Sunday, June 29, 2014

(No.267) A Liberal 'mandate' or another electoral system failure?

"A Liberal election 'mandate' in Ontario: yet
another illustration of the need for electoral reform"

by Alastair Rickard

The Ontario election result on June 12 was (according to the media, their columnists and assorted cable news talking heads) a big surprise.

The result, a Liberal majority, would not perhaps have been a great surprise except that the media as usual were relying on various polls that proved once again -- as in recent elections in B.C., Alberta and Quebec -- to have been inaccurate.

The use of statistically unreliable polling methods (such as 'interactive robo calls') as well as voter samples that are no longer an accurate representation of that part of the population who actually vote (52% of eligible voters turned out in Ontario) make for 'surprise results'. This is no wonder when some  polling margins of error are admitted to be 4%; translation -- 'the Liberals might get 32% of the votes on election day or perhaps 40% according to our poll'.

One sees this sort of suspect 'news' played out regularly these days as supposedly serious news media like the CBC and the Globe and Mail try to bulk up their election 'news' content with the results of their own "online polls"soliciting viewer/reader opinion. In fact such opinion polls have no more statistical validity than a focus group. But such online polls provide cheap content and feed into the 'horse race' perspective so much of the news media now rely on.

In the wake of the unpredicted outcome of the Ontario election (i.e., a Liberal majority government) there was an unseemly scramble by various media 'experts' to explain what had happened, why they had not predicted the result or, more likely, why they got it wrong.

Even more irritating was the widespread post-election rush to risible explanations of what the Ontario election result actually meant while largely ignoring the reality of the increase in the Liberal vote of only 1% above its previous electoral result, i.e., a minority government.

Without much effort one could compile a scrapbook of newspaper columns declaring that "the people of Ontario" had spoken, that they had embraced the Liberal centre-left approach to provincial government spending, and/or they preferred Kathleen Wynne to continue as premier of the province.

In fact more than 61% of those who voted on June 12 did NOT want the Liberals. Indeed, barely 7% more voters chose Wynne's Liberals than those who favoured Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservative hard line on government spending.

Then of course we had the promiscuous use in the news media of nonsense about Liberals receving a popular mandate (sic). Some mandate, some popularity!

The Ontario Liberals' June 12 victory was only slightly less 'popular' than Prime Minister Harper's last federal electoral 'mandate' also based on less that 40% of voter support. Indeed through some mystical media process a Liberal government based on a slim majority of seats is treated as if the government was elected by a majority of Ontario voters.

Writing about the June 2011 federal election result which produced a majority of seats for the Harper Conservatives based on fewer than 40% of the votes cast Toronto Star columnist Rick Salutin put his finger on the core issue, one equally relevant to the recent Ontario election:

"We now live in a permanent state you could call the tyranny of the minority. You could also call it the tragedy of the majority. We'll have had 10 years of government desired by 40% of the voters while 60%, who largely agree on what they'd like, will get zero representation. Everyone played by the rules of the game, but it's a stretch to call that game democracy."

Hence I return to the argument I have made previously on and elsewhere: it it past time for Canada to have systems of proportional representation at both the provincial and federal levels.

[See also RickardsRead columns No. 151"Canada's electoral failure"posted May 7, 2011 and No. 156 "The tyranny of the minority: another media miss" posted June 14, 2011].



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