Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Watching Democracy Wither And Die

It's not exactly a sign of civic health that Albertans have lived under an unbroken succession of conservative governments since 1971, and before that, they were governed by the right-wing populist Social Credit party, going all the way back to 1935.

It's not a clear sign of what Albertans really want, for one thing. What follows - from an analysis put together by the Alberta civil servant and blogger “Kuri”, an Edmontonian New Democrat - is more than merely disturbing. Looking at the dismal, lowest-ever voter turnout for yesterday's elections (about 40 per cent), and comparing the popular vote with the legislative seats that resulted, here's what Kuri sees:
A huge great crowd of Tory MLAs:

But what voters actually chose:

But if "I Don't Vote" was a party:

The legislature would look like this:

I've noticed we hear a lot less about the Alberta advantage these days.

Maybe it's time we looked at this, nationwide.

And this.


Blogger Ryan said...

Abstaining voters have already chosen to (depending on your perspective) let others rule them or free-ride the discretion of the active voters.

I have a simpler question for you: Texas sometimes elects Democrats and Massachusetts sometimes elects Republicans. Why have Canadian parties never recentered themselves as effectively around the preferences of the electorate?

Even though Alberta leans broadly rightward, why don't the Liberals (or some other centre-left entity) coalesce around policies that have a hope of splitting off a critical mass of Conservative voters?

It's not just Alberta. Our own BC has not voted positively for the NDP since Dave Barrett was Premier. The later Harcourt-started victories came against a divided and disorganized centre right. Once the Liberal party successfully became Socred 2.0, that was it for the NDP.

I think low turnouts in Alberta reflect a contented electorate that has better things to do than to add a few votes to the PC dogpile. The Liberals and NDP were clearly incapable of inspiring anything like activity, concern, or even interest in this ballot. And your pro-"fairvote" pleadings ignore the fact that the PCs got an outright majority of the popular vote. In other words, a rep-by-pop system would have given them the same amount of control over the legislature as they have today.

1:34 AM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

1. It's not true that Canadian parties haven't centred themselves on electoral preferences.

2. What's wrong with Alberta's Liberals? Don't ask me.

3. British Columbia is not much better. This isn't a contest to see whose political cutlure is more primitive.

4. You don't think this is a problem? Even Alberta's Tories aren't saying that. I guess we just have different standards and expectations.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Kuri said...

Thanks for the link, Terry.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Ian King said...

Ryan: I'm not buying. Compare the Manitoba or Saskatchewan (or even BC) NDP to their federal or Ontario counterpart -- or Atlantic Tories to Western ones and it's clear that successful parties refashion themselves about their particular centre. Alberta's just bloody weird in that there's one institutional party at any one time at each level that manages to sprawl itself across the voters and win almost every seat for decades on end.

I also think that claiming the BC NDP needs a divided right is off. The 1991 Liberals drew off a decent number of soft NDP votes who would have gone that way just to change the government. Still would have taken about a 50-25 margin, divided right or not. '96 was a different case. Like Terry says, we're not much better, and the '05 results seem sound only if you look at them for a second. Is East Van monolithically socialist? No. The Cariboo? Hardly. Same in reverse with all those blue parts of B.C.

The low turnout in Alberta is a huge problem; it's easy to rationalise it as free-riding when a quarter or a third of voters stay home, not when most of them do. It's what you expect to see in lower-stakes affairs like municipal races; hell, it's approaching student government turnout (When you consider how little legitimacy or credibility most student governments have, this is really ugly). It's not helped a bit by a sense of inevitability about any election, which causes people to think their vote will be symbolic, and disillusionment, and so forth. A better electoral system won't fix everything, but could fight off some of the inevitability of it all.

10:08 PM  

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