Ontario 2022

Ontario’s election on 2 June saw another Progressive Conservative seat majority on barely over 40% of the votes. The party, led by provincial Premier Doug Ford, barely increased its vote percentage from 2018, when it won 40.2%; this time the tally is about 40.8% (pending final count). Its vote total actually went down, because it was the lowest turnout in the province’s history. Yet it will have 83 of the 124 seats, whereas in the 2018 election it won 76.

For those keeping the stats, that would be a bare two-thirds majority (66.9%), and an advantage ratio (%seats/%votes) of 1.64. That is very much on the high side, even by the standards of FPTP with multiparty systems.

The main shifts in vote percentages were among the two largest opposition parties. The Liberals improved from 19.4% to 23.9%. The payoff in seats was minimal: the party won 8 seats this time, 7 last time. The NDP performed especially badly, going from 33.3% of the vote in 2018 to 23.7%. However, even though the NDP’s votes are marginally behind the Liberals’, the NDP will continue to have more seats–a lot more–with 31 (down from 40 at the last election). Yes, FPTP in multiparty systems!

Ontario objectively needs to shift to a proportional system. It is not as if the province has not had the opportunity to do that before.

30 thoughts on “Ontario 2022

  1. I think the issue with that is that every time there’s a good opportunity for reform, one of the non-Tory parties wins a majority of seats on a minority of votes and decides it doesn’t want reform. Or they decide to call a referendum and allow entrenched interests to air propaganda against electoral reform.

    I think for the conditions to be right for reform you need a rather unicorn result where both large non-Tory parties win about the same number of seats, which total to a comfortable parliamentary majority put together but an unstable minority when separate. But to do that they either need to coordinate electorally, which none of them ever seem interested in doing, or see a PC government enter into an election with very low approval. Honestly I can’t see it happening, unless perhaps it happens first at the federal level.


    • The unicorn condition may be that supporters of both of the two largest parties feel betrayed. This could be successive betrayals by their party leaders (New Zealand in the 1980s-90s) or the electoral system (British Columbia in 1996, 2001 elections). Unfortunately for reformers, it’s a rare happening.


  2. The Ontario citizens assembly in 2007 chose MMP instead of STV. Its reasons were perfectly valid, but that decision let referendum opponents win with the basically silly argument that under PR the parties, rather than the voters, chose the winners. MMP is my personal preference among forms of PR, but I advocate for STV anyway because I think it’s a lot more winnable in most places. I obviously can’t prove that it would have won in Ontario in 2007, but I think it had a better chance than the citizens assembly proposal.


    • The “winnable” solution is to not have a referendum on electoral reform unless it is constitutionally required, which in Canada it is not.

      Asking the majority to approve reducing their own power and granting rights to a minority in a referendum before those rights are granted is a recipe for disaster.


        • hschlectra is exactly right. But it’s also true that many electoral reformers don’t like referenda unless they are constitutionally required. I’m not among them, though. New Zealand proves that they are sometimes winnable. (By the way, New Zealand is also the exception to my rule about MMP being hard to win.)


        • I think the objection to referendums comes from a suspicion that electoral reform seems to be the only thing regularly put to referendums in Canada! Canadian legislatures seem to be pretty happy unilaterally amending the Constitution, and most provincial governments don’t seem terribly eager to put major policy questions to a public vote. It’s just electoral reform that needs this additional barrier (and it acts purely as a barrier, given that even victory at a referendum doesn’t guarantee electoral system change).


        • I oppose referenda because they tend to result in a parliamentary majority which supports electoral reform yielding their elected responsibility to an electorate which is under-informed and more susceptible to disinformation and logical fallacies.

          The majority of voters should support PR, but most referenda have shown that they don’t support it at the ballot box.

          I do think one issue with MMP is determining party lists, although personally I’d prefer some form of primary election process to open lists on the general election ballot. While the Israeli primary process isn’t perfect, I think it shows there’s definitely potential for it to be a workable system.


        • I would definitely point to Israel as a good case study in why you should NOT have primaries to set party lists!

          (I do not know whether I would feel less or more strongly if the ultimate lists in question were open rather than closed. Having both primary and open lists seems strange and potentially pathological. But so is a primary for any type of list. So just don’t.)


    • MMP with closed province-wide lists was not winnable in Ontario in 2007. But the open-list MMP ballot would look like this ballot that PEI voters chose in their 2016 plebiscite (the one the Liberal Premier refused to honour because it didn’t meet the turnout criterion that he had forgotten to mention before the vote):


      • wilfredday’s point is another example of supporting something that’s good enough, rather something that’s perfect, when you’re more likely to get voters to agree on it. In spite of the hazards, I’m in favor of a requirement that the voters agree to changes in electoral systems.


        • Yes, that is an important principle and I share it.

          I do not actually like MMP with open lists, as I think it is both unnecessary and introduces a level of complexity that is not balanced by objective gains in representation. Having said that, I do not find it terribly objectionable (as long as the lists are short, like in the example), and if it helps sell PR, I can accept it.


    • Well, unless the polls change or are miserably wrong, the CAQ has increased its support by around 10% from 2018, when they won 60% of seats on 37% of the vote, so I imagine a CAQ supermajority and they just never bring up the electoral reform referendum again.

      Quebec would be even harder to overcome because, for varying reasons, most of the opposition hate their fellow opposition parties more than they hate the CAQ.

      If the CAQ somehow loses ground it might be different, but that doesn’t look likely, especially with the election year English-attacking Bill 96 in place to drive up support.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The suggestion that in Canada only proposals for electoral reform need go to a referendum is too general. More precisely, governments require a referendum for proposed PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION. Proposals for a new MAJORITARIAN system have been implemented with no referendum (BC in 1952 and 1953, Alberta in 1955).


      • I’m under the impression that, while this is indeed weird in the United States, it is not necessarily so elsewhere. Even in the U.S., there was a conservative side to the original (1900-1910) progressive movement. The meaning of “progressive” in U.S. politics has changed considerably since then.


        • Yes, but I thought that PC name was weird even before the left wing of the Democratic party adopted “progressive” as its self-description.


  4. General question here – how does a general lack of awareness of the voting system play into the seats product model and general voting patterns?

    Because polls show only 40% of Canadians know Canada uses first past the post, and the way civics is taught in highschool actually shows a model parliament being elected proportionally.

    Does Canada vote like we have pro-rep because most Canadians think we already have it?


    • Voting system, or electoral system?

      I am afraid I do not understand your question about the seat product model. But I will point out that the effective number of seat winning parties (Ns) in Canadian federal elections tends to be close to what the seat product model predicts for that electoral system. It is true that the effective number of vote-earning parties (Nv) is higher than expected, as I have noted. I can’t claim to have a good explanation, other than to note that at the district level the the effective number of vote-earning parties (N’v) tends to average right around where the SPM expects it to be. At the national level, Nv is “too high” even though Ns is “just right.”


  5. Ryan’s question deserves its own thread. And it’s not just about Canada. There must be some empirical research on the extent to which voters do or do not understand the electoral rules. It’s less likely that there’s any research on whether variation in that understanding explains local deviations from the seat product model and/or or other relationships between seats and votes. But if that could be done it would extremely interesting.


    • I am sure there is such research on the question of voters’ understanding of how electoral systems work, although I have never looked into it. My take on such questions is simply that we know, on average, party systems tend to be pretty close to what the SPM predicts. So, whether or not voters understand the electoral system, they usually behave as if they did.

      An interesting question might be whether misunderstanding is systematically higher in countries that deviate from the SPM prediction over long periods of time. I am skeptical such a research project would turn up much, but I hope someone will investigate that some day!

      (Maybe I now understand Ryan’s question after all!)

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t think corresponding to the SPM means that voters understand the electoral system. I would say in fact the opposite – that the SPM shows that voters don’t do what some people say they should do.

        A lot of people who have studied electoral systems seem to think that FPTP means that voters should focus on the two candidates most likely to win, and that FPTP should result in an actual two party system as in the US. Even if Canada teaches the system wrongly, there’s other countries with FPTP apart from Canada. And probably more people believe that FPTP should result in a two party system than know about the SPM, yet FPTP systems aren’t generally two party systems, so behavior is probably based on what actually happens rather than beliefs about the electoral system.

        As for the implied question, I don’t know whether voters should respond to FPTP by focusing on two candidates. Voters should vote for the candidate they prefer, and they should take other people’s likely opinions into account in forming their preference to whatever degree seems appropriate to them. I don’t like people who treat strategic voting as somehow lesser or dishonest, and I don’t like people who treat voting for the closest candidate as a wasted vote.


        • One of the things we learn from the SPM is that the conventional wisdom on how voters respond to M=1 is often incorrect. However, that could indeed be lack of voter understanding. Or more to the point, lack of information about the local contest. So they cue on the national context and often vote for a party with no chance in their own district or they vote “incorrectly” from a tactical perspective. This is a point made by Richard Johnston in his book on the Canadian party system. And it’s entirely consistent with what we show in Ch. 10 of Votes from Seats, where we look at how the SPM predictions project downward into the district level.


      • Yah, I was thinking along these lines:


        It’s a paper by Blais and Carty that suggest the mechanics of first past the post are roughly equally important as the psychological effects of first past the post in shaping the party system.

        I’m questioning if weak civics education is weakening that psychological effect.

        I’d suggest two that your model is capturing both the mechanical and psychological effects of the system in question.


        • Yes, of course it does. But that does not address the question why Canada has become one of the cases where the gap between Nv and Ns is greater than predicted by the SPM. On average, the model gets it right: the seat product model predictions for Nv are just as good as those for Ns (we show about 60% R^2 for both in the book’s regression tests). However, individual counties (or elections) can deviate, of course. And lately, Canada is one of the deviant cases on Nv (but NOT on Ns).

          Both Nv and Ns are products of what Duverger called mechanical and psychological effects, because the seat product constrains seats, and seats lead to votes. When the latter chain weakens (based on aggregate values), it might mean voters are acting as if they are less concerned about wasted votes. However, that claim would be more plausible if the DISTRICT-LEVEL effective number of vote-earning parties were moving above the model’s predictions. Yet, on average, it remains in recent Canadian elections right around what we would expect from knowing only the assembly size (given M=1). My coauthored forthcoming chapter in the volume of essays in honor of Richard Johnston goes into this further, and I have made some blog posts about that chapter in the recent past. There’s much more that could be done on these patterns and puzzles, but I am not sure I will ever get to it. But the point is that I do not see evidence that “psychological” factors are now weaker in Canada in the sense that I believe the literature (from Duverger on) understands that term. If that were the case, we should see the evidence at the district level.

          To the extent that I understand it, I do not buy the civics-education argument. And I suspect it is not testable. If someone can think of a way and will carry out such a test, I am all for it in the name of science, of course!


  6. On primary elections for party lists, I can understand why they seem unnecessary. But — assuming they are PR elections — I don’t think I understand why they are so problematic. Unless, that is, they are in fact not PR elections.


  7. In a parliamentary system — where a voter is trying to choose a PERSON to represent them in government — PR and MMP are solutions to a problem that’s being viewed from the wrong end of the telescope.
    People focus on the superficial result — {number of seats held by a party} versus {total number of votes cast for a party} — and then perceive that as an imbalance that has to be fixed by PR/MMP. And nevermind that neither PR nor MMP account for the edge case where independent MPs might outnumber those who belong to parties.
    The problem is at the other end of the process — where the pencil hits the paper.
    Canadian voters are being backed into a corner by being forced to choose just ONE SINGLE SOLITARY option on their ballot or ELSE their ballot is disqualified as “SPOILED.” This then means that people have to consider “vote splitting”, which then forces them to contemplate “strategic voting” in order to try to block the options they fear. No wonder there’s such low voter turnouts these days — who really wants to bother with those mental gymnastics?
    So why not simply abolish the rule on spoiled ballots and let people vote for as many options on their ballot as they like — aka Approval Voting? It would be better than FPTP, but just as simple to explain to the average voter, and just as simple when it comes to counting VOTES — VERSUS counting BALLOTS). And Approval Voting can be applied to elections without political parties (eg. Ontario municipal councils). Approval Voting could encourage new parties — or keep exisiting parties from having to merge into “big tents” in order to chase down that single solitary ballot mark, since the voters would be free to choose as many of the available “tents” as they like.
    Approval Voting — because how often in life has your 2nd option (or even your 3rd one) actually turned out to be the better choice?


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