Will a BMP Senate Be Full of Fringe Parties?

by Jason Scott

Even without a threshold, a small party or an independent would need about 1% of the total provincial vote to possibly win a BMP Senate seat in Ontario or Quebec. But a province with fewer seats has an inherent threshold that is a function of the total seats for that province. In fact a party would need more than 2% of the vote to guarantee a seat in Alberta or British Columbia; 5% in Saskatchewan or the Maritime provinces; almost 8% in Newfoundland and Labrador; and more than 12% in Prince Edward Island.[1] The territories, with just one Commons and one Senate seat each, will not see a “fringe” candidate unless he or she has a lot of popular support, in which case he or she deserves a seat to represent those Canadians.

Simulations run for seven previous elections show just two “Other” Senators in a BMP Senate, which happen to demonstrate the extreme cases:

  • In 2004, Manitok Thompson, an Independent teacher from Rankin Inlet who finished second with 16% of the vote, would have won the Senate seat for Nunavut under BMP, just beating the NDP and Conservative candidates (with 15% and 14% respectively).
  • In 2000, the Marijuana party would have won a single Senate seat for Quebec, with 1.03% of the vote. As noted above, a much larger fraction of the vote would be required in every other province except Ontario.

These two examples notwithstanding, it is generally expected that a more proportional system will lead to more votes for smaller parties and therefore a few members of new parties finally representing small but dedicated constituencies. However, even if all the votes for other parties and independent candidates are combined together, only 18 such “Others” would have been awarded BMP Senate seats over the last seven elections (i.e. 2-3 each on average). That said, a threshold could be imposed, or perhaps provinces could work with Elections Canada to set their own thresholds (see Appendix C for further discussion and simulations of various thresholds).

To conclude, a BMP Senate could see a handful of independent or small party candidates awarded seats, but they will remain a small minority of the 105 Senators.

End Notes

  1. ^ Prince Edward Island has four Commons and four Senate seats, so ⅛ or 12.5% of the vote is required to guarantee a seat, although a seat can be won on somewhat less than that depending on how other parties perform – see Overview and the Appendix C discussion on quotas.