Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Law Commission of Canada’s proportional representation model

(This post was updated March 19, 2016.)

The Law Commission of Canada recommended in 2004 “adding an element of proportionality to Canada’s electoral system, as inspired by the systems currently used in Scotland and Wales.”

I’m not talking about classic “list-PR” with candidates appointed by central parties. Every Member of Parliament represents actual voters and real communities.

Along with the UK’s Jenkins Commission recommendations in 1998, these are good examples of how proportional representation could work for Canada’s House of Commons.

Pour information en français, voir la page 5: La Commission du droit du Canada recommande un système mixte. Ou le texte entier en français. Ou vous trouverez ci-dessous La solution démocratique existe.

Every vote counts
Fair Vote Canada says “Never should citizens be denied representation simply because their preferred candidate cannot win a single-member riding.” Once every vote counts, voters will be free to vote for their real first choice. More voters will find it worthwhile to vote. Turnout is 5 to 6 points higher in countries where the electoral system is proportional, says research published by Elections Canada.

Mixed Member System
The Law Commission recommended a mixed member system. We still elect local MPs. Voters unrepresented by the local results elect regional MPs. This tops up the local results so the total MPs match the vote share. 

You can cast a personal vote for the regional candidate you prefer. The region is small enough that the regional MPs are accountable: it’s personal.

You have two votes
You have two votes. With your first, you help elect a local MP as we do today. With the second, you also help elect a few regional MPs to top-up the local results so that every vote counts: it’s proportional.

Competing MPs
You have competing MPs: a local MP, and a few regional MPs from a “top-up region” based in their area. Scotland uses regions of 16 MPs, Wales 12. In Canada a typical region would have 11 to 14 MPs: seven to nine local plus four or five regional “top-up.” Generally, eight present ridings become five larger ridings, or nine become six. Local ridings are usually 50% or 60% bigger than today.

Fair Vote Canada says “We must give rural and urban voters in every province, territory and regional community effective votes and fair representation in both government and opposition.”

With top-up regions of 11 to 14 MPs each, the results are very close to perfect proportionality. Similarly, the New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy also recommended regions of 14 MLAs, nine local and five regional.

Fair Vote Canada says “The supporters of all candidates and political parties must be fairly represented in our legislatures in proportion to votes cast.”

Personal MMP
Polls show at least 70 per cent of Canadians support proportional representation

Back in 2007, Ontario voters did not support a proposal for the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system modelled on the one used in Germany and New Zealand, with closed lists. But this recommendation is for a Personal MMP model.

The Law Commission recommended that your second vote should let you choose either a party or one of the regional candidates nominated by parties. If that candidate is a party candidate, this vote counts as a vote for your party. This is commonly called “open list” rather than “closed list.” The parties' regional votes are then counted to give the level of support for each party in the region. The result is that all MPs have faced the voters, and no one is guaranteed a seat.

The Law Commission said "Based on the feedback received during our consultation process, many Canadian voters would also most likely desire the flexibility of open lists in a mixed member proportional system. In essence, allowing voters to choose a candidate from the list provides voters with the ability to select a specific individual and hold them accountable for their actions should they be elected."

No central party direction
The models in Ontario and PEI which failed referendums had closed province-wide lists for the additional “top-up” MPPs. This failure was no surprise to the Jenkins Commission. Jenkins said top-up 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.”

Local MPs become more independent
With two votes, you can vote for the party you want in government. And you can also vote for the local candidate you like best regardless of party, without hurting your party, since it's the second (regional) ballot that determines the party make-up of the legislature. About 32% of voters split their ballots this way in New Zealand with a similar system.

This makes it easier for local MPs to get the support of people of all political stripes. They can earn support for their constituency-representation credentials, not just for their party. This boosts the kind of support MPs bring with them into the House of Commons, thus strengthening their independence.

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

Diverse voices
In 2015 across Canada it took 37,733 votes to elect a Liberal MP, yet in Alberta it took 118,354 votes to elect each of the four Liberal MPs, and in Saskatchewan 131,681 Liberal voters elected only Ralph Goodale.  It took 56,703 voters to elect a Conservative MP, yet in Metropolitan Montreal 240,074 Conservative voters elected no one, nor did  249,136 in Atlantic Canada.  

Similarly, in 2011 it took 35,147 votes to elect a Conservative MP, yet 129,310 Liberal voters in Alberta elected no one. Nor did Metropolitan Montreal’s 222,396 Conservative voters. Nor did 147,214 NDP voters in Saskatchewan.

As Stéphane Dion says “I do not see why we should maintain a voting system that makes our major parties appear less national and our regions more politically opposed than they really are.

Choosing regional MPs
Who would those regional MPs be? First, each party would hold regional nomination meetings and/or vote online to nominate their regional candidates. These would often be the same people nominated locally, plus a few additional regional candidates. The meeting would decide what rank order each would have on the regional ballot. But then voters in the region would have the final choice.

Fair Vote Canada says “A democratic voting system must encourage citizens to exercise positive choice by voting for the candidate or party they prefer.”

No constitutional amendment needed
Each province still has the same number of MPs it has today. No constitutional amendment is needed.

More people would vote, and vote differently
As Prof. Dennis Pilon says"Now keep in mind that, when you change the voting system, you also change the incentives that affect the kinds of decisions that voters might make. For instance, we know that, when every vote counts, voters won't have to worry about splitting the vote, or casting a strategic vote. Thus, we should expect that support for different parties might change."

And when every vote counts, turnout will be higher -- perhaps 7% higher. So, w
hen voters have more choice, the results will be far more representative of our diverse population and their diverse views. Who can say what would be the result of real democratic elections?

One thing we know for sure: it is extremely unlikely that voters would vote exactly as they did in 2015 or in 2011.

Meanwhile, I’ve done projections on the votes cast in 2015 and 2011.

Simulation outcome
On the votes cast in 2011 (transposed by Elections Canada to the new boundaries), of the 338 MPs to be elected in 2015, under our skewed winner-take-all system Conservative voters would elect 188 MPs, NDP voters 109 MPs, Liberals 36 MPs, Bloc four, Greens one. On this projection Conservative voters would have elected 139 of those 338 MPs, very close to the perfectly proportional result (140). NDP voters would elect 108 (not 104), Liberal voters the correct 64, Bloc voters 17 (not 19), Green voters 10 (not 11, not counting Quebec Green votes who were below 3%). (As recommended by the Law Commission, the Territories would have two MPs each, making 341 MPs in total: 140 Conservatives, 108 NDP, Liberals 66, Bloc 17, Greens 10.)

On the votes actually cast in 2015, on this projection 142 Liberal voters would have elected 142 MP, Conservatives 105, NDP 72, Bloc 15, Green 4.

Accountable MPs
In order to keep local representation, we keep an average of 62% of all MPs as local MPs, at least 58% in each region.

The “top-up regions” would range in size from six MPs to 15. Outside Newfoundland & Labrador and PEI, the top-up regions would average 11 MPs each; mostly between 9 and 14. That means 32 regions for 335 MPs (plus the Territories). In all, the 335 are 210 local MPs and 125 regional MPs, 37% regional.

Many people want all MPs accountable to real communities, or as Jenkins put it, locally anchored to small areas. Scarborough voters should not be represented by an MP from Etobicoke.

Ontario could have ten regions, such as: one for Central Toronto—Scarborough with 12 MPs, one for North York—Etobicoke with 13 MPs, one for York—Durham Regions with 15 MPs, and one for Peel—Halton with 16. Northern Ontario could keep its nine MPs (six local MPs, three regional MPs), Southwestern Ontario (London—Windsor) could have 11 MPs, West Central Ontario (Barrie—Bruce—Guelph) with 10 MPs, South Central Ontario (Hamilton—Waterloo—Niagara) with 16 MPs, the Ottawa Valley (Ottawa—Cornwall) with 10 MPs, and Central East (Kingston—Peterborough) with nine MPs.
BC could have four regions: one for Vancouver—Burnaby—North Shore—Maple Ridge, one for Surrey—Richmond—Abbotsford—Langley, one for the Interior, and one for Vancouver Island.

Alberta could have three regions: one for metropolitan Edmonton’s 11 MPs, one for metropolitan Calgary’s 11 MPs, and one for Southern and Northern Alberta’s 12 MPs.

Quebec could have eight regions, such as: Montreal—West keeps its six MPs, Montreal-est keeps its 12 MPs, Laval—Laurentides—Lanaudière keeps its 13 MPs, Outaouais—Abitibi-Témiscamingue—Nord keeps its six MPs, Longueuil— Montérégie-centre—Suroît keeps its 12 MPs, Estrie—Mauricie—Centre-du-Québec—Montérégie-est keeps its 11 MPs, Quebec City—Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean—Côte-Nord keeps its 11 MPs, and Chaudière-Appalaches—Bas-Saint-Laurent—Gaspésie keeps its seven MPs.

Manitoba could let Winnipeg keep its eight MPs, and the rest of Manitoba keep its six MPs (four local MPs, two regional MPs).

In Saskatchewan and Atlantic Canada, the “top-up region” is the whole province.

Every vote counts
On this projection, in the votes cast in 2015, 1,388,076 Liberal voters now unrepresented or under-represented would have elected 14 more MPs in western Canada and even in southwest and west-central Ontario. 

In 2011 Liberal voters, even on the low 2011 vote, would have elected MPs in almost all the regions where they were shut out in 2011: the three regions of Alberta, the five regions of Quebec off Montreal Island, Surrey—Richmond—Abbotsford—Langley in BC, and Peel—Halton, Hamilton—Niagara—Brant, Southwestern Ontario and Northern Ontario.

NDP voters in 2011 would have elected MPs where they were shut out: in York—Durham, Peel—Halton, Central East Ontario, Central West Ontario, Saskatchewan, Calgary, and South and North Alberta.

Green Party voters in 2011 would have elected an MP in Nova Scotia, Central Toronto—Scarborough, Peel—Halton, the Ottawa Valley, West Central Ontario, Calgary, Vancouver—Burnaby—North Shore—Maple Ridge, Surrey—Richmond—Abbotsford—Langley, and the BC Interior.

Conservative voters in 2011 would have elected six Quebec MPs in regions where they were shut out.
Clearly this would allow fair representation of Canada’s political diversity in each region.
Would this model also help reflect in Parliament the diversity of society, removing barriers to the nomination and election of candidates from groups now underrepresented including women, cultural minorities and Aboriginals? Polls show that 90% of Canadian voters would like to see more women elected. If they can choose from several of their party's regional candidates, they'll almost certainly elect more women. And as long as a party is nominating at least five regional candidates, you can expect them to nominate a diverse group. With five regional MPs from a region, and nine local MPs, a major party would want more than five regional candidates, since any candidates who win local seats are removed from contention for regional seats.

How would regional MPs serve residents? See how it works in Scotland.

Ten different Commissions, Assemblies and Reports in the past eleven years in Canada have unanimously recommended proportional representation.

Technical notes
This model was described in more detail by Prof. Henry Milner at an electoral reform conference Feb. 21, 2009, where he recommended 14-MP regions. A comparable "open-list" model is used in the German province of Bavaria and was proposed by Scotland's Arbuthnott Commission in 2006.

The Commission's "demonstration model" is NOT their recommendation. The Law Commission says their recommendation's inspiration is Scotland and Wales, which have "top-up" regions with 16 MPs (Scotland) and 12 MPs (Wales). To show how the calculation method worked, their "demonstration model" showed Quebec in only two regions, Ontario in only three, and BC and Alberta as single regions, making regions with about 35 MPs each, with at least 12 regional MPs. But then they said voters should be able to vote for the regional candidate they prefer. That would be a "bed-sheet ballot" with such large regions. So actually, Canada would likely have regions no larger than about 14 MPs: nine local, five regional "top-up." More accountable.

These 32 regions are large enough that every major party would be represented in almost every region. In the simulation, we see only two exceptions in 2015: Conservative voters would have elected no MP from Outaouais—Abitibi-Témiscamingue—Nord, nor NDP voters from PEI.

And in 2011, due to the Liberal weakness that year, Liberal voters would have elected no MP among the nine from the BC Interior (but another 2,100 votes would have done it) and the seven from Vancouver Island (where 6,200 more Liberal voters would have elected an MP), and NDP voters elect no MP among the four from Prince Edward Island.

The rounding method used in the simulation is highest remainder, for the same reason the Ontario Citizens Assembly chose it: it's the simplest. Germany used to use this too, on the premise that it offset the risk to proportionality of the 5% threshold. Similarly it offsets any small region sizes like Vancouver Island.

The Law 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.

Other details of this model’s design must be worked out with public consultations.

La solution démocratique existe

  • Chaque vote est respecté équitablement, partout et pour toutes les opinions politiques.
  • Chaque parti obtient sa juste part de sièges, ni plus ni moins que selon la volonté de la population.
  • L’Assemblée nationale réunit ± 128 membres – tous légitimement élus – et qui se font connaître, dans leurs régions respectives, durant la campagne électorale.
  • Dans chaque région, la population continue d’être représentée par autant ou plus de personnes élues qu’actuellement.
  • L’Assemblée nationale est conforme aux valeurs égalitaires de la société québécoise et tient compte de la diversité ethnoculturelle de la population.
  • Le bulletin de vote permet de faire un choix clair et simple:
    • choisir une personne pour représenter sa circonscription;
    • choisir un parti pour ses idées et pour son équipe régionale.


Unknown said...

My question has to do with very small regions such as PEI. In the MMP model proposed by the Law Commission, would PEI be its own region? If so, how could you achieve proportional representation there with only 4 seats? My understanding is that the smaller the number of seats in a region, the larger the unintentional threshold, and in a case like PEI with 4 seats the unintended threshold would have to be huge, and would certainly favour only large parties. Or would PEI be part of a larger region including other provinces? Either way seems problematic if you are a resident of a small region like PEI especially, which is an island province, because if you have another province in your region, your regional candidate may not and likely wouldn't even be from your own province which has its own unique needs and concerns. But if there are only 4 seats, proportionality seems far from likely. So I guess my question is what fixes, if any, are included in the Law Commissions proposal for large, unintented thresholds in small regions.

Wilf Day said...

Jennifer, the Law Commission concluded nothing can be done about PEI. It has four MPs and its voters are entitled to elect them. If the calculation crossed provincial boundaries "the weight of the results from outside of Prince Edward Island would be greater than results from inside the province."