The 13% Solution in Ontario: First Past the Post at Its Finest.


When a small number of voters turn out for an election, it has two effects. First, it means that a small number of people are making the decisions for the rest of us. This is not known as a good thing for democracy. Second, it shows that we are in a situation where the majority of voters don’t feel their vote counts. This is a self-fulfilling prophesy, because if people don’t vote, their votes don’t count. So, our most important objective in Canada is to get people out to vote. This means changing the system so that more people think their vote counts, so more people vote, so more people get their fair say.

The outcome of the Ontario election was never in doubt. Face it, nobody in the rest of Canada had any idea of who else was running, leading one to suspect that a lot of Ontario voters didn’t know either. But this election will go down in history for a very different reason. It had the lowest voter turnout ever.

To Explain the Numbers:

Most media quote the “18% of the Voters” data, but I like to consider all the children, new immigrants, and others who cannot vote. So I use the total population as my base number.

Ontario Population: 14.5 million. Eligible voters: 10.7 million.

That’s 10.7 divided by 14.5 equals 73% of the citizens who have the right to vote.

43% of these voters voted. That’s 0.43 times 73 equals 31.

31% of the citizens of Ontario voted for any party.

PC won 41% of the votes. That’s 0.41 times the 31% of voters, which comes to a grand sum total of 13%.

The bottom line of this data is that Doug Ford will run Ontario for another four years, based on a mandate from 13% of the citizens of the province.

Oh My, How Did He Do It?

Pundits are making a big deal about how Ford managed to pull the Conservatives together when nobody else in provincial or federal politics can.

Actually, he didn’t. The numbers of his supporters look like a list of members of the Conservative Party, not a broad spread of the Rambunctious Right. He did nothing to appease the social conservatives. He did not support the Terrorist Truckers. He has vowed not to change abortion laws. In fact, he completely ignored the far rightists, the rocks upon which other right-wing parties have foundered. When you only need 18% of the votes to win, you don’t need the Weirdo Wing. In fact, as the At Issue panel on CBC the other night concluded, all Ford had to do was run the most boring election possible, and he would slide in on his minority of faithful voters. Which is exactly what happened.

This Is Not Democracy. The number of Ford supporters approaches the size of the list of Russian oligarchs the Canadian government is punishing for their crimes against humanity. I know it’s considered hysterical exaggeration to make comparisons to the rise of Naziism and Stalinism and all that, but a glance south of the border ought to make all of us wonder.

The Bottom Line.

Ronald Reagan has basically stolen* the speech about “Each generation must fight for its own freedom,” but the idea remains true. Democracy is a high-maintenance friend. It demands constant attention; if it is ignored, it withers and dies.

If we can find any way to change our system to give democracy a lift, we should be doing it.

Proportional Representation

How about an election system that allows for the vote of up to 90% of the electorate to contribute to the final result? Why not try a system that requires representatives of 50% of the electorate to agree on any legislation? How about a system that allows people to believe that their vote counts, and results in higher voter turnout? Under Proportional Representation, Ford would need the support of one of the other parties to pass any legislation.

We have nothing to lose but our ennui.

*A sidebar about modern internet research.

The “each generation must fight” idea has been around for decades, maybe centuries, but I can’t find the origin. Albert Camus said the same thing in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1957. But because it was said by an American President, Google and Wikipedia searches turn up nothing but Reagan. Are the winners rewriting history already?

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