From the Canadian Press:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has guaranteed the survival of his minority Conservative government for at least another week and is imploring Canadians to reject what he says is an undemocratic and illegitimate coalition. Do you people really have to get an immigrant to explain to you how your system works? All right, fine, then.
"The opposition has been working on a backroom deal to overturn the results of the last election without seeking the consent of voters,'' Harper said late Friday in the foyer of the House of Commons. "They want to take power, not earn it.'
You might have noticed at some point that when you go to the polls and draw your X, you're not actually getting to place that X next to the name of a party leader. This is because you're not actually voting for a party leader.
No, seriously, you're not. Your power is limited to voting for your MP. Really and truly.
Among other things, this means that Stephen Harper, in and of himself, did NOT win the 40th general election. Oh, he did win an election in Calgary-Southwest, fair and square, but last I checked, the voters of Calgary-Southwest hadn't been gifted with seekrit powers to choose the prime minister.
Now, it is the case that his party didn't just win the election in Calgary-Southwest, but a bunch of other elections, too. In fact, they won more elections than each of the other parties did. But calling that, in and of itself, "winning the election" is...not accurate. A strange and unique Canadian custom, yes. One that would completely flummox most residents of most of the world's parliamentary democracies, absolutely. But accurate? No.
Why? Let's look at the numbers. In the last election, Stephen Harper's party had the support of precisely 37.65% of Canadians. Now, our voting system turned that number into 46.4% through a kind of Seekrit Voodoo Magic known as First-Past-The-Post, but even our Seekrit Voodoo Magic isn't powerful enough to turn a 37.65 into a 50. And if it's not a 50, you can't say you won the election. Nobody can.
So how do we pick the government when our voting system doesn't produce an outright winner? Well, we don't, actually. The group of people who won the smaller elections get to do that. That's what that there phrase "parliamentary democracy" means. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
If you live in Canada, you tend to solve this dilemma by collective delusion. Together, all of the politicians, all of the media, and all of the voters, decide to say: "What, 46.4% isn't 50%? Details! U R Da Winnar, Mistar Harpar!!! Here, have the whole country to do with as you please!!!"
But if you live in a sane country, like...well, pretty much any other parliamentary democracy in the democratic world, you say: "Ooh, goody for Mr. Harper! His party's got more seats than everybody else, and he's that party's leader! He's won the right to pick the additional set of MPs that gets to help form government with his MPs!" And if for some reason he can't or won't do that, they look for a different set of 50% or more who can, and will.
You might notice that our Mr. Harper skipped this step. Funny, I noticed that, too. It's a pretty powerful collective delusion, what can I say.
But powerful as it is, it is still a delusion. And if a larger portion of those people we elected can get together and say: "Um, pardon us, but
the emperor has no clothes you've only got 46.4%," then the delusion kind of collapses. And if they can also add: "And we have 37%, and together with that other group of MPs who are willing to support us, we actually add up to 52.9%", well...then the election finally has a real winner.
Because '52.9' is not just a bigger number than '46.4'--it's also more than 50. And if you can get to more than 50? Well, that's how you actually win an election in this system of ours, without a collective delusion to help you along. (And for that matter, if you take our Seekrit Voodoo Magic out of the picture and look at the real numbers, you get 54.42%. Which is also more than 50%, and certainly more than 37.65%. A lot more.)
Now, you can call this crazy. You can call it silly, or ridiculous, or even unfair. Some of those things I might even agree with, on a bad day. But if you call it undemocratic, you are saying that 52.9 is not, in fact, a bigger number than 46.4. And that will make those of us who really understand how parliamentary democracies work--or for that matter, how numbers work--point at you and laugh.
Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
From the Canadian Press: