Sunday, August 23, 2015

How would proportional representation work in Atlantic Canada?

How would proportional representation work in Atlantic Canada, for federal elections?

I’m not talking about classic “list-PR” with candidates appointed by central parties, which no one proposes for Canada.

I’m talking about the model recommended by theLaw 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 provincial MPs, topping-up the numbers of MPs from your province so the total is proportional to the votes for each party. You can cast a personal vote for the provincial candidate you prefer.

The Atlantic provinces are small enough that the provincial MPs are accountable. In Canada’s four largest provinces these additional MPs would be elected from regions within each province, maybe with about 12 MPs per region.

Canadians support proportional representation
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 the Atlantic provinces?

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 provincial candidates. So you help elect a few provincial MPs, topping-up the local results to make them match the vote shares. Every vote counts: it’s proportional. You can vote for the provincial candidate you prefer: it’s personal. There are no closed lists. Voters elect all the MPs.

After the October 19 election, Canada will very likely see a 12-month public consultation process by a special all-party task force or 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.

Competing MPs
Every voter in the province 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 provincial MPs, 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 as they were in the PEI referendum: 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 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, 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. 

New Brunswick example
In 2011 New Brunswick voters elected eight Conservative MPs, one New Democrat and one Liberal. Yet those voters cast only 44% of their votes for Conservatives, while 30% voted New Democrat, 23% Liberal, and 3% Green. If every vote counted equally, on those votes Conservative voters would elect five MPs, New Democrat voters three MPs, and Liberal voters two. (For the calculation, see technical footnote 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 Keith Ashfield, Rob Moore, Mike Allen and Robert Goguen, New Democrat Yvon Godin, and Liberal Dominic LeBlanc.

In that case, Liberal voters would elect one provincial Liberal MP. Many would have preferred Dominic LeBlanc, but on election day, assuming he already won a local seat, other Liberals would have elected the other Liberal MP: maybe Fredericton’s Randy McKeen, or Kelly Wilson from Charlotte County, or Saint John’s Stephen Chase.

NDP voters would elect two provincial MPs. NDP voters can vote for the provincial NDP candidate they prefer. Many would have preferred Yvon Godin, but assuming he already won a local seat, the regional seat would go to the two next most popular. In other words, NDP voters whose top preference was not Yvon Godin could, if they wish, elect the other two NDP MPs. Maybe NDP voters who want a woman or a First Nations candidate would have preferred Susan Levi-Peters. Maybe Saint John area voters would have preferred Rob Moir.

Conservative voters would elect one provincial MP. Many would have preferred Keith Ashfield, Rob Moore, Mike Allen or Robert Goguen, so the others would have elected an MP such as Bernard Valcourt or Tilly O'Neill Gordon.  

What would provincial MPs do?
How would provincial MPs operate? The provincial MPs would cover several ridings each. Just the way it’s done in Scotland. They could have several offices, just as MP Bernard Valcourt has offices in both Edmonston and Campbellton.  

Provincial candidates
How would party members nominate and rank a group of provincial candidates? It could be done on-line, and with live conventions. Likely party members in each province would decide to nominate the same candidates already nominated in the local ridings, and some additional provincial candidates.

In Nova Scotia in 2011, in all 11 ridings the Liberals nominated only men. Additional provincial 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 provincial candidate they prefer. Or they can vote for the list as ranked by the party’s nomination process.

Some Green Party voters would have elected MPs
In Nova Scotia, Green voters would have elected an MP such as John Percy.

Some unrepresented Conservative voters would have elected more MPs
Newfoundland Conservative voters would have elected another MP such as Fabian Manning. PEI Conservative voters would have elected another MP such as Mike Currie.

How many local MPs?
In my 2011 simulation, I have made each top-up region have at least 57.5% of its MPs as local MPs. On average across Canada, 62.7% of the MPs will be local MPs. The 335 MPs from the ten provinces will be 210 local MPs and 125 regional or provincial MPs.

On average across Atlantic Canada, three present ridings generally become two larger ridings. Local ridings are usually around 50% bigger than today. In every Atlantic province, this is enough for perfectly proportional results on the 2011 votes. (See technical footnotes.)

Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia voters would elect seven local MPs and four provincial MPs.

PEI would keep three local MPs, and have one provincial MP to represent voters under-represented by the local results.

Newfoundland & Labrador
Newfoundland & Labrador would have to be a bit of a special case, in my opinion. With seven MPs today, they would have to keep five local MPs. This would let Labrador keep its own MP. That decision would be made by the Boundaries Commission for Newfoundland & Labrador. However, in the last two boundaries hearings in 2012 and 2002, even though Labrador’s population is much lower than the other ridings, not one single Newfoundlander objected to Labrador keeping its own MP. I bet that would continue. With proportional representation, it’s the total vote across the province that determines the partisan breakdown of MPs from the province. So it would do no great harm to democracy to let Labrador keep its own MP. The six ridings on the island of Newfoundland would become four larger ridings, and the new Boundaries Commission might use the present ridings as a basis but would not be limited to them. Two provincial MPs would represent voters under-represented by the local results.

More choice
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.

Local MPs become more independent
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.

The rural voice
Will proportional representation swamp the rural voice? No, as shown here.

“When you empower people, it’s incredible what can be achieved”
As Tom Mulcair has written “In 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.”

Winner-take-all results across Canada
On the votes cast in 2011, the winner-take-all results on the new 2015 boundaries for the 338 ridings would be 187 Conservative, 110 NDP, 36 Liberal, 4 Bloc, and 1 Green.

Simulated results across Canada
If 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 62.7% local seats, the results for 338 MPs are: Conservative 139, NDP 108, Liberal 64, BQ 17, Green 10. Close to perfect, while keeping 62.7% of the MPs as local MPs.

Technical Footnotes:
1.  How does the math work? In my New Brunswick example, on the votes cast in 2011, Conservative voters were entitled to 4.41 MPs, NDP voters 2.997 MPs, Liberals 2.27, and Greens 0.32. After the first eight MPs are calculated, the next “highest remainder” is the NDP’s 0.997, and the next is the Conservatives’ 0.41, so they get the 10th MP. If 2,600 more new voters had voted for the Green Party, they would have taken the 10th seat from the Conservatives, electing an MP such as Janice Harvey, Fisheries critic for the Green Party of Canada and wife of provincial Green leader David Coon.

2. 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 across Canada.

3.  With only 37.3% of the MPs as compensatory (“top-up”) MPs, there is no guarantee that the result will be perfectly proportional. In Quebec in 2011 the “Orange Wave” was 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). If one party swept the five local seats in Newfoundland and Labrador, the two provincial MPs might not be enough for perfect proportionality. Adding provincial MPs, while keeping the House the same size, means larger local ridings. It’s a trade-off: the higher the proportion of provincial MPs, the larger are the local ridings. But the lower the proportion of provincial MPs, the greater the risk that they are too few to compensate for the disproportional local results.

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