Paul Wells: …and statistics

Paul Wells ranted about the terrible record of Canadian Politicians on the Climate Change file, which is very true. He cited a lot of statistics from the federal auditor general’s report. And then he made a couple up.

What caught my eye was this sentence:

Together, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta have more than half the country’s population.

This is true, although barely. According to Statistics Canada’s most recent population estimates, there are roughly 36,963,854 of us now, half of which is 18,481,927. Those three provinces are estimated to account for 19,807,274.

But guess what? Ontario accounts for 77.47% of that. And it is by no means certain that Ontarians are going to elect a certain Mr. Ford; statistically speaking[en.WP] this is what is called a “dead heat”, with opinion poll differences within the margins of error. And Alberta is not going to the polls for a while yet, so Mr. Kenney’s opinions are rather an aside. That leaves Saskatchewan’s 3.1645834% of Canada alone in being represented by a government actively opposing carbon pricing.

(And just to point out how contrived Paul Wells’s statistic is, Ontario and Alberta alone account for half of Canada’s population. Ontario is 38.7% and Alberta is 11.7%. Ontario is so large a factor that its population with half of all possible combinations with two other provinces or territories adds up to at least half of the population. Without Ontario in the mix of three there are no ways to reach 50%.)

But let’s NOT take Albertans and Ontarians out of the equation. Let’s assume a super-majority of 67% of each of these provinces is actually opposed to carbon pricing (the University of Montreal recently reported exactly the opposite, 66% of Canadians are in favour of carbon pricing, but let us leave that statistic aside for the moment) – 67% of 19,807,274 means 13,270,874 might be opposed in those three provinces – rather dramatically less than half.

But most importantly, population does not determine government. Seats in the House of Commons do. There will be 338 seats in play, and by an amazing coincidence Alberta, Saskatchewan, plus Ontario account for 169, exactly half. (As an aside, Ontario’s weight in Parliament is slightly less than its weight in population, 35.8% compared to 38.7, but still dramatically more than any other province.)  Since 2000 (inclusive) only once did any of these provinces have a clean sweep; Alberta in 2006 elected only conservatives with 65% of the poll. Today they are not represented by a single federal party; in the last federal poll the seat results were 85:72:12.

The take-home message: do not get cute with your throw-away talking points; you might trip.

It is extremely clear Canadians are concerned about the environment, they are in favour of carbon pricing, and it does not matter if they otherwise espouse small-c conservative or progressive social or political values: Climate Change cuts across party affinity.

And Canadian politicians do not respond to that concern.