Saturday, February 02, 2013

Why Liberals Should Fear Gerrymandering

Recently Saskatchewan MP Ralph Goodale wrote a post echoing a sentiment surprisingly popular among what's left of the Liberal Party membership, and that is, this Conservative government is going to use its influence to gerrymander ridings to maximize support and guarantee future victories.  

But Liberals shouldn't be worried that the Conservatives will actually gerrymander, or for that matter that it will work, Liberals should be worried that this, fearing a contrived unrealistic threat, is how far they've fallen.

On Ralph Goodale's website, the Liberal MP begins by describing the history of gerrymandering, it's most notable case in 1812 involving "then-Governor “Gerry” of Massachusetts who twisted electoral districts into the shape of salamanders – just so he could win." Goodale goes on to suggest that Canadians should fear this Harper government doing the exact same thing.

Why this is a concern, not the gerrymandering but the manipulation of fear and reason by Goodale's argument, is that gerrymandering is not common in Canada. Not only is it not common, but in the extremely rare instances that it was attempted, because of our multi-party system, it didn't work. That even when gerrymandering was used by a political party, that party ended up losing anyway.

For all the Liberals and others reduced to focusing on conspiracy theories due to a lack of leadership or confidence in themselves or their party, history presents the strongest evidence why they and Goodale are wrong.

Whereas gerrymandering has had a strong presence in the United States going back beyond 1812 and up until today, seen in the Democrats winning more votes than Republicans for the House of Representatives but winning less seats, Canada does not share in the tradition. For the last fifty years, since independent electoral commissions (made up of judges and professors) have redistributed federal ridings in Canada there has been no political interference in how those boundaries have been redrawn.

The most obvious evidence that this accusation of gerrymandering by Ralph Goodale is plainly ridiculous is that the Liberals would be the ones at fault, not the Conservatives. Goodale is not arguing that the Harper government is going to change Saskatchewan ridings in an attempt to gerrymander, he's arguing that they're gerrymandering by having them remain the same.

The Saskatchewan ridings in question contain both rural and urban areas, this has ended up marginalizing city voters, who are more likely to vote NDP or Liberal, by outnumbering them by a large inclusion of country voters, who are more likely to vote Conservative. Now these ridings were originally devised under a Liberal government in the mid-1990s, to suggest the Conservatives are attempting to re-configure ridings to win elections because they want them to stay the same as they were under Liberal governments is stretching rationality to say the least.

To additionally imply that independent judges and professors will act as partisans while drawing new electoral boundaries when one has no evidence of this let alone evidence of this happening federally in modern history is a low in political discourse that no elected representative should stoop to.

Similar paranoia and irrationality exists in other ridings across Canada, Liberals with little confidence in their party's policies and principles returning them to power are clutching to baseless attacks. It might be most exaggerated in my riding of Kelowna - Lake Country, where Liberals don't want the riding boundaries to change and are actually claiming the Conservatives are attempting to manipulate the process. Their accusations are even in light of local Conservative MP Ron Cannan saying he doesn't want the riding to change either.

But it is precisely from the ridiculousness of their claims that Liberals should fear gerrymandering, not because it is a threat, it's clear it isn't, but because of what it is doing to them, and that's cutting them from reality and any prospects of having a real chance of winning.


Matthew Day said...

Ok, then why is someone spending folding money to Robocall the Province of Saskatchewan then? I agree with you that 10 years ago, gerrymandering would not be attempted by any Party. That is because 10 years ao, every Party had a very conservative respect for Parliamentary tradition, and were loathe to overstep certain (amorphous) boundaries of decorum. We now have a truly idealogical CPC, for whom nothing is wrong provided it advances their 'cause'. Plus, there they are, funding a push poll on the issue said...


Two possible answers for the robocall: 1. to get data. 2. The call was made by someone acting alone.

A robocall poll seems like a very poor method to mobilize public attitude against riding changes and actually contradicts Goodale's own claim. Why would the Conservatives use a robocall when they can supposedly manipulate the electoral commission like the Liberal MP claims?

More than likely, if the Conservatives did create the poll they did so to get data for possible follow up to identify supporters for future fundraising or electoral efforts.

It is also possible a person with access to any party's database made the robocall, as I know from past experience it is credibly easy and extremely cheap. It costs just $80 to robocall 1,000 people with a polling question. From what I've read there were only a few people reporting they received such a call indicating that not a lot of money was spent.

Matthew Day said...

Lol, if it cost you $80 for 1,000 calls, you were overpaying. $0.02-$0.04 per is closer to a commercial rate. Yes, it is true that collecting data would be a viable reason. However it is no less plausible that this was a push poll in advance of a serious campaign. If I were in the CPC shoes, I would be far more interested in establishing a permanent advantage than in the fleeting benefit of such a small amount of data. (I say small amount, because the response rate to those robocalls is really really tiny. Well under 1%). It seems more likely to me that the 'information' in robocall itself was the point, pushing the idea for future use. said...

Matthew Day,

It doesn't really matter what rates the federal Liberal Party pays for robocalls and it doesn't really matter what you think the commercial rate is. I brought it up as a reference not a point of argument.

There are many plausible reasons for the robocall, none though are coherent to Ralph Goodale's position.

I would also point out that even if it is a push poll, which I highly doubt, the independent electoral commission gets final say and such decisions are not significantly dependent on public opinion.

The idea that Canadian democracy is being trampled or that the Conservatives are in the shadows rigging ridings is flat out baseless and is nothing more than a conspiracy theory perpetuated by partisans who have little else going for them.

Matthew Day said...

you are being a bit thin skinned, but it's your blog. I don't much care about the price of a robocall, I agree that they are cheap, but they are also useless unless for actually collecting data unless you do a realy large number of them. They are more effective at planting a message though, hence the usefulness for push polls. Push polls get done for a reason though. So if there are in fact robocalls with this purported message, then pray tell who is making them and why? It's not the stuff of conspiracies as you state. It is pretty public, as the choice of robocalling implies. You said in your post that it was some freeelancer because they were so cheap and easy. Well there is no reason for anyone to make a small number of such calls. I have heard grumbles from Conservatives here and there already. If they are push polling on the topic, there will be a more public follow up I am sure, so theres nothing to argue about. Time will tell. said...


First, my post was intended to directly address Goodale's assertion of Conservative manipulation of the electoral commission and its consequent decision. If you believe Goodale is correct, that because the Conservatives hand-picked these independent officials they can gerrymander freely, then why do they need push polls?

As for you wanting me to tell you who is making them and why? That's a common conspiracy theorist tactic. Of course I can't prove it's one uninformed Conservative riding member or some Pierre Poutine trying to create controversy or some polling company trying out different software. There are a thousand different possibilities and most more likely than a push poll with some grand multi-stage conspiracy.

The fact is any public push, be it calls or rallies, will not determine the shape of ridings, the lay out of populations will, as they have for all modern history.

Kyle H. said...

I have to agree with you, Scott. I'm not seeing the evidence of "gerrymandering" here on the part of the Conservatives, except for the concerns of the incumbent Saskatchewan MPs who know their rurban ridings aren't going to be as safe as before - however the actual Redistribution Commission hasn't seen fit to change these ridings, neither in its original proposal or the recently-released Report. We're calling foul over something we can't prove is actually happening on some sort of conspiratorial scale, and that is a bit disturbed to say the least.

Matthew Day said...

I never once said that Goodale was correct, I simply commented that someone was obviously mounting some kind of campaign. Spare me the conspiracy theorist label. Sir, it was YOU who speculated idly that the push poll, (which is precisely what you call a loaded question like that) was insiginificant. If you want to call Goodale out as paranoid and delusional, then you ought to spend a little more time on the basic fact that he brings to the table. To whit, someone is running a telephone campaign in Saskatchewan on this issue. I will not trouble you further, this is not a useful discussion.

Matthew Day said...

"As for you wanting me to tell you who is making them and why? That's a common conspiracy theorist tactic."
Lol, I was irritated enough at being called a conspiracy theorist that I came back for the express purpose of asking: Has the passage of a couple of days, and disclosures of what actually happened changed your mind at all? said...


I never said the conservatives weren't behind the calls, I explicitly said I didn't know. Considering there was no evidence early on, I think anyone who claimed they did know who was behind the calls needs to reassess their adherence to rationality.

The idea though that the governing party used Robocalls (not the most popular medium) to attempt to rig the redistribution of ridings not only underestimates the wealthiest political party in Canada but is still one of the weakest conspiracy theories I've ever heard.

Matthew Day said...

OK Scott, if you say so. In the meantime, for anybody reading this who would like the factual basis for Goodales accusation, Alice over at the pundits guide posted a fantastic article today on the Conservatives ongoing attempt to gerrymander Saskatchewan here: