Jan 242013
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One candidate is already elected, the other needs a by-election. Each riding has two delegates.

from Inside Queen's Park, Volume 26, Number 2

The ballot question was evidently at the top of Kathleen Wynne’s mind in addressing supporters at a $500 fundraising reception January 23.  Wynne presents herself as poised to re-open the Legislature right after the leadership convention, staunching the self-inflicted wound of prorogation  and seeking an accommodation with one opposition party in order for the Liberals to continue in power.  Sandra Pupatello’s preferred pitch is to appeal to combative Liberals by promising to stiff-arm the other parties while she wins a by-election. 

As this department sees it, the close race between the front-runners will be decided by how many delegates and ex-officios, and which of the other four contenders, embrace which ballot question.

A crucial element of this choice is the winnability of the by-election required to instal Pupatello at Queen’s Park.  Dwight Duncan will step aside in Windsor-Tecumseh, but that does not guarantee that the ebullient Pupatello can win the vacated seat.  Her Windsor roots are deep but not very fresh, and the Liberal vote share has declined in Windsor-St. Clair, Duncan’s seat now on offer, to 43 percent in 2011.  The declining vote share has been more marked in Windsor-West, Pupatello’s former turf, from an ample 65 percent in 1999 to the much leaner 41 percent when Teresa Piruzza retained Pupatello’s seat in 2011.  Note as well that the NDP’s Taras Natyshak was able to take the Essex county seat in the past provincial contest.

If we consider the democratic character of the system we use to elect MPPs, and thus choose governments, it will be immediately apparent that some votes have markedly greater weight than others.

The Liberals are not without strengths in Windsor, such as the wholehearted endorsement of Canadian Auto Workers supremo Ken Lewenza.  But that union’s backing did not stop NDPers Joe Comartin and Brian Masse from taking and holding the two federal seats, where the NDP appears well entrenched.

The Liberals should be mindful of losing four seats to the NDP recently: Hamilton East in 2004, which sent Andrea Horwath to QP; Parkdale High Park in 2006 (you could ask Gerard Kennedy about that); York South-Weston in 2007 – though Paul Ferreira did not retain the seat in the general election; and most emphatically, the clock-cleaning administered last September in Kitchener-Waterloo by Catherine Fife.  And we should not forget the thumping inflicted on John Tory when the LIBs’ Rick Johnson took the Haliburton seat in 2009.

There certainly are safe Liberal seats elsewhere in the province if Pupatello comes to grief in Windsor, but the opposition parties would have no difficulty channeling public and media outcry that would likely compel the seatless premier to throw in her hand.  There is a good deal of risk for the LIBs in both ballot questions.
It’s fair to say that the Harinder Takhar campaign was not expected to break much ground in policy terms, so it is notable that this contender, with pre-convention support putting him in an unexpected fourth place, has addressed the area of provincial electoral reform.  In his January 9 statement he said: “Every vote should have the same importance”.

But can that test be applied to the leadership selection mechanisms employed by our political parties? 

The delegated convention the Liberals will open this coming weekend elects equal numbers of riding delegates, so it is open to the charge that the process discriminates against the numerous party cadres in Upper Rubber Boot and in favour of the tiny band of party faithful who reside in Lower Rubber Boot.  That is a powerful argument from democratic first principles for the one-member, one-vote variant that has come to prevail within political parties over the past 50 years or so.  (The 2013 Liberal provincial leadership is frequently described as “the last delegated convention”.)

If one considers the democratic character of the system we use to elect MPPs, and thus choose governments, it will be immediately apparent that some votes have markedly greater weight than others. 

The democratic deficiency deplored here is not that electoral boundaries confer disproportionate weight on the smaller voting populations of rural ridings than on the larger electorates in urban ridings. What is most undemocratic is that the winning party in our parliamentary elections typically receives a much greater percentage of seats than justified by its share of votes.     

Consider the October 2011 general election.  Premier McGuinty‘s "major minority" was built upon converting 37.7 percent of the votes cast into 49.5 percent of the seats won – 53 in number, you will recall.  If our electoral system were perfectly proportionate, that 2011 vote would have given the Liberals 37.7 percent of the seats, not 49.5 percent. So our electoral system gave them almost a third more seats than their votes entitled them to get.

It should be understood that there was nothing out of the ordinary about that most recent electoral outcome. In 2007, the Liberals drew 42.3 percent of the vote which delivered 66.3 percent of the seats, electing 71 MPPs in number – over half the number of seats that their votes had earned.

Ditto in 2003.  The LIBs drew 46.4 percentof the vote and were able to capture 66.9 percent of the seats and elect 72 MPPs.  The unearned seat premium in that election was more than 40 percent of the total.

This disparity is of course reflected in the votes and seats for the opposition parties.  The PCs got almost a third fewer seats than they had earned in 2003, just  about three-quarters of their 2007 entitlement and less than half of their 2011 score. 

The NDP derived a disproportionate share of seats in one of the recent elections, getting almost a third more of the 2011 seats than they earned in votes.  But in 2007 and 2003 they got only about half their seat entitlement.

About Inside Queen's Park

This article was first published in Inside Queen's Park, which is published twenty-two times per year by GP Murray Research Limited. IQP offers widely respected analysis of, and insight into, the inner workings of Ontario government and politics. Its contents are copyright and reproduction, in whole or in part by any means without permission of the editor, is strictly forbidden.

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© Copyright 2013 Inside Queen's Park, All rights Reserved. Written For: StraightGoods.ca

  One Response to “Key questions in Ontario Liberal leadership race”

  1. “Every vote should have the same importance”.
    My Toronto MPP can walk across his riding in 20 minutes. The MPP for Rainy River has 50 communities he can reach only by air. In a province where some of us live in the city and some of us live in the woods, we cannot achieve voter equality by tinkering with riding boundaries. With a proportional voting system, every vote counts equally, no matter where you live or who you vote for. Proportional representation would give us the freedom to put riding boundaries wherever they make sense in terms of real communities. It's time for Liberals to get serious about fair voting reform. http://FairVote.Ca

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