Crunching numbers isn’t my favourite activity, not only during tax time, which is now upon us, but also when figuring out the monthly budget for food, gas, utility bills, and other monthly expenses. If I miss the odd few bucks here or there I usually don’t fret about it — that’s small potatoes. I’ve long since stopped worrying about small cash amounts though I’m familiar with the saying, a British saying I believe, that if you look after the pennies the pounds will look after themselves. Considering the value of the penny, maybe the saying needs to be updated.
Somehow though, crunching numbers during an election year seemed important, because when you come right down to it, elections, way or another, are all about numbers. On election night, many of us will be looking at the numbers, watching as network anchors editorialize and comment about election trends with their studio election panels and other political pundits. The focus will shift, from in-house comments to local and regional broadcasts, dropping into party or candidates’ election headquarters or even interviewing people on the street. As the evening wears on a picture will begin to form about what the country is thinking and feeling. Either a clear picture or an ambiguous, too close to call result could emerge. Emotions and heart rates could fluctuate at times.
Before that night occurs it would be helpful to reflect, before election fervour captures us, how representative our democracy is. That’s where my recent number crunching seemed relevant. I looked at how representative our recently dissolved Parliament was. Going purely on numbers, you would think that if 25 per cent of the country voted for one party this would be reflected to some significant degree in a similar or close to a similar proportion of seats in parliament. In point of fact, it was interesting to discover that there are parties with significant over representation and other parties that were significantly under-representation.
Of all the parties, the Liberals came out closest to having the same percentages of seats as was their percentage of the popular vote. The Liberals got 25 per cent of the seats and 26 per cent of the popular vote. When you look at the other parties, discrepancies begin to arise. The Tories, for instance, held 47 per cent of the seats but 37.9 per cent of the popular vote. The Bloc Quebecois had 15 per cent of the seats but 10 per cent of the popular vote. Going by percentages, these two parties were over-represented if seats in parliament reflect their support across the country.
On the other hand, both the NDP and the Green party seemed under-represented. The NDP had 12 per cent of the seats in parliament but 18 per cent of the popular vote. The Green party had no seats in parliament but garnered 6.8 per cent of the popular vote.
Interestingly, two independent MPs, who together had 0.7 per cent of the seats in Parliament, received collectively 0.7 per cent of the popular vote.
If you look purely at the Green Party with no seats but 6.8 per cent of the popular vote, and the two independent MPs with 0.7 per cent of the popular vote, you realize that there are voices that should be heard in Parliament but are not. The first past the post model, it seems to me, needs updating.
Like that British saying about the pennies, helpful at some point in time but no longer appropriately fitting a new age, Parliament could be more representative is it chooses to be. Solutions can be found but I wonder if those invested in the status quo would want to lose the advantages or privileges they currently possess. The question remains though: some voices are excluded in our democracy and that does not seem fair.