Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Law Commission of Canada Report

The Law Commission of Canada recommended a proportional representation system for Canada in 2004: a mixed member proportional system, like Scotland's and Germany's. We still elect local MPs. Voters unrepresented by the local results top them up by electing regional MPs. The total MPs match the vote share in the region. The majority of MPs are elected locally, and additional MPs are elected to represent under-represented voters and "top-up" the local results.

See MMP Made Easy.

It's a made-in-Canada model. To represent unrepresented voters the Law Commission, unlike the German model, did not recommend 50% "top-up" MPs. It had only 33% "top-up" MPs added to the local MPs, so local ridings don't have to double in size. Unlike the models which failed to win support in referendums in Ontario and P.E.I, it had open lists, not closed lists, so every MP faced the voters. In Ontario it did not have the province-wide lists which Ontario voters did not support in the referendum, but instead, the "top-up" MPs were to be elected regionally. Since the number of MPs from each province would not change, no constitutional amendment is required.

The full Report, all 209 pages, is on-line here. It has an eight-page executive summary. Here are the highlights:
. . . the Commission’s goal was to balance the benefits of introducing some element of proportionality into the existing system with the capacity to maintain accountable government, most notably as a direct link between elected politicians and their constituents. The Report, therefore, examines alternative systems from the premise that constituencies should stay small enough to maintain the Member of Parliament–constituent relationship. The Report also accepted the premise that there is little appetite for substantially increasing the size of the House of Commons to accommodate a new electoral system. Finally, the report is based on the premise that changes to the electoral system should be made without a process of constitutional amendment.
The conclusion of this survey is that adding an element of proportionality to Canada’s electoral system, as inspired by the system currently used in Scotland, would be the most appropriate model for adoption. Its potential benefits include:
• reducing the discrepancy between a party’s share of the seats in the House of Commons and its share of the votes;
• including in the House of Commons new and previously under-represented voices, such as smaller political parties;
• electing a greater number of minority group and women candidates;
• encouraging inter-party cooperation through coalition governments;
• reducing the huge disparities in the value of votes that currently exist, in which a vote for the winning party is often three to four times more “valuable” than a vote for any of the other parties;
• reducing the number of disregarded votes, thus increasing the number of “sincere,” as opposed to strategic, votes; and
• producing more regionally balanced party caucuses.

The Commission, therefore, recommends adding an element of proportionality to Canada’s electoral system, and that Canada adopt a mixed member proportional electoral system.
. . . democracy is more than just voting in a municipal, provincial, or federal election. Democracy is also about what happens between elections, how politicians and the electorate relate to each other, and the role that citizens play in their system of democratic governance.

How might the process of reform unfold? Drawing on the results of its consultation process, and the experiences of other Canadian jurisdictions, as well as the experiences of other countries, the Report concludes that it is crucial that citizens be included in an ongoing dialogue about electoral reform, and that the process of reform include a citizens’ engagement strategy. Many Canadians are eager to participate in democratic governance, and they need and want information. This strategy should have diverse and broad representation, including representation from women, youth, minority groups, and all regions. It should seek the views of political parties (minority parties as well as mainstream parties), Parliamentarians, and citizens’ groups. Any reform process should also include provision for formal review after implementing changes.
Highlights of their recommended model are:
Adding an element of proportionality to Canada’s electoral system, as inspired by the systems currently used in Scotland and Wales, would be the most appropriate model for adoption.

A mixed member proportional system should be based on giving voters TWO votes: one for a constituency representative and one for a party list. The party vote should determine who is to be elected from provincial and territorial lists as drawn up by the parties before the election.

Two-thirds of the members of the House of Commons should be elected in constituency races using the first-past-the-post method, and the remaining one-third should be elected from provincial or territorial party lists.

Within the context of a mixed member proportional system, Parliament should adopt a flexible list system that provides voters with the option of either endorsing the party “slate” or “ticket,” or of indicating a preference for a candidate within the list.

The federal government should prepare draft legislation on a mixed member proportional electoral system as proposed in this Report. After drafting the legislation, a Parliamentary committee should initiate a public consultation process on the proposed new electoral system.

An ad hoc Parliamentary committee should review the new electoral system after three general elections have been conducted under the new electoral rules.
"Recent Canadian research contends that turnout is 5 to 6 points higher in countries where the electoral system is proportional or mixed compensatory" says the Report. To quote the Jenkins Commission in the UK on “safe seats,” ”many voters pass their entire adult lives without any realistic hope of influencing a result. In these circumstances it is perhaps remarkable that general election turnouts remain at a respectable level.” In Canada, they have dropped well below a respectable level.

The Report says it is inspired by the systems currently used in Scotland and Wales, which have 16-MP regions (9 local MPs, 7 regional MPs) or 12-MP regions (8 local MPs, 4 regional MPs). In Canada, with 2/3 local MPs, a 14-MP region would have 9 local MPs and 5 regional MPs. With the present 308 MPs, this would mean seven regions in Ontario, five or six in Quebec, two in BC, and two in Alberta. (With more MPs in 2015, BC and Alberta might well have three regions each.) The report also includes a sample "demonstration model" with larger regions, because they make it easier to show the smallest parties winning seats. But the point is, this "demonstration model" is NOT part of their recomendation.

The flexible open list method was also recommended by the Jenkins Commission in the UK. Their colourful explanation accurately predicted why closed lists would be rejected in Canada: additional members locally anchored are “more easily assimilable into the political culture and indeed the Parliamentary system than would be a flock of unattached birds clouding the sky and wheeling under central party directions.”

The process used by the Law Commission to prepare this Report included issuing a Discussion Paper and holding 15 public hearings, mounting an internet questionnaire, and holding more than 30 other meetings.

Should independent candidates be able to run for regional MP? The Commission recommended that the right to nominate candidates for regional top-up seats should be limited to those parties which have candidates standing for election in at least one-third of the ridings within the top-up region. This prevents a possible distortion of the system by parties pretending to split into twin decoy parties for the regional seats, the trick which Berlusconi invented to sabotage Italy’s voting system.

On a related point, some democrats strongly believe that, if an MP is elected as a party candidate (even as a local MP), he or she should resign if they wish to cross the floor, and seek re-election as an independent or for their new party in a by-election. The Commission is silent about that. So this is a separate issue, not part of the design of an MMP system.

What would the House of Commons look like under such a system?

Why Liberals need the Law Commission of Canada’s recommended electoral reform.


northbranch said...

The recommended system sounds much better than what we have now. We'll never have a perfect system, but that's no reason to vote against a specific proposal. Voting against a specific version of proportional representation means, in effect, voting for our current system, which is producing absurd and dangerous results.

One detail that always bugs me in these discussions: where in heck did the phrase "first past the post" get started? It always strikes me as a very muddled metaphor that only confuses the discussion. Our current system, for all its flaws, has very little in common with a horse race.

Raymond said...

Hi Wilf,

I thought I would leave an idea for an electoral system design on the blog of an expert dedicated to studying electoral models, for discussion purposes:


The following MMP proposal is a "hybrid" between the Bavarian open-list MMP system, and the best runner up MMP system of Baden Wurttemberg. Both of these German electoral sytems count votes cast for the individual candidates to determine the resulting proportionality.
The features of the proposal are:
1. Two votes that count doubly. (ie. there is a vote for a local riding representative & a vote for a regional representative.) The unique element is that both votes would count towards determining proportionality.
2. The riding vote elects a local representative.
3. Regional representatives would be elected by adding the riding vote and the regional vote totals together. Regional candidates would fill the "top-up" or compensatory seats, only if not already elected in their home riding.
4. The regional list would be composed of candidates from "other" ridings of the region. (A regional list would be unique to each riding, since candidates of the "home riding" would be excluded from the regional ballot.) The purpose of excluding the local candidates of each home riding from the regional ballot is to ensure that the most populated (urban) ridings do not automatically dominate the regional elections. (The vote for any specific candidate would count just once.)
5. Regional candidates would have dual loyalties: to their local riding and to their region. "Dual candidacy" would be required in this type of a system.
6. The 2 votes could be "split": ie. voters could choose to cast the two votes (riding & regional) for candidates of two different parties. Proportionality would be calculated (or split) accordingly.
7. The final election results could be used to fill future vacancies, by providing democratically ordered lists in each region.
8. A party could choose to offer all, some, or just a couple of its riding candidates on the regional ballot, depending on its priorities.
9. Independent candidates could potentially run on the regional lists (but they would also be in competition with the political parties.)
Advantages of this type of design over other MMP designs:
1. Voting directly for candidates ensures personal & geographic accountability similar to the examples of Bavaria & Baden Wurttemberg, Germany.
2. There would be no voter confusion over whether the 1st vote (riding) or the 2nd vote (regional) counts towards proportionality. This is because both votes would count.
3. The 2 ballots would be marked with a simple X.
4. Administration & vote counting would be easy.

Wilf Day said...

Raymond: you think like a German. (That's a compliment.) However, your model has one flaw: the winning regional candidate would tend to be the one who ran in a local riding where his or her party was strong, because the riding vote and regional vote are added together. So a candidate who had wider appeal across the region could lose to someone who ran in a strong riding for that party (yet not strong enough to win the local seat.) This would be most likely to happen with a third-party candidate.

Raymond said...

Thanks for the compliment & the analysis, Wilf.

Yes, your points makes sense. But the effects of strong party support in a particular riding influencing "top-up" candidate elections would be less extreme than it is in the 1-vote MMP system of Baden Wurttemberg. The hybrid system is not necessarily designed to be perfectly fair to candidates, just reasonably fair.

Parties would still nominate their star candidates in their best ridings as they often do now. I don't know if I would call this a flaw ... just an opportunity for parties to organize their regional slates of candidates to their best advantage.

Voters would still have significant control in influencing the results.

Wilf Day said...

Raymond, you're right about Baden-Wurttemberg's best-runner-up model: it elects no true regional MLAs, just local MLAs with "direct" mandates and other local MLAs with "secondary mandates." A third party with a lower than average support base in a riding will hardly ever get their candidate elected, no matter how strong.

Your model would create regional MPs with mandates from both the region and the riding. Very German, since that is how they will inevitably work in any event.

But when you say "Parties would still nominate their star candidates in their best ridings" you are thinking of metropolitan areas. Yet 55% or so of Canada's MPs are elected from single-MP communities. Those candidates run, of necessity, in the riding they live in. If Ms. X gets more regional votes than Mr. Y, but Mr. Y runs in a local riding with a stronger party support base than Ms. X's riding and wins the seat, a lot of voters will feel the system has cheated both Ms. X and the voters across the region who preferred her for regional MP.