Tuesday, September 15, 2015

How would proportional representation work in Central East Ontario?

Note: for an alternative configuation, see How would proportional representation work in Eastern Ontario?

My introductory comments at an all-candidates meeting in Port Hope Sept.14, 2015.

This meeting has been called by our local Chapter of Fair Vote Canada, to discuss electoral reform and get the stand of local candidates.

Fair Vote Canada is a multi-partisan movement. As of this morning we have 60,500 supporters, from all walks of life and all points on the spectrum. Proportional representation is not a partisan issue. For example, Conservative Hugh Segal is still a very vocal supporter of proportional representation.

Proportional representation means every vote will count equally. When every vote counts, voters won’t have to worry about splitting the vote, or casting a strategic vote. More young voters will find it worthwhile voting.

For the past several elections, at least 50% of all ballots cast across Canada did not count toward electing a representative. In 2011, 39.6% of votes somehow elected a government with a false majority, with 100% of power concentrated in the Prime Minister and his Office.

Opinion polls have shown at least 70% of Canadians support proportional representation.

We will start by seeing Prof. Dennis Pilon's six-minute video on the Law Commission of Canada's recommended mixed-member model of proportional representation.

(This video uses the example of a 16-MP region from Ottawa to Belleville, which would now elect 10 local MPs and six regional MPs.)

Of course, proportional representation would mean a lot for Canada. We would not likely have a one-party one-man government. Parliament would reflect our diverse voters in each province.

But it would also help a county like Northumberland. We would have competing MPs. Fair Vote Canada says rural and urban voters in every region should have fair representation in both government and opposition.

Prof. Pilon’s video showed a region with 16 MPs. That’s a good teaching example. The Law Commission said their model was inspired by the models used in Scotland and Wales. Scotland has regions of 16 MPs. Wales has regions of 12 MPs.

Both the NDP and the Liberals propose 12 months of public consultations to come up with the best model for Canada. For example, regions with 12 MPs mean the regional MPs are a bit more locally accountable, more anchored to real communities.

Ontario has 121 MPs. If Ontario was organized in ten regions with an average of 12 MPs each, that would still be proportional enough that Green Party voters would, on the votes cast in 2011, have elected four MPs, just as they deserved. The size of the regions is a key design feature for public consultations.

East of the GTA we elect 19 MPs. That’s too big for a single region. Our county doesn’t want to elect a regional MP from Ottawa. Some regions will have fewer than 12 MPs, such as Northern Ontario with nine MPs. I can see the Ottawa Valley, including Cornwall, with 11 MPs, making a good region. That’s the bilingual district, 20% French mother tongue. That leaves eight MPs elected in our Kingston—Peterborough region, from Lindsay to Brockville.

Locally, in the last election, in our Peterborough—Kingston region which elects eight MPs this year, 219,615 Conservative voters elected six MPs, 87,388 Liberal voters elected one MP from Kingston, 89,947 NDP voters elected no one, and 18,151 Green voters elected no one. If every vote counted equally, with eight MPs those same ballots would elect four local Conservative MPs, one local Liberal MP, one regional Liberal MP, and two regional NDP MPs.
But as Prof. Pilon just told us, 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 our region’s voters would vote exactly as they did in 2011. For example, if the Greens doubled their vote, an extra 16,000 new Green voters would have elected a Green MP.

Tomorrow FVC launches our “Where They Stand” website. More than 50 Liberal candidates have stated their support for proportional representation. Plus one lonely Conservative MP from British Columbia.

Many other Liberal candidates are still undecided.

A few Liberals oppose PR, and prefer instead another winner-take-all system: the preferential ballot in single-member ridings.

A study on the last UK election showed that the preferential ballot would have given the Conservatives an even bigger false majority than the one they got, even more skewed than first past the post. But a few Liberals, to be blunt, dream of being everyone’s second choice. They think a preferential ballot would give them a partisan advantage. Luckily, I believe the majority of Liberal activists realize that electoral reform cannot succeed as a partisan project.

As Stephane Dion keeps saying I do not see why we should maintain a voting system that makes our major parties appear less national and our regions more politically opposed than they really are. . . . Preferential voting does nothing to correct the distortion between votes and seats and the under-representation of national parties compared to regional ones.

For example, metropolitan Montreal elects 35 MPs, but not one Conservative. In 2011, its 208,931 Conservative voters elected no one. With proportional representation they would have elected four MPs. Canada’s second largest city would have been represented in cabinet. The four MPs would have been the four Conservative regional candidates who got the most support from regional Conservative voters.

Last Dec. 3rd in the House of Commons the NDP moved a motion:

“That, in the opinion of the House: (a) the next federal election should be the last conducted under the current first-past-the-post electoral system which has repeatedly delivered a majority of seats to parties supported by a minority of voters, or under any other winner-take-all electoral system; and (b) a form of mixed-member proportional representation would be the best electoral system for Canada.

Of 31 Liberal MPs present, 16 voted yes, 15 no. Six others voted for it: five MPs from the Greens, Bloc and the new Strength in Democracy party, plus even Brent Rathgeber, the independent former Conservative.

Some people assume PR would make MPs less independent. Toronto MP Craig Scott, NDP Democratic Reform Critic, loves to explain that it’s the opposite. 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.

This makes it easier, says Craig Scott, 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 turnout in the 2011 election was a pitiful 61.1% across Canada (63.7% locally) compared with 75.3% in 1988, and the turnouts around 80% typical of countries with normal proportional systems:
Sweden 86%
Denmark 86%
Brazil 81%
Norway 78%
Argentina 77%
New Zealand 77%
Netherlands 75%
Austria 75%

The panel of three candidates will discuss:

(1) Do you feel the number of MPs elected to Parliament from each party should be roughly proportional to the number of votes cast for that party's candidates?

(2) Can a model of Proportional Representation for Canada respect the need for all MPs to face the voters and be accountable to voters?

(3) If an all-party/citizen process recommends adding an element of proportionality to Canada's electoral system, would you vote in favour of implementing these recommendations in time for the following federal election?

(All three candidates present, NDP Liberal and Green, said yes to all three.)

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