Message in a bottle 3: “First past the post” – How to win a majority government with a minority of the votes

Prologue – From “Message in a bottle 2: Democracy, the appointment of judges and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The post included:

I was reminded of a post that I wrote on this very topic during the 2011 Canadian Federal Election campaign (prior to FATCA and President Obama’s FBAR Fundraiser). You may recall that the Harper Government went into this election with a minority government. The reasons that he won a majority government exist today. The reality is that the Conservative Party of Canada – led by Stephen Harper has an excellent chance of retaining their majority government. That’s the price of the “first past the post” electoral system.

The “First past the post electoral system – How does it work and how does it encourage non-representative democracy?”

The video in the above tweet explains how the “First past the post system” works.

The “Conservative Government” of Prime Minister is extremely unpopular. Yet, it has a “majority government”. How can this be? If you watch the video in the above tweet, you will see an explanation of how “First past the post” works.

Why “Message in a bottle 3”?

Prior to the 2011 election, the Conservative Government of Stephen Harper did NOT have a “majority government”. The Federal Election in 2011, resulted in the Conservative Government earning a “majority government”. Make no mistake about it. This was accomplished with a “minority of the vote”.

The video in the above tweet includes some of the thoughts of the Honourable Sinclair Stevens.

What follows, are excerpts from two posts that I wrote during the 2011 election:

Post 1 – April 23, 2011 – How, in a “first past the post system”, the NDP delivered Stephen Harper a conservative majority

If you want corporate tax cuts, vote for Jack and the NDP

The last few days have have full of discussion about the rise in Jack Layton’s popularity. Hard to understand – Jack Layton is a man who has made a career demonizing corporations and confusing a desirable state of affairs with a just state of affairs. In any case, if the polls are to be believed (and the they may become a self-fulfilling prophecy), Jack Layton’s popularity will bring the NDP to heights not seen since the days of Ed Broadbent. What does this mean for the outcome of the election on May 2?

My predication is that it means a Conservative Majority!

Look at it this way:

– Mr. Layton’s increased popularity in Quebec will amount to nothing in relation to the Conservatives (the NDP will just take seats from the Bloc). It could however mean something in terms of who will be the Opposition Leader. The conventional wisdom is that Mr. Ignatieff will continue to be the Opposition Leader. That is far from certain.

– in the rest of Canada Mr. Layton’s popularity will be primarily at the expense of the Liberals. The leaking of Liberal support to the NDP gives the Conservatives an excellent opportunity to win some of the closer ridings. Interestingly, the Conservatives could actually get fewer votes but win more seats.

– The relevancy of the Green Party will be a casualty of an increase of NDP popularity.

So, the moral of the story is:

If you want a Harper Majority then Vote NDP!

Here is an interesting article written in June 2010 from a respected commentator which suggest some of the same things:–hebert-jack-layton-s-surge-great-news-for-stephen-harper

Post 2 – April 7, 2011 – Strategic Voting in a “first past the post system” – Why the “Green Party” does NOT poll better

Strategic Voting – To Split the vote or not, that is the question
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Strategic Voting – To Avoid Splitting The Vote

The Green Party and Green Party supporters have the potential to make a big difference in the May 2 election. The Green Party is on a growth trajectory and may become a victim of its own success. Although the Greens are unlikely to win many seats (if any), they are likely to have an influence on the outcome of this election. Green Party supporters are most likely to take support from the Liberals and NDP – increasing the chance of a Conservative being elected – and potentially giving the Conservatives their coveted majority. The Conservatives, could get the same number percentage of votes as in 2008 and win a majority. To put it simply:

As goes the Green Party, So go the Conservatives!

It’s interesting that in the United States Ralph Nader ran for president as the Green Party Candidate (no affiliation with the Green Party of Canada). Some argued that the small number of votes he received (presumably at the expense of Al Gore), were responsible for giving George W. Bush the presidency.

What’s A Poor Green Party Supporter To Do?

As the above dilemma indicates, a number of Green Party supporters are aware that by voting for the Green Party, they may be electing the Conservatives. This demonstrates the problem of the “first past the post system” which will certainly be reevaluated. But, that is down the road. The question is what should voters do now? Vote for the Green Party with their heart, or vote for a Liberal with their head?

The following considerations may be important:

1. To Vote For A Liberal Is To Vote Against Something And Not For Something

For a Green Party supporter to vote for a Liberal, is to vote against a Conservative. I am reminded that when Rocco Rossi, exited the race for Toronto’s Mayor, he urged voters to “vote for something, not against someone”.

A Green supporter who votes for a Liberal is voting against something and not for something.

2. A Vote For A Liberal Is A Vote Against Local Representation

Although the Green Party appears to gives its candidates freedom and autonomy, the Liberals give their candidates neither freedom of judgment nor autonomy. When it comes to the Liberals: when the leader says jump – the candidate says “how high”? This also means a strategic vote against the Conservatives is also a vote again riding representation.

3. A Vote For A Liberal May Result In Mr. Ignatieff Becoming Prime Minister

There is a saying: “Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t know”. Everybody except Conservatives believe that a Conservative majority would be the worst option. But, what is the difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives? Both parties have demonstrated contempt for democracy. There is no reason to believe that the Liberals would be better at managing the economy (and there is reason to believe that they would be worse). Neither the Liberals or Conservatives give the local MPs any autonomy – meaning that under neither scenario will the riding get local representation. At the present time only those ridings that elect independent candidates benefit from strong local representation.
4. Only A Majority Government Will Avoid A Coalition Government

It is unlikely that the Liberals could win a majority government. It is possible, (but I believe unlikely) that the Conservatives could win a majority. Remember that any government that is a minority government will be a coalition government – meaning that the parties must come together to vote on specific bills. The self-proclaimed “Harper Government” has been operating as a coalition government. It has always required the support of at least one other party.

5. A “Reckless” Coalition Is A Coalition Where Parties Agree To Vote Together From The Outset

Mr. Ignatieff has made it clear that he will not seek a “reckless” coalition with other parties. I don’t see that he has to. If the Harper government does not have a majority, the other parties (which command a majority) can come together to topple the government. For example, the Governor General could simply ask Mr. Ignatieff to form a government. He would then be in a minority government situation (which is exactly where the Conservatives are now). The precedent for this is the Ontario in the 1980s where David Peterson and Bob Rae came together to topple the Conservative government of Frank Miller. Mr. Peterson, became Premier and ran a minority government (relying on the support of the NDP).

6. A Vote For The Greens Is A Long Term Investment in Democracy
“There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.

– John F. Kennedy”

Much has been made of the “Harper Government” contempt for democracy. None of the mainstream parties respects the role of MPs or the principle that MPs should be responsible to their constituents. This is demonstrated by a centralization of power in the office of the Prime Minister and “whipped votes”. Contempt for democracy will continue as long as Canada clings to the “first past the post” voting system and any of the main parties form the government.

The only way that Canada’s government can change is through the vote. Assuming that the Greens exhibit a continuing respect for democracy, a vote for the Greens is a “long term” investment in the kind of representative democracy that Green party supporters want.

To put it simply: if you don’t vote for the Green Party candidates, they cannot win.

7. A Vote From The Heart Is A Vote That Stands For Something …

Barack Obama once noted that people were always accusing the Democrats of not standing for anything. In a rare display of wit, he countered by saying:

“That’s not true, the problem is that we do stand for anything.”

The Ontario Liberal Government of David Peterson was turfed out of office because it didn’t stand for anything (other than power for the sake of power). It is unclear what the Liberal Party of Michael Ignatieff actually stands for (other than wanting to be the government).

Therefore, a vote for the Liberals is NOT a “vote for something.”

Therefore, If you believe that the Green Party stands for something,

I suggest that a vote from your heart may be the same as a vote from your head!


All indications are that, following the recommendations of Betterballots.To and others, the City of Toronto will abolish the “first past the system”, in the 2018 election. As a result, it will be easier to defeat almost any City Councillor. The 2018 election will be a very exciting election. Incidentally, the City of Toronto is still debating the question of whether Canadian citizenship should be required for voting.

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