Monday, October 13, 2014

How would proportional representation work in Saskatchewan?

How would proportional representation work in Saskatchewan, for federal elections?

I’m not talking about classic “list-PR” with candidates appointed by central parties. I’m talking about the model designed by the Law Commission of Canada, where every Member of Parliament represents actual voters and real communities. The majority of MPs will be elected by local ridings as we do today. The others are elected as regional MPs, topping-up the numbers of MPs from your region so the total is proportional to the votes for each party. You can cast a personal vote for a candidate within the regional list. The region is small enough that the regional MPs are accountable. 

Polls show more than 70% of Canadians support proportional representation for Canadian elections. Canada’s Liberal Party has opened the door to start implementing PR within one year of the 2015 election. The NDP and Greens fully support PR.

So this is no longer an academic discussion. This is a practical discussion: if Canada gets PR, how would it work in Saskatchewan? 

Mixed Proportional

With the Mixed Proportional system, you have two votes. With one, you help elect a local MP as we do today. The majority of MPs would still be local MPs. 

With the other vote, you can vote for the party you want to see in government, and for your favourite of your party’s regional candidates. So you help elect a few regional MPs, topping-up the local results to make them match the vote shares. Every vote counts: it’s proportional. You can vote for the regional candidate you prefer: it’s personal. There are no closed lists. Voters elect all the MPs. 

Competing MPs

Every voter in the region would be served by competing MPs. You could choose to go to your local MP for service or representation, or you could go to one of your regional MPs from a “top-up region” based in your area, likely including someone you helped elect. 

Accountable MPs 

This open list method was recommended both by our Law Commission and by the Jenkins Commission in the UK. Jenkins’ colourful explanation accurately predicted why closed lists would be rejected in Canada: additional members locally anchored 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.” 

Every vote counts. Each province still has the same number of MPs it has today. No constitutional amendment is needed. 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.”
 
What would regional MPs do? 

How would regional MPs operate? The regional MPs would cover several ridings each. Just the way it’s done in Scotland. They could have several offices, just as MP Ed Komarnicki has offices in Estevan, Weyburn and Moosomin. 

Two models:

Under the Law Commission of Canada`s model, the 14 MPs Saskatchewan voters will elect in 2015 would be in one “top-up” region. Under the “moderate” model inspired by the UK`s Jenkins Commission Report, they could be in two top-up regions.
  

How would it work out? 

So what would these two models look like?

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."

So this simulation is only if people voted as they did on May 2, 2011. When every vote counts, turnout will likely be at least 6% higher, and no one will have to cast a “strategic vote.” We would have had different candidates - more women, and more diversity of all kinds. We could even have different parties. Who can say what would be the result of real democratic elections?

Meanwhile, I’ve done simulations on the votes cast in 2011.
 

One region 

On the votes cast in 2011, the winner-take-all results in Saskatchewan on the new 2015 boundaries would be eleven Conservative MPs, two New Democrats and Ralph Goodale. Yet those voters cast only 56% of their votes for Conservatives, 32% NDP, 8.5% Liberals, and 2.6% Green. If every vote counted equally, Conservative voters would elect eight MPs, New Democrat voters five, and Liberal voters one. (See technical note as to how close Green voters came.)  

Since I’m projecting from the 2011 votes, I’ll start with the 2011 candidates. Suppose the nine local MPs were (depending on local nominations in larger ridings) Conservatives Gerry Ritz, Lynne Yelich, Ed Komarnicki, David Anderson, Garry Breitkreuz, Tom Lukiwski and Rob Clarke; New Democrat Nettie Wiebe in Saskatoon, and Liberal Ralph Goodale in Regina. In that case, NDP voters would also have elected four regional MPs from across the province. Conservative voters would elect one too. 

The regional MPs for each party would be the party’s regional candidates who ended up with the highest vote across Saskatchewan. NDP voters’ four regional MPs might have been Saskatoon’s Darien Moore who got 15,769 votes, Regina’s Noah Evanchuk (15,084), Regina’s Brian Sklar (12,518), and former Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations chief Lawrence Joseph in Prince Albert (9,715). Conservative voters might elect Regina’s Andrew Scheer (15,896) or Saskatoon’s Kelly Block (14,652). 

Two regions

These smaller regions are intended to be “moderately” proportional, less likely to elect MPs from smaller parties like the Greens. But in return, they provide better geographic representation, and more accountable regional MPs. 

The Jenkins-inspired model uses second preferences. In Regina, transfers (second preferences) from Liberal voters and Green voters would have let Noah Evanchuk defeat Tom Lukiwski, using the EKOS poll taken April 28-30, 2011.

Central & Northern Saskatchewan 

On the votes cast in 2011, the winner-take-all results in this region on the 2015 boundaries would be seven Conservative MPs and one New Democrat. Yet those voters cast only 57% of their votes for Conservatives, 35% for New Democrats, and 6% for Liberals. If every vote counted equally, Conservative voters would elect five MPs, New Democrat voters three. (See technical note as to how close Liberal voters came to electing an MP.) 

Suppose the five local MPs were (depending on local nominations in larger ridings) Conservatives Gerry Ritz, Lynne Yelich, Garry Breitkreuz, and Rob Clarke; and New Democrat Nettie Wiebe. In that case, NDP voters would also elect two regional MPs, and Conservative voters would elect one too. The regional MPs for each party would be the party’s regional candidates who ended up with the highest vote across the region. NDP voters’ regional MPs might have been Saskatoon’s Darien Moore who got 15,769 votes, and former Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations chief Lawrence Joseph in Prince Albert (9,715). Conservative voters might elect Saskatoon’s Kelly Block (14,652). 

Southern Saskatchewan 

On the votes cast in 2011, the winner-take-all results in this region on the 2015 boundaries would be four Conservative MPs, one New Democrat, and one Liberal. Yet those voters cast only 55% of their votes for Conservatives, 30% for New Democrats, and 12% for Liberals. If every vote counted equally, Conservative voters would elect three MPs, New Democrat voters two, and Liberals one. 

Suppose the four local MPs (from larger ridings) were Conservatives Ed Komarnicki, and David Anderson; New Democrat Noah Evanchuk; and Liberal Ralph Goodale. NDP voters would also elect a regional MP, and Conservative voters would elect one too.  NDP voters’ regional MP might have been Regina’s Brian Sklar who got 12,518 votes, or a regional woman candidate (in 2011 all six NDP candidates in this region were men.) Conservative voters might elect Regina’s Andrew Scheer (15,896). 

Two models: summary 

By using two regions, both regions are sure of keeping all six or eight MPs. On the one-region model, in theory all five regional MPs might have been from one half of Saskatchewan. And with only six or eight MPs per region, the proportionality is more moderate. 

Regional candidates 

How would party members nominate and rank a group of regional candidates? It could be done on-line, and with live conventions. Likely party members in each region would decide to nominate the same candidates nominated in the local ridings, and some additional regional candidates. (In Nova Scotia in 2011, in all 11 ridings the Liberals nominated only men. Additional regional candidates would surely have included some women. Since polls show 90% of Canadians want to see more women elected, we’ll elect women when given the chance.)  

But voters would have the final say, since they can vote for their party’s regional candidate they prefer. 

More choice 

For local MP, you can vote for the candidate you like best without hurting your party, since the party make-up of parliament is set by the party votes. In New Zealand, 35% of voters split their votes that way. 

Canada-wide consequences 

With the new 30 MPs, on the 2011 votes transposed by Elections Canada onto the new boundaries, the winner-take-all results for the 338 MPs would be 188 Conservative, 109 NDP, 36 Liberal, 4 Bloc, and 1 Green. 

When every vote counts, the result is: 140 Conservatives, 104 NDP, 64 Liberals, 19 Bloc, and 11 Green, using full proportionality on province-wide totals. 

With these two mixed models, the projected results are 140 Conservatives, 106 or 108 NDP, 63 or 67 Liberals, 15 or 18 Bloc, and 8 or 11 Greens. Close to perfect proportionality, while keeping all MPs accountable to real local and regional communities. 

Canadian diversity 

As Stéphane Dion says "I no longer want a voting system that gives the impression that certain parties have given up on Quebec, or on the West. On the contrary, the whole spectrum of parties, from Greens to Conservatives, must embrace all the regions of Canada. In each region, they must covet and be able to obtain seats proportionate to their actual support. This is the main reason why I recommend replacing our voting system." 

This is not a partisan scheme. Unrepresented Conservative voters would elect eight more Quebec MPs than in 2011, one more in Newfoundland, one more in PEI, one more in Northern Ontario, and one more on Vancouver Island. 

Of course, proportional representation would mean a lot for Canada. We would not likely have a one party government’s Prime Minister holding all the power. (The last Prime Minister to get more than 50% of the votes was Brian Mulroney in 1984.) Parliament would reflect the diverse voters of every province. 

An exciting prospect: voters have new power to elect who they like. New voices from new forces in Parliament. No party rolls the dice and wins an artificial majority. Cooperation will have a higher value than vitriolic rhetoric. Instead of having only a local MP -- whom you quite likely didn’t vote for -- you can also go to one of your diverse regional MPs, all of whom had to face the voters. 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. And all party caucuses will be more diverse. 

With this kind of power-sharing, Canada would look quite different.

If we had a Proportional Representation voting system, here are only a few of the things Canadians could have accomplished over the past twenty years:
Ø Engaged and motivated voters
Ø A reinvigorated democratic system
Ø More women MPs and a fair mix of party representation
Our electoral system is broken and people know it:
Ø Disengaged citizens are ignoring their right to vote
Ø A dysfunctional conflict-oriented political process
Ø Majority governments with minority voting results 

Poll results on proportional representation

Environics asked in 2013 “Some people favor bringing in a form of proportional representation. This means that the total number of seats held by each party in Parliament would be roughly equivalent to their percentage of the national popular vote. Would you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose moving towards a system of proportional representation in Canadian elections?”

Interviewing for this Environics National Telephone Survey was conducted between March 18th – 24th, 2013, among a national random sample of 1,004 adults. The margin of error for a sample of this size is +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.
Result: support 70%, oppose 18%, depends 6%, don’t know 6%. 

The Environics poll showed 93% of Green voters support proportional representation while 4% oppose; 82% of NDP voters support it while 11% oppose; 77% of Liberal voters support it while 15% oppose; 62% of Conservative supporters support it while 28% oppose; and 55% of voters undecided as to party support PR while 19% oppose and 27% said “don’t know” or “depends.” 

This is not new. Poll results have shown this for 13 years. 

Technical note 

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 their 5% threshold. Similarly it offsets smaller region sizes. 

You might wonder why those Green voters across Saskatchewan elect no one. Here’s how the numbers of MPs turn out: Conservatives 7.90, NDP 4.54, Liberals 1.19, Greens 0.37. After the first 12 seats are calculated, the 13th goes to the “highest remainder,” the Conservatives; and the 14th then follows the “highest remainder” principle, and goes to the NDP. If discouraged Green Party voters had cast 4,225 more votes across Saskatchewan, they would have elected an MP such as Mark Bigland-Pritchard from Saskatoon, taking a seat from the NDP. 

With the two-region model, Liberal voters in Central & Northern Saskatchewan elected no one. But if discouraged Liberals had cast only 2,650 more votes in those eight ridings, they would have elected a regional MP such as Saskatoon gay city councillor Darren Hill, taking a seat from the Conservatives.
 

1 comment:

Adam said...

Looks good Wilf!