Latest national poll median date: October 20
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Monday, May 9, 2011

One Person = One Vote: What Is a Person?

Before reading the rest of this post, ask yourself: when we say 'One person = One vote', what should we mean by person? Do we mean:
a) resident of a constituency;
b) eligible voter; or
c) actual voter?

In the debate about seat distribution, it has been assumed that the first definition is the one to use. It is indeed the current basis for seat allocation at the federal level. But is it fair that a citizen's vote counts more just because he lives next to more people that can't vote (e.g. immigrants, children)?

I suspect that at least a few of you believe definitions b) and c) make more sense. Even if you don't, I hope that you agree that they are not crazy.

So let's take a look at the Conservative redistribution bill (C-12), which will likely be reintroduced and passed in the new House, under the lens of definitions b) and c).

We know that under Bill C-12, Ontario will likely have at least 119 seats, Alberta 34, and BC 41. (These numbers could be as high as 122, 35 and 42, but let's just take the low numbers, since they work against the argument I'm making here.) Here is the number of electors per riding:

QC: 81,479
BC: 74,739
ON: 74,729
AB: 72,865
National: 72,204

And here's the number of valid 2011 votes per riding:

QC: 50,646
ON: 46,481
BC: 45,650
National: 44,339
AB: 41,098

As you can see, Bill C-12 is extremely unfair to Québec voters, singling them out for unfavourable treatment. Québec voters would be worth 9% less than voters in any other province.

The reason for this inequity is simple: Bill C-12 reduces Québec's weight in the House, but Québec votes and voters are already undervalued! Indeed, in the 2011 election, Quebecers accounted for 25.5% of the country's eligible voters, and 25.8% of actual valid votes. Yet, Québec's weight in the House is only 24.4%, and would be reduced to 22.3-22.6%. That's below even its population share of 23.2%.

Now, look at our current system. Here's the number of valid votes per riding in the 2011 election:

ON: 52,182
BC: 51,991
QC: 50,646
AB: 49,905
National: 47,794

Compare these to the numbers above. Which are more equitable?

The Albertan self-righteousness in this debate would put Duceppe to shame.


ajbeecroft said...

I'd have trouble with your c)actual voter as a measure for assigning ridings. At the moment, turnout is low in Alberta partly because few ridings are competitive; penalizing Albertans for not voting by lowering their level of representation wouldn't do much to encourage them to vote. Perhaps more substantively, this measure would also penalize areas with large populations in less-likely-to-vote demographics, including students, the poor, and First Nations.
More generally, the biggest reason that Quebec would be underrepresented in a reformed redistribution system is that the six smallest provinces would still be overrepresented.
Even as of the 2001 Census, the 78 000 inhabitants of Winnipeg South Centre got the same level of representation as the 107 000 of Calgary Southeast. By the 2006 Census, the population of Winnipeg SC had gone up by a few hundred; that of Calgary SE by 18 000.
I'm not sure why suburban Winnipeggers deserve much greater representation than suburban Calgarians (or Torontonians, or Vancouverites, or indeed Montrealers).

Election Watcher said...

ajbeecroft: You're making very good points. I myself would use eligible voters over actual votes, though if you pre-announce that you're doing the latter, you might actually get Albertans to the polls...

As for the 6 small provinces, well it's kind of sad that when regions in other countries lose seats because their population has been growing slowly, that's just the way it is. In Canada, it's somehow unacceptable.

Bernard said...

Some comments:

Legally the consideration for seats in parliament is based on total population, there is no differentiation between people.

Second, voter turn out changes from election to election in different provinces. It would be very hard to base any system on the number of votes cast.

According to the 2006 census, 23 ridings in Canada have more than 80% of the people counted in the census that are eligible voters. 14 in Que, 4 in Newfoundland, 2 in New Brunswick, 2 in Nova Scotia and my own riding of Victoria.

Meanwhile 37 have less than 2/3s eligible voters, heavily oriented to the areas of BC and Ontario that have the largest growth and the largest visible minorities.

The other group with large numbers of people not eligible to vote are all the northern ridings, they have very high numbers of people under age 18. In 2006, more than 40% of the people in Nunavut were Canadians under age 18. I have trouble with the idea that youth should not count, but then I believe they should be allowed to vote in any case.

A change could be made to only count people that can vote and this would delay the shift of seats to BC, Alberta and Ontario, but it would only be a delay. Between the 2006 census and now, about 700,000 of the non-citizens became citizens. Most of those people are in BC, Alberta and Ontario.

In 2000 Quebec had 936,000 more voters than BC and Alberta combined, in 2011 it had 565,000 more. The shift is happening.

Ultimately the representation of Quebec is a good benchmark and the real problem lies with the other six provinces.

Election Watcher said...

Bernard: Thanks for the stats!

The current standard is indeed population. But we're talking about changing the law anyway, so we shouldn't be constrained by current law. Using the number of electors is definitely feasible - that's what Québec does provincially.

Yes, turnout changes from election to election. But it'd be fair if you announce in advance that redistribution is based on the last election before a given date. Then if you don't vote, too bad for your province. The same issue also arises under the current system: census undercounting also varies.

Of course looking at electors rather than population would only delay the shift West. But that's like saying, changing the current formula will only shift the seats west earlier, so it's pointless. I think timing matters a great deal.

As for the deeper issue of whether we should count the youth and recent immigrants for distributing seats, I think there are good arguments to be made both ways. Ultimately, it depends on what you think an MP primarily does. If it is to influence policy by voting and being a voice within the caucus, then only voters should count. But if it is to provide services to constituents, then the entire population should count. I view the former function of MPs as more important, but this is definitely not a settled question.

Ultimately, what I'd like is for people to realize that if Quebecers feel aggrieved by C-12, well it's not just baseless whining because Québec votes would be far undervalued, even relative to Ontario, BC and Alberta.

Carl said...


That's a nice game, but representation by population has always been understood as, well, representation by population. Yes, if you think representation should be based on electors or actual voters, you might be able to construct a model that shows taht Quebec gets a raw deal (I mean, if you did it based on francophones, you could REALLY prove that Quebec gets screwed). But since we have never done it that way, it's not clear why that legitimizes Quebec's complaints (any more than a complaint based on calculating representation by francophones would legitimize Quebec's complaints).

As for the complaint that Quebec voters are (and will be) underrepresented relative to its population shares. Well, I agree, it will be - along with Ontario, BC, and Alberta. The underpresentation is a mathmatically neccesary function of the over-representation of the smaller (particularly, Atlantic, provinces). But Quebec isn't unduly underpresented on that account relative to Ontario, BC, or Alberta. Quite the contrary, as you note the population/seat percentage for Quebec will 23.2/22.2. Under the proposed changes, the same numbers for Ontario will be 38.7/36.7, for Alberta 10.9/9.8, and for BC 13.3/12.7. In contrast the current seat percentages for Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and BC are 24.4/34.4/11.7/9.1. In that light its pretty easy to see why Ontarians and Westerners aren't taking Quebec's complaints all that seriously - it comes accross as whining about treatment that the rest of us have put up with for years.

Election Watcher said...

Carl: Yes, if you accept representation by population, then there's no argument. As I've noted before, by that metric, Québec is currently overrepresented, and will remain slightly less underrepresented than AB, BC and ON under C-12. But why should a voter's clout increase by virtue of living near recent immigrants, temporary residents and children?

Your equating basing representation on the number of electors and on the number of Francophones is mystifying.

Are you saying that "every vote must be equal" is as ridiculous a principle as "only Francophones count"?

Your argument against rep by electorate seems to be "we've never done it this way". That's not a very strong argument for somebody that supports changing the current seat formula. What's wrong with an equal weight for each vote?

Besides, even if we stick with rep by pop, why shouldn't Quebecers "whine" about being underrepresented? Ontario and Alberta haven't exactly put up with it silently. Double standard...

Anonymous said...

refusal to vote is still a free act of the individual and therefore a vote in its own respect.

Carl said...

You're mischaracterizing my argument. It isn't that "we've never done it this way" it's that "we've ALWAYS done it this way" because representation-by-population was a fundamental principal of the constitution. The question you have to ask yourself, is what basis is there for changing the basis for representation just because it now doesn't favour Quebec?

And I can't say I find any of your arguments particularly compelling. After all, MPs don't represent the people who voted for them (an unreliable basis for determining ridings anyhow, given the possibility of fluctuating turnout), or even the people who are eligible to vote for them - they represent all of their consituents, whether they are eligible to vote or not (could you imagine if an MP sent a letter to a consituent who was seeking assistance telling them to "get bent" because they didn't/couldn't vote - it would be an outrage). And while I can see why Quebec (with an aging province with high turnout and relatively few immigrants) might prefer an alternative method (out of its own self-interest) it is an afront to Canadian parliamentary democracy.

Moreover, it's funny to claim that Ontario, BC and Alberta have been whining about their underepresentation. As it is, they're the only three provinces who are awarded seats based on their population. All the other provinces (including Quebec - where extra seats make up 10% of their representation) are awarded extra seats (based on political compromises to keep them from whining about their declining clout from their declining relative populations). It's pretty rich for a province that gets preferential treatment under the current rules (on no particularly principled basis) to be complaining about losing that preferential treatment and expecting the provinces that don't get preferential treatment to take that complaint seriously.

Carl said...

Sorry, that should read "voted" not "voted for them"

Election Watcher said...

Anon: Sure. I've said that I would prefer going by option b (number of electors) over option c (number of actual votes). Though I'd point out that proportional representation on the national level automatically selects c, so it's far from a crazy option.

Carl: You know full well (I hope) that "We've always done it this way" is not a valid argument.

The basis for reviewing the formula is that equality of voters seems, I don't know, pretty reasonable? Perhaps even more so than giving more weight to citizens that happen to be living close to more people that can't vote?

I'd have no problem giving larger budgets to MPs representing ridings with a larger population, since, as you point out, part of an MP's job is to provide service to constituents.

But an MP also (and I would say more importantly) represents his/her constituents in the formulation of national policy. Last time I checked, that's a prerogative of adult citizens of Canada, not of the entire population. And this is the issue where weight in the House of Commons comes in.

It's pretty rich for provinces that have been complaining about being underrepresented to say, "Shut up" to a province that's about to be in the same situation.

Let me get this straight: when the ROC complains about something, it's a valid demand. When Québec complains about the *same thing*, it's "whining"?

Bernard said...

since the metric we have used to decide ridings in Canada has always been total population, changing that now would be hardly fair or reasonable. BC, Alberta and Ontario have been patient in waiting for the extra seats for a long time. The latest election was fought under boundaries created out of the 2001 census. Suggesting now to consider a model that has never been on the table does not seem reasonable.

Just using eligible voters, BC and Alberta are currently 2 seats short and Ontario is 4 short. This is based on Quebec numbers.

The bigger problem is that the model we currently use to decide on seats is not a reasonable one because of the grandfathering of seat totals from the past. We have 29 more MPs in Ottawa than we should have. The problem with this is that the relative importance of different provinces in parliament does not reflect the reality of the country.

With the next redistricting in a few years, the odds are we might get 4 for Ontario, 2 for BC and 2 for Alberta. The average population in a Quebec riding will be 16,000 to 18,000 less than in BC, Alberta and Ontario, an increase again from the 2001 gap of about 12,500 to 14,500

For most of the last 30 years, the three provinces that are under represented in Ottawa have paid almost all the equalization payments. If the lay of the land in the house of commons were more equitable, this may not have been the case.

Additional considerations could be size of the riding and how far it is from Ottawa in travel. Both of these factors make the job of an MP harder and therefore they should have fewer constituents. By those terms BC has been wildly under represented for years.

One good reason to abolish the senate would be to open the path to reduce PEI to one MP, New Brunswick to 7, Nova Scotia to 8 and Newfoundland to 5.

Swift said...

The list of electors is far from accurate. It contains names of people who have moved away or are deceased. Many new residents or first time voters are left off. Even some voters who voted in the last election, and have not moved, are not on the list. These inaccuracies are a large percentage of the eligible voters. Actual electors in each riding could be much different from the figures you are using.

Election Watcher said...

Swift: True, but it's unclear that it is less accurate than the census. For example, the 2006 census is estimated to have missed 4-5% of people in the Toronto CMA, and 3-4% of people in Ontario.

Actually, what really matters is whether inaccuracies are uniform throughout the country. If every riding is missing 5%, that's fine for apportionment purposes. But if some are missing 1% and some 10%, there's a problem. On this issue, it is also unclear whether the census or the voter list causes less distortion.

Carl said...

Sorry but "we've always done it this way" is a legitimate basis for maintaining the status quo when it reflects a constitutional principle that is fundamental to Canadian democracy and to the compromises that formed the basis for the formation of Canada.

Election Watcher said...

Bernard: I think you mean that equalization payments might have been smaller had BC, AB and ON had greater representation. They would have paid almost all of it anyway.

I hope you are being facetious about decreasing constituency size for faraway ridings. I'd support increasing those MPs budgets (say to hire more staff to compensate for the travel time), but it's obviously ludicrous to say that British Columbians should have a greater say on national affairs than Ontarians. And I'm pretty sure I'll keep feeling this way after living in BC for a few years (unless I get too high :P).

Would abolishing the Senatorial clause be "hardly fair or reasonable" because we've had it since 1915? (Agreed, that's not "always," but it is before women were allowed to vote.) I can see how people in BC, AB and ON might oppose moving away from rep by pop because it'd be bad for them. But history aside, why should one's vote carry move weight because one lives in the same area as people barred from voting?

Election Watcher said...

Carl: The only article of the Constitution where representation by population is mentioned is Article 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867. That is exactly the article Bill C-12 seeks to change. In fact, the only references to population are in the sentence describing our current formula, which you find unfair...

Fundamental to Canadian democracy? Are you saying that moving to treat each voter equally would threaten our democracy? I'm scratching my head here.

As for rep by pop being fundamental to "the compromises that formed the basis for the formation of Canada," well I wasn't in the room, so I'll ask you. Do you really think that Confederation would have failed if we instead had rep by electorate?

Swift said...

The polling station I was in had far more than three or four percent of the voters missing. There used to be an enumeration before each vote. Voters lists would be posted at numerous locations, so people could check if thet were accurate. At that time they may have been more accurate than the census. From my experience, not now. You might remember the last Liberal riding in Alberta that had many on the voters list who resided in office buildings, stores and vacant lots.

Election Watcher said...

Swift: Yeah, if the voter lists are very inaccurate (and mistakes don't cancel out), that'd be a practical problem for rep by electorate...

It'd be interesting to know how many electors have to proactively register/update their information during a campaign.

Carl said...

EW said" Carl: The only article of the Constitution where representation by population is mentioned is Article 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867. That is exactly the article Bill C-12 seeks to change. In fact, the only references to population are in the sentence describing our current formula, which you find unfair..."

EW, First, the proposed amendment is to section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which contains the formula for determining rep-by-pop. Rep-by-pop itself is guaranteed by section 52 of the Cosntitution Act, 1867, and has not been amended since it has been enacted.

And the reason why section 52 has't been amended is probably that it was a key compromise(from Lower Canada) leading up to the formation of Canada was that Canada would have two legislative houses. One, the house of commons, based on representation by population, one, the senate, based on regional equality. Without that compromise, Canada would not exist. (Indeed, as discussed in the question on Senate reform, query whether moving to anything other than rep-by-pop would consitute such a fundamental change to the constituion that it requires the approval of the provinces). When I say that it is a fundamental principal of Canadian democracy, I'm not kidding, without it, we wouldn't have a Canada.

Election Watcher said...

Article 52 says that the "proportionate Representation of the Provinces prescribed by this Act" can't be "disturbed." So the question would be, is rep by electorate rather than rep by pop disproportional enough?

Since the original Act, the seat formula has of course been changed several times. These changes have obviously resulted in quite a bit of disproportionality, but have not been deemed unconstitutional. Representation by electorate would cause less deviation from pure rep by pop than the changes we've already had, so I don't think it'd violate Article 52.

Carl said...

"But history aside, why should one's vote carry move weight because one lives in the same area as people barred from voting?"

What weight does a person's vote have? Unless an MP wins by one vote, strictly speaking the answer is none, no matter what formula you use (and if the MP wins by one vote, while your vote matters, it doesn't matter more or less depending on how many other voters there are).

In any event, I think we have to go back to what role we think MPs play. If you think MPs go to Ottawa to represent only their voters (or their potential voters), what you're proposing makes sense. But I doubt very much that many Canadians believe that. Rather, I think most Canadians (and if you asked them, most MPs) think that they go to Ottawa to represent their constituency, and the constituents thereof, including the non-voters therein. Indeed, keep in mind that, in 1867, non-voters (and people not eligible to vote) would have included the vast majority of the Canadian population. Apart from children and immigrants, woman, indians, judges, people who worked for candidates during elections, various types of government employees and, due to income and property restrictions which weren't fully abolished until the 20th century, many men were excluded from the vote. I don't doubt that MPs in 1867 believed that their role was to represent those people (even if they didn't think that they should have a say in deciding who represents them).

Indeed, in 1867 the fathers of confederation almost certainly would have rejected rep-by-electorate because, until 1920, eligibility to vote left up to the provinces. Whereas rep-by-pop made it hard to fudge the number of ridings a province was entitled to in the house, with rep-by-electorate, a province would have been tempted to extend suffrage (in theory, if not neccesarily in practice - as we know from the Jim Crow experience in the US, the legal right to vote isn't neccesarily meaningful) to everyone (including children) as a way of upping (at least temporarily until other provinces caught on) their legislative power. That clearly wouldn't have been on in 1867.

Carl said...

In any event, rep-by-electorate would be a non-starter today, given the reality that Canadian provinces face sharply different demographic realities (i.e., Ontario, BC and Alberta are significantly younger and have more immigrants than the Atlantic provinces or Quebec).

The bigger question is, why isn't Quebec pushing for an end to the various grandfather rules in allocating commons seats (for which there is no principled basis) and which, at the end of the day is the cause of Quebec's "under-representation" under the proposed formula? Although there is an argument that you can't repeal the senatorial clause without the consent of the provinces, you could definitely undue the 1970's floor that, under the proposed formula, gives seats to NB, NFL, Manitoba, and Sask.

I suspect the answer is that Quebec knows full well that the rapid population growth in Ontario, BC and Alberta isn't going to stop any time soon. And while, under the proposed formula, the grandfather rules don't immediately "bind" Quebec's seat allocation (i.e., they won't immediately provide Quebec with more seats than rep-by-pop, as set out in the new formula, would otherwise entitle it to receive), that may not be true in the future given the very real differences in demographics between Canada west of the Ottawa river and Canada east. In other words, Quebec's "under-representation" under the proposed rules isn't going to exist for long, if growth in Western Canada continues to outpace the national average because, eventually, the 75 seat floor will bind again.

Election Watcher said...

Carl: This comes back to an MPs dual function. Part of it is to provide constituency service, but part of it is to shape policy. For the latter, I think they are indeed representing only the voters. Otherwise, why do we even bother limiting voting to adult citizens?

I take your point that representation by electorate would have been a bad idea in 1867. But the Constitution doesn't prohibit it (certainly not literally, and as I explained above, probably not period), so I don't think 1867 should be relevant to the debate. All sorts of things we do today were probably bad ideas back then.

I think you're giving way too much credit to Québec. It's not really pushing for anything, and opposition to C-12 is actually pretty weak. I'm just throwing rep by electorate out there, but haven't heard anything about it in Québec (which is quite odd since that's how provincial ridings are drawn there).

By the way, Québec's population growth has picked up in recent years due to the province's family friendly policies. Since 2006, its growth rate has only been 0.1% per year below Ontario's. The gap might increase a little once hard-hit Ontario recovers from the recession, but barring a big change in immigration policy, Québec's weight in Canada is going to decline much more slowly for the coming years.

In fact, Ontario's share of the Canadian population has been essentially flat (maybe even down a little), even before the recession started...

Anonymous said...

"Albertan Self Righteousness" lol! Look...friend...poly watcher..."Aggregator of the facts" and scientific polls.....I am not even going to ask why you guys blew this past election so badly. Know why I will not ask? Because you navel gazers need all of ten minutes to come up with a reason that sounds good on paper and even more impressive in audio talking points...though really...when it comes down to it...your projections do not mean shit!! This recent election proves it once and for all!!!

Getting back to the Alberta self- righteuosness statement tho...I agree!! Totally! I so dream and work to the day when Alberta no longer has to shell out it's honest and hard earned cash to the rest of the Canadian slacker's and get shit talk statements like yours in return!!! :-)

Election Watcher said...

We "blew" this election because polls blew this election. I'm not a pollster, so I don't know why you're complaining here. I'm also not a member of the media, so I really don't care what "looks good on paper" or about "audio talking points". You're just digging yourself in a hole by showing your ignorance of the purpose and methodology of this blog and other projection sites.

Good luck with Alberta separatism. Even most of your fellow Albertans seem to find that silly.

Anonymous said...

I am "complaining" because many of the populace are fucken tired of you pollsters..are poll watchers...are tired of your "expertise"...when it come's to predicting election outcomes..when when it really come's down to it...are no better then Economist's predicting the economy...

..btw...your statement about Albertan's being against seperatism I hope is not based on yet another "poll"...because...really...if you are hoping to earn your "bowtie" based on poll's..I see you ending up with shoelaces from the dollar store based on past past prognasticating! Your record is dismal...and embarassing...

Election Watcher said...

I'd be happy ending up with shoelaces from the dollar store, let alone bowties! I don't make a single penny off my projections - I'm doing this purely as a hobby. I also claim no expertise - it's completely up to people to judge the usefulness of this blog. So please take your complaints elsewhere.

And, um, the record of this website is one election long. So I don't know what extensive record you're talking about.

Yes, economists are bad at predicting the economy. That's why most don't pretend they can do it. Unlike certain "economists" saying during Campaign 2008 that the federal budget would be fine...

And, again, the purpose is not to *predict* election results, but to *project* what results polls imply. I think I did a good job on that front, since if you feed the actual popular vote into the model, it gets very close to the actual seat result.