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I'm curious about the impact of voter turnout on these figures. If voter turnout is significantly higher or lower than the non-cut-off ridings, that should change how much each vote was "worth" in that particular election.

Attempting to link a couple of the many electoral inequalities to racism is idiotic.

That's not how I read the post, Robert. Presumably the effects on race are simply a by-product of the delay in adjusting ridings to population. People disagree on whether it is correct to call such by-product effects "racist". But this is done.

Mike, if you ever wondered what the hidden agenda behind the elimination of the long-form census was - wonder no longer. It will be impossible to do this kind of analysis with the new national household survey, because there is no way for correcting for differential response rates across ethnic groups.

The phenomenon you describe is basically a product of underrepresentation of cities, especially rapidly growing cities, and the concentration of said ethnic groups in those cities.

Aboriginal voters are probably overrepresented, by these same criteria.

The traditional argument has always been "you can't equalize number of voters per riding between urban and rural seats because then the rural seats would cover such a huge land area that effective representation would be impossible." How would you respond to that?

This is really just an application of the urban/rural split, which should be done away with. And I'm not sure, but it looks to me like these minority-heavy ridings might actually be better represented than the average urban riding.

In a time when you might have to ride a horse for multiple days to visit your MP, keeping a riding physically small might have had some merit. But in an age where you can pick up the phone or send an email, there's no reason for it.

Nick, he explicitly calls it institutional racism, "...how much instutional racism is acceptable?"

There must be some legal recourse to fight this injustice, right? Please?

A Charter ruling or something? Anyone?

Mike, you should measure your words when talking about racism. I take exception with your simplistic characterization of the option of giving Quebec more seats as deepening "racism". Politics is more complex than this and so are electoral systems.

Just watch "John A." and you'll get a sense of what I'm talking about.

It seems to be a little known feature of the U.S. system that, at one point, the U.S. Supreme Court said all districts had to have equal populations, some time in the '60s, I think. Some states (no prizes for guessing which ones) threatened secession over it, but it's now an accepted part of the system.

Perhaps something similar is needed for Canada, to get rid of the "ruralist" bias that produces this racial inequity. It does seem a bit provocative to call it racism, though.

Institutional racism exists, even if it is inadvertent. As I mention here: "Given the other tensions the electoral system needs to consider", I don't think full equality is necessary. But how far is too far? Does anyone want to tackle that question?

"The traditional argument has always been "you can't equalize number of voters per riding between urban and rural seats because then the rural seats would cover such a huge land area that effective representation would be impossible." How would you respond to that?"

Get rid of "one member one vote". If you represent half as many people, your vote should be worth half as much.

Definition of institutional racism:

"Institutional racism describes any kind of system of inequality based on race. It can occur in institutions such as public government bodies, private business corporations (such as media outlets), and universities (public and private). The term was coined by Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael in the late 1960s.[1] The definition given by William Macpherson within the report looking into the death of Stephen Lawrence was “the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin”.1"

The phenomenon I describe in this post certainly fits.

Or this:

Definition: The term "institutional racism" describes societal patterns that have the net effect of imposing oppressive or otherwise negative conditions against identifiable groups on the basis of race or ethnicity.

The term was coined by Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) at some point during the late 1960s.

Carmichael felt that it was important to distinguish personal bias, which has specific effects and can be identified and corrected relatively easily, with institutional bias, which is generally long-term and grounded more in inertia than in intent.

(Emphasis added)

This has been previously documented in Sujit Choudhry's work; see for example http://www.irpp.org/choices/archive/vol13no1.pdf or http://www.scribd.com/doc/20191510/2007-report-on-vote-distribution

Mike, i don't think any of your quotes undermine what I said. Injustice, short or long term, is in the eye of the beholder.

Any of you who seriously think this is not a social injustice are completely deluded and lack moral courage.

It's not enough to chalk it up to complex politics and/or electoral systems. Give me a break.

Mike "Get rid of "one member one vote". If you represent half as many people, your vote should be worth half as much."

Given your Green politics, I guessed that was where you were going with this.

Proportional representation means that coalitions form post-election, rather than pre-election. And that can lead to small groups having grossly disproportionate say in policy choices also (see, e.g., Israel). Also it influences who ends up running for, and getting elected to, office. Though some Green-ites I know figure the Irish model is a good one.

This topic on racism entice me to experiment with your methodology on the 14 ridings where 20% or more of the population is "aboriginal". I believe that the discussion would be quite different...

You don't need PR. I meant literally that the member for Brampton West gets 1.7 votes because he/she represents 1.7 times as many people than the average.

Frances, forget about proportional representation a la popular vote. That has its cons as you say, for sure.

Insisting ridings have equal populations has nothing to do with that.

Your definition of institutional racism is irrelevant, Mike. You've failed utterly to make the case that it exists. Just to begin with, where is your control group?

RE: Aboriginal. I'm kind of curious about the numbers myself - I think I'll calculate them.

Robert: You'd expect that the numbers would be "1" if it did not exist. But you don't like those numbers? I'll post more.

Great news! An marginal inequality of outcomes does not automagically prove racism! I know, I know, you're a blogger and merely inviting commentary by using torqued up language; still, it's a bit much.

I would have gone: "While Canada's electoral system obviously does not intentionally under-represent some groups, it unfortunately has that effect to a marginal degree." Racism is a big, big, grownup word, not to be casually tossed around like a frisbee, especially by an esteemed and accomplished academic such as yourself.

This, especially: "how much instutional racism is acceptable?" just reeks of flamebait. If you want to see some explicitly and intentionally racial gerrymandering then look to the USA, where the courts have forced legislatures to create "minority majority" districts so the votes of minorities aren't diluted by the majority (among other reasons); see for example en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering#United_States and especially en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering#Voting_Rights_Act_of_1965

It should also be noted for context that quite a few countries simply do not let immigrants (at least those who retain dual citizenship) vote: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_of_foreigners_to_vote

I agree that this effect is a consequence of the bias toward rural over-representation. This problem should be fixed, but I don't believe it is a racial issue.

Start off with the QC riding of Montcalm, Mike. It's what you'd call a white riding and has a pop of 122k. Add 12 similar ridings to the dataset and you'd find the same sort of "institutional racism" against white people. The point is, you could pluck 13 ridings out the list that make a similar case for discrimination against any group identified on the census.

"Start off with the QC riding of Montcalm, Mike. It's what you'd call a white riding and has a pop of 122k. Add 12 similar ridings to the dataset and you'd find the same sort of "institutional racism" against white people. The point is, you could pluck 13 ridings out the list that make a similar case for discrimination against any group identified on the census."

Except that's not what I did, Robert. I picked the Top 13 ridings based on percentage. I didn't cherry pick ridings.

Posting more data now.

There.. a more robust measure added, which shows pretty similar results.

Concur with those who say this has nothing to do with institutional racism - even (or especially) according to the definitions you cite (e.g. "the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin"). A poll tax would be an example because it was intended to take advantage of black people being poor.

This is merely a statistical relationship that, while it is real, is not institutional racism. Each individual is equal to another (by race anyway). If urban ridings were gerrymandered to group visible minorities into larger ridings than urban whites, you'd have a case. But just saying that statistically, ridings that have more minorities have larger populations doesn't prove anything. You could play that game indefinitely unless all ridings have same #. Inequity and racism/discrimination not same thing.

Of course, in a FPP system, a large fraction of the pop's votes have no effect in any case - but that's a whole other kettle of fish.

Bigger question: what does this have to with economics???

Before anyone else starts shouting about "moral courage" and other cheap shame-based rhetoric, I would like to suggest that this is no big deal.

Measuring (or opining on) justice in a country by measuring seat allocations based on racial compositions seems useless. To accept the urgency of this is to assume that everyone votes, that everyone who votes is reasonably well-informed, that politicians represent themselves accurately and should be expected to implement all policies, and that the policies are developed in good faith. Where is the evidence of this?

When a party wins an election, it is not a public victory. It is a private victory for a private organization, its members, and its financial supporters and political allies. What is the Solyndra scandal? How did Doug Finley end up in the Senate? As for the relationship between electoral rhetoric and political outcomes, go to Berkeley or Chicago and ask all those Obama supporters how they got to be such backers of corporate welfare, war in Libya and Afghanistan, tax breaks for the rich, and subsidies for private health insurance companies.

So there are politics about seat distribution--big deal. Whether it is institutional racism or not seems immaterial to me. I (who am technically "Chinese") haven't voted for 11 years and the world of government doesn't look too different. What I see is people taking money from people and handing it over to their friends, and a dearth of good policy whatever the party.

Mike, I do not mean to mock your post--I appreciate that you would want to shed light on these kinds of institutional issues, and I always read your posts with interest. However, I feel strongly that this is a minor outcome. Ethnic minorities would be best served by living in a country where their safety and basic rights were secure (and they mostly are), rather than additionally living in a country where all kinds of groups were contesting for disproportionate power over others.

"If urban ridings were gerrymandered to group visible minorities into larger ridings than urban whites, you'd have a case."

Institutional racism does *not* have to be intentional to exist.

For those of you saying "this isn't a problem" - how large does the disparity get before it becomes a problem? Curious that *no one* has tackled that issue.

"Aboriginal" Ridings

Avg. Population of a "Black" Ridings: 64,542
Avg. Population of a "Non-Black" Ridings: 103,322
Value of a Vote in a "Aboriginal" Riding vs. a "Non-Aboriginal" Riding: 160%

Somewhat a problem of "too much geography, and too little history..."

Messed up the Copy/paste...

"Aboriginal" Ridings

Avg. Population of a "Aboriginal" Ridings: 64,542
Avg. Population of a "Non-Aboriginal" Ridings: 103,322
Value of a Vote in a "Aboriginal" Riding vs. a "Non-Aboriginal" Riding: 160%

Somewhat a problem of "too much geography, and too little history..."

I'll start by answering my own question - A vote value of under 95% should be worrying and anything under 90% should be unacceptable in a free and democratic society.

I see that you have already corrected your "West Asian" to "South Asian". I was going to point that out.

I would like to point out that some ridings cross over in your samples. Scarborough - Rouge River, for example, shows up in all three. It's the riding with the highest rate of visible minorities in Canada.

Wouldn't it be more reasonable to calculate based on visible minority status?

Third, why are you calculating based on population rather than electors? Wouldn't that make more sense, since you are counting votes?

I agree that is post is flamebait that isn't designed to elevate the discussion, and thus unworthy of WCI. I won't get into another flamewar here, the last one didn't end well. And I certainly won't answer to anybody saying that I "lack moral courage".

All I want to say is that there are a number of historic reasons why we have a suboptimal electoral system, and you just can't calculate them away. Urban under-representation is one of the problems, and it might account for a large share of Mike's "institutional racism" (but maybe not all). Had the Charlottetown accord been accepted, Quebec would be entitled to a quarter of the seats (its share has already fallen below that). I don't know about the situation of aboriginals, but I wouldn't be surprised their share is not exactly equal to their weight.

Now is it fair? Perhaps there is a better way, but you'll have to be more convincing and careful to win me over.

This is a well understood problem within the fair voting community. Mike has the effects nailed.

It is hard to solve with First Past The Post (FPTP). Pace Neil, the northern ridings have much worse infrastructure than southern ones, lack of telephones, let alone internet.

Proportional representation does address this issue. With a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system northern ridings could be smaller but the region would have fewer regional seats.

Israel has political problems because it is Israel, not because it has proportional representation. A much better comparison is New Zealand, which converted from FPTP to MMP and is far happier as a result.

@Frances in what way does PR negatively affect who runs?

@Sina If you don't like this effect and you don't like PR how do you propose to fix it?

Marion: Good catch! I used the West Asian census definition for the first one, and the South Asian one for the update. Hadn't realized I had done so. Will update again and use both in update.

As per final question: Data availability.

I was using "Institutional Racism" in the sense that it's used in the social sciences. It's a term in the literature. But I see it's making people uncomfortable, which was not at all my intent. Will change to something else - any suggestions?

It's not intentional racism; it's a byproduct of the fact that immigrants largely choose to settle in big cities and the fact that we guarantee seats to smaller provinces out of proportion to their population.

We have the Senatorial Clause (1915) that means a province must have at least one more Commons seat than it does Senators, and the Grandfather Clause (1985 that means no province can have fewer seats in total than it did in the 33rd Parliament in 1976.

If we had pure rep-by-pop Prince Edward Island would only have one seat.

The root problem is Canada has always been unbalanced in terms of population since Ontario is so big and Quebec is not far behind. We might try to work something out with the Senate but we can't agree on that.

Further in a Westminster system with the Confidence Convention it is disastrous for the Upper House to block to Lower House for any extended period of time or for a money bill. When the Senate blocked th eGST in 1990 Mulroney had to activate Section 24 of the Constitution Act, 1867. This allows the government to appoint eight extra senators. It can only be done by the Sovereign directly, it is the one thing the Governor General can't do. Mulroney had to call the Queen at Balmoral to do it.

In Britain the the Lords block the Commons in 1910 over the budget it led to the Parliament Act, 1911 which gutted the Lords veto. In Australia in 1975 when their Senate blocked supply it led to the dismissal of the Whitlam government.

We aren't the United States. A Senate blockade of the House always leads to fireworks in Westminster systems.

And Guillaumne is right that John A., which I saw last night is a terrific movie. But the old Province of Canada was utterly dysfunctional and the new Government of Canada, Ontario and Quebec all moved to pure rep-by-pop after Confederation.

Marion: "Third, why are you calculating based on population rather than electors? Wouldn't that make more sense, since you are counting votes?"

Hmmm. That is a good point. Even accepting Mike's response about data. If vismin is correlated strongly enough with either: percentage of population who are under 18; percentage of population who are not citizens, it might mean there's no effect.

I'm dredging my memory, but I think the Star published a long piece on this. The effect is real.

I'm curious too how controlling for those things would change the figures. Not enough of a data ninja to be able to implement those controls.

And yeah, I agree with Determinant. I would not make any kind of claim of intent.

It's difficult to maintain a positive "thought experiment" without getting into the normative when words like "racism" are so full of history. I'd use under-representation, as was used in the article "Visible Minorities and Under-Representation: The Views of Candidates" published in Dec. 2006 in Electoral Insight (elections.ca)

That doesn't mean that any statistical relationship that shows any disparity between ethnic groups is institutional racism. Think about it: if you can find a statistic showing that vis min have lower voter turnout than whites (which prob is the case), does that mean our system of voting for leaders is institutional racism? In fact, I think that a non-mandatory voting system does impact different groups differently - but it's not institutional racism.

No one has tackled it because there's no prospect of the problem increasing substantially - at worst, it would reflect the urban/rural numbers. But in any case, using it as an argument for anything other than changing distribution of urban/rural seats would be pointless.

Pierre-Yves. I like that - will make the change. Next we'll have to convince the sociologists to change their terminology.

Neil raises an interesting point, I'd expect that the "minority" ridings (at least for the three minority groups you discuss) would also have a higher proportion of non-citizens than average (they are, after all, generally the fastest growing ridings and at least some of that growth comes from immigration). Since non-citizens don't get a vote, it may well be that the votes of citizens in those ridings are not as discounted as you might suggest.

For example of the 13 "Chinese" ridings, in all but one non-citizens make up more than 10% of the population (and in 7, they make up more than 15% - Scarborough-Agincourt has the highest percentage of non-residents in this group at 20.5%). In contrast, in the median Canadian riding "non-citizen" would only make up 3.1% of the population Moreover, just a casual glance at the list of ridings with large proportions of non-citizens suggests that they would include a number of the "South Asian" or "Black" ridings as well. On a voter-by-voter basis, arguably these ridings aren't under-represented (or aren't as under-represented).

Mind you, Canada's always had representation by population, not voter (although I know people from Quebec have broken out this argument recently as an excuse for getting more seats in the house). On the other hand, to the extent that an "under-represented" riding includes a large proportion of non-citizens, that does make me less sympathetic to the claims about under-representation. Ironically, that's a claim that parrots the arguments of the US Southern states for getting representation based on their total populations including the non-voting slave population (and, I suppose, for both north and south, the non-voting male and female populations, though presumably those would generally cancel out). Certainly, in that extreme case, it's easy to see why the argument is unsympathetic (why should people who can't vote be counted towards the representation of the people - and in the case of post-revolutionary US, the decided minority - who do?).

And, in practice, because we've always been a bit slow to change our riding boundaries and numbers of seats, we've probably defacto controlled for non-voters, by having a lag between when the population increases, and when the ridings are changed or added (i.e., to give time for new arrivals to become citizens. Although I doubt that has been a conscious objective, it may well have been the ultimate result.

Interesting discussion, and many thanks to Yves, Guillaume and Determinant for their words.

Since a few have pointed out the attraction of urban settings to immigrants (and this is about all Vis Min, not just new arrivals), I would suggest an alternate view. Personally, it doesn't worry me. But I would further add that the decisive and well-known benefits of urban habitation for minorities vastly outweigh the murky and very speculative "harm" some might infer from electoral under-representation. If disproportionately high representation of rural areas is politically unavoidable, then it seems like an excellent trade-off to me.

@Guillaume: Yes, let's de-flamebait this.

Wow.. looking at citizenship data is interesting. Don Valley East has 22.8% non-citizens. Interestingly enough it wasn't included in any of the 3 groups, as the "vis min" numbers are split between many different groups.

For a summary table of population and electors per riding (as well as voter turn out in the last election), see Table 11 on this page:


I'll let you guys play with the data.

"Personally, it doesn't worry me. But I would further add that the decisive and well-known benefits of urban habitation for minorities vastly outweigh the murky and very speculative "harm" some might infer from electoral under-representation."

I'd also add that one can be over/under represented in the house of commons without it materially affecting your effective representation in Ottawa. I mean, let's face it, PEI is badly over-represented in the house (and the Senate), but I don't think anyone is under the illusion that the PMO is taking its marching orders from voters in PEI. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't generally try to keep riding sizes from getting too out of whack, if for no other reason that maitaining the perception of fairness and the legitimacy of the house of commons, as well as ensuring that ridings are too big for their MPs to handle. Those are legitimate issues, but they aren't directly related to a riding's political "power".

On the subject of Black ridings, Canada's black community is really two communities. The one we think of are immigrants from the Caribbean and to a lesser extent Africa since the 1960's. The older community are the descendants of escaped slaves. The largest community of this kind is in Nova Scotia actually. There the Black community originated in escaped slaves who ere promised freedom by the British during the American Revolution in return for fighting for the Crown. After 1783 they were settled in Nova Scotia in places like Cole Harbour.

There is a smaller American slave refugee community in Ontario near Buxton around Chatham.

As a point of interest the TTC's corporate colours are those of the first Toronto cab company which was run by Thornton Blackburn, a former slave from Kentucky. His escape from jail in Detroit caused the first race riot there. An extradition back to Michigan was refused by Sir John Colborne, the Lieutenant-Governor who noted that a man cannot steal himself and this set a precedent in extradition law. A biography about him and his wife was the first slave biography published since the American Civil War.


Where is your condemnation of the US Senate as being one of the most racist institutiona on Earth - favouring Pacific Islanders through Hawaii over the Hispanic population of large states like California?

Can't we replace 'racism' with 'the House gives some weight to provincial lines and geography, further immigrants may have a preference to migrate to cities where they enjoy network benefits'?

@Frances in what way does PR negatively affect who runs?

FPTP people who run are people who are popular with the voters, i.e. good looking, charismatic, etc.

Any kind of system where candidates are chosen from party lists tends to favour people who are popular within the party. So, say, someone like [noted Canadian economist/policy analyst] Judith Maxwell who's an extraordinary networker, hard working plus a really nice person would do well in a system where candidates are chosen from party lists, but wouldn't do well in FPTP.

I don't know if the effects of PR are negative - PR tends to lead to higher levels of female representation, for example, because women get on party lists more often than they win FPTP contests.

Mike, I misinterpreted your "one member one vote" comment. I do agree with the general principle of equal numbers of voters across constituencies.

Andrew: Seriously?The next time I criticize a Canadian tax policy, are you going to exclaim, 'what about the United States?!?'

Given the title of the blog, I think it should be clear why I'm looking at Canada.


The problems of PR pale in comparison to the problems of FPTP. Given the combination of voter suppression (no enumeration, denigration of the state, attack ads, voter ID requirements) and swing riding focusing you get 15% of the population installing a government that does dumb things like the cancellation of the long form census.

Open lists would mitigate against the alleged problem of electing people from lists not popular with the voters.

Jim I take offence at your suggestion that voter ID requirements and registration are a form of vote suppression. I have worked as a Poll Clerk and Deputy Returning Officer in two federal elections.

Enumeration is carried out by Income Tax returns. You remember that little box that puts you on the National Register of Electors?

Canada allows same-day registration. I have done that personally for many people. If you don't have two pieces of ID you can be sworn in with a friend attesting to your identity. I have seen many people with incomplete voter information on voter's lists. Rural Addresses are a pain. Rural Route, Civic Address lot number or Street Number if 911 has been implemented. Pick one. When that happens you correct the information, it's no reason to deny someone the vote.

Vote Suppression? Canada bends over backwards to let people vote. I've administered the system.

"I don't know if the effects of PR are negative - PR tends to lead to higher levels of female representation, for example, because women get on party lists more often than they win FPTP contests."

A couple of points. First, in a number of PR coutries, the greater percentage of female represenatives in parliament (or whatever) is often more a function of either defacto or dejure quotas rather than PR, per se. So, for example, in Sweden (and 3 other nordic countries) the high level of female representation in parliament is a function of party level (though voluntary) quotas. Similarly, when advocates of PR state that Canada ranks behind countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan in the representation of woman, they ignore the point that in those country's woman's representation is parliament is a function of a contstitutional quota, not the magic of PR (indeed, the constitutional quota is neccesary because, absent it, a PR system would probably produce a male dominated, if not exclusively male, parliament).

Of course, it would be possible (albeit more difficult) to impose similar quota systems in a FPTP system, though I suspect that politically that would be a non-starter. In that respect the difference between a PR system and a FPTP system is that hte former makes quotas more politically palateable since no one has "their" representative, quotes don't cause voters to feel that their choice is denied.

The second point is that the link between electing woman and woman's representation in parliament is arguably a tenous one. Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan may have more woman in their respective legislatures than Canada, the US or the UK, but I'm pretty sure I know which countries I'd chose to live in if I were a woman.

Indeed, the 1994 US elections highlighted the crucial distinction between, for lack of a better phrase, "superficial" representation and "effective" representation. That election was significant for two reasons. First, it was the first time there was a particularly large number of gerrymandered districts formed along racial ridings, which ensured that the new congress would contain a record number of African American congressman, which it did. Second, the republicans won the house for the first time in 40 years. And the link between those two facts was that the gerrymandered "African American" districts ensured that the Democrats (and African Americans) won those ridings with hefty majorties, while the republicans won the 4 or 5 surrounding (and noticeably paler) districts which had been denuded of a large chunk of loyal democrats. The result was that African Americans were, superficially, better represented in the house, but effectively, were far worse represented than they had been.


I'm always struck by the sense that PR is a solution in search of a problem. In my view, the FPTP countries are not obviously less well governed than the PR countries. That's surely the litmus test of a any electoral system - does it produce "peace, order, and good government"? I mean, geeze, at a 144 years and counting, Canada has done alright for itself (certainly, it has survive longer than more than a handful of PR regimes which crashed and burned - Germany comes to mind, as does 3rd and 4th republic France). That puts a hefty onus on those advocating for a change to our electoral system.

Sure, one can point out absurdities in the FPTP system. One can equally point out absurdities in the PR system ("we're doing what because of a promise made to which party"?). The list of PR countries includes just as many parliamentary basket cases as the list of FPTP countries. It's fair to say, as you do, that Israel's PR system is a mess because Israel is Israel, but just as Canada isn't Israel, it also isn't New Zealand. Perhaps its my inate conservatism, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

As probably the only PEI resident who comments on this board, I feel I should say something, and that would be to echo what Determinant said, that this is not primarily a racial thing, only secondarily a rural/urban thing, and primarily the result of the fact that Canada is a federation. Federations by their very nature imply or require a compromise between the principle of rep by pop and representation of regional interests. Unlike most federations our half assed adaptation of the Westminster model has meant that the Senate, which is nominally the house of representation for the regions or provinces, is impotent enough that we have had to compromise the rep by pop principle in the Commons to ensure them some degree of power. If we had a Senate of the structure and power the US Senate has (which would see PEI represented equally with Ontario, as Rhode Island is with California) I'd gladly give up our extra seats in the House of Commons. It's unfortunate that our newer immigrants tend to concentrate in provinces where regional considerations mean fewer seats per voter, but I don't think its in any way the motivation for that outcome.

Jim Sentance:

But we've never had equal representation for provinces in the Senate. Ever. Further as I said in Westminster systems the upper house's veto is a ticking time bomb. Britain dealt with it by abolishing the veto entirely. Australia has a joint sitting procedure available if the House and Senate disagree though it didn't work in 1975.

I rather think our constitutional debates take too little notice of Australia.

Well, electoral systems are a large can of worms that won't be settled in the comments to an ecomomics blog. But here goes anyway.

@Determinant In Canada the ID and lack of enumeration are minor parts of voter suppression, mostly for marginalized populations that don't need much suppression anyway. To be clear, the people who run the system are not part of that problem.

@Bob Smith

Are you really suggesting that Germany would have been better off with a Nazi majority in the Reichstag? It wasn't PR that caused that problem.

From my point of view the evidence since then is pretty clear that PR produces better governments. The Scandinavian countries are the current poster children for good social results. PR has been critical to that success. The Thatcher/Reagan wave washed up on their shore but the right wing governments elected were not able to trash the system because they couldn't get enough people to go along with it.

If you want to be explicit in supporting the status quo with a bias towards the upper echelons in society then FPTP is the way to go. But if you think everybody's vote should have the same power then PR is the only game in town.

Jim, that is wrong. It is not vote suppression. I have bent over backwards to let people vote, explain what I need from them and administer legal oaths to make it work.

Here are the ID requirements: http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=vot&dir=ids&document=index&lang=e

You need to prove your identity and address. At minimum that means a friend who knows you and lives in your riding and a piece of mail with your name and address on it. Utility bills are great.

It is legally possible to register a homeless person to vote and in fact this is done. You need a person who knows where they habitually sleep to vouch for them.

Lack of enumeration is also not vote suppression. Same-day registration at the poll is legal, regular and frequently used in Canada.

If you walk in to a poll with a utility bill or some sort of official mail and friend you vouch for you, you will be registered in five minutes and have your ballot in hand in six. Elections Canada even hires dedicated Registration Officers in polls known to have frequent Voter's List amendments. Their sole job is to register people who walk into polls on the spot.

This is not the United States. We have clear, concise and easy rules to follow. We have poll staff who bend over backwards to make those rules work. Elections Canada's training manuals are exemplary. Under the Charter of Rights & Freedoms Canadians have an express right to vote; the law and the poll staff make that happen.

The system we use really is that good. When counting ballots everything is double-entered and counter-checked. The reason vote fraud is so rare in Canada is that the system is entirely geared to eliminating it. If something is amiss a DRO will know about it shortly and it will be documented in the Poll Book.

Getting people to actually have the will to go the polls is the job of politicians.

If the system is that good why did they recently tighten the rules?

Can’t help but feel all this talk about PR v FPTP, and voter suppression is a bit self-indulgent. Democracy ‘works’ in countries like Canada. Changing some institutional characteristics may ‘improve’ things but the low hanging fruit was picked long ago. It’s clear from examples in the third world the ‘form’ of democracy isn't going to matter a fig if the norm or ‘culture’ to resolve differing interests through the ballot box (rather than via AK-47) exists. The really interesting question is why does Canada have this democratic ’norm’ equilibrium and some other countries don’t.

I honestly never woulda thought that there would be so much objection to the simple democratic principle of one person, one vote.

Seat distribution is not supposed to be a political issue. Representation by population is supposed to be a democratic axiom.

Advocating that Quebec, or whoever, should receive more seats because of whatever political, cultural, language, equal partner status or other reason you can think of while other provinces with growing urban centres are grossly under-represented is just ludicrous and deserves to be called out as so.

It doesn't matter if the constituents in under-represented ridings are visible minorities or not. Call these under-represented voters Type A. The current distribution is a huge social injustice to Type A's.

The fact that Type A's happen to be biased to visible minorities adds to the institutionalization of racism, whether it is intentional or not. And it deserves to be denounced as such and not trivialized.

The same argument could be made between Urban and non-urban riding. Facts remain that most ethinic minorities live in cities, and urban ridings have larger population.

Suggestions for future blog posts:

"Does Canada's Electoral System Under-Represent people who bike to work?"
"Does Canada's Electoral System Under-Represent investment bankers?"
"Does Canada's Electoral System Under-Represent people who live in apartments?"


Ha! Thanks for bringing levity into this thread, Simon.

Given that the mill rate on apartments in Toronto is 3 times the rate on owner occupied dwellings, the last one might be a very useful analysis.

@DavidN I think "better than Zimbabwe" is a low standard for political effectiveness. We can do better. One way of doing better is PR.


Because our voting system is run by auditors who want everything provable and documented. The gold standard never changed: Driver's Licence. The list of available secondary ID was tightened. We need to be able to relate a face to a name and a name to an address. Under previous rules the face to a name part was weak.

Plus vouching has always been there. Nobody knows about it except elections staff but it works.

Further every province has rolled out a Provincial ID card. It is a driver's license without the permit to drive. I dearly wished Ontario had them in time for the last federal election but we are offering them now. That is the only card you need to vote and for practical purposes of dealing with any government institution every adult should have one.

The absolute best thing any political party could do for its "Get out the Vote" drive is to make sure that it's members and supporters have a valid Driver's Licence or Provincial ID card in time for election day. Hand it in and you'll have your ballot in two minutes and be out in five.

"Are you really suggesting that Germany would have been better off with a Nazi majority in the Reichstag? It wasn't PR that caused that problem."

No, what I am suggesting is that PR tends to allow (and encourage) the development of extremist political parties of all sorts (and the prevelance of extremists political parties of all stripes in the parliaments, and even in the governing coalitions, of PR countries is well documented). In FPTP systems, political extremism (and I'm talking real political extremist, not the faux extremism of the "Stephen Harper is a facist"/"Jack Layton is a communist" crowds) is fatal to electoral success - extremist parties just can't get their foot in the door.

And while it's fine to say, that PR is better because the Scandianavian countries are better governed (a debatable proposition, certainly if your criteria is that they're nice social democracies, and even if true, query to what extent that is a function of electoral system rather than underlying social factors), that's no more compelling than the suggestion that PR is worse than the FPTP system because Israel, Greece, Italy and Spain are basketcases. It's easy to cherry pick successful/unsuccessful examples of different political systems. But take a look throught a list of contries by electoral system and it's hard to say that one list is unambiguously better governed than the other.

Moreover, I'm unimpressed by "everyone's vote should have the same power" argument. That strikes me a fetish of the "fair vote" types, and not a meaningful one. Whether it's a PR or FPTP system the reality is that every individual vote has the exact same "power", i.e., none in all but the marginal case (winning a riding by 1 vote in a FPTP, or causing a party to be allocated 1 more seat in a PR system). Similarly, the claim that FPTP system somehow benefits powerful elites is an amusing, if unfounded, claim (I suppose, in Canada, we can accept that the powerful elites live primarily in northern Canada and the maritimes?). Indeed, one of the criticism of PR systems (which even defenders of PR will acknowlege) is that many of them are in fact quite vulnerable to manipulation by powerful or sectarian interests(certainly that is the case in pure list systems).

In any event, unless advocates of PR can provide any compelling evidence that Canada would be better governed under some variety of a PR system, I don't see their propoals getting any traction with Canadians

A government getting a majority after being found in contempt of parliament strikes me as pretty compelling evidence for a change.

Spain is not a political basket case, it's problems are pretty much entirely the result of using the Euro.

FPTP does not amplify the power of elites by over representing the northern ridings, it does it by making elections easier to manipulate by creating knife edge conditions for majorities. Do you really want to claim that Canada is a vastly different place because of the change in results of the last 2 elections?

SimonC ""Does Canada's Electoral System Under-Represent people who bike to work?"

Yes, brilliant suggestion!

I feel an overwhelming sense of grievance building up already...

Jim: You’re asking the wrong question. The question you should be asking is how many countries have a political system up to the standard of Canada?

Forgot to add. Jim have you got any reference to literature that says PR will produce better policies over FPTP?

Can I suggest a different methodology...

get a table for all 308 ridings showing the ethnic/raicual breakdown for each riding.

then in each riding, apportion that vote by the percent of that group in each riding - so if there are 10% black people in a riding, they get 10% of that commons seat.

add up all the numbers for each racial group across all ridings, then divide the total by 308 to get their effective representation in parliament - and comparte this against their percent of the national population.

FPTP and RP shift the fringe players in different places and it may have consequences.
RP is much smoother in capturing shifts in public opinion. It is easier to move from one cooalition partner to the next. There are less border effects.
Parties are big tents and are good machines for confusing the voters. Do the good communitarians in the Maritimes really understand that their moderate tory heart has been hijacked by people who despise them and their value?
Currently, the Harper gov't (there is no longer a Canadian one, I can't wait for the statue of the Dear Leader in the town square) has "a strong mandate" from less than 40% of the electorate and unlike Chrétien's 40% is on the fringe of the population values. It is in place thanks to 6200 votes in 14 ridings.

Determinant: happy to learn Colborne had something human in him. I know him as the "vieux brûlot" ( the old kindling) who shot, burn villages, burned alive people in the burning villages and hanged as much as he could get away with in 1837-1839.

Under RP ( presuming the votes would be the same) Harper would be the thrice rejected leader of a minority party,not the absolute dictator of a country where parliamentary rule is extinguished. (Bills presented in public asssembly instead of the House..). Under PR, the moderate Maritimes and Toronto Tories would be in a coalition with the Liberals and NDP with the tacit support of the Bloc.

Sina Motamedi: Sorry: the distribution of seats and voices in governing a polity is not arithmetics. It is politics. There is some compact where you apportion between the constituents. You can't let minority be drowned nor dominate. Upper Canada was perfectly comfortable in the two Canada having the same number of seats. Till they discovered they now were the majority and that RepbyPop was the ultimate in democracy. The smaller groups need guaranties the majority will not trample them. They need guarantees that newcomers will respect the original pact.
My college offer services in French,English and Innu, the thre group that had been here for the last 5 centuries. We do not offer anything in Italian or Portuguese. They must respect the original pact into which they bought williingly. Unless someone wants to behave like tha Americans in Mexico and Hawaï.

Bob Smith: as pointed by Jim Rootham, Spain was not a basket case...
HArper is definitely not a fascist. He doesn't crave the adulation of crowds, among other things. Like the neo-cons he is definitely a trotskyite.

@DavidN I would describe most of the continental western democracies as having better electoral institutions than Canada.

Also: from Fair Vote there is a summary of Arend Lijphart’s study: "Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries". Lijphart is the gold standard for research on democracy.

From the summary:

  • Lijphart cites a study on government-voter proximity which applied two measures
    to a series of nations. The first was the distance on a ten point left-right scale
    between the government position and position of the median voter. The second
    calculated the percentage of voters between the government position and the
    median citizen. “The smaller these two distances are,” notes Lijphart, “the more
    representative the government is of the citizens’ policy preferences.”
    Both distances are smaller in consensus democracies than majoritarian
    democracies, with correlations statistically significant at the 5 percent level.

  • “The general pattern discovered…was that in consensus democracies the
    differences between winners and losers were significantly smaller than in
    majoritarian democracies…the difference in satisfaction is more than 16
    percentage points smaller in the typical consensus than in the typical majoritarian
    democracy. The correlation is highly significant (at the 1 percent level).”

  • After applying two measures of economic disparity (based on comparing the
    income share of the top and bottom 20 percent of households, and comparing top
    and bottom deciles), Lijphart concluded consensus democracy is strongly related
    to lower levels of economic disparity.

  • While Lijphart’s assessment indicates supporters of consensus democracies
    cannot boast of economic superiority, neither can the supporters of majoritarian
    systems or critics of proportional representation. Lijphart emphasized “the most
    important conclusion is…majoritarian democracies [contrary to popular myth] are
    clearly not superior to consensus democracies in managing the economy…”

  • But an even better and perhaps less debatable measure of good environmental
    policy would be energy efficiency. Lijphart used the World Bank’s figures for GDP
    divided by total energy consumption for the years 1990 to 1994. “The correlation
    between consensus democracy and energy efficiency is extremely strong
    (significant at the 1 percent level) and unaffected by the introduction of level of
    development as a control variable.”

Jim: I’m sure I don’t need to add that correlation isn’t causation, but let’s suppose there are causal effects, are you saying PR is better than FPTP because it can lead to lower energy efficiency, possibly lower economic disparity, and closer representation to the median voter? If so, I stand by my comment that this debate is an indulgent exercise.

If only the voting mechanism was the main driver of welfare (however you want to define welfare) but clearly it’s not by any cursory observation, most of the third world comes to mind. As I’ve already stated, the gains from democratisation are already realised in countries like Canada. Unless you have more cogent references I doubt very much making cosmetic changes to voting mechanisms in countries with already well developed institutions will make things ‘better’.

*higher energy efficiency


We are apparently disagreeing over values. I value all of those things a lot. You apparently find no value in them.

You are also claiming perfection for Canada and like countries. This I also reject.

"Institutional racism does *not* have to be intentional to exist"

No - but it does have to be based on *race*, no? This is based on geography - the non-minority (or different minority) voters living in those ridings are equally under-represented, and the minority voters living in rural ridings are equally over-represented. If minority voters (in aggregate) are concerned, we should expect to see them moving to rural or suburban areas (or PEI) 'so their votes count' (granted, that's not much motivation).

Political parties tend to treat minority voters as if they will vote monolithically, and since they are the experts in how people vote and what motivates their vote, I will trust that their assessment is at least not a long way off. Given that, it may be that as a group minority voters have disproportionate voting influence.

@ JimRootham:
"A government getting a majority after being found in contempt of parliament strikes me as pretty compelling evidence for a change."

Really - I find it pretty compelling evidence the the Contempt of Parliament issues was a disingenuous bit of political theatre that a plurality of voters saw through. It is possible (and perhaps likely) that a majority of voters saw it as a sham so it didn't affect their votes, but they were not going to vote for the Tories anyway.

I am not sure that you can *prove* that either view is correct, so I conclude that this observation isn't "evidence" for very much, actually.

Say what???!!

You didn't pay attention to what the Speaker said did you?

Describing that as political theatre is a declaration of foolish ignorance.

dcardno: you mean 61% of voters against the Conservatives is a sham they saw through?

Jim: On the contrary, I may or may not support policies with respect to energy efficiency, economic equality, etc. on their merits and my values but trying to disguise policy preferences for improvements in democratic institutions is disingenuous. I would’ve thought debates about institutional quality/characteristics would be based on their merits on political stability and social cohesion as opposed to their propensity for certain policies. If you want to debate the merits of certain policies do so.

The first two points were based on government attitudes matching population attitudes and the degree of satisfaction of the minority (losing side) with government. Those are independent of particular policy.

I would have thought that by this point energy efficiency would be a universal goal, while the particular policy to achieve it is up for debate.

"I would have thought that by this point energy efficiency would be a universal goal"

Why? Surely not without consideration of capital cost versus ongoing energy cost. If "a universal goal" does not lead to majority votes, then maybe it ain't so universal, eh? - and if it does, then there is no nead to fiddle with the voting system to achieve it. As DavidN pointed out, there is no linkage in the issues in any event.

"You didn't pay attention to what the Speaker said did you?"

Sure I did - two partisan votes for contempt, followed by a non-confidence vote along party lines. Theatre it was, and theatre it remains.

I can't describe that position both accurately and politely, so I am not event going to try.

Pretty clear to me that the biggest issue our current system has is growth areas vs non-growth (or shrinking) areas.

Brampton is a (very) rapid growth area, thus will be very underrepresented in a FPTP type system. Thunder Bay is a shrinking area thus will be over-represented in a FPTP type system. This is even if the ridings were adjusted every 5-10 years as change is always occurring.

Of course, many fight proportional representation since it would prevent a minority from having absolute power (ala Chrétien or Harper). The idea that if Greens had a few seats and, say, the CHP had one or two would cause total chaos to ensue is just silly. Germany has had proportional rep for decades and has been run very well most would agree. The trick is for the parties to accept they won't get the power Harper now has (and Chrétien had) and to work together. IE: If a small party (say the Greens) demanded something that was viewed as unacceptable then (gasp!) the Liberals & PC's might work together. You say it can't happen? But it did many times in the last 5 years.

Of course, many see it as a good thing for immigrant based ridings to have a weaker vote than long standing ridings - but then we are back to the original argument.

I can't describe that position both accurately and politely, so I am not event going to try.

Gee - that's pretty convincing!

Your going-in comment was that election of a government you disliked (for whatever reason) was *evidence* that we needed to change our electoral system. I can describe that position accurately and politely: although you seem like a smart guy, you are not fit to engage in political activities in a democracy.

Post-WWII Europe is an OK playground for PR, since there was nothing serious for governments to do. NATO and the US hegemon took care of all geopolitical questions, while Bretton Woods and a welfare state consensus took care of everything else.

Under those conditions, you can play around with as many parties and coalitions as you like. Do a square dance, a line dance, a chicken dance.

But PR's performance in times of crisis is simply awful. Westminster-style FPP is much superior in crunch time.

Look at the political mess of today's Israel. If they only had FPP, they would have had a true peace a long time ago. As it is, none of their fractured coalitions can do anything except repeat the same old mistakes.

A popular assembly must not only reflect the segments of opinion, it must resolve the vectors into a direction for policy.

Regarding the supposed "rural bias" in Canada's electoral system, all I can say is this: that rural bias doesn't go nearly far enough to offset the metropolitan bias inherent in our mode of political economy.

PR may be unable to reach a consensus. But Westminster set the ground for constant lurching back and forth where half the job of the new government is to scrap whatever the previous one did thinking it had a strong mandate ( from 39% of the vote...).
If you don't have some consensus and basic civility, something that is currently fast fraying in Canada, you want get nowhere, whatever the system.
Don't confuse the map with the territory.

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