Monday, September 7, 2015

How would proportional representation work in Northern Ontario?

How would proportional representation work in Northern Ontario, 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 the Law Commission of Canada, where every Member of Parliament represents actual voters and real communities. Local ridings  will elect the majority of MPs 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 the regional candidate you prefer.

These regional MPs are elected from regions small enough that the regional MPs are accountable; maybe 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 in time for the next 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 Northern Ontario?

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.

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 will 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, 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 Ontario and PEI referendums: 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. Fair Vote Canada says "A democratic voting system must encourage citizens to exercise positive choice by voting for the candidate or party they prefer."
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?

One thing we know for sure: it is extremely unlikely that voters would vote exactly as they did in 2011. Meanwhile, I’ve done simulations on the votes cast in 2011.  

Northern Ontario’s nine MPs
In 2011 Northern Ontario voters (north of the French River) elected six NDP MPs and three Conservative MPs. Yet those voters cast only 44% of their votes for New Democrats, while 33% voted Conservative, 20% Liberal, and 3% Green. If every vote counted equally, on those votes NDP voters would elect four MPs, Conservative 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 (depending on local nominations in six larger ridings) New Democrats Charlie Angus, Claude Gravelle, Carol Hughes, and John Rafferty, and Conservatives Greg Rickford and Jay Aspin.

The regional MPs for each party would be the party’s regional candidates who ended up with the most support across the region. In this case, Liberal voters would elect two regional Liberal MPs. maybe Nipissing’s Anthony Rota (who got 15,477 votes in 2011) and Sault Ste. Marie’s Christian Provenzano (8,343) or Sudbury’s Carol Hartman (8,172) or Thunder Bay’s Ken Boshcoff (8,067).

Conservative voters would elect one regional MP. Many would have preferred Greg Rickford or Jay Aspin, but assuming they already won local seats, the regional seat would go to the next most popular. In other words, Conservative voters whose top preference was not Greg Rickford or Jay Aspin could, if they wish, elect the regional Conservative MP. Maybe they would have elected Sault Ste. Marie’s Bryan Hayes (who got 18,328 votes in 2011 and was actually elected that year by a slim margin) or their only female candidate, Sudbury’s Lynne Reynolds (she got 12,503 votes in 2011, but would get more from across the North.).

What would regional MPs do?
How would regional MPs operate? They would cover several ridings each. Just the way it’s done in Scotland. They could have several offices, just as MP Jay Aspin has offices in both North Bay and New Liskeard.  

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 already 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 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 regional candidate they prefer. Or they can vote for the list as ranked by the party’s nomination process.

How many local MPs?
In my 2011 simulation, I 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. 

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 House of Commons. 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. 

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 have elected eight more Quebec MPs than in 2011, one more in Newfoundland, one more in PEI, and one more on Vancouver Island.

Of course, proportional representation would mean a lot for Canada. We would not likely have a one-man one-party government whose PMO holds 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.

Power to the voters
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.

“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 all MPs accountable to real local and regional communities, and keeping 62.7% of the MPs as local MPs.

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.

Ten different Commissions, Assemblies and Reports in the past eleven years in Canada have unanimously recommended proportional representation.

Technical Footnotes:
1.  How does the math work? In my Northern Ontario example, on the votes cast in 2011, NDP voters were entitled to 3.96 MPs, Conservative voters to 2.97 MPs, Liberals 1.79, and Greens 0.28. After the first six MPs are calculated, the next “highest remainder” is the Conservatives’ 0.97, so they get the seventh MP, the NDP the eighth, and the Liberals the ninth. If 17,800 more new voters had voted for the Green Party, they would have taken the ninth seat from the Liberals, electing an MP such as North Bay’s Dr. Scott Daley.

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 all six local seats in Northern Ontario, the three regional MPs might not be enough for perfect proportionality. Adding regional MPs, while keeping the House the same size, means larger local ridings. It’s a trade-off: 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.

4.  Many design details must be decided, after public consultations. For example, 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. 

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