Leadership hopefuls have to appeal to a tiny unrepresentative base to stand a chance of winning. And then, to win a Federal Election, they have to dump the commitments made during the leadership contest and appeal to the wider electorate. It is a Sisyphean task.
And yet the knives are out. The Conservative caucus meets on 5 October 2021 and MPs will decide whether they want Erin O'Toole to stay or go. (Right: O'Toole voting on 20 September)
The Globe and Mail sums it up this way:
"Whatever happens, both sides of the debate need to acknowledge two things: (A) yes, in a sense Mr O'Toole did betray the Party's most fervent supporters; and (B) if he wanted to win the election, he had no choice - thanks to the way the party chooses its leader."
O'Toole v Mackay
The Federal Conservative leadership vote is decided using a points system which gives ridings equal weight regardless of the number of members casting a vote. O’Toole targeted Quebec ridings with tiny memberships, playing to their passions and prejudices.
A riding-by-riding analysis by the CBC tells us there were as few as 1,210 votes between O’Toole and Peter Mackay, not the official margin of 27,000. And if Mackay had gotten his act together - targetting riding associations with miniscule memberships and telling them what they wanted to hear - he could have won.
In politics there are no prizes for coming second.
Mackay should have had a quiet word with the master of political manipulation and skulduggery, Ontario’s former Progressive Conservative leader, Patrick Brown.
Brown's modus operandi is set out for all to see in his vengeful autobiography: “Takedown: the attempted political assassination of Patrick Brown”.
It is a classic guide on how to climb to the top of the conservative greasy poll when ethics don’t matter.
Brown v Elliott
Brown courted the votes of New Canadians by taking up their concerns. Any concern would do. He explains how he defeated Christine Elliott, now Newmarket-Aurora's MPP, in her own backyard of Oshawa. He boasts about signing up 10,000 Tamil members.
“It was thanks to the support I had in the Indian, Tamil and Filipino communities. They won the riding and the leadership contest for me.”
"These communities supported me because I had supported them."
Christine Elliott subsequently ran for the PC leadership against Doug Ford but lost (again) even though she had more votes from individual members.
Sleight of hand
Leadership contests shouldn't be conducted by sleight of hand.
We need full transparency to help us understand how our political leaders get to the top - and what they said and did to get there.
Note: Justin Trudeau won the 2013 Liberal leadership contest getting 81,389 votes out of 104,552 ballots cast during the week-long vote.
The voting system gave Canada's (then) 308 ridings equal weight in the final tally. Each riding was given 100 points, and a candidate got the number of points equal to the percentage of votes they won in that riding.
For the Liberal Party, the Federal Election on 20 September 2021 was a damp squib.
True, they have the most seats in the House of Commons but that is a quirk of our First Past the Post electoral system which rewards Parties whose support is geographically concentrated rather than thinly spread across the nation.
“… for the second election in a row, the winning Liberals obtained fewer votes than the party they defeated. With 32.5 per cent of the vote at time of writing, the Liberals have the weakest mandate of any government in our history, breaking the record set … in 2019.
The Liberals did not just lose to the Conservatives in the popular vote the past two elections: they have done so in five of the past six.”
He says it takes nearly four times as many votes to elect an NDP MP as a Liberal (114,000, to 33,000).
He could have added that the People's Party of Canada got 842,969 votes (5% of the national total) and doesn't have a single MP.
Coyne says we are trying to run six-party politics on a system built for two, and it’s not working.
Trudeau rules out Proportional Representation
When the Prime Minister visited Aurora during the election campaign (18 September 2021) he was asked about electoral reform.
In the 2015 Federal Election he made a commitment to replace first-past-the-post but didn't follow through. (See below: from the Liberal Platform 2015).
He makes no mention of a democratic deficit which allows a single party Government to be formed (not a coalition) with the support of less than one third of those who voted.
He rejects PR because it gives more weight to smaller parties. His preference is for the ranked ballot - no doubt on the grounds that most NDP voters would put Liberals as their second choice rather than Conservatives.
The Prime Minister said:
"This is something that we approached years ago. There was no consensus. If ever there is more of a consensus, it could be interesting to follow up on, and I'd be open to that, 'cause I've never flinched in my desire for ranked ballots...
"But that's not the priority, and this is the first time in 36 days that anyone has asked me about about electoral reform."
It seems to me the chances of electoral reform being resurrected as an issue in the new Parliament are close to zero.
Voting system shapes our politics
If we had a different electoral system - and more political parties - the way we do our politics would change.
"Big tent" political parties would still exist but, over time, they would likely shrink and fragment.
The US Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, talks about the straightjacket of America's two-party system:
“In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party, but in America, we are.”
In the United States, with its ossified institutions, it is impossible to imagine three or four or five functioning political parties.
Almost as difficult as imagining Canada with proportional representation.
Note 1: With the Ranked Ballot voters list their preferred candidates - 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on. If no candidate gets 50% of the vote the one with the fewest votes is eliminated and their supporters' second choices are distributed to those still in the race. This continues until one candidate achieves a majority.
Note 2: In the virtual election "Meet and Greet" hosted by Aurora Public Library on 14 September 2021, Newmarket-Aurora's newly re-elected MP, Tony Van Bynen, gave his clearest exposition to date on his views on electoral reform:
“I for one believe that we should also always take a look at improvements in any system or any process and I do think that is something we should look at. I'm not sure that proportional representation is the only solution.
I don't know what got in the way of looking at that since I wasn't in the House at the time. I think we should be looking at reviewing it but we should be doing it in consultation, consulting with our communities and broadly looking at the options that are available so, yes, every organization, every society, should take a look and see if there are better ways to accomplish the representation that we need so that their government looks like the people it represents.
I think that's an important commitment on behalf of our Party and I think that will be done. As to when that can be accomplished I think we have a number of very critical priorities ahead of us immediately. We need to get on top of the pandemic and we need to make sure that we get back into an economic environment where people feel safe; have a place to call home…I think we should look at it.”
The Greens favour proportional representation. The Conservatives are not in favour of electoral reform.
The CBC reminds us that two Provincial referendums on electoral reform have been held since the Liberals abandoned their 2015 pledge to get rid of First-Past-the-Post in Federal Elections. In December 2018, British Columbians voted against PR by 61% to 39%. In 2019 Prince Edward Island rejected PR by 52% to 48%.
In 2007 a referendum in Ontario rejected rejected mixed member PR for the Provincial Parliament.
Below: from the Liberal Party 2015 Federal Election Platform:
Update on 16 October 2021: From the Toronto Star: Provincial Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca says he will bring in the ranked ballot or quit.
The collapse in voter turnout is worse than I thought.
It has shrunk alarmingly in Newmarket-Aurora and in all surrounding ridings.
As I tap this out at 7.40pm on 23 September 2021 the counts have been completed in Newmarket-Aurora; Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill and King-Vaughan. We are waiting for the final results from Markham-Stouffville and York-Simcoe.
But the pattern is very clear. Voter turnout is sharply down across the piece.
Astonishingly, in King-Vaughan fewer than half of electors stirred themselves to vote.
Big reductions in the number of polling places
Newmarket-Aurora's Returning Officer tells me:
"We have less than half of the voting sites than we did for the 2019 election. Specifically, we have not been given access to any schools. Previously we had 45 voting locations; this election we have 25 sites (not including single building polls)."
On Polling Day I voted in person at a Church on Main Street South, about two kilometres from where I live. There is no direct bus route from my neighbourhood to my Polling Place in Newmarket's downtown.
At the Polling Station I notice a comment box from Elections Canada, asking about my voting experience. I scribble out a note saying the polling place is too far away from my neighbourhood and this would have discouraged some people from voting.
Yesterday, I received a commendably swift reply from the Riding’s Returning Officer.
She tells me it was an
“extraordinarily challenging election”.
She goes on to say:
“There has been no evidence that the location of polling sites has discouraged voters.”
On that one, though, we have to disagree.
If it wasn't the savage reduction in voting sites that kept people away from voting, what was it?
The pandemic? Disaffection? Couldn't be bothered?
The table below shoes the voter turnout in Newmarket-Aurora and in all adjacent ridings, comparing the 2019 and 2021 Federal Elections.
Updated on 25 September 2021. All counts have now been completed. The reported turnouts are as shown below.
The big story of this unnecessary pandemic election is the collapse in voter turnout.
In the last Federal Election in 2019 the turnout in Newmarket-Aurora was a fraction over 67%, right on the national average.
Yesterday in Newmarket-Aurora the turnout was 56%.
If the national turnout mirrors this, the turnout in yesterday's election will have been the lowest in the nation's history. The previous lowest was 58.8% in October 2008. (The highest was 79.4% in March 1958)
The savage reductions in the number of polling stations - caused by the Covid restrictions - will have played a part.
How did the vote change between 2019 and 2021?
The preliminary results from Elections Canada on election night show the percentage share of the vote for the Liberals in Newmarket-Aurora barely moved from 2019.
The Conservatives and the NDP both saw increases in their vote share.
The Green vote shrank alarmingly, a verdict on the recent turmoil within the Party.
The People's Party of Canada now moves into fourth place.
But mail-in ballots have yet to be counted. You can check how things are going, here on the Elections Canada site.
Clearly the pundits and commentators do not believe the mail-in ballots are going to change the overall picture.