NewLeaf offers low fares, but to the wrong places

Longing to get away from this terrible winter weather to someplace warm and sunny? Well, here is a deal for you: $410 airfare per person for a quick southern getaway, leaving Friday, Feb. 12 and returning Monday, Feb. 15.

One catch: You need to be in the U.K. to take advantage of this low round-trip easyJet fare between Bristol and Malaga, in southern Spain.

Darn! There’s always a catch, isn’t there?

Europe’s cheap flights have been the envy of Canadians for years, even as Europeans ranted bitterly about poor customer service and “gotcha” penalties that brought the total cost almost up to the prices charged by full-service airlines.

A new travel company called NewLeaf — a nominal airline selling seats on Boeing 737-400s operated by Flair Air, a B.C.-based charter operator — proposes to bring European-style low fares to Canadian skies when it launches next month. The carrier will link seven Canadian cities,  with most flights operating only once or twice a week: Abbotsford, Kelowna, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Hamilton and Halifax.

The fares are indeed attractive. As of Sunday, Jan. 17, a Mar. 2-9 Winnipeg-Abbotsford round trip sells for just $232.75, taxes and fees included.

Like other ultra low cost carriers, NewLeaf will make its real money from all the things you can sell or charge passengers for after they’ve made that modest financial commitment to be aboard the flights: bag fees that include charges for your carry-ons, seat selection fees, food and drink sales, and so on.

But NewLeaf won’t find it easy to apply the Ryanair/easyJet methodology to the Canadian market.

The European ultra low cost carriers have succeeded by selling the lingering sex appeal of travel: dreams of long weekends in Italy, stag parties in Estonia, second homes in the south of France, and trips to watch a favourite football team play abroad.

NewLeaf’s launch destinations, by comparison, lack that sort of excitement. Hamilton Airport is about 85 kilometres from both Toronto and Niagara Falls, both of which are interesting enough. But if you’ve been to each two or three times, as many Canadians have been, it’s difficult to justify an additional visit when you can go somewhere new instead. The same applies to Vancouver, which is about 70 kilometres west of Abbotsford.

Neither Hamilton nor Abbotsford nor the other launch cities (with the possible exception of Halifax, which offers a little bit of historical charm as one of Canada’s older cities) are particularly worth visiting for those who otherwise have no connection to the place.

Where could a Canadian ultra low cost carrier go that would allow it to sell the sex appeal of travel the same way that Ryanair and easyJet do? Since these carriers try to get their crews home every night to avoid the cost of putting them up in hotels, they would need to be within a few hours’ flying time of Winnipeg, and be the kinds of places people dream of going. A few suggestions:


  • Florida: A favourite with families. Since Winnipeg Airport has U.S. Customs and Border Protection pre-clearance gates, NewLeaf would be able to land at whichever airport offers the airline the best terms: most likely one of Orlando’s airports for the city’s central location within the state and proximity to Disney World. Approximate flying time from Winnipeg: 4 hours.


  • Las Vegas: The original Sin City, still popular after all these years with Canadians looking to party. Plenty of competition on this route, but also plenty of price-sensitive demand. Approximate flying time from Winnipeg: 3.25 hours.


  • New Orleans: Routinely one of North America’s Top 10 urban tourism draws for its rich history, gastronomy and, of course, the annual party known as Mardi Gras. Approximate flying time from Winnipeg: 3.5 hours.


  • New York City: One of the great cities of the world; well worth a visit, even if accommodations are notoriously expensive. Metropolitan New York’s three main airports — JFK, La Guardia and Newark — can be challenging places for an airline to get a landing slot at, but alternatives are available at Westchester County airport (35 miles north of Midtown Manhattan, but with limited public transportation links) and at Long Island MacArthur Airport (about 55 miles east, but close to the Ronkonkoma train station, which offers direct rail service to Grand Central Terminal). Approximate flying time from Winnipeg: 3.25 hours.


  • Quebec City: Canada’s most European city, likely its most romantic, and yet one that many Canadians have not visited. A week might be a bit long to spend there, but a long weekend visit would be ideal. Approximate flying time from Winnipeg: 3.25 hours.


  • San Francisco and the Bay Area: Historic San Francisco is a major tourist draw in its own right, and only 60 miles from the Napa Valley for wine connoisseurs. An airline would be able to shop around at multiple airports for the best deal, including Oakland and San Jose. Approximate flying time from Winnipeg: 3.75 hours.


  • Southern California: Like Florida, southern California is popular with families and those enamoured with the region’s mild year-round climate and proximity to the sea. There are many airports that a low-cost carrier could shop around at for a deal, including Santa Ana/Orange County, Ontario, San Diego, Burbank, Palm Springs and Santa Barbara. Approximate flying time from Winnipeg: 3.75 hours.

The importance of alcohol in community-building

On Dec. 23, Statistics Canada released its latest monthly estimates on how much business the nation’s drinking places were doing. A “drinking place”, as defined by Industry Canada, includes “bars, taverns or drinking places, primarily engaged in preparing and serving alcoholic beverages for immediate consumption”.

Out of pure curiosity, I used Statistics Canada’s CANSIM data portal to calculate each province’s per capita drinking-place receipts for the year from November 2014 through October 2015.

What I found was quite surprising: not only were Manitoba’s drinking-place sales of $24 per capita well below the national $61 average, but we were way down at the bottom of the nine provinces for which data are available. (British Columbia had the nation’s highest per-capita bar spending at $119, followed by Saskatchewan at $106 and Newfoundland and Labrador at $93.)


Per capita receipts reported by "Drinking Places", as defined by Industry Canada, Nov. 2014-Oct. 2015. Statistics Canada data excludes P.E.I. and the northern territories due to small sample sizes.

Per capita receipts reported by “Drinking Places”, as defined by Industry Canada, Nov. 2014-Oct. 2015. Statistics Canada data excludes P.E.I. and the northern territories due to small sample sizes.

Perhaps this should be no surprise. Manitoba started out in the 19th century as a chaotic frontier society, and over-compensated for the problems caused by drunkenness by establishing a liquor bureaucracy that even now retains rather restrictive liquor laws. Add to that a culture that still frowns upon alcohol consumption in the rural south; and the typically North American urban sprawl and car dependency, which necessarily puts limits on the ability of a group of friends to gather for a pint or two of beer on their way home — a limitation that those who can walk or take public transport home need not be so concerned with.

While all this might save Manitobans the inconvenience of loutish after-bar behaviour or of needing to step over vomit on the morning streets that go with the territory in more urban environments, it also raises the question of whether Manitoba’s weak bar and pub culture makes the province socially too closed for its own good.

This possibility goes back to a discussion I had a year or two ago with a Czech expatriate now living here who shared with me the one thing he disliked about life in Manitoba: that it was “a very lonely place”.

He had grown up and lived in a society where the local pub and pizzeria were not just places to eat or drink: they played a critical role in building and maintaining a sense of community — places where the locals gathered to share news, stay connected to old friends, and meet new ones.

Here in Winnipeg, he found that there was a huge void. The neighbourhoods had no natural gathering places, and were dull and lifeless — a collection of commuters who went straight home after work, closed and locked the door, and stayed there until the morning — with no real sense of community. “Nothing but houses,” he lamented.

As unfashionable as it might be to say this in our culture, alcohol has an important role to play in the building of a sense of community.

In her book Watching the English, British social anthropologist Kate Fox highlighted the importance of shared alcohol consumption to linking people together. The better any particular venue fared in what she referred to as “The SAS Test”, the more amenable it was to bringing people together:

“SAS stands for Sociability (by which I mean specifically the acceptability and ease of initiating conversation with strangers), Alcohol (an essential flirting aid among the inhibited English) and Shared-interest (environments in which people have interests in common, or a shared focus – settings likely to have the kinds of props and facilitators that help the English to overcome their social dis-ease).”

At the top of Fox’s list: the pubs for which British communities are famous. Though they only pass two-thirds of the SAS Test for lack of a shared interest, Fox noted that they do allow for informal introductions that make shared-interest finding possible.

Parties and nightclubs – two other areas in which alcohol consumption within moderation is encouraged – also ranked high on Fox’s list. At the bottom of the list: trains, supermarkets and galleries, which Fox described as “no-go areas” for making social connections.

In 2012, University of Pittsburgh researchers also found that moderate alcohol consumption played an important role in widening peoples’ social networks:

“[The researchers] concluded that alcohol stimulates social bonding, increases the amount of time people spend talking to one another, and reduces displays of negative emotions . . . Results showed that alcohol not only increased the frequency of ‘true’ smiles, but also enhanced the coordination of these smiles. In other words, alcohol enhanced the likelihood of ‘golden moments,’ with groups provided alcohol being more likely than those offered nonalcoholic beverages to have all three group members smile simultaneously. Participants in alcohol-drinking groups also likely reported greater social bonding than did the nonalcohol-drinking groups and were more likely to have all three members stay involved in the discussion.”

Such bridge-building between people matters. In 2010, this blog discussed the possibility that, in spite of the famous “Friendly Manitoba” slogan, our community is actually a bit hesitant to let newcomers into our existing, long-established and somewhat closed social circles. But the newcomers keep coming: in 2014, we welcomed more than 16,000 foreign newcomers to our province, and more are on the way.

This vastly increases the number of people living here who are in search of new social contacts to relieve the isolation of starting a new life in a place where, prior to arrival, they knew almost no one – or even no one at all. The constraints that restrict the number of places in Manitoba that pass “the SAS Test” serve to isolate newcomers and long-established residents alike.

In April 2016, Manitobans will venture to the polls to choose the government that will guide the province through the final years of the 2010s. In that election, further reforms to our traditionally strict liquor laws in such a way that will give our communities more places that pass “the SAS test” should be on the agenda. So too should be a discussion about the other choices that keep us atomized and prevent the development of a more meaningful sense of community by inhibiting even moderate alcohol consumption, such as the state of our semi-reliable public transit systems, the difficulties in obtaining taxis and/or shared-ride services, and the community-deadening effects of urban sprawl.

From a troubled part of the world, a story of courage and kindness

The year 2015 was at times a harsh one to the world’s Muslims who, because of the actions of Islamist extremists, found even the innocent and the law-abiding among themselves treated with everything from quiet suspicion to crude vitriol. And throughout the year, a question heard again and again: Why aren’t the moderate Muslims doing something?

Then, on Monday, came news from Kenya that illustrated the low regard that many Muslims have for those who carry out violent attacks, supposedly in the name of Islam.

That day, a group of al-Shabaab Islamist extremists attacked a bus travelling to Mandera, a town in northeastern Kenya near the Somali border. Upon boarding the bus, the militants ordered the passengers to split themselves up along religious lines: Muslim and Christian.

There was little doubt what the militants intended to do to the Christians aboard the bus. In April, gunmen attacked Kenya’s Garissa University College, singling out non-Muslims to be shot.

But the extremists who attacked the bus en route to Mandera on Monday found the passengers united across religious lines against them. As Reuters reported:

Abdi Mohamud Abdi, a Muslim who was among the passengers in Monday’s incident, told Reuters that more than 10 al Shabaab militants boarded the bus and ordered the Muslim passengers to split away from the Christians, but they refused.

“We even gave some non-Muslims our religious attire to wear in the bus so that they would not be identified easily. We stuck together tightly,” he said.

“The militants threatened to shoot us but we still refused and protected our brothers and sisters. Finally they gave up and left but warned that they would be back,” he said.

The BBC checked with the company that operated the bus, and received confirmation that “Muslims had refused to be separated from their fellow Christian passengers.”

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all.

And now a bit of lighter entertainment. The first clip comes from local public access television, circa late-’80s. After many years in oblivion, it resurfaced on YouTube a few years ago and soon went viral.

Candid Camera host/creator Allen Funt dresses up as Santa and talks to the kids in this Sixties piece:

And a bit of Christmas black humour, introduced to me by a good man named Carl (to whom I owe an overdue beer):

Dear Politicians: Steal This Idea

The airline industry might be a favourite whipping boy for all kinds of reasons, sometimes for understandable ones, but now they’re even taking a beating for getting people to their destinations on-time.

A Nov. 29 Los Angeles Times report cites the example of a semi-retired electrical engineer who used to be able to fly from Palm Springs, Calif. to San Francisco in 55 minutes. Today, that same trip is scheduled to take 90 minutes, leading to accusations that airlines “pad” their schedules to improve their on-time performance.

“It tells me that the on-time statistics are worthless,” the Times reports Joe Nolan, who lives in Palm Desert, a Palm Springs suburb, as saying.

The writer concedes that Nolan “might have a point”. Indeed, he does; but in a different way than one might expect.

Two commonly used measures of airline on-time performance are the average delay, and the percentage of flights arriving within 15 minutes of the scheduled time.

In September, the most recent available month, the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics’s numbers for the two U.S. carriers serving Winnipeg looked pretty good: the average United flight system-wide arrived two minutes early, and the average Delta flight pulled up to the gate four minutes ahead of schedule. No such information was available for Air Canada and WestJet on this side of the border.

According to, which shares each airline’s on-time performance according to the 15-minute rule, all four carriers saw more than 80 percent of their flights arrive on time during the two months from Sept. 15 to Nov. 15.

But what use is that to you, the consumer? Not much; in fact, it might give you a false sense of security.

As anyone routinely traveling from Winnipeg will know, it’s often necessary to make at least one flight connection to reach the desired destination. But when the consumer books a flight, they’re not assuming a flight will arrive at the gate at the scheduled time with fifty-fifty-ish probability — they’re assuming something closer to 100-percent probability.

After all, if the average flight arrives early, and the vast majority of flights arrive within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time, isn’t it just going to be alright?

This week, I looked up the Nov. 24-Dec. 1 stats for 40 randomly chosen aircraft — 10 each flying in Air Canada, WestJet, Delta and United colours — and tracked their on-time performance during that period. This included 235 Air Canada-branded flights, 309 WestJet-branded flights, 259 Delta-branded flights, and 241 United-branded flights. (Since data reports landing times, I assumed an average eight-minute taxi-in time, consistent with U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics information.)

The average estimated deviation from schedule was, at worst, insignificant: three minutes late on Air Canada, four minutes early on United, five minutes early on WestJet, and 12 minutes early on Delta — which is not unusual for that airline, being the most conservative scheduler over the past couple of years.

Most of each airline’s branded flights were also on-time according to the 15-minute rule: 74 percent for Air Canada, 81 percent for WestJet, 60 percent for United and 61 percent for Delta. (The busy U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, which was expected to be more of a problem than usual this year due to tighter security, likely accounts for much of the difference.)

But if one were to look at the cut-off separating the worst five percent of each airline’s flights from the other 95 percent, that is where one starts to get a sense of how much of a delay should be assumed if the goal is a leisurely walk through the terminal from the arriving flight to the departure gate, and not a panicked sprint.

In this case, WestJet was the best performer, with 95 percent of flights arriving no more than 22 minutes late.

Delta and Air Canada were essentially tied, at 35 and 37 minutes respectively. United was the straggler, with the best 95 percent of flights arriving no more than 45 minutes late.

That is information that consumers can actually use, because those are the margins they should build into their schedules if they want to avoid a high-stress situation.

Given that governments like to play “the consumer’s best friend” when it comes to air travel, they could actually do something useful for a change by providing the public with not just average delays, but with an idea of what to expect when their flight turns out to be anything but average in a negative way.

Publicizing information on the cut-off between the “best 95 percent” and “worst 5 percent” of flights would not only save travellers the stress of running through airports, or arriving at the destination and finding their bags didn’t make the connecting flight; it would give a far more vivid illustration of each airline’s network performance than conventional on-time statistics ever could.

A society where all feel at ease among the best defences against terrorism

While researching the Sept. 24 post Understanding narcissism vital to understanding politics, I came across a fascinating hour-long discussion of the topic by Jerrold Post, the founding director of the CIA’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior, and subsequently added a link to it as an addendum.

Post’s insights led me to search the public library catalog for any books written by him. Indeed, one of his books was available: The Mind of the Terrorist — The Psychology of Terrorism from the IRA to Al-Qaeda.*

And what a timely read that turned out to be, as the book ended up being my commuter reading during the same week that major terrorist attacks took place in Beirut and Paris.

As I write this, French police are seeking a suspect who is a Belgian-born French citizen; and one of the attackers on the Bataclan concert venue is said to have been born and raised in Paris as the son of an Algerian father and a Portuguese mother.

Anyone who has read Post’s book will be unsurprised by the prospect that the Paris attacks might have been largely planned and carried out by people born and raised in western Europe, who went on to murder their own compatriots. Post writes on page 225:

“Throughout Europe, there is an increased radicalization and recruitment of terrorists from second- and third-generation emigres to the global Salafi jihad, with estimates reaching as high as 87 percent of the new recruits coming from the diaspora. Although most Muslim immigrants and refugees are not stateless, many suffer from an existential sense of loss, deprivation, and alienation from the countries where they live. Their families had emigrated to Western Europe to seek a better life, but they and their offspring had not been integrated within the recipient society. They are then exposed to extreme ideologies that increasingly radicalize them and can foster entering the path of terrorism.”

Feeling “excluded and alienated” from “the rigid European social structure”, Post goes on to note that even those who were “[n]ot particularly religious . . . drifted back to the mosque to find companionship, acceptance, and a sense of meaning and significance. This in turn made them vulnerable to extremist religious leaders and their radicalization…”

Post offers valuable insights here, based on many years of experience in studying terrorism. There is a risk in Canada and elsewhere that dramatic terrorist attacks, such as Friday’s slaughter in Paris, will lead some people to lash out at Muslims and failed-state refugees generally, despite the fact that terrorists “do not appear to come predominantly or even significantly from failed states,” as a 2007 study by two researchers at the U.S. Department of Defense Naval Postgraduate School noted.

Such lashing out would be as counterproductive as has always been the case whenever a denial of “companionship, acceptance, and a sense of meaning and significance” in the wider community pushes people toward radicalism.

“It is only when youth begin to be hopeful about their future and fully participate in their societies that we will see the plague of terrorism decline,” Post writes in the book’s final words. “And that will take a comprehensive program sustained over decades to alter these deep-seated attitudes, for when hatred is bred in the bone, it does not easily yield.”

Canada’s safety from terrorism can be more easily secured by being that society of hopefulness for the future and full membership for all, regardless of religion or ethnicity, which Post describes.


* Call numbers 363.325019 POS 2007 or HV6431 P669 2007, depending on which system your library uses.

See also Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Joann Sfar’s magnificent response to Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris: “Ceux qui aiment. Ceux qui aiment la vie. À la fin, c’est toujours eux qui gagnent.” (“Those who love. Those who love life. In the end, it is always them who win.”)

The 2015 Canadian federal election: Do demographics tell the tale?

So, what happened on Oct. 19 to sweep Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives from power, and install in their place a Liberal majority government led by Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau?

In an effort to figure that out, I stayed up late Friday night and into the early hours of Saturday morning, downloading data from the 2011 National Household Survey for 70 random federal constituencies — a little more than 20 percent of the total — based on their 2013 boundaries, and incorporated the latest Elections Canada vote counts.

Then, after getting some sleep, I used a common spreadsheet technique called the Pearson Correlation  — no relation to the former prime minister by that name — to measure the closeness of the relationship between each party’s vote count in those 70 constituencies and different aspects of their demographic composition. The Pearson Correlation uses a scale from -1.00 to +1.00. The closer the correlation is to the extreme ends of the scale, the tighter the apparent relationship.

What jumps out about the Liberal Party is the way in which it tended to do better in constituencies with larger concentrations of university graduates, suggesting the possibility that either this was a group that felt particularly attracted to the Liberals, or just more averse to the other parties.

A solid relationship also seems to exist between the size of the Liberal vote and the number of residents being of various Middle Eastern ancestries, and the finance and insurance sector workforce in the area.

On the other hand, agricultural or resource sector employment, and trades training, seemed to have a negative effect on the size of the Liberal vote, suggesting lingering memories of Pierre Trudeau’s strained relations with these groups continues to have an effect. Some might be surprised to hear that the size of the local Indigenous community tended to have a negative effect on the size of the Liberal vote.

The Conservative vote tended to be higher in constituencies with larger Western and Northern European ancestry populations, and in those with larger non-Catholic Christian populations, recalling Mr. Harper’s comments about “old-stock Canadians”. Yet the Conservatives also tended to do better when the number of constituents of Eastern European ancestry was larger, suggesting the Conservatives’ core messages might resonate well with these groups. Unsurprisingly, larger concentrations of six-digit income households, and of management occupations, also tended to be associated with a larger Conservative vote.

The size of the French-speaking population in a riding stood out as being the factor most negatively associated with the size of the Conservative vote, as did the size of the local Catholic population, suggesting the Conservatives might need to make amends to both as it moves into the post-Harper era.  Unsurprisingly, the concentration of low-income households also appeared to have a depressing effect on the Conservative vote.

As for the NDP, virtually everything that seemed to work to their candidates’ favour, and to their detriment, was related directly or indirectly to income. The NDP tended to do better in constituencies with larger numbers of households earning less than $60,000; and their fortunes seemed to be particularly well-tied to the concentration of households in the $10,000 to $14,999 range. But higher incomes, larger average family sizes and higher rental housing costs and home sizes appeared to depress the NDP vote.

The Bloc Québécois tended to do better in constituencies with higher concentrations of born-and-raised Quebeckers, and worse in those with larger immigrant communities, following a long-standing fault line in Québécois politics. Larger concentrations of trades workers and health care workers also seemed to work a little bit to the BQ’s favour, suggesting this is a party with some of the working-class appeal traditionally associated with the NDP in the rest of Canada.

One of the curiosities of the Green vote is that it seems to be positively associated with the size of the Danish and Finnish-speaking populations: a spurious correlation, or a sign that this party that has often expressed Nordic sentiments has some appeal to those with Nordic roots? The Green vote also seems to be higher when the concentration of people with no religious affiliation is higher, which might be counterintuitive given leader Elizabeth May’s well-known Christian faith, but perhaps less so if one sees the Greens as the freethinkers of Canadian politics, averse to the demands of loyalty and conformity that have traditionally shaped Canadian political parties.

And finally, the vote itself. Voter turnout tended to rise with average and median incomes, and to be lower in constituencies with relatively high concentrations of social benefits recipients and people with very low levels of formal education. While low voter turnout is often assumed to be a “youth problem”, it also appears to be a “poverty problem”.

If you are one of those rare people who gets a kick out of scanning through a table full of correlations, feel free to go nuts here.


Constituencies included: Abitibi Temiscamingue, Acadie Bathurst, Ajax, Alfred-Pellan, Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing, Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill, Barrie-Innisfil, Barrie Springwater, Battlefords-Lloydminster, Beausejour, Berthier-Maskinonge, Bow River, Brampton East, Brampton North, Brandon-Souris, Brome-Missisquoi, Burlington, Calgary-Shepard, Calgary Signal Hill, Cariboo-Prince George, , Chicoutimi-le-Fjord, Cowichan Malahat, Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, Don Valley West, Edmonton Mill Woods, Elgin-Middlesex-London, Essex, Etobicoke Centre, Grande Prairie-Mackenzie, Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes, Hull-Aylmer, Humber River-Black Creek, Joliette, Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, Laurier-Sainte Marie, Lethbridge, London North Centre, London West, Madawaska, Marc-Aurele-Fortin, Mirabel, Mississauga Lakeshore, Mississauga-Malton, Montmagny, Nanaimo Ladysmith, Nepean, New Brunswick Southwest, Newmarket-Aurora, Niagara West, Oakville-North Burlington, Oshawa, Ottawa Centre, Parry Sound-Muskoka, Port Moody-Coquitlam, Regina Lewvan, Repentigny, Richmond Centre, Rosemont-la-Petite-Patrie, Sackville-Preston, Saskatoon University, St. Boniface-St. Vital, Therese-de-Blainville, Toronto Danforth, Vancouver East, Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Vimy, Whitby, Winnipeg North, York Centre, and Yorkton-Melville.

Voting strategically: Is it worth it?

By the time polls close in the Oct. 19 Canadian federal election, roughly 15 million Canadians will have cast their ballots to elect 338 members of the House of Commons, an average of nearly 45,000 votes per constituency. During the campaign, there have been suggestions from time to time that voters in certain constituencies should “vote strategically”, usually with the goal of blocking the Conservative candidate from winning, though nothing stops what would otherwise be a Conservative voter from casting their own strategic vote in an attempt to block a New Democrat, Liberal, Bloquiste or Green from being elected.

This might be no problem if a candidate you genuinely like has been endorsed. But what if you find yourself leaning toward a third candidate — either as a candidate you really would like to see elected, or as the best of a bad lot — but worry that your least-preferred candidate might win if you don’t vote for a compromise candidate?

Put yourself in the position of a voter in the completely fictional riding of Waskaiowaka Centre. This voter logs on to her Twitter account one day, and finds out that a poll of 400 voters in the constituency shows a dead heat:

Big Party #1 — 35%

Big Party #2 — 35%

Medium Party — 26%

Minor Party — 3%

Fringe Party — 1%

Our voter doesn’t care much for the two big parties, and has been so far leaning toward the Minor Party because it has some interesting ideas and hasn’t been in her face as much as the other parties. But she particularly dislikes Big Party #1, the incumbent Member of Parliament’s party, and wants to see it lose the parliamentary seat.

So, she considers putting aside her doubts, holding her nose as it were, and voting for Big Party #2.

Is it worth it?

Using a spreadsheet, I generated 1,000 possible random scenarios based on the percentages given above, allowing for a bit of random deviation of up to a few percentage points to either side.

Big Party #1 wins between 13,400 and 18,529 votes (average: 16,031), and wins the seat in 527 of the 1,000 scenarios.

Big Party #2 wins between 13,391 and 18,520 votes (average: 15,940), and wins the seat in 473 of the 1,000 scenarios.

The Medium Party wins between 9,945 and 13,764 votes (average: 11,798).

The Minor Party wins between 1,148 and 1,588 votes (average: 1,363).

The Fringe Party wins between 383 and 529 votes (average: 454).

The winning party’s margin of victory ranges from 1 vote to 4,993 votes.

If one sets the threshold for one’s vote as having made a significant positive or negative difference if the margin of victory is 100 votes or less, that occurred in just 36 of the 1,000 scenarios, or just 3.6 percent of the time.

If one sets the threshold for one’s vote as having significantly affected the outcome at the margin of victory being 20 votes or less, that outcome occurred in just 10 of the 1,000 scenarios, or just one percent of the time, despite the close race in Waskaiowaka Centre.

It is up to each voter to make his or her own decision. The case for voting strategically is clearly a compelling one for some voters, given the amount of organization that has gone into strategic voting efforts during the 2015 Canadian election campaign. But if you are wrestling with whether to vote strategically or with your conscience, the odds of your vote being equivalent to one percent or even five percent of the victor’s margin in even a tight race are small enough that you need not fear voting with your conscience.

That we’ve come to all this suggests that, no matter who forms the government after next week’s election, it’s time to give Canadians a free and equal choice between first-past-the-post, the various forms of proportional representation and instant-runoff voting.


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