Canada will very likely see a 12-month public consultation process by a special all-party parliamentary committee with a mandate to consult experts and ordinary Canadians, and bring recommendations to Parliament, likely including the best design for a mixed-member proportional system.
How big are the regions? Maybe 11 or 12 MPs.The first question for any mixed-member model is “how big are the regions?”
Suppose a region comprises 16 MPs, namely ten local MPs and six elected as regional MPs, topping-up the numbers of MPs from the region so the total is proportional to the votes cast for each party. That’s the size of the Scottish Parliament’s regions. The Wales Assembly has regions of 12. 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.”
With the open-list model recommended by the Law Commission and widely supported, you can cast a personal vote for the regional candidate you prefer. The region is small enough that the regional MPs are accountable. The smaller the region, the more locally accountable. But the smaller the region, the larger is the effective threshold for a party’s voters to elect an MP. Designing any voting system involves that sort of trade-off.
In some European countries, we find quite a variation in region sizes. But in Canada, Stéphane Dion has said he would find it worrisome if Canada was divided into different political microclimates, and I agree. Dion writes “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.” Again I agree.
Excluding Newfoundland & Labrador and PEI as special cases, the other four smaller provinces have 14, 14, 11 and 10 MPs, an average of about 12; or 11 if you include Newfoundland & Labrador. Below, I show what this would look like.
Mixed-member proportional systemI’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.
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.
Canadians support proportional representationPolls 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?
Regions of about 11 or 12 MPsTo have similar “political microclimates” in every region, we might have regions averaging about 11 or 12 MPs.
In Ontario, with 121 MPs, that means ten regions, which I find works very well.
In BC, with 42 MPs, the Lower Mainland has 26 MPs, far too large for one region. Voters would face a “bedsheet ballot” with all the regional candidates of each party. So that’s two regions of about 13 each. But the Interior and North have nine MPs, clearly a region, as Northern Ontario is with its nine MPs. That leaves Vancouver Island as a special case with only seven MPs, just as Newfoundland and Labrador have only seven MPs. The average is 10.5 MPs.
Alberta has 34 MPs. Three regions of 11 or 12 MPs each will work nicely.
Quebec has 78 MPs. Is that six of 13, seven of about 11, or eight of about 10? I find eight regions works well.
Manitoba could be a special case: to give fair representation to voters outside Winnipeg, it could be two regions.
Manitoba could be a special case: to give fair representation to voters outside Winnipeg, it could be two regions.
That adds up to 32 regions across Canada.
But are 12-MP regions too small to be fair to smaller parties like the Greens? I have done simulations of this model on the votes cast in 2011 and in 2015. In Ontario, 2011 Green Party voters deserved to elect 4.58 MPs, while this model lets them elect four MPs, pretty close. Across the rest of Canada, they elect their fair share. In 2015 Greens would elect about half their share, but if their vote doubled they would achieve perfectly proportional results.
How many local MPs?The next trade-off is the ratio of local MPs to total MPs.
Adding regional MPs, while keeping the House the same size, means larger local ridings. The higher the proportion of regional MPs, the larger are the local ridings. But the lower the proportion of regional MPs, the greater the risk that they are too few to compensate for the disproportional local results.
In my simulations, I have made each region have at least 57.5% of its MPs as local MPs, provided always that each region or province has at least 33% regional MPs (with Newfoundland and Labrador as a special case.) On average across Canada, regions will have 62.4% of their MPs as local MPs. The 335 MPs from the ten provinces will be 209 local MPs and 126 regional MPs. In this model eight present ridings generally become five larger ridings. Local ridings are usually 60% bigger than today.
In almost every province, this is enough for perfectly proportional results on the 2011 votes. Only in Quebec was the “Orange Wave” so extreme that this model lets NDP voters elect 38 MPs rather than the 35 they deserve, at the cost of the Bloc (two MPs short) and the Conservatives (one). Elsewhere, Alberta Liberals get a bonus of one MP from the Greens, offset by BC Green voters getting a bonus of one MP from the Liberals, while Ontario NDP voters get a bonus of one MP from the Greens. In 2015, the Liberal sweeps in New Brunswick and the City of Toronto create a Liberal bonus of three MPs.
Competing Regional 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. How will regional MPs do their work? See how it works in Scotland.
When you empower people, it’s incredible what can be achievedIn a study that looked at 36 countries with proportional representation, countries that reformed their systems saw increased voter turnout, more women and minorities elected and an overall higher satisfaction with democracy. Furthermore, countries with proportional representation also score higher on indicators of health, education and standards of living. They are more likely to enjoy fiscal surpluses and have healthier environmental policies, economic growth and decreased income inequality.
It may seem shocking that a change in electoral system can fuel such dramatic changes, but when you empower people, it’s incredible what can be achieved. By responding to and reflecting a broader pool of interests and people, proportional elections lead to governments that are not based on one single partisan worldview or a narrow segment of society. Proportional governments represent a broader cross-section of society; as a result, the policies they pass tend to be more credible, stable and based on the common good.
Accountable MPsThis 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.”
More choiceWith 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.
Local MPs become more independentThis 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.
What would this 12-MP region model look like? Let’s look at the four larger provinces.
Ontario regionsNorthern Ontario, north of the French River, has nine MPs. Toronto has 25 MPs, two regions of 12 or 13. York Region’s ten MPs and Durham Region’s five make a 15-MP region. Peel and Halton Regions have 16 MPs (or if Burlington goes with Hamilton, then 15). Southwestern Ontario (London—Windsor) has 11 MPs. South Central Ontario (Hamilton—Niagara—Brant) has 11 MPs, or with five Waterloo Region's five, then 16. West Central Ontario has five MPs in Simcoe—Muskoka (Barrie), three in Grey—Bruce—Huron—Perth (58% rural), and two in Wellington—Dufferin (Guelph), total 10, or with Waterloo Region's five, then 15. East of the GTA are 19 MPs, which have to be in two regions. The Ottawa—Cornwall region with 10 MPs is 16% French home language, where many regional candidates will be bilingual. That leaves Central East Ontario (Kingston—Peterborough, 52% rural) with nine MPs.
Quebec RegionsI defer to Quebeckers, but here are two options: Montreal-est 12, Montreal—ouest 6, Laval—Laurentides—Lanaudière 13, Outaouais—Abitibi-Témiscamingue—Nord 6, Longueuil—Montérégie-centre—Suroît 12, Estrie—Mauricie—Centre-du-Québec—Montérégie-est 11, Quebec City—Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean—Côte-Nord 11, and Chaudière-Appalaches—Bas-Saint-Laurent—Gaspésie 7. Or: Montreal-est—Laval 14, Montreal—ouest 8, Longueuil—Montérégie-centre—Suroît 12, Laurentides—Lanaudière—Outaouais—Abitibi-Témiscamingue—Nord 15, Estrie—Mauricie—Centre-du-Québec—Montérégie-est 11, Quebec City—Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean—Côte-Nord 11, and Chaudière-Appalaches—Bas-Saint-Laurent—Gaspésie 7.
BC RegionsVancouver—Burnaby—North Shore—Maple Ridge 14, Surrey—Richmond—Abbotsford—Langley 12, BC Interior and North 9, and Vancouver Island 7.
Alberta RegionsMetropolitan Edmonton 11, Metropolitan Calgary 11, South and North Alberta 12.
And we could split Manitoba into two regions (Winnipeg eight, rest six)
The rural voiceWill proportional representation swamp the rural voice? No, as shown here.
More people would vote, and vote differentlyAs 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, when 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?
Meanwhile, I’ve done simulations on the votes cast in 2011.
Winner-take-all resultsOn the votes cast in 2011, the winner-take-all results on the new 2015 boundaries for the 338 ridings would be 188 Conservative, 109 NDP, 36 Liberal, 4 Bloc, and 1 Green.
Simulated resultsIf every vote counted equally, using province-wide perfect proportionality for the 338 MPs (not counting Quebec Green votes which were below 3%), the results would have been: Conservative 140, NDP 104, Liberal 64, BQ 19, Green 11.
In my simulation, after adjustments due to 61.8% local seats, the results for 338 MPs are: Conservative 139, NDP 108, Liberal 64, BQ 17, Green 10. Close to perfect, while keeping 61.8% of the MPs as local MPs.
In all 30 regions, supporters of all major parties would find their 2011 votes count to help elect an MP, with only three exceptions. The BC Interior’s Liberal voters needed another 2,100 votes to elect an MP. Vancouver Island’s Liberals needed another 6,200 votes to elect an MP. PEI’s New Democrat voters needed another 20,300 votes to elect an MP.
Some unrepresented Liberal voters would have elected more MPsLiberal voters were short-changed the worst in 2011. Under winner-take-all, Alberta Liberal voters elected no one, but with MMP would elect four MPs. Since I’m using the 2011 votes, I’ll use 2011 candidates. Maybe Cam Stewart and Jennifer Pollock in Calgary, Mary MacDonald in Edmonton, and Medicine Hat’s Norm Boucher or Fort McMurray’s Karen Young.
BC Lower Mainland Liberal voters would have elected three more MPs, such as Sukh Dhaliwal, Ujjal Dosanjh and Pam Dhanoa. Manitoba Liberal voters would have elected another MP such as Anita Neville.
Toronto Liberal voters would have elected another MP such as Michael Ignatieff. York—Durham Liberals would have elected three more MPs such as Mark Holland, Bryon Wilfert and Karen Mock. South Central Ontario Liberals would have elected two MPs such as Hamilton’s Dave Braden and Niagara Falls’ Bev Hodgson. Peel—Halton Liberals would have elected four MPs such as Paul Szabo, Bonnie Crombie, Andrew Kania, and Ruby Dhalla or Navdeep Bains. Southwestern Ontario Liberals would have elected two MPs such as London’s Glen Pearson and Wallaceburg’s Gayle Stuck. Central West Ontario Liberals would have elected two more MPs such as Kitchener’s Karen Redman and Orillia’s Steve Clarke. Ottawa Valley Liberals would have elected another MP such as Anita Vandenbeld. Central East Ontario Liberals would have elected another MP such as Cobourg’s Kim Rudd.
Quebec Liberal voters outside Montreal Island would have elected five more MPs such as Brossard’s Alexandra Mendès, Gatineau’s Marcel Proulx, Brome-Missisquoi’s Denis Paradis, Quebec City’s Jean Beaupré and Matane’s Nancy Charest. New Brunswick Liberals would have elected another MP such as Fredericton’s Randy McKeen.
Some unrepresented New Democrat voters would have elected more MPsYork—Durham NDP voters would have elected three MPs such as Oshawa’s Chris Buckley, Markham’s Nadine Hawkins, and Keswick’s Sylvia Gerl. Peel-Halton NDP voters would have elected two MPs such as Brampton’s Jagmeet Singh and Mississauga’s Michelle Bilek. Central West Ontario NDP voters would have elected three MPs such as Susan Galvao from Cambridge, Grant Robertson from Bruce County, and Myrna Clark from Barrie. Ottawa Valley NDP voters would have elected another MP such as Marlene Rivier. East Central Ontario NDP voters would have elected two MPs such as Kinston’s Daniel Beals and Lyn Edwards from Kawartha Lakes. Southwestern Ontario NDP voters would have elected another MP such as Sarnia’s Brian White.
BC Lower Mainland NDP voters would have elected another MP such as Karen Shillington. BC Interior NDP voters would have elected another MP such as Vernon’s Nikki Inouye.
Alberta NDP voters would have elected five more MPs such as Calgary’s Paul Vargis, Mark Sandilands from Lethbridge, Jennifer Villebrun from Grande Prairie, and Edmonton’s Ray Martin and Lewis Cardinal.
Saskatchewan NDP voters would have elected five MPs. Maybe Saskatoon’s Nettie Wiebe, Regina’s Noah Evanchuk, Prince Albert’s Valerie Mushinski, Saskatoon’s Darien Moore, and Regina’s Fred Clipsham.
Manitoba NDP voters would have elected two more MPs such as Rebecca Blaikie and Jim Maloway.
New Brunswick NDP voters would have elected two more MPs such as Saint John’s Rob Moir and Moncton’s Shawna Gagné.
Some unrepresented Conservative voters would have elected more MPsMetropolitan Montreal Conservative voters would have elected an MP from Montreal-est—Laval such as Gérard Labelle or Zaki Ghavitian, two from Montreal—ouest such as Larry Smith and Svetlana Litvin, and Terrebonne’s Marc Boundreau or Blainville’s Jean-Guy Dagenais. Elsewhere in Quebec they would have elected four more such as Lawrence Cannon from Gatineau, Jean-Maurice Matte from Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Jean-Philippe Bachand from Les Sources MRC, and Josée Verner from Quebec City.
Newfoundland Conservative voters would have elected another MP such as Fabian Manning. PEI Conservative voters would have elected another MP such as Mike Currie. Vancouver Island Conservative voters would have elected another MP such as Gary Lunn.
Some Green Party voters would have elected MPsIn BC, Green voters would have elected their Deputy Leader, Vancouver’s Adriane Carr, another Lower Mainland MP such as White Rock’s Larry Colero, and an MP from the Interior such as Greig Crockett from North Okanagan. In Alberta, Green voters would have elected an MP such as Calgary’s Heather MacIntosh. In Nova Scotia, Green voters would have elected an MP such as John Percy.
In Ontario, Green voters deserved to elect 4.58 MPs, but by this simulation they elect only four MPs, such as Erich Jacoby-Hawkins or Emma Hogbin in Central West, Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu in Toronto—Scarborough, Ard Van Leeuwen in Peel—Halton, and Jen Hunter in Ottawa Valley. But 6,900 more Green votes in York—Durham (a 29% increase) would have given the Greens an MP there such as John Dewar or Rebecca Harrison.
Regional candidatesHow 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 will have the final say, since they can vote for their party’s regional candidate they prefer.
Other design decisionsSeveral other decisions must be made after consulting Canadians and experts.
Should a party have to reach a threshold, such as 5% of the vote in that province, to qualify for regional top-up MPs in that province? Or 4%? Both are common thresholds in Europe.
Should voters elect local MPs as we do today, by First-Past-The-Post, or should they use a preferential ballot? No working MMP model does this. However, some supporters of proportional representation for Canada admire the Jenkins Report in the UK which did propose this option, so it should be considered.
Footnotes:1. An acceptable MMP model for Canada could have regions of:
Ontario 12.1 x 10 (range 8 to 15)
Quebec 9.75 x 8 (range 6 to 13)
BC 10.5 x 4 (range 7 to 14)
Alberta 11.3 x 3 (range 11 to 12)
Manitoba 7 x 2 (6 and 8)
Nova Scotia 11
New Brunswick 10
Average of eight provinces: 10.8
Newfoundland & Labrador 7
Average of ten provinces: 10.5
2. A new Boundaries Commission would not be limited to using the present ridings as a basis in all cases. For example, Dufferin—Caledon is half in the GTA (Peel Region), and Wellington—Halton Hills is also half in the GTA (Halton Region), so they would have to be re-divided. Burlington is usually considered part of Hamilton’s metropolitan area. Several present Quebec ridings straddle the boundaries of their 17 administrative regions.
3. 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.
4. When referring to urban and rural, Stats Can classifies any population centre with urban density and a population of 1,000 to 29,999 as “small urban.” However, I find towns of fewer than 3,000 residents are not generally considered urban; for example, only a small handful of them are large enough to have a high school. I have therefore defined “urban” as larger than 3,000.