Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Local vs. national tensions in Canadian voting

One of the things that intrigues me about voting behaviour in Canada is the fact that you only get one vote, and that one vote helps determine two very different things: your local representative and your government. And I'm fascinated by the very different decisions people make as a result of this combined vote.

Exhibit A on this front is people like Andrew Anderson of Bound by Gravity, who is a member and staunch supporter of the Conservative Party of Canada, but who is so disenchanted with his MP that he says he won't be able to vote for him next time. Because Andrew needs to support that particular candidate in order to vote for his party, this effectively means that he will have to vote for a party other than the Conservatives. For him, local factors trump national ones.

On the other side, we have exhibit B, i.e., the various people who are saying that the success or failure of this or that Liberal leadership candidate at the convention will entirely determine the way they vote. "The day Ignatieff becomes leader of the Liberals is the last day of any support I give the party," says one commenter over at Canadian Cerberus, and Mike, the somewhat disenchanted New Democrat from Rational Reasons, has said several times that if Bob Rae wins the leadership, he will vote Liberal for the first time in his life. For these people, national factors trump local ones.

Finally, we have exhibit C, which consists of those who try to balance the local with the national. A good example here is Matt from Pample the Moose, who has said things like: "In a wide-open race, I wouldn't vote for an Ignatieff-led Liberal party over the NDP - although I'd still strategically vote Liberal in a tight local race to beat a Conservative." People like Matt are influenced by the leaders of the parties and their official policies, but those things aren't the be-all and end-all of their decisions, as local factors matter as well.

I think this is part of why I would find the way people vote under a Mixed-Member Proportional voting system so ideal for Canada. Because you get two votes under that system--one for a local candidate and one for a party--it separates choosing a local representative from choosing a government. If, say, you're particularly enamoured with your local Green candidate, but you'd really like to give Jack Layton a shot at becoming prime minister--or if you'd ideally like to see a Liberal-led government but think your local NDP candidate has a better chance of ousting the sitting Tory (as in my riding)--you can actually represent both of those preferences with your vote.


Anonymous said...

You nailed it IP. That, in a nutshell, is why I support MMP.

Mike said...

I too support MMP. With that I could vote they way I want to (NDP...I'm not that disenchanted).

As an added twist, consider this: I live in Ottawa and in the next riding over from Baird's. My riding and my part of Ottawa - Barrhaven - is the southern terminus of the Light Rail of which Andrew was speaking. As a result of this issue, locally I will be voting for a conservative city councillor, Jan Harder, and a "Liberal" mayor, Bob Chiarelli, becuase they support the the project. Anger at Baird and his meddling crosses traditional party lines and left right divisions.

So in that sense, I am putting local issues ahead of national ones.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I try very hard not to have a favourite electoral system, because I think it's counter-productive when there are so many possibilities that would be better than what we have now. And I realize that part of my bias toward MMP is because I've lived under MMP, and I haven't lived under, say, STV. But there are times when it seems like MMP is just made for Canadian political culture and society, you know?


Fascinating! Let me see if I have this right: you want to vote NDP, but you like Bob Rae, so he could push you over the edge toward voting Liberal in the next election. But part of that decision would also be a strategic vote on the local level, since the Liberal has a better chance of winning your riding than the NDP candidate. Do I have that right? If that's the case, then you actually are also taking local factors into account (the strategic local vote) as well as your admiration for the potential leader.

Although I could have sworn I saw you saying in one place that you would consider joining the Liberals if Rae won, and that would seem strange for someone who still wants to vote NDP! Did I hallucinate that?

By the way, the buzz in the Fair Vote Canada executive (which you should join if you haven't already!) is that Rae also likes MMP. One more reason for you, maybe? *grin*

Anonymous said...

I always thought I was in favour of Additional Member system, because it made sense to me when I learned about it in Scotland. But according to your wiki-link, they're the same thing. :)

Tangentally, bound by gravity's blog must not like me very much because both of those links give me 403 errors. :(

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Yeah, "mixed-member" is the more common way to refer to the proportional system because "additional-member" can also refer to a somewhat similar electoral system that's not proportional.

As far as I can tell, Bound by Gravity was having some technical difficulties yesterday, but it's back now.

Olaf said...


You're quite adept at making complicated issues crystal clear. Well done.

I must say, however, I especially liked this line: If, say, you're particularly enamoured with your local Green candidate, but you'd really like to give Jack Layton a shot at becoming prime minister

That's quite the hypothetical.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Hey, I actually know someone like that! :-)

Mike said...

I'm an enigma, wrapped in a riddle.


A little confession - when I lived in Toronto, and after he was the Premier, Bob Rae and I shared the same optomistrist and I got to talk to him personally a few times. Despite being angry about 'Rae Days', I found him to be a very genuine and nice person. So on some level this is truly personal - I quite like the guy.

Yes I have said that I would vote Liberal and perhaps even join the Liberal party - I like Bob Rae and I think he is flexible enough and creative enough do do some fairly interesting ad good things. I wish he would have stayed with the NDP.

This is not easy for me to even consider, trust me. I have been and NDP member and supporter since before I could vote over 20 years now. No other person - including Trudeau - has ever made me waver from my support in the NDP. Perhaps I still think I'm voting NDP when I think about voting for him. And to even stomach voting for a party with a guy like Dan McTeague as a member (or Cherniak) is tough.

I may never go through with any of it, but I would be lying to say I am not considering it. That can be either a warning to our party (I'm sure I am not alone) or a lever to the Libs. Which is why I said on the Hotstove that the biggest threat to the NDP would be Bob Rae as Liberal leader.

I don't think its going to happen - Dion will probably come up the middle.

JG said...

MMP works for me too. I'm not particularly disenchanted with the NDP either, but I have a certain appreciation for Rae, whose government, ironically, played some role in developing my affinity for the party.

I was only just becoming politically aware in junior high, and most of my experience consisted in watching Mulroney's ignonimous departure and having a vague sense that Bob Rae was a well-meaning guy who became premier at the wrong time. My disgust at the polarization, labour strife (which I experienced directly as a student), and meanspiritedness of the subsequent Common Nonsense Revolution cemented my feeling that the "nasty ideologies" of Neo-conservatives are absolutely to be opposed.

The real irony is that the Harris government made me a *real* conservative against such revolutions, which is to say, a social democrat.

So, I can imagine myself, possibly, voting Liberal with Rae as leader, but I'm rather loath to lend my vote to Brison. MMP would fix that, and I wouldn't have to back a local Liberal candidate, something I've never done before. But a Rae-led federal government would be the closest we might be able to get to an NDP government in the near future. I suppose taking over the Liberals from the inside isn't such a bad way of going about it. ;-)

Anonymous said...

With all the contortions we have to go through, you'd think there'd be a lot more Canadians in Ponoka. My head hurts just reading your examples!

Of course, reading about the MMP didn't help. I think I get it, though, now... no, wait, not quite. I think this is something that I need to ask someone in person. So put that on the agenda for the next time I'm in Edmonton!

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I'm not chastizing you, honest, just trying to understand. Dissecting you a bit, perhaps. Do you feel violated? *grin*


There's little I like more than talking about electoral systems (sad, but true), so I will hold you to that!

Anonymous said...

Then there are people who don't fit into any of your categories. If i didn't live in Quebec, i would vote for the best candidate period - regardless of what party they belonged to, simply because i don't like political parties and am more interested in getting the best people elected. When i lived in Ontario, i voted for all three major parties in different elections.

Living in Quebec, however, left/right politics takes a very distant back seat to the whole separatist/federalist thing. My riding - both at the provincial and federal level - is "owned" by the separatists (PQ and BQ). Those parties could run Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka as their candidates and they'd still probably win in a landslide. So when i go to the polls here, my only motivation is to not vote separatist. Doesn't matter what other party i vote for since none of them have a chance in hell of winning. Federally i usually vote liberal because i'm in Duceppe's riding and i figure that will just piss him off more than anything else.

But seriously - we need to get rid of parties (and provinces) ASAP. I like the idea of consensus politics like they have in 2 of the territories. Parties are evil - ultimately, they only care about doing what's best for them (i.e. staying in power).