Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Changing Boundaries = Lipstick on a Pig

Tonight I'm up to present a short submission at the Electoral Boundaries Commission review. Here's what I plan to say....

The main consideration for adjusting boundaries is to ensure that every riding has the same number of voters. This ensures that every MP represents the same number of voters. Considerations of "community" and geography are also taken into account, but the primary driver is the number of voters.

Ajusting riding boundaries is always a controversial issue. This is because adjustments affect the outcomes of elections. If support for political parties were randomly distributed throughout each riding, then drawing boundaries would not have a large effect. However, this is not the case. There are "voting communities"; groups of people who tend to live in the same geographic area, who tend to support one political party over another. This may be because of cultural affinities, historical perspectives, or any number of other reasons.

New Westminster, for example, votes preferentially for the NDP (most polling stations throughout our two Federal ridings gave >50% support to their respective NDP candidates in the last Federal election), whereas in Coquitlam, there are many polling stations that gave much more support to the Conservative party (>50%). (poll-by-poll numbers available here)

So, changing riding boundaries can move blocks of party support from one riding to another, which, due to Canada's single-member electoral system, means that blocks of voters may suddenly go from having a representative they support, to having an MP from a party they do NOT support. Every time boundaries change, different blocks of voters go from having effective representation, to having effectively NO representation.

This annoys voters - not to mention the MP's affected by such changes. This is why people come to Electoral Boundary Commission Hearings to vent their frustrations!

There is no solution to this problem. No matter what boundaries are chosen, on average more than 1/2 of Canada's electorate - the majority! - does not have an MP from a party they support. How is this fair? I find this unforgiveable in a modern democracy.

There are two ways to address the situation. One is by extreme gerrymandering: adjust boundaries on a polling-station-by-polling-station basis so that the maximum number of voters get their choice (from the previous election) elected - ie. give the incumbent the maximal advantage. "More conservative" neighborhoods would form separate ridings from "more labour-oriented" streets. This is done with great effect in the United States. It would clearly result in ridiculously complex electoral maps, and is highly unlikely to find favour with the general public, exactly because it confers large advantage to the last person who won the "riding" (the incumbent).

The other solution is to move to multi-member ridings, so that more than one MP is chosen per (larger) riding. Such a change would have to go hand-in-hand with a move to proportional representation. There are many systems that give proportional results and they are in use around the world. Such systems have many advantages; the first being that many more voters have an MP from a party that they support. Riding boundaries become far less important in proportional systems. Moving to such a system would not change our system of government (Westminster-style Parliamentary system) at all. It would just change how we choose our representatives.

No comments:

Post a Comment