters are the loser when a party can form a majority government with a minority of votes," said Alfredo Louro, the Calgary spokesman for Fair Vote Alberta, a non-profit organization committed to advocating for electoral reform.

"The fundamental bedrock of democracy is not only one person one vote, but that the election outcome should fairly reflect voters' choices. Alberta's 2004 provincial election fails this democratic test," says Louro.

Fair Vote Alberta crunched the numbers and found that while the winning party has been over-rewarded for its election performance, all the other parties were under-rewarded.

The Alberta Liberals pulled in 29% of the popular vote, but won just 17, or 20%, of the seats, when they should have 24 seats if a pure proportional representation system was in place.

It gets worse as you go down the line. The NDP garnered 10% of the popular vote, but got just 5%, or four seats.

The Alberta Alliance Party was blocked out completely by the fatty sludge that is our electoral system. It won 9% of the popular vote but got just one seat instead of eight.

The Green Party got 3% of the popular vote and won no seats, though in a fairer system could have won two and a small voice in the Alberta legislature.

Harvey Voogd, the head volunteer with Fair Vote Alberta and a walking, talking encyclopedia on electoral systems, says while these numbers are a "text-book" example of the distortions wrought by our antiquated election system he is nevertheless very encouraged by this election.

"The good news is four of the Opposition parties, the Alliance, the Greens, the Liberals and the New Democrats, made a point of saying in this election that they supported not only electoral reform but our push for a citizens' assembly for electoral reform," said Voogd yesterday.

Voogd points out that five of Canada's 10 provinces are either fully committed or are seriously looking at setting up citizens' assemblies into electoral reform, like British Columbia, which will hold a referendum on May 17 to either accept or reject the assembly's recommendations for a preferential ballot system.

Albertans -- including Klein and Co. -- have long been carping about Senate reform but remain silent about the kind of reform they have direct control over.

There's something greasy and unhealthy about that isn't there?