Saturday, May 7, 2011

The death of AV in Britain and its implications for Canada

   It is already clear that in the referendum in Britain the proposed alternative vote (AV) system has been decisively defeated. The latest figures I saw were 69% no and only 31% yes. It is abundantly clear that an overwhelming majority of British voters prefer the existing  first-past-the-post (FPTP) system. This system prevails in large parts of the English-speaking world, with notable exceptions such as Australia.
   AV is a system whereby voters list the candidates in order of preference: 1, 2, 3. When the votes are counted and no candidate receives 50%, then the bottom candidate drops out and his or her second choice votes are distributed among the other candidates according to preference. If necessary, other candidates are dropped and their third or fourth choices are distributed. This process continues until one candidate gets the required 50%. There are variations, but this is basically how AV operates.
   In most countries of the world some variation of proportional representation (PR) prevails. AV can be viewed as a variation of  PR, although AV too has limitations depending on the form that is selected. I don't want to debate the merits of these various systems in today's posting. I do want to note, however, that the defeat of AV in Britain will make it even more difficult for countries like Canada to introduce some form of proportional representation in the near future.
   Canada has historically often followed Britain in parliamentary affairs. The victory of AV in Britain would certainly have stimulated a  similar debate in Canada, but that debate now seems increasingly unlikely. The results of the recent election in Canada suggest that the Conservatives, who finally gained their much coveted majority, would be very reluctant at present to change the current FPTP electoral system.
    Although the final figures are still not finalized, pending some judicial recounts, on May 5, the Conservatives  won 167 seats, the NDP took 104, and the Liberals ended up with only 34. Percentage wise, these parties got approximately 40%, 30%, and 19%, respectively, of the votes cast. But in terms of the number of seats that were awarded, each party received about 54%, 33%, and 11%, respectively.
   Since the Conservatives won a majority with only 40% of the popular vote, which is much more than they would under a PR system. Thus there is little to motivate them to scrap the FPTP electoral system. The NDP earned a few more seats than they would have under PR, while the Liberals were cheated out of some seats they might have won under PR  Admittedly, all these figures are based on the national vote, but they do suggest which parties would or would not support PR, based solely on these results.
   Which system is fairer: FPTP or PR? Under PR, the Conservatives would still have had a plurality and been able to form the government. But then, the NDP and Liberals might later have formed a government through a coalition, which was a dirty word to Prime Minister Harper during this campaign. Now we will never know. Canadians can now expect at least four years of a Conservative majority government that 60% of the voters rejected. That does not seem fair to me.
   I would like to see a PR electoral system in Canada. If this were adopted, the final choice of a PR system may end up looking somewhat like the mixed system that Germany has. Commentators have remarked that Canadians wanted a majority government this time. That may be, but the issue of PR will not go away entirely. The death of AV in Britain has dimmed the PR flame in Canada a little, but it will not extinguish that flame completely. Sooner or later Canadians will have to debate this issue.
   Canadians, do you want PR or not? Speak up and let your voice be heard!

No comments:

Post a Comment