Monday, November 12, 2012

Majority Envy

My faith in the US was restored with the re-election of Obama last Tuesday.  Granted he has been a disappointment but one has to look at the alternatives.   I know a lot of the doctors who read this blog are disappointed but get over it. 

There are a lot of things about the US that I admire including, rock and roll, blues, bluegrass, NFL football,  and of course the Boston Bruins; however watching the recent election there I couldn't help noticing that with the exception of a few cases, the president actually gets a majority of the popular vote.  Granted there is the ridiculous electoral college but in most cases the president gets over half the vote and all the electoral college does is turn a narrow popular vote win into an electoral college landslide.

I have always admired the US political system with its checks and balances even if this has been perverted in the last decade or so.   There is a lot of the US system that is bad but as a Canadian, the saying people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones comes to mind.

Canada unlike the US has 3 and sometimes 4 political parties and our increasingly presidential-like Prime Minister is elected by our own version of the electoral college, the first past the post election of the House of Commons which allows people to win their seat with less than 50% of the vote (27% in one case).  This has assured that in my life-time only two Prime Ministers Diefenbaker in 1958 and Mulroney in 1984 have gotten over 50% of the popular vote.  In both cases these two got huge majorities in the House of Commons.  Pierre Trudeau, considered by some to be Canada's greatest Prime Minister won majorities with 45.5%, 43.2% and 44.3%.  He also got a minority win with 38.5 % and lost an election with 40.1%.  Jean Cretien managed to win 3 comfortable majorities with around 40% of the popular vote.  In other words Sarah Palin got a higher percentage of the popular vote than most Canadian Prime Ministers. 

I am painfully aware that not everybody shares my political views and I accept the fact that if more people vote for the other guy, he deserves to win and govern.  It does bother me that somebody who got less than half the votes gets to "win" the election.

As somebody else pointed out, a Prime Minister with a parliamentary majority is the closest thing to a dictatorship and our current Prime Minister has a very comfortable majority in the House of Commons with only 39.62% of the popular vote.  The opposition representing over 60% of the popular vote can do all they can but if our PM deviates from his legislative agenda, it is because his advisers have advised him that what he is proposing is not politically sound.  Oh yeah and I did I tell you he gets to appoint all the Senators as well?

Of course this all dependent on his Parliamentary caucus voting along with him.  Our Prime Minister is able to keep his troops in line by controlling things like cabinet appointments and other jobs that increase the income and prestige of the individual member.  He also is able to eject unruly members from his caucus effectively ending their chance of re-election and is able to block their nominations by refusing to sign their nomination papers.

The result of this system is that political parties know that the magic number for a majority is about 40% of the popular vote and they can tailor their platform to this minority of the population.  There has been a distaste among Canadian voters for proportional representation (which seems to work just fine in many of the world's democracies).  Most political parties realizing that they are unlikely to ever get more than 50% of the popular vote are not that enthusiastic about it either.

In effect a Canadian Prime Minister finds himself in the situation Obama found himself in after the 2008 election, controlling both the House and the Senate.  Looking at his first two years in office with his inability to get his legislative agenda through, I wonder how many current and former Canadian Prime Ministers were thinking, "what a wimp".

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