Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia
Almost thirteen years after the Campbell Progressive Conservative government was reduced to just two MPs, a re-united right was led back into minority government in Canada by Stephen Harper on the back of the AdScam scandal within the governing Liberal Party.
For nearly ten years, the Liberals under
Jean Chrétien dominated the House of Commons because they swept most of
Ambitious long-time Finance Minister Paul Martin, credited with turning the economy around in the 90s, went to the backbench before becoming Prime Minister in December 2003. His popularity started extremely high, but in February 2004 the Auditor General reported serious irregularities in a program set up to promote the federal government in Quebec after a secession referendum there was narrowly lost in 1995.
Martin called an early election in June 2004 before a united new Conservative Party could integrate two strands of predecessor policies and ran a fairly effective scare campaign to finish with 135 seats out of 308 (44%: 36.7% of the votes), down 37 on their outcome in 2000. The Conservatives won 99 seats (32%: 29.6%), the single-province Bloc Québécois 54 (18%: 12.4%) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) 19 (6%: 15.7%).
The government’s first Budget survived only
on the casting vote of the Speaker after days of drama and agreement to $C4.6
billion of social spending to win NDP support. A key was the defection of
Martin had wound up the promotional
In early November, the interim Gomery Commission report was released, highly critical of "a blatant abuse of public funds" marked by "carelessness and incompetence” and “a culture of entitlement". Financing rules for political parties had already been changed to limit levels of personal donations and prohibit any by corporations, and the Conservatives promised to go further, as well as to prohibit former politicians, staffers and senior public servants from acting as lobbyists for five years.
Both the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois quickly indicated that a no confidence vote was appropriate, and after being turned down on health system matters, the NDP agreed to help bring an end to the government. Following a vote of no confidence on 28 November, elections were set for 23 January, the eight week campaign period punctuated by Christmas one of the longest on record.
After a founding policy conference in May,
the Conservatives put down a blueprint for government and developed momentum
with regular new policy announcements. They took the lead in polls late in the
year following reports of police investigating whether news about a
government backdown over unit trust taxation
matters was improperly leaked to the stock market, and the fatal shooting in
The Liberals sought to limit likely losses with advertisements again alleging an extreme social agenda of their opponents. However, these were all released on the one day, and attention focused on the most outlandish claim. On the other hand, the Conservatives ran a disciplined campaign free of 2004’s single-issue outbursts by individual candidates, but their support started to recede from 40% near the end of the campaign.
Overall the turnout was 64.9%, up four
percentage points on 2004, but ten below levels of the 70s and 80s. Just 0.6%
of votes were invalid. The Conservatives increased their vote nationally by
6.6% and won 25 more ridings than in 2004, but did not have a single MP
elected from the three largest cities of
Although the advertising scandal revolved
The Liberals lost nearly 5% support in
The Conservatives dominated the prairie provinces, winning all 28 seats in Alberta (including defeating the Deputy Prime Minister) on 65% support, 12 of 14 in Saskatchewan on 49% support (the Liberals gained a seat despite slipping 5% to fall behind overall NDP votes) and 8 of 14 in Manitoba (43% support). They also again won most seats in British Columbia where they have been a minor force in provincial politics, 17 of 36, down five even though their support rose slightly to 37%: the NDP doubled its seats to ten on 2% extra support to nearly 29%, and the Liberals fell 1% to 28% but picked up a ninth seat.
On the other hand, Liberal percentage
support in the four
Outgoing Prime Minister Martin announced his immediate resignation as Liberal leader, and former Defence Minister Bill Graham was elevated as a stop-gap for most of 2006, until a new leadership (for which he would not be nominating) convention process could be finalised. With much tighter limits on donations and personal expenditure, campaigning for delegates was expected to be harder and quite a few prominent Liberals quickly announced that they would not be candidates.
Prime Minister Harper representing
The following table summarises the relationship between House of Commons votes (% in the first line) and initial seats (number and % in the second line) by province in both 2006 and 2004.
Under the current system, unbalanced representation for the larger parties around the nation will continue to be a serious obstacle to good government and any sense of national unity. Some of the distortions would be worsened by preferential voting unless part of a move to proportional representation.
It has had first-past-the-post elections since 1773, becoming unicameral with a dual assemblyman/councillor structure in 1893 (a property franchise applied for the latter until 1965) until the level of rural weighting (boundaries barely changed in 100 years) was struck down as unconstitutional in 1993. Since 1994, it has had 27 Assembly electorates with typically 3-4,000 enrolled voters in each. Turnouts above 80% are the norm.
There has been a long history of unbalanced parliaments with government alternating at intervals between the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives. A small third party existed briefly towards the end of World War II and for a few further years, and the New Democratic Party has had limited support since the 1970s, including having one MP elected briefly. The governing party’s support has usually been 50-60% but the vote for both large parties was in the 40s when the Liberals lost office in 1996.
Only four elections since 1900 have had close outcomes. In the past sixty years, all but two have seen the opposition presence reduced to around one-third or less. On four of the past five occasions, that has been between one (1993 and 2000) and four (2003) MPs, prompting a significant degree of persistent public disquiet. When the sole opposition MP has been ill in sitting periods, at times the media have been allowed to submit questions.
In 2001, a Special Assembly Committee on the Electoral Act asked the Electoral Commission to review systems of proportional representation in use around the world. The Speaker received a report in April 2002 outlining electoral arrangements in small jurisdictions and focusing largely on list and mixed systems: the level of understanding of the single transferable vote can be gauged from an assertion that it was in use in France and an alleged detriment that the vote is counted several times. The report outlined several top-up options to limit imbalances between votes and seats and stated that Prince Edward Islanders should be involved in the development of any new arrangements.
At the start of 2003, a retired Chief Justice was appointed to head a Commission on Electoral Reform and reported at year’s end after taking submissions and hearing evidence. While he thought that a mixed member proportional (MMP) system had greatest chance of being adopted as it involved less change than a quota-preferential approach, he recommended that more public meetings be held and there be a process of public education and debate. He presented four models for allocating list seats in parallel with mainly single-member contests.
Instead, at the end of 2004, the Assembly called for an eight-person Commission on Prince Edward Island’s Electoral Future (one from each of the registered parties and five from respondents to newspaper advertising) to develop a public education program and a plebiscite question on whether the current system was preferred to a mixed member proportional alternative it was to specify. The system finalised in mid-October for a plebiscite on 28 November 2005 involved the outcome in 17 single-member electorates being gradually tempered by applying a d’Hondt “highest average” province-wide allocation to determine 10 additional seats from set party lists (see www.electionspei.ca/electoralfuture/finalreport.pdf)
Premier Binns announced the twin success hurdles of 60% of votes and majorities in at least 16 electorates in late October. Only one-fifth of the usual polling places would be open and the previous list of voters would be set aside. As a result, the customary information about where they could vote was not sent to individual voters and they were required to answer five standard questions before signing the poll book and being issued with a ballot paper.
The turnout was around one-third and the
MMP option won just 36% public support, carrying only two electorates in the
Many voters were suspicious that they would lose their current close links with local members and the parties would control the additional list component. Nearly all Assembly members opposed this change along with some party activists and former politicians.
While the Premier, who had once expressed sympathy for proportional representation, initially indicated the plebiscite disposed of the matter comprehensively, the Opposition Leader reserved the possibility of revisiting it.
Since 1994, the PRSA’s Victoria-Tasmania Branch has encouraged the use of the quota-preferential system of proportional representation by offering a vote-counting service to organisations that use, or wish to use, the Society’s PR counting rules, as specified in the PRSA’s Proportional Representation Manual.
After instruction and testing, six of the Branch’s members have become Accredited PR Vote-counting Officers and are available to undertake PR counts. Their particulars as well as the conditions applying to the Branch’s conduct of counts appear on the PRSA Web site (follow links from www.prsa.org.au/software.htm).
PR counts are undertaken either by calculations on the paper form of the PRSA’s Quota-preferential Counting Sheet, or using software that PRSAV-T possesses. Most clients prefer PRSAV-T’s Vote-counting Officers to use the software, as the time taken, which is largely for just data entry, is usually much less, and a prior estimate of the time and cost is far more easily given.
The use of the software alternative also has the benefit of providing an electronic and printable record of the preference order on each individual ballot. That record can be readily checked against the ballot-papers by those conducting the scrutiny and others.
PRSAV-T’s counting service has been used on
16 occasions since 1994, including in every year since 2000, by as diverse a range of organisations as the Australian
The basic charge is presently a modest $40 per person hour. Separate surcharges of $10 per person hour can apply if the written call for nominations, the printed ballot-papers or the written notice of the poll result, posted to all members, do not all clearly indicate the counting of the votes as being by the quota-preferential method of proportional representation. Another such surcharge applies if the detailed counting sheet of each scrutiny involved does not appear for at least one month in a reasonably accessible place on the organisation's Web site, headed by the name of the Society and with an interactive link to its Web address.
In both 2002 and 2004, Oxfam
This book, edited by Susan Magarey, is reviewed here by the PRSA National Vice-President, Deane Crabb. It is published by Wakefield Press, 392 pages, 2001, pp xv +256, ISBN 1 86254 656 8, $39.95, Hard Cover.
Over the past couple of years, there has
been increasing interest in Catherine Helen Spence, perhaps one of the most
remarkable women to have lived in
Miss Spence was a journalist, social
reformer and a novelist. In the vanguard of first-wave feminism seeking
equality of opportunity for women in
Electoral reform was Miss Spence’s primary political interest, and she campaigned tirelessly for proportional representation (or “effective voting” as she preferred to call it) from 1859 to her death in 1910. In promoting electoral reform, she stood in the public election for members of the 1897 Australasian Federal Convention, which was established to frame the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, thus becoming the first Australian woman to be a political candidate.
This latest publication is a re-issue of Catherine Helen Spence An Autobiography supplemented with extensive footnotes, together with Miss Spence’s diary for 1894 and some of her correspondence.
Even for those that have previously read
Miss Spence’s autobiography, the additional footnotes add a new dimension
particularly on the people, places and issues she was so intimately involved
with. The footnotes were painstakingly prepared by Barbara Wall, who also
compiled the extensive bibliography of Catherine Spence (see the State
From her late twenties, Miss Spence kept a diary every year of her long life. It was thought that all of those diaries had been destroyed but, miraculously, Susan Magarey has tracked down Miss Spence’s diary for 1894, and for the first time this has been published.
This was one of the more momentous years
for Miss Spence. She attended the Chicago World Fair in 1893, and stayed in
She then travelled to
A bonus is the inclusion of Miss Spence’s letters to two of her many correspondents during the last ten years of her life when, despite her advancing age, she still continued her campaign for effective voting.
Supporters of proportional representation will be keen on this new book, but Miss Spence’s wide range of other interests should ensure that all readers will find this detailed account of the issues and the people in the nineteenth century to be most fascinating.
© 2006 Proportional Representation Society of
National President: Bogey Musidlak 14 Strzelecki Cr. NARRABUNDAH 2604
National Secretary: Dr Stephen
Morey 4 Sims Street
Tel: (02) 6295 8137, (03) 9598 1122 email@example.com
Printed by Prestige Copying & Printing, 97 Pirie Street ADELAIDE SA 5000