Thursday, October 25, 2012

Electoral Boundaries Commissions and proportional representation

Electoral Boundaries Commissions commonly hear some members of the public asking for a more proportional voting system, and reply that the voting system is outside their purview.

The Nova Scotia Commission recently commented on the topic:

"Electoral System Reform

Though it is not part of the Commission’s mandate to study electoral reform or to recommend changes to the current electoral system, there were a number of submissions on this topic in the public consultation process. Reforming the first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system was suggested as a means of improving Nova Scotia’s representative democracy, by more accurately translating voter preferences into seats in the legislature. The distortions introduced by the current system, whereby only one member can be elected per constituency, with no allowance made for popular vote totals, can be a disincentive to political participation. This happens because all votes for losing candidates are, in effect, “thrown out,” and only those cast for the winning candidate in each riding count in terms of electing a representative. Some element of proportional representation is recommended as a means to “make every vote count.”

Another rationale for electoral system reform concerns the difficulty of ensuring minority representation under the FPTP system. As noted above, this has become clear in the current electoral redistribution process with regard to Acadian and African Nova Scotian representation. The same point could be made for the small number of women elected to the legislature. Comparative literature on this topic clearly shows that political systems using some form of proportional representation perform better than FPTP systems in terms of minority and female representation in elected legislatures. The use of party lists, quotas, designated seats, and other mechanisms in proportional systems largely accounts for these differences. As well, the dynamics of the system, which tend toward coalition building, would promote more co-operation and accommodation among parties in terms of the legislative agenda.

There appear to be significant democratic benefits to be gained from incorporating some measure of proportional representation into the current FPTP electoral system. This no doubt explains why this option has been recommended by commissions and assemblies in a number of provinces over the past decade. The most popular recommendation in Canada has been to replace the FPTP electoral system with some form of mixed-member proportional (MMP) system, which combines some of the advantages of the existing single-member constituencies with greater proportionality.

The Commission is aware that the serious consideration and recommendation of alternative electoral systems is beyond its mandate. It is also cognizant that the adoption of a new electoral system represents a dramatic change to one of Nova Scotia’s key political institutions. It therefore suggests that the Nova Scotia Legislature initiate a process involving both extensive critical examination and public consultation on the current electoral system as well as possible alternatives to it."

The belt of 11 ridings outside the GTA from Leeds—Grenville to Simcoe—Grey and Muskoka serves well to show the need. In the 2011 election Conservative votes cast 53% of those votes and elected 91% of those 11 MPs. NDP voters cast 21% and elected no one. Liberal voters cast 19% of those votes but, thanks to them being concentrated in Kingston, elected one MP. Green Party voters cast 5%. Under the model recommended by the Law Commission of Canada in 2004, with seven local MPs and four regional MPs, if Liberal voters still elected one local MP, the results would have been six local Conservative MPs, one local Liberal MP, 2 regional NDP MPs, one regional Liberal MP, and one regional Green MP (assuming the highest remainder calculation method).  The regional MPs for each party would have been the party’s regional candidates who got the most regional votes.

Will the current Federal Boundaries Commissions consider making a similar recommendation? We can always ask.

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