Your vote is important even if your party loses

Québec 2007 - Analyse

In this space yesterday, we argued that Jean Charest and the Liberal Party deserve voters' support next Monday. Today, we urge everyone who agrees with that view to be sure to actually vote, and to encourage others to do the same. In this election, more than in most, each and every vote will really matter.
In the last Quebec election, in 2003, all the public-opinion polls and plenty of anecdotal evidence suggested, by the last days of campaigning, that the Liberals would cruise to a majority in the National Assembly. While some ridings across the province would be narrowly decided, the broad outline was never in doubt.

Many of the Liberal-held ridings on Montreal Island, especially those with lots of anglophone and allophone voters, had 2003 races so lop-sided it seemed silly to claim every vote was vital.
Liberal Geoff Kelley, for example, won 86.7 per cent of the vote in the West Island riding of Jacques Cartier, and cruised to a 28,000-vote victory. That was an extreme case, but several other Montreal Island Liberals also won by more than 10,000 votes.

Next Monday, pundits and party insiders say, few Montreal Island seats, if any, will change hands. But nobody claims to be sure about the province-wide results, and no one party appears likely to win a majority of the 125 seats in the Assembly.

The scenarios for what would happen then are many and confusing and uncertain. But in any event, the party that wins the popular vote - which gets the most individual votes - acquires a certain political legitimacy that could bestow moral authority in the inevitable posturing, manoeuvring and haggling.
Quebec has had more than a century of majority governments, but that's really just a quirk of our electoral system. If you believe Quebecers govern themselves on the basis of "one person, one vote," you are sadly wrong. Electoral law allows variations of up to 25 per cent from the average riding size, which is 44,800 eligible voters. In practice, since boundaries are redrawn only after every second election, 25 per cent is just the beginning.

By law, ridings should have a minimum of 33,600 voters and a maximum of 56,000 - already a shockingly wide gap. But in practice the situation is much worse: 13 ridings have fewer than 33,600 voters; five others have more than 56,000 each.

The voters who get cheated of their fair share of representation in the Assembly are generally in fast-growing suburban areas; those over-represented are in far-flung rural areas.

This injustice has persisted because politicians insist on pandering to "the regions." Federal riding boundaries, which tolerate only a 10-per-cent variation from the average, are much fairer.

The consequences of this knavery can be very real. In the 1998 election, the Liberals won 27,618 votes more than the Parti Quebecois - but the PQ amassed an easy majority of National Assembly seats. Big Liberal majorities in Montreal were "wasted" while the PQ efficiently harvested many underpopulated backwater ridings.

But the PQ did not, you'll recall, hold another referendum after its 1998 victory. Why not? One of the "winning conditions" not present was public support. With only 42 per cent of the vote, the PQ could hardly pretend Quebecers were clamouring for a third referendum.

Now imagine a three-way split of Assembly seats after Monday's voting, so no one party wins the 63 seats needed to control the Assembly.

The European-style negotiations about which party might form a government, supported by which other party, will depend largely on the seats held by each. But if those numbers are close, the next most important factor will be popular vote. However skewed the riding boundaries might be, political legitimacy comes from the people, via the ballot box.

As we argued yesterday (in an editorial that is still online; see the box below) neither the PQ nor Action democratique would be able to govern Quebec well. If you accept that argument, then consider that each vote for the Liberals, no matter how safe or how hopeless the riding, is a vote to minimize the influence of those other parties in the school systems, hospitals, municipal budgets and daily life of everyone in Quebec.

Get out and vote.

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