Voting Reform To Stop A Canadian Trump

  • National Newswatch

Hillary Clinton won over 2 million more votes than Donald Trump. But, Trump is President-elect because he won 57% of Electoral College delegates.Delegates are awarded to the candidate who wins the most votes in each state. Trump's 47% of the national vote was distributed state-by-state more effectively than Clinton's 48%.Meanwhile, back in Canada the House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform will release a report by December 1st. Trump's triumph makes voting reform more important than ever.We should not kid ourselves that our country is too nice to elect someone like Trump. Conservative Party leadership candidate Kellie Leitch welcomed the “exciting message” of Trump's victory and is campaigning to screen out immigrants with a “Canadian values” test. Leitch is leading the Conservative race, according to a recent poll.An anti-immigrant populist could become Prime Minister after benefiting from the same flaw that elected Trump with a minority of votes. In American elections, all Electoral College delegates go to the candidate who wins the most votes in a state, no matter how small the margin. In Canada, our first-past-the-post (FPP) method awards a House of Commons seat to the candidate who wins the most votes in a constituency.The winner-take-all aspect of the American and Canadian systems has similar effects. However, one distinctive feature of our politics makes the risk even greater in Canada that a Trump-like figure could be elected by an angry minority.The top two Canadian parties, Liberals and Conservatives, combined to win 71% of the total vote in our 2015 election. By contrast, the top two American parties, Democrats and Republicans, just took 95% – a bit below the historical average.Thus, the potential is even greater in Canada for the distribution of House of Commons seats to deviate from party shares of the national vote. In the US, Trump turned 47% of the national vote into 57% of Electoral College delegates. In Canada, Stephen Harper in 2011 and Justin Trudeau in 2015 both won control of 54% of House seats even though their parties had less than 40% of total votes.  The danger now facing Canada is that a Trump imitator could win a majority government mandate to demonize immigrants with less than 40% support.How could voting reform minimize the chances of a Canadian Trump? The solution is a voting system that measures popular support better than FPP.The House Committee on Electoral Reform consulted about two alternatives.The first is proportional representation (PR) used in most of Europe. Under PR, a party's proportion of legislative seats is close to its percentage of total votes. If the Conservatives, Liberals and New Democratic Party (NDP) won 40%, 35% and 25% respectively of votes in a future election, the Conservatives would get 40% of the seats, the Liberals 35% and NDP 25% under PR. (In examples with more parties and more complicated rules, the end result would still be party seats broadly in line with vote shares.)The other option is the preferential voting (PV) system used in Australia. Under PV, a voter can rank local candidates. If no one wins 50% of first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest first-choices is dropped. Ballots are recounted based on second-choices until a candidate reaches 50%.What does the American election tell us about these alternatives? Trump would have won even under PV. Exit polls showed a slight advantage for Clinton when the 5% who voted for minor candidates were asked to choose between Trump and Clinton. Michigan is the only state that might have switched to Clinton under PV. Under PV, Trump would still have won an electoral college majority.What about PR? Trump would not have won an electoral college majority. He would have finished 2 delegates ahead of Clinton, but 1 delegate short of the 50% mark.Under PR, Trump would have had to make a deal with a minor-party leader. Libertarian Gary Johnson shares Trump's isolationist approach to foreign affairs and would likely have instructed his 2 delegates to support the Donald.Note: The above simulations are not intended as precise predictions of what the results would have been under PV and PR. Politicians campaign differently when second choices matter under PV or when all votes in all states count under PR. The direction of change is what is important in the above table. It is very likely that Trump would have won significantly fewer delegates under PR.Why would Trump still come out ahead under PR with 2 million fewer votes than Clinton? The electoral college is tilted to favour states with small populations, most of which are Republican. This tilt in the electoral college cannot be fixed easily, as it was part of the bargain when the former British colonies formed the United States.Yes, Trump would have won even under PR. But, the message for Canadians is that a PR election would have been more difficult for Trump.In Canada, PR would make it even harder for a Trump-like figure to be elected Prime Minister. With a charismatic leader, an anti-immigrant Conservative Party could certainly win 40% of the total vote if a future election coincides with an economic downturn. Under our current FPP system, that might be enough for a Canadian Trump to win. But, under PR rules the Conservatives -- even if supported by the anti-immigrant Bloc Quebecois -- would likely still need support from another party to command a House majority. The Liberals, NDP and Greens differ on many issues, but all are committed to civil liberties. It is hard to imagine a leader of any of these parties putting a Canadian Trump into power.One objection to this argument is that Poland and Hungary have elected anti-immigrant nationalist governments even under PR. In Germany, the Nazis rose to be the largest party in PR elections. Hitler was then invited to take over as Chancellor.The Nazi example demonstrates the institutional weakness of the German Weimar Republic, not the failure of PR. Hitler became Chancellor in 1933 with one-third of the seats in the German Reichstag. Hitler then moved immediately to dictatorship and never had to build the coalition necessary under PR. Neither courts, police nor military acted to defend democracy.The current anti-immigrant governments in Hungary and Poland do show that aggressive nationalism can command majority support. If a majority of Canadians turn to Trumpism, no voting system can protect minority rights.Let's at least make a Canadian Trump earn a true majority to be elected Prime Minister. Under the current voting system, a Trump imitator could win a majority government with under 40% of the total vote. If we adopted PR, I am confident that Canadians would remain too nice to give a majority of votes to Trumpist parties. Let's act now on voting reform before it's too late. Before setting up his consulting practice, Adil Sayeed worked for New Zealand Treasury, Saskatchewan Finance and the Ontario Economic Council.  Adil is a member of the Liberal Party of Canada as well as the Green Party of Ontario.