Monday, January 27, 2014

Ten Canadian Commissions, Assemblies and Reports that have recommended proportional representation

One reason over 70% of Canadians support moving toward an element of proportionality in our voting system is the weight of expert evidence. Ten different Commissions, Assemblies and Reports in the past eleven years have unanimously recommended it.

Prelude: Quebec, 1984

The first such report was when René Lévesque decided in 1981 to introduce proportional representation for Quebec, after four elections had produced odd results. In 1984 the Electoral Representation Commission (an agency that reports to the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec) tabled a report recommending that the first-past-the-post system be replaced by a voting system that would allow all Members to be elected proportionally. The PQ caucus decided not to proceed. However, ever since then, many people in Quebec have wanted to revive Lévesque’s democratic legacy.

  1. The Law Commission of Canada
The independent Law Commission of Canada conducted a three-year study on electoral reform. It involved 15 public consultations, ten research papers, and 16 meetings and panels. In 2004 they delivered a 209-page Report recommending a made-in-Canada system.

It recommended a mixed system quite like that of Scotland’s Parliament. A majority of MPs will still be directly elected in local single-member ridings accountable to them. At least a third of MPs will be elected from regions to “top-up” the local results, so that the overall result reflects the share of votes cast for each party.

You have two votes: one to simply choose your local MP, and one for your regional MP which counts as a vote for the party you want in government. Unlike Scotland, for regional MP voters could choose a candidate from those nominated by party members in their region, or could simply vote for the regional slate as ranked by the party members’ nomination process.

The Law Commission model was inspired by that used in Scotland and Wales. In Scotland, the regions have a total of 16 MPs; in Wales, 12. For example, a region might have 14 MPs -- nine local MPs, and five regional “top-up” MPs who campaigned in your region and will compete with your local MP to serve you. It maintains the link between citizens and their representatives. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, which each have 14 MPs, and in the Atlantic provinces, the “region” would be the whole province.

Like all proportional systems, it will let every vote count, and promote consensual, cooperative and cross-party law-making. Since each province would still have the same number of MPs, no constitutional amendment would be needed.

  1. Quebec’s Estates-General on the Reform of Democratic Institutions
While the Law Commission was working, the Quebec Government published a discussion paper in October 2002 on The Reform of the Voting System in Quebec. Even though the PQ government had been elected with fewer votes than the opposition Liberals, Premier Bernard Landry persuaded his party to finally take action on this last item of Lévesque’s unfulfilled democratic legacy.

In 2002-3 Quebec’s Estates General on the Reform of Democratic Institutions (the Béland Commission) visited 20 towns in Quebec and held 27 public hearings, and in February 2003 brought 825 people together to deliberate on these issues. They voted, by a 90% vote of those 825 people, for proportional representation, while only 10% wanted to retain First Past The Post. Their preferred model was a mixed member proportional representation model, that would add regional “top-up” MNAs to correct for proportionality. In March 2003 they presented their Report.

  1. Prince Edward Island
In January 2003, the Government of Prince Edward Island appointed the Hon. Norman Carruthers, a retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island, to examine options for reform of the Island’s electoral system. In December 2003, Justice Carruthers presented his report recommending a Mixed Member Proportional System (MMPS) based on the system now in use in Germany, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales. In a plebiscite held in November 2005 with a very low turnout, voters opted to retain the province’s FPTP system.

  1. BC Citizens Assembly
The British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform was an independent non-partisan assembly of citizens who met to examine the province’s electoral system.” The Assembly had 160 members: 80 women and 80 men. Two were Aboriginal people and the rest were chosen from each of British Columbia’s 79 electoral districts by draw. The Assembly spent nearly one year deliberating on whether British Columbia should change its electoral system.

It recommended a proportional voting system. Its Report in December 2004 proposed the single transferable vote (STV) system, used in Ireland, for British Columbia. The STV proposal was put to the voters of British Columbia as a referendum question at the provincial election held in May 2005. It gained 57% support across British Columbia, and was approved in 77 out of 79 ridings. Because it did not have 60% support, the government did not proceed with it.

  1. Quebec government study
In July 2003 the new government of Jean Charest began work on a mixed member system, aided by the 140-page Report of Prof. Louis Massicotte.

After 14 months work, in December 2004 the Quebec government presented a draft bill proposing a new mixed electoral system like the Law Commission recommendation but with very small regions. The 127 Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) would be 77 members elected locally, and 50 in “top-up” regions helping to ensure that the number of seats a party wins is proportional to the percentage of votes cast for it. The regions would mostly comprise only five MNAs each: three constituencies and two regional seats. Unlike the Law Commission model, voters would still cast only one vote. The candidate with the most votes in the local riding would be elected, as is currently the case. The remaining regional seats would be awarded to under-represented parties.

6.    New Brunswick’s Commission on Legislative Democracy

Bernard Lord, Premier of New Brunswick, established the Commission on Legislative Democracy in December 2003 to study democratic reform in New Brunswick. In its Report in January 2005 the Commission recommended a regional MMP system that would combine 36 single-member riding seats with 20 regional “top-up” PR seats, elected within four approximately equal-sized, multi-member, regional districts. The Commission proposed that each of the four regions would elect five MLAs, and that parties must receive at least 5% of the list vote on a province-wide basis to be eligible to win any list seats. The government agreed to hold a referendum in May 2008 on changing the province’s electoral system to a form of MMP representation. Bernard Lord said it should be decided by a 50% majority, "the normal way decisions are made in a democracy."
However, in 2006 Bernard Lord’s government was defeated (ironically, in a “wrong-winner” election where his PCs got more votes than the Liberals but fewer seats), and the new government did not proceed.

  1. Quebec Citizens Committee Report
A parliamentary Select Committee of the National Assembly began proceedings in November 2005, and sat jointly with a randomly selected Citizens’ Committee. They were to study and make recommendations on the draft bill introduced in December 2004. They held public consultations in 16 cities across Quebec beginning in January 2006, when 379 groups and individuals made presentations.

In April 2006 the Citizen’s Committee presented to the National Assembly a detailed report in which it rejected the government bill and proposed a MMP system similar to that used in Germany, with a two-vote system. Voters would, with their first ballot, elect 60% of the Assembly members. The other 40% of the members would be elected by the second ballot pertaining to the elector’s choice of party. The Citizens’ Committee faulted the bill particularly for proposing very small regions with high thresholds which would not accurately reflect the popular vote, and a single-vote system that would perpetuate the practice of strategic voting.

  1. Quebec Select Committee Report
The Select Committee recommended the mixed compensatory system proposed, but with changes to give greater consideration to the multiplicity of political expressions.  

  1. Ontario’s Citizens Assembly
In November 2004, Premier McGuinty announced that a citizens’ assembly would be created to examine the FPTP electoral system and to recommend possible changes. A referendum would be held if an alternative electoral system was recommended by the citizens’ assembly. The selection process for the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, 103 randomly selected citizens, was not completed until June 2006. Members of the Assembly began meeting in September 2006 with a mandate to examine current and prospective electoral systems through public meetings and written submissions.

In a report in May 2007, the Assembly recommended a MMP system combining members of provincial parliament elected in local districts and members elected for the whole province from closed province-wide party lists. The government held a referendum on this recommendation in conjunction with the general election in October 2007.
The Citizens’ Assembly proposal garnered only 37% of the popular vote. This failure was no surprise to fans of the UK’s Jenkins Commission, which 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.”

10.   Quebec’s Chief Electoral Officer’s Report

In December 2007 the Report of Quebec’s Chief Electoral Officer on a compensatory mixed system was made public. It reviewed a number of options for the design of a mixed proportional model for Quebec, leaning towards a nine-region model with an open list system giving voters the choice of using their second ballot to vote for a party or one regional candidate.

With all this evidence, no wonder polls have shown for more than ten years that at least 70% of Canadians support moving towards a system of proportional representation in Canadian elections.

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