Friday, August 15, 2014

How would proportional representation work in Calgary?

How would proportional representation work in Calgary?

UPDATE NOTE: I have included this in a new blog post  How would proportional representation work in Alberta?

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

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

Mixed Proportional

With the Mixed Proportional system, you have two votes. With one, you help elect a local MP as we do today. With the other, you can vote for the party you want to see in government, and for your favourite of your party’s regional candidates.

In this way, you also help elect a few regional MPs to top-up the local results so that 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.

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.”

Calgary`s ten MPs

Calgary elects ten MPs in 2015. With the mixed proportional system, six of the ten would still be local MPs. The other four would be city-wide regional MPs, topping up the total Calgary results to make them match the vote shares.

So what would that look like?

When every vote counts, turnout will be at least 6% higher, and no one will have to cast a “strategic vote.” Who can say what would be the result of real democratic elections?

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

In 2011 Calgary voters elected eight Conservative MPs, and no others. Yet those voters cast only 66% of their votes for Conservatives, while 14% voted Liberal, 12% New Democrat, and 8% Green. If every vote counted equally, on those votes on the 2015 boundaries Conservative voters would elect seven MPs, Liberal voters one MP, New Democrat voters one, and Green voters one. (See Technical note below.)

Since I’m projecting from the 2011 votes, I’ll start with the 2011 candidates. Let’s suppose the six local MPs were Conservatives Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney, Diane Ablonczy, Michelle Rempel, Lee Richardson, and Deepak Obhrai.

In that case, voters for each party would also elect one regional MP.

Conservative voters can vote for the regional Conservative candidate they prefer. Many would prefer Harper, Kenney, Ablonczy, Rempel, Richardson, or Obhrai, but on election day, since they already won a local seat, the regional seat would go to the next most popular. In other words, Conservative voters whose personal preference was not one of those six can, if they wish, elect the seventh Conservative MP. Maybe Punjabis and other South Asians would prefer Devinder Shory. Women Conservative voters might have preferred a new regional female candidate such as Joan Crockatt. Chinese-ancestry voters might have preferred a new regional candidate such as Gary Mar. In single-nomination contests, white males predominate. But when Calgary members of any party city-wide meet to elect a group of regional candidates, can you imagine them failing to nominate a woman or a visible minority? Even Conservatives?

Liberal voters would elect a regional Liberal MP, such as Jennifer Pollock or Cam Stewart. NDP voters would elect a regional MP, such as Paul Vargis, Collin Anderson or Holly Heffernan. Green voters would elect a regional MP, such as Heather MacIntosh.

Regional candidates

How would party members in Calgary nominate and rank a group of regional candidates? It could be done on-line, and with a live convention. Likely party members city-wide would decide to nominate the same candidates nominated in the local ridings, and some additional city-wide candidates.

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

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.

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.

Two models

In 2015 Albertans elect 34 MPs. They might be in three “top-up regions” under the Law Commission of Canada`s model, or in four regions under the ``moderate`` model based on the UK`s Jenkins Commission. Either way, Calgary`s ten MPs will make it a good “top-up region.”

Competing MPs

These models let citizens of regions across Canada elect competing MPs: a local MP, and a few regional MPs from a “top-up region” based in your area, likely including someone you helped elect. 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.”

Canada-wide consequences.

If we had used province-wide totals with perfect proportionality the projected results on the 2011 votes with the extra 30 MPs would be: 140 Conservatives, 104 NDP, 64 Liberals, 19 Bloc, and 11 Green.

With these mixed models, the projected results for 338 MPs are 142 or 143 Conservatives, 106 or 107 NDP, 66 or 62 Liberals, 15 or 17 Bloc, and 11 or 7 Greens. Close to perfect proportionality, while keeping all MPs accountable to real local and regional communities.

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, and one more on Vancouver Island.

Canadian diversity

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 who got more than 50% of the votes was Brian Mulroney in 1984.) Parliament would reflect the diverse voters of every province.

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 how Green Party voters would deserve a Calgary MP. The numbers work out as follows: Conservatives 6.615 MPs; Liberals 1.375 MPs; New Democrats 1.241 MPs; Greens 0.770. After the first eight seats are awarded, the 9th seat goes to the ``highest remainder” (the Green), and the 10th seat goes to the next (the Conservative.)

Would second preferences have changed any results in 2011? Sometimes, but not in Calgary, using the EKOS poll taken April 28-30, 2011: