Monday, August 20, 2012

My response to Stéphane Dion


My response to Stéphane Dion


Thank you for mentioning my simulation in your speech to the Green Party Saturday.


Your speech was persuasive, and obviously well-received.


I was very interested in your comment that, under the recommendations of the Law Commission of Canada, “The number of candidates per party included on these lists would vary immensely, from just one in Prince Edward Island to about a dozen for some regions in Quebec and Ontario. This would effectively divide Canada up into several political microclimates. I would find that worrisome.”


So would I. Luckily, that was NOT what the Law Commission recommended. That was only their “demonstration model,” an example of how the calculations worked. For this purpose they had to use large regions because they used the 2000 election results. In Quebec in 2000 the PC Party got only 5.6% of the vote for three list seats, and the Canadian Alliance got only 6.2% for four list seats. Dividing Quebec into five regions of about 15 seats each would have largely excluded those parties. The same for the NDP in Alberta, if Alberta was split in two.


But the Law Commission said “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.” Scotland has 16-MP regions. Wales has 12-MP regions. The Law Commission’s actual recommendation left the size of the regions open.


And they recommended “5. 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.” Those sample very large regions would have meant “bed-sheet ballots.”


That is why Prof. Henry Milner’s presentation of the Law Commission model used five regions in Quebec, seven in Ontario, two in Alberta, and two in BC.

He presented this at an electoral reform conference Feb. 21, 2009, in Toronto sponsored by Fair Vote Canada. As you will see, all across Canada the regions average 14 or 15 MPs. Of course, in the four Atlantic provinces they average, of necessity, 8 MPs. That is not an immense variation, nor a micro-climate.

My main concern with your model is that it will not pass a referendum in the 55% of Canada where communities have a single MP.

In Quebec it will be more acceptable because Quebeckers are accustomed to your 17 administrative regions. Ontario is not so lucky. We have 14 health regions, 31 public school boards, and no consensus on regions.


Between the GTA and Ottawa are nine single-MP-community ridings who will not like your model. Northern Ontario has nine ridings; seven of them will not like it. (Thunder Bay might like a northwestern three-seater.)  Sarnia, Chatham, St. Thomas, Muskoka, Orillia, Midland, Collingwood, the Bruce Peninsula, Stratford, Oxford, Cambridge, Guelph, Orangeville, and many other such communities will reject it.  If you insist on five-MP districts, even Charest’s mixed compensatory model with five MNAs (three local, two compensatory) would be more acceptable in single-MP communities.


My other concern is the high threshold of about 15%.


No, I do not insist on pure proportionality. On the 2008 votes, Milner’s model gave the Greens 18 MPs, not the 21 which province-wide proportionality would have given them. The NDP was short two, the Liberals got a bonus of two, and the Bloc got a bonus of three. That’s okay. In the UK, the Jenkins Commission recommended regions averaging eight MPs. That’s a high threshold, but not as high as your 15%. But you would not propose a region of eight MPs at large, because it is not local enough in most regions outside Montreal.


So I still think only a mixed compensatory model will suit Canada.


A moderate model is better than nothing. The NDP likes a 5% threshold, which the Greens can live with. I can see the Liberal Party and the NDP agreeing on a moderate model in 2015. For example, with Alberta’s new 34 ridings, metropolitan Calgary and Edmonton could each be 11-MP regions (7 local, 4 compensatory), and the rest of Alberta 12 MPs (eight local, four compensatory). 


But I am sure you know that the Turkish 10% threshold, which they adopted to keep out the Kurdish party, is regarded in Europe as undemocratic. You do not want to be in such company, do you?  


(One point Dion made, I agree with. He says “People like Elizabeth May on Vancouver Island and Ralph Goodale in Regina would have probably garnered more votes for the Greens and the Liberals.” In my previous post I said “In Dion’s model, due to his small districts, I calculate the results as 128 Conservatives, 115 NDP, 47 Liberals, 18 Bloc, 0 Green. . . . Dion's "moderate" model might be good for the Greens after all, if they got more votes.” So I agree Elizabeth May and Ralph Goodale would very likely have won, making 128 Conservatives, 113 NDP, 48 Liberals, 18 Bloc, and 1 Green.)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ontario municipalities need Local Choice

Ontario municipalities have almost no choice in how its citizens elect local councils.

Take Toronto. It elects a mayor by winner-takes-all city-wide, and 44 councillors in 44 single-member wards, by winner-takes-all, with single councillors each claiming to represent all 60,000 residents of their ward.  The worst voting system in Canada? Not as bad as Vancouver City Council, where 600,000 residents elect ten councillors city-wide by winner-takes-all-ten, so a winning municipal group can elect all ten councillors.

The Local Choice campaign, which all reformers support, wants all Ontario municipalities to have freedom to choose their voting system, whether they choose a winner-takes-all system or a proportional system. It says “Ontario’s municipal elections often suffer from low levels of participation, low turnover and poor representation of women, visible minorities and tenants.”

Living outside Toronto, I don’t know what is the best municipal voting system for Toronto. But I can try to be objective on the possibilities for democratic change that would reflect Toronto’s diversity.

As a world-class city, Toronto’s Councillors need to be aware of the diverse range of alternatives. If Fair Vote Toronto can educate City Councillors to understand the diverse options, that’s a win.

For mayor, Toronto could keep electing one city-wide (with hideously expensive campaigns), by First-Past-The-Post. Or they could change to the Alternative Vote (Instant Runoff Vote). This can still leave you with a dysfunctional result, a mayor and Council at loggerheads. Look at London, with a Council elected by proportional representation, and a mayor by AV (IRV): somehow they got a conservative mayor (Boris Johnson) and a left-majority council.

Or Toronto could have council choose the mayor. In the UK, most mayors are chosen by council, but a few like London’s are elected city-wide. This year, 10 English cities voted by referendum on city-wide elections of mayors; only one voted for that model.

For council, Toronto could stay with 44 single-member wards, with a single councillor for each 60,000 residents, no separate borough councils, and one person claiming to speak for everyone in the ward. That’s not very local, for a local government.

Berlin has been, for 100 years, the laboratory for democracy.  It has 141 representatives, one for each 25,000 residents, and 12 boroughs with 55 part-time councillors each, one for each 5,300 residents. Of course they are all elected by proportional representation.  For the boroughs, there is no threshold:  with 5,300 supporters (2% of the vote) you can start your own party and get elected.

Other large world cities use STV, the proportional Single-Transferable Vote. Glasgow has 79 councillors (one for each 7,500 residents) in 21 wards (with 28,000 residents in each ward). Dublin has 52 councillors (one for each 9,750 residents) in 11 wards (with 46,000 residents in each ward); six of the 52 were elected as independents. Belfast has 51 councillors (one for each 5,300 residents) in nine wards (each with 30,000 residents).  Wellington, New Zealand’s third-largest city, uses STV, with no municipal parties. It has 14 councillors (one for each 14,300 residents) in five wards (each with 40,000 residents).

You can see the problem: all these cities have far fewer residents per councillor than the Toronto megacity has.

Toronto could go to full STV with five-member wards, for maximum representation of diversity; it takes only 16.7% of the vote to win a seat. In Toronto, with only 44 councillors, that means the world’s largest municipal STV wards, with 290,000 residents in each ward. If Vancouver went to two five-member STV wards with 300,000 residents in each, that would be a definite improvement. (Note: Australia elects its Senate by province-wide STV, so they would still hold the record for largest STV constituency.)

Or if Toronto wants better representation for its diversity without such large wards, they could go back to the two-member wards the old Toronto City had for a century until 1985. That way, at least you have competing councillors, from wards the same size as a provincial riding. Or Toronto could use the “cumulative vote:” voters have two votes and can give them both to the same candidate if they wish. A cumulative voting election permits voters in an election for more than one seat to put more than one vote on a preferred candidate. When voters in the minority concentrate their votes in this way, it increase their chances for obtaining representation in a legislative body. As of March 2012, more than fifty communities in the United States use cumulative voting, all resulting from cases brought under the National Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Or Toronto could go to the “limited vote”  or "Single Non-Transferable Vote:" voters have only one vote, but two diverse councillors, each representing a different group of voters.

Or Toronto could go to STV with two-member wards.

Or Toronto could follow one of the recommendations of Paul Bedford, a longtime Toronto planner. He presents two schemes for at-large district seats in Toronto. The first is for 22 wards and 4 districts with 22 at-large councillors (5 or 6 each). The second is for 33 wards and four districts with 11 at-large councillors (2 or 3 each). (New Brunswick's two largest cities, Saint John and Moncton, both have the same Council structure: a mayor, two at-large councillors, and eight ward councillors, two from each of four wards, total ten councillors plus a mayor.)

If they want to stay with single-member wards elected by winner-take-all, they have to decide between FPTP and AV/IRV: which one will give better representation to Toronto’s diversity?

Perhaps a world-class city should have the world’s largest wards? Or perhaps Toronto needs to start by re-examining the megacity?

But they can’t use most of these options without the Ontario government giving them more choice.

Ontario’s Municipal Elections Act says “An elector is entitled to vote for as many candidates for an office as there are members to be elected to that office, but only once for each candidate. The elector shall make a cross or other mark on the ballot, within the space designated for the marking of the ballot to the right of the name of each candidate for whom the elector wishes to vote. ” The City of Toronto Act lets council divide or redivide the City into wards or dissolve the existing wards, but otherwise “the members of council shall be elected in accordance with the Municipal Elections Act, 1996” and “the head of council shall be elected by general vote.”

The Local Choice Statement:


“Ontario’s municipal elections often suffer from low levels of participation, low turnover and poor representation of women, visible minorities and tenants.

While cities and towns across North America are using innovative methods to make their local elections more participatory, diverse and fair, our cities and towns in Ontario are severely restricted by the Municipal Elections Act.

We propose that municipalities be given more choice, allowing them to customise their local elections based on local needs. Each Ontario municipality is unique and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

We call on the Ontario government to create enabling legislation that gives more choice to Ontario’s municipalities while also laying down parameters to regulate any moves towards reform.

The legislation would provide new regulations for tools such as runoff voting, municipal parties, single transferable vote, pre-election contribution disclosure, weekend voting, neighbourhood borough councils or others.

No municipality should be forced to change its system and we are not advocating for any specific reform. This legislation would simply provide local Councils with options, enabling them to open the door to local democratic renewal and to choose the system that best fits the unique needs of their community.”