Liberal MP Mauril Belanger likes the “12-per-cent solution,” an additional 42 MPs on a proportional basis. He spoke favourably of it in a House of Commons debate March 3, 2011.
Great timing, when Canada is about to add seats to the House after the 2011 census.
Belanger was Paul Martin’s Minister responsible for Democratic Reform after the 2004 election. This March 3 he said in the House “I remember the discussions I had with Ed Broadbent, who was the member for Ottawa Centre at the time. I said that I personally agreed that there may be a use in our system for an element of proportionality.”
Referring to a 2004 Globe and Mail article by John Bossons proposing 42 proportional seats, Belanger said “The reasoning then was that if we had greater regional representation within caucuses, for instance if the Liberals had more voices from Alberta and the Conservatives more voices from Quebec and the NDP more voices from other provinces, in other words, if we had more provincial voices speaking in the respective parties' national caucuses, the national perspective might win the day more often. I think that would be healthy for our country. Therefore, I do support, notionally, an element of proportional representation.”
Belanger went on “despite all of the concerns with the concept of proportional representation, an element of that, . . . perhaps not even as high as 50% or even 25%, but an element of that, might help our democracy. . . perhaps the way to go would be to create a committee of the House of Commons and to give it a mandate . . . to go out and sound this out in a rational, responsible, realistic manner and come back to Parliament with its conclusions. Then Parliament should take them up in debate and see where they would lead us. If we were to do that . . . I would certainly be willing to support it and would encourage my colleagues to support it and to see where it takes us.”
Adding 42 more MPs
The last House also debated the government’s Bill C-12, which would have added 33 more MPs to the House of Commons (18 for Ontario, eight for Alberta, seven for BC). The majority of MPs seemed to also support giving Quebec a few more MPs to maintain its weight or at least ensure that it had as many MPs per person as the Canadian average. That number might be five or eleven, but let’s take nine, so as to use the total 42 of John Bosson’s proposal.
What would this “12 percent solution” do for Canada?
It wouldn’t give us full proportional representation as recommended by the Law Commission of Canada, where every vote would count equally.
It would give us a taste of proportionality, limited proportionality, with only 42 proportional MPs to "top-up" the disproportional results from the local ridings.
But at least there would have been a couple of Liberal MPs from Alberta. And we would have three Conservative MPs from metropolitan Montreal, a couple more Liberals from BC, a couple of Conservatives from Toronto, a couple more NDP MPs from the West and four more from Quebec, maybe 13 Greens here and there, and so on.
However, how would these MPs be elected?
Locally anchored proportional MPs, elected not appointed
As Lord Jenkins’ Commission in the United Kingdom wrote, additional MPs locally anchored to small areas 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.”
So let’s assume medium-sized regions, each electing one, two or three “top-up” MPs to give representation to voters now unrepresented or under-represented.
Using the Law Commission’s method, the party’s regional candidates with the most votes win those seats. That’s why it’s called “open list.”
Or using the “best runners-up” method, they would be the party’s local candidates in the region who got the highest percent of the votes.
Either way, they would be personally elected, not appointed.
What would the House of Commons look like?
Based on the votes cast in 2008, let’s see what the House of Commons would look like.
Note: this is only if people voted as they did on October 14, 2008. In fact, if voters knew every vote would count, more would have voted -- typically 6% or so more -- and some would have voted differently. We would have had different candidates - more women, and more diversity of all kinds. We could have different parties.
Overall, a simulation of the 350 MPs shows 153 Conservatives, 87 Liberals, 48 Bloc, 47 NDP, 13 Greens, and 2 independents. (Note that, unlike full proportional representation where the majority of voters -- who voted Liberal, NDP or Green – would elect a majority of MPs, this would still leave the Bloc holding the balance of power on the 2008 votes.)
The “top-up” regions would average 16 or 17 MPs each (14 or 15 local, 2 regional). With larger provinces getting more MPs, most local ridings would be no larger. Elsewhere, every group of seven or eight ridings becomes six or seven larger ridings, but a candidate can also run for one of the regional MP positions, with two regional MPs in each 15-riding region.
Ontario could have 15 regional MPs: two Conservatives and a Green from Toronto, a Liberal and a Green from Hamilton-Niagara-Waterloo, a Liberal and a Green from Southwest (London - Windsor), a Liberal from Northern Ontario, an NDP and a Green from Eastern Ontario, an NDP and a Green from Peel-Halton, and two NDP and a Green from York-Durham-Barrie-Peterborough. (Note that Ontario would also have 109 local MPs, up from the present 106.)
BC could have five regional MPs: a Liberal and two Greens from the Lower Mainland, and a Liberal and a Green from the rest of BC.
Alberta could have four regional MPs: a Liberal and a Green from Edmonton and northern Alberta, and another Liberal and Green from Calgary, south and central Alberta.
Quebec could have 10 regional MPs: two Conservatives and an NDP from Montreal/Laval, a Conservative and an NDP from Montérégie, a Liberal and an NDP from Laurentides—Lanaudière -Western Quebec, a Liberal from Estrie-Centre-du-Québec-Mauricie, and a Liberal and an NDP from Quebec City and Eastern Quebec. (Note: this assumes a party has to reach a 5% threshold in a province to qualify for a regional MP, but the Greens were below that level in Quebec.)
Saskatchewan could have two provincial NDP MPs. Manitoba could have a Liberal and a Green provincial MP. Nova Scotia could have a provincial Green MP. New Brunswick could have a provincial NDP MP. Newfoundland and Labrador could have a provincial Conservative MP. P.E.I. could have a provincial Conservative MP.
Regions and sizes
The 42 regional MPs would include some in each province, so the six smaller provinces would lose some local MPs. Manitoba and Saskatchewan would have 12 local MPs not 14, and in return would have two provincial MPs. Each Atlantic province would have one less local MP, and one provincial MP. BC would have 38 local MPs and five regional MPs. Alberta would have 32 local MPs and four regional MPs. Ontario would have 109 local MPs and 15 regional MPs. Quebec would have 74 local MPs and 10 regional MPs.
With six small regions having only one regional MP (four Atlantic provinces, northern Ontario, and Estrie-Centre-du-Québec-Mauricie), four regions could have three regional MPs each: the BC Lower Mainland with 25 MPs, the City of Toronto’s 25, Montreal/Laval’s 25, and Central East Ontario (York-Durham-Barrie-Peterborough) with 24. The other 12 regions would have two regional MPs each.