Saturday, May 25, 2013

What would the BC legislature look like under a fair voting system?

What would the British Columbia legislature look like under a fair voting system?

On the votes as cast in 2013, an overall proportional result is 39 Liberals, 34 New Democrats, 7 Greens, 4 Conservatives, and independent Vicky Huntington.

But that misses the real point: the 58% turnout. When every vote counts, the turnout will not only be higher, but young voters and other marginally-involved voters will change BC’s political universe. Instead of an empty campaign of two parties attacking (or failing to attack) each other, voters will have more choices, more reasons to vote.

Still, all we can do with the votes as cast is project the fair result.

Which Proportional System?

In the 2009 referendum, 66% of BC voters were in favour of some proportional system, but perhaps not STV.

As explained in this blog post, BC has two likely options for a fair voting system for provincial elections. The British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform designed two systems in 2004: BC-STV, and Open-list MMP.

Without polling data on voters’ second choices, I can’t project the result under BC-STV. And in a country with as much geography as Canada, fitting our geography into the voting system is the major design issue, not easy with STV.

The Mixed Member Proportional system

MMP is the system invented by British political scientists in 1946 in the British Zone of West Germany. It took the old German proportional representation system and grafted British personal MPs into it. “Personalized proportional representation” the Germans called it. “The best of both worlds” said political scientists.

You have two votes: one for local MLA, one for regional MLA which counts as a vote for your party. Your local MLA competes to serve you, and to represent you, with your regional MLAs. You can vote for the candidate you like best for local MLA without hurting your party, since your second vote counts to put parties into government. In the last election in New Zealand, 31% of voters "split" their votes: they cast their local vote for a candidate who does not represent the party for which they cast their party vote.

With the CA’s regional "Open list" version, voters can vote for whomever they like out of the regional candidates nominated by the party's regional nomination process. The elected Regional MLAs are the party's regional candidates who get the highest vote on the regional ballot. The German province of Bavaria does this too.

Power to the voters

An exciting prospect: voters have new power to elect who they like. New voices from new forces in the legislature. No party rolls the dice and wins an artificial majority. Cooperation will have a higher value than vitriolic rhetoric. One-party dominance by the Premier’s office will, at last, be out of fashion. Governments will have to listen to MLAs, and MLAs will have to really listen to the people. MLAs can begin to act as the public servants they are.

Based on the Ontario and BC experience, many reformers now think open-list MMP with regional lists is the only system likely to be acceptable to Canadians.

Competing MLAs

Instead of having only a local MLA -- whom you quite likely didn’t vote for -- you can also go to one of your regional MLAs. On this projection, most regions will have at least one regional MLA from each of the three parties. Even Northern voters, assuming they elected three local Liberals and two local New Democrats, would have elected one regional MLA from each party. Even Vancouver Island voters, where I expect NDP voters would have elected six of the nine local MLAs, would also have elected one regional NDP MLA. That’s because the CA wisely chose a model with 40% regional MLAs.

Local districts and regions

The 51 local BC districts would each have about 91,000 people (smaller in the North, no doubt). The CA ran out of time before settling details like the number of regions, which might have been four, five or six; I’m using six, electing a total of 34 regional MLAs.

What would the legislature look like?

For an example, let’s see what the BC legislature would have looked like under this model on the votes cast in 2013. (It might have been similar under BC-STV.)

Again, this projection assumes voters voted as they did in 2013. In fact, more would have voted. And some would have voted differently -- no more strategic voting. We would likely have seen different candidates -- more women, and more diversity of all kinds. We could have seen different parties. Who knows who might have won real democratic elections?

NDP voters would have elected more MLAs:

Many NDP voters are under-represented.

Surrey-Delta-Langley-Fraser Valley voters would elect 17 MLAs (10 local, 7 regional), including three more NDP MLAs: maybe Delta municipal councilor Sylvia Bishop, Surrey incumbent Jagrup Brar, and Chilliwack incumbent Gwen O'Mahony or Surrey restaurant owner Avtar Bains.

Voters in the Interior would elect 16 MLAs (10 local, 6 regional), including three more NDP MLAs: maybe Kamloops lawyer Kathy Kendall, Penticton biologist and author Dick Cannings, and incumbent MLA Harry Lali or Vernon’s CUPE 5523 President Mark Olsen.

Green Party voters would have elected seven MLAs, not just one.

Vancouver Island voters would elect 15 MLAs (9 local, 6 regional). Green Party voters in Vancouver Island would have elected two regional MLAs as well as Deputy Leader Andrew Weaver: maybe party leader Jane Sterk, and former Central Saanich Councillor Adam Olsen, the first First Nations Councillor elected in the District.

Vancouver-Richmond voters would elect 14 MLAs (8 local, 6 regional). Green Party voters would have elected a regional MLA: maybe Professional Engineer
Matthew Pedley or drug policy reformer Jodie Emery?

In Burnaby-Tri-Cities-North Shore-Maple Ridge they would have elected a Green regional MLA: maybe Burnaby accountant and four-time candidate
Carrie McLaren, or Horseshoe Bay teacher Richard Warrington (a school board member in Denmark), or Maple Ridge Professional Engineer Michael Patterson?

In Surrey-Fraser Valley-Delta-Langley they would have elected a Green regional MLA: maybe
Fort Langley lawyer and legal studies teacher Lisa David, or Langley Bed and Breakfast owner Wally Martin, or Abbotsford businessman Aird Flavelle, or Surrey naturist Don Pitcairn?

In the Interior, they would have elected a regional MLA: maybe Kimberley musician and Arts Council President Laurel Ralston, or tour guide and founder of the Nelson Area Trails Society Sjeng Derkx?

Under-represented Liberals would have elected 3 more MLAs:

Liberal voters on Vancouver Island are under-represented. They would have elected three more Liberal MLAs: maybe
Sooke Councillor Kerrie Reay, computer company president and past chair of the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce Walter Anderson, and incumbent Ida Chong, or Powell River native Nick Facey (now a PhD business candidate at Simon Fraser University), or Saanich resident and former Ministerial Assistant Rishi Sharma.

Conservative Party voters would have elected four MLAs

Surrey-Delta-Langley-Fraser Valley Conservative voters would have elected a regional MLA, no doubt party leader John Cummins.

Burnaby-Tri-Cities-North Shore-Maple Ridge Conservative voters would have elected a regional MLA: maybe Party President and Port Moody skin patient  health care advocate Christine Clarke, or former MP Paul Forseth.

In the Interior, they would have elected a regional MLA: maybe Salmon Arm resident and project manager Tom Birch, or Vernon resident Scott Anderson (former Legislative Assistant to a Reform Party MP, and Chair of the BC Conservatives’ Public Finance Committee); or former Kelowna City Councillor Graeme James?

In the North, they would have elected a regional MLA: maybe Dawson Creek’s Kurt Peaks, former Sergeant in the Dawson Creek RCMP Detachment.

Regional independents

The CA never had time to decide whether independent candidates should be able to run for regional seats, as they can in Scotland. I‘d bet they would have said yes. Two independent candidates have won regional seats in the Scottish Parliament, and two more in local seats. STV fans like the way independents can win any STV seat. But they can win any seat in Scotland too, with regional MMP.

Maybe independent
John van Dongen would have won a regional seat in Surrey-Fraser Valley-Delta-Langley? Maybe independent Bob Simpson would have won a regional seat in the Interior? Maybe independent Arthur Hadland would have won a regional seat in the North?

More choices, more women, minorities and younger candidates

With a choice of your party’s candidates on the regional ballot, we would elect more women. Polls show 94% of women voters want to see more women elected, but so do 86% of male voters.

And when parties nominate a group of candidates, not just one, they nominate more women. What regional convention, nominating five candidates, would nominate only one woman, or no minorities, or no young people?

Who would have been the government?

Contrary to what some Canadian newspaper headline-writers think, you cannot say the largest party will form the government. “Conservatives win!” say Canadian headline-writers even when Harper loses his bid for a majority. Compare the typical UK headline: “Britain wakes up to a hung Parliament.” No instant winner. Remember also 1985 in Ontario when Frank Miller lost his bid to win a majority. Who won? We found out only 26 days later when the Liberal-NDP Accord was signed. In most countries with more than two parties, coalitions are normal.

How would regional MLAs work?

In Scotland, most regional MSPs divide the region between them for constituency service purposes.

No “bed-sheet” ballots

Since local candidates can also be on the regional half of the ballot, voters might have had as many as ten of their party’s regional candidates to choose from, but not the “bed-sheet ballot“ found in some countries. So voters would have a real choice among a manageable number of competing candidates from the party they support.

In a 14-MLA region, suppose Party A’s voters cast 51% of the votes in the region, but elect only six of the eight local MLAs. They also elect one regional MLA. But if that MLA dies or resigns during the legislature term, the regional candidate with the next highest votes moves into that seat. A party must run a spare. But if the six local winners were also on the regional ballot, the party needed at least eight regional candidates, one elected, and one spare. To be safe, I can see them nominating ten regional candidates.

“Flexible list”

If the CA had chosen the “flexible list” variant, where you can vote for the list or for an individual on it, the ballot would have looked like the right half of the one recommended by the British Independent Commission on the Voting System (the Jenkins Commission). The voter casts one vote for local MLA, and one for their party and (if they wish) for their favourite of their party's regional candidates. This same model was recommended for Scotland by the Arbuthnott Commission as an improvement on their MMP system; but no action yet. The result is much the same with any open-list model: all MLAs have faced the voters, and no one has a safe seat.

Note: I have not tried to specify the exact calculation method, since this is only an exercise in projecting a sample possible result.

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