After Alberta's recent election, I received this from Fair Vote Canada.
First-Past-the-Post System Misrepresents Alberta Voters
For only the third time over the past two decades, Albertans will have a majority government actually elected by a majority of those casting votes, but Albertans supporting opposition parties continue to be dramatically under-represented.
By winning 53% of the popular vote, Ed Stelmach’s Progressive Conservatives avoided the false majority results of the 2004, 1993 and 1989 elections in which the party captured a majority of seats even though they failed to win a majority of votes.
"As usual, the first-past-the-post voting system distorted the results and denied fair representation to a significant portion of the electorate," said Stephen Broscoe, President, Fair Vote Canada, a national citizens' organization promoting fair voting systems across the country. "Just under half of Albertans voted for opposition parties and they gained only 11 of 83 seats."
"We congratulate Premier Stelmach and the Progressive Conservative Party on their victory," said Broscoe. "The PC Party won a legitimate majority government. However, they should not be rewarded with 88% of the seats."
"These types of distortions occur regularly with the first-past-the-post system used all across Canada," said J.D. Crookshanks, spokesman for Fair Vote Alberta, the provincial wing of Fair Vote Canada. "To put tonight's results into perspective, it only took about 7,000 votes province-wide to elect a PC candidate. It took 31,000 votes to elect a Liberal MLA, and 40,000 votes to elect a representative of the NDP. The 64,000 voters who cast ballots for the Wild Rose Alliance were shut out completely, as were the 43,000 supporters of the Alberta Greens. It is no wonder that Albertans are tuning out on a massive scale when so few of their votes count."
"With a fair voting system that treats all voters equally, the number of seats won by the parties closely matches the will of the voters," said Broscoe. "We can never know exactly what the results would have been under a different system, but if all votes cast had equal value, Albertans would likely have elected about 44 PC, 22 Liberal, 7 NDP, 6 Wild Rose Alliance and 4 Green MLAs. We would have seen a much stronger opposition, a more balanced legislature, and most importantly, Albertans would have seen their votes accurately reflected in the election results."
"Similar outcomes in other provinces have led them to examine alternatives to first-past-the-post," said Crookshanks. "British Columbia and Ontario have convened citizens' assemblies to study different types of voting systems in use around the world, and recommend alternatives. In fact, in May 2009 British Columbians will be voting in a referendum on a fairer voting system called BC-STV, recommended by the BC Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. Given last night's results, we call on Premier Stelmach to convene an Alberta Citizens' Assembly to study the voting system and determine if a better alternative exists for this province."
Yesterday we read Ed Stelmach's ridiculous comments about the low voter turnout.
Nearly 60 per cent of eligible voters in Alberta stayed away from the polls on Monday, and the energy-rich province's red-hot economy may be partly to blame, Premier Ed Stelmach said yesterday.
Mr. Stelmach led the Progressive Conservatives to a landslide victory, capturing 72 of 83 seats and their 11th consecutive majority since 1971.
An unofficial estimate put voter turnout at an all-time Alberta low of 41.3 per cent. No federal election has ever dropped that low.
"They are just happy with the way life is, most of them," the Premier said, about the large group that didn't cast ballots in the election, which saw the opposition parties either reduced by half or wiped out.
Today, two smart responses appeared in the Globe and Mail's letters.
It's unfortunate for democracy that the win by Ed Stelmach's Tories is seen as a landslide. Yes, the PCs won a huge majority of seats (72 of 83, that's 87 per cent), but that's a deceptive view of the victory when we consider they won only 53 per cent of the popular vote.
There were actually 47 per cent of voters who did not pick Ed and company; 47 per cent who voted for change. And that's exactly what many pre-election polls predicted, that about half of us wanted change. If the seat totals reflected popular vote totals, the election would have been a nail-biter, delivering the most narrow of victories (44 seats); something much closer to what we expected and a far more democratic reflection of the ballots cast.
Rather than being a stunning and decisive win for one party, the election showed a divided Alberta, split almost 50-50 between those who support the governing party and those who don't. I hope Mr. Stelmach governs according to that reality and not the deceptive illusion of those 72 seats.
Never mind the election of a bloated governing party with the support of so few of the eligible voters, the logic of Ed Stelmach's comments that the dismal turnout in the election suggests Albertans "are just happy with the way life is" reflects his inability to grasp the implications of his own comments.
If, as the Premier suggests, a low turnout means most people are happy, then no turnout at all would mean everyone is happy.
If that's the best analysis Mr. Stelmach can bring to bear on the countless challenges facing Alberta, democracy is in deep doggy-do in this province.
Perhaps Mr. Stelmach instead should look at the growing income disparity and shrinking middle class rupturing the social fabric of Alberta. About 60 per cent of Albertans have gained little or nothing from the economic boom in this province. The remaining 40 per cent, approximately the same number of Albertans who voted, have been the big beneficiaries of the wealth generated by the tar sands.
Alberta is entering a period of deep trouble: It's not about happiness.
For more about proportional representation and how it could strengthen our democracy, visit Fair Vote Canada.