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Electoral-reform advocates decry New Brunswick 'schmozzle'

New Brunswick PC Leader David Alward speaks to supporters after his election victory while his wife Rhonda and his sons, Jonathan and Benjamin, look on Sept. 27, 2010, at the campaign headquarters in Woodstock, N.B.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

In the 2006 New Brunswick election, former Premier Bernard Lord won more votes but lost to Shawn Graham, whose Liberals formed a majority government. Fair Vote Canada's Larry Gordon calls that "a classic first-past-the-post schmozzle."

On Monday night, New Brunswickers threw out Mr. Graham. And again the voting patterns were all skewed.

More than a third of voters supported the Liberal premier while less than half supported David Alward and his Progressive Conservatives and when it was all tallied, the Tories came out with 42 MLAS compared to 13 for the Grits. Mr. Gordon's national group, which is advocating voter reform in Canada, is not amused.

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"I think it's a damning case against first-past-the-post because you really do have a situation where voters are saying one thing with the ballot and then it kind of goes into this first-past-the-post shredder with some completely different type of result comes out the other end," Mr. Gordon told The Globe. He called the distortion "typical" but conceded the New Brunswick result is "certainly not the most outrageous that has ever happened."

Mr. Gordon noted the "ludicrous example" of the Green Party receiving 940,000 votes in the 2008 federal election but winning no seats. Compare this to Stephen Harper's Tories, who in Alberta received 813,000 votes but sent 27 MPs to the House of Commons.

"It just completely twists the way politics works and it doesn't reflect the voters," Mr. Gordon complained. "It's reflecting the bizarre outcomes and allocations of power that the voting system is creating."

The battle over the long-gun registry is a good example of this. Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn't benefit from a few thousand votes in downtown Toronto, so he plays to his strengths, which are rural voters. The first-past-the-post system, Mr. Gordon explained, makes parties regionally-focused and can dictate policy.

Don't voters care? Not yet, apparently.

"I don't think people have the connected dots yet between their visceral anger about the state of politics today and about feeling that the legislatures and Parliament aren't accountable, aren't really representative of our interests."

Ironically, Bernard Lord had proposed a referendum on electoral reform but before holding that vote he called an election and lost. The system he proposed - a mixed-member proportional representation system - would have provided much different results had it been in effect for Monday's night vote.

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Mr. Gordon's group concluded that with 49 per cent of the popular vote, the Tories would have won 28 seats under the MMP system compared to the 42 they won (giving them 76 per cent of the seats in the legislature). The Liberals, meanwhile, with 34 per cent of the popular vote, would have won 18 seats, five more than they actually did (they now repesent 24 per cent of the 55 seats in the chamber).

It should be noted that the group's projections are "approximately" what would happen under a new system. Some voters would vote differently, "casting sincere votes rather than strategic ones," Mr. Gordon said.

But it wasn't all bad for electoral-reform advocates Monday night in New Brunswick. Voter turn-out increased over the last election: 71.4 per cent marked their ballots this time around compared to 67.5 per cent in 2006.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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