Friday, October 23, 2015

What would the results of the 2015 election have been, with proportional representation?

What would the results of the 2015 election have been, with proportional representation?

In any election, aProf. 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."

But on the votes as cast, the final count in my regional simulation is Liberals 143, Conservatives 105, New Democrats 69, Bloc 15, and Greens six; details below.

The open-list MMP system: Every MP represents actual voters and real communities

We’re not talking about a model with candidates appointed by central parties. We’re talking about the mixed member system designed by the Law Commission of Canada, where every MP represents actual voters and real communities. The majority of MPs will be elected by local ridings as we do today, preserving the traditional link between voter and MP. The other 39% are elected as regional MPs, topping-up the numbers of MPs from your local region so the total is proportional to the votes for each party.

You have two votes. One is for your local MP. The second helps elect regional MPs, topping-up the numbers of MPs from your local region so the total is proportional to the votes for each party. You cast a personal vote for a candidate within the regional list. This is commonly called “open list.” All MPs have faced the voters. No one is guaranteed a seat. The region is small enough that the regional MPs are accountable.

Negative voting mania

This election featured a mania of bandwagon voting never before seen in Canada, eclipsing even 1968’s Trudeaumania.

A serious attempt at organized negative voting or tactical voting (which Canadians insist on calling “strategic voting”) was made by LeadNow, based only on local polling in 80 ridings over the month before the election. It had little effect. The whole country swung behind the Liberals in the last few days of the campaign, in a collective impulse to end the Harper government. Recommendations by LeadNow to vote for 31 NDP candidates were successful in 13 cases, but failed in 18 others.

Never again

The polling swings of the last six months have clearly shown that Canadian voters want more than two choices, if they can vote for what they want. This leaves a vast number of voters, frustrated at having to vote against something on October 19, saying “never again -- next time I want to vote for my first choice.” 

Polls taken the day before the election correctly predicted the outcome, but until that Sunday, polls had shown a Liberal minority government. Some newly elected Liberal MPs had been encouraging NDP supporters to help elect a minority Liberal government. They were apologetic: “I was expecting a minority government.” Many people echoed a Globe and Mail columnist who wrote “What have we done?” A voter’s anguished letter to Justin Trudeau went viral: “I did not vote for you. I voted against the alternative. . . . Change the electoral system.”

So the first effect of using proportional representation would have been to end strategic voting.

The Liberal platform promised to “Make Every Vote Count:” to study electoral reform, including both options: proportional representation, and ranked ballots in single-member districts, and implement one of them in time for the next election.

Fair Vote Canada welcomed Justin Trudeau’s promise to make every vote count. “Never again should we face a one-party, one-man government elected by a minority of voters. We urge you to work with all Parties and enact voting rules for a true and modern representative democracy in time for the next election. . . We are calling on you to design a voting system for Canada in which every ballot delivers equal representation.”

Preferential ballots will not do

Preferential ballots, of course, are intended to help centrist parties, who hope to be everyone else’s second choice. But in Atlantic Canada, where the Liberals swept all 32 seats, the preferential ballot would be a cure without a disease.

Stephane Dion’s 2013 line was “Preferential voting . . . does nothing to correct the distortion between votes and seats and the under-representation of national parties compared to regional ones.” This has never been more obvious. Surely very few in the Liberal Party will expect such a partisan quick fix to be acceptable. Only proportional representation will make every vote count.

What would the 2015 votes have produced under proportional representation?

It is tempting to describe what result proportional representation would have produced on the opinion polls taken before the niqab killed the NDP campaign in Quebec and started what became a consensus, and then a mania.

But that is wishful thinking. Let’s look instead at what the votes cast on Oct. 19 would have produced, under a proportional voting system. If nothing else, it will demonstrate how PR in Canada would work.

Of course, I’m not talking about classic “list-PR” with candidates appointed by central parties, which no one proposes for Canada. I am looking at the model designed by the Law Commission of Canada

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.

This was supported by the NDP MPs, half the Liberal caucus, and the smaller parties, in the House of Commons on Dec. 3, 2014. It was even supported by former Conservative independent Brant Rathgeber, to the surprise of some. He understood that, 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.

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.

Regional open list MMP

The Law Commission’s 2004 report, Voting Counts, recommended “Within the context of a mixed member proportional system, Parliament should adopt a flexible list system that provides voters with the option of either endorsing the party “slate” or “ticket,” or of indicating a preference for a candidate within the (regional) list.

Similarly, Fair Vote Canada’s 2015 campaign supported only models which respected the need for all MPs to face the voters. And Leading Liberal MP Dominic Leblanc told Fair Vote Canada “I support reforms to add elements of proportional representation that also ensure that Members of Parliament remain directly accountable to their constituents first and foremost.”

This requires regions small enough to make regional MPs accountable. Regions larger than 18 MPs would require a “bed-sheet ballot” to list the regional candidates of all parties. The Law Commission Report was explicitly inspired by the models of Scotland, which has 16-MSP regions, and Wales, which has 12-MHA regions.
Such regions have an effective threshold of at least 5% in each region. The 2015 Green vote dropped to only 3.5% across Canada, while in 2008 it was 6.8%. So no regional PR model will give most 2015 Green voters full representation. A 5% threshold would have cut them down to four MPs from their BC base, where BC Green voters cast 8.24% of the ballots.

If the Greens doubled their vote with PR as they would surely have done, they would have elected about 23 MPs across Canada, getting official party status and overtaking the Bloc.


Any PR model for Canada will start by looking at votes province-by-province, since the Constitution Act gives each province specified numbers of MPs. Perfect province-wide proportionality would have resulted in 137 Liberal MPs, 109 Conservatives, 67 New Democrats, 10 Greens, and 15 Bloc Quebecois MPs. That’s assuming a threshold of no higher than the 2% used by Jean Chretien for his great campaign finance legacy, the per-vote subsidy.

Here’s the list:

Lib, Con, NDP, Green, Bloc
B.C.                15, 13, 11, 3
Alberta           8, 21, 4, 1      
Sask.              3, 7, 4
Manitoba       6, 5, 2, 1
Ontario           55, 43, 20, 3
Quebec          28, 13, 20, 2, 15
N.B.                5, 3, 2
P.E.I.               2, 1, 1
N.S.                7, 2, 2
Nfld & Lab.    5, 1, 1
Territories      3, 0, 0
Total               137, 109, 67, 10, 15

The West wants in to the Liberal caucus

One thing can be said with certainty: the 2015 results under winner-take-all still left Liberal voters in the West under-represented.

This new government looks like a government of the GTA and Atlantic Canada. Out of all Liberal voters across Canada, the 20% in the GTA elected 26% of the Liberal caucus, while the 11% in Atlantic Canada elected 17% of the Liberal caucus. Western Liberals cast 25% of the Liberal votes but elected only 16% of the caucus.

Liberal women are especially under-represented in the West. Since Justin Trudeau will make his first cabinet half women, gender parity has arrived in the federal Liberal Party. Polls show 90% of Canadians want to see more women elected. With good women among the regional candidates, voters will vote for them.

Geographic diversity

Some people think proportional representation would mean big-city rule. Not so, as I will show.

In the nine ridings of the BC Interior and North, Liberal voters cast 30% of the votes, but elected only Stephen Fuhr, while the Conservatives elected five MPs. A proportional system would have let voters in that region elect three Liberal MPs, three Conservative MPs, and three New Democrats. Liberal voters might have elected Karley Scott from West Kelowna and Tracy Calogheros from Prince George.

In the seven ridings of Vancouver Island, Liberal voters cast 21% of the votes, but elected no one, while NDP voters cast 33% of the ballots yet elected six of the seven MPs. A proportional system would have let Liberal voters on Vancouver Island elect one or two MPs such as David Merner from Victoria and Carrie Powell-Davidson from the City of Parksville.

In Alberta, the 25% of the voters who voted Liberal deserved to elect eight of its 34 MPs, yet elected only four, all men. A proportional system would have let voters in Alberta elect eight Liberal MPs, 21 Conservative MPs, four NDP MPs, and one Green. If they had elected four regional MPs, they might have been Kerry Cundal and Nirmala Naidoo from Calgary, Chandra Kastern from Red Deer, and Karen Leibovici from Edmonton.

In Saskatchewan, the 24% of voters who voted Liberal deserved to elect three of its 14 MPs, yet elected only Ralph Goodale. A proportional system would have let voters in Saskatchewan elect three Liberal MPs, seven Conservative MPs, and four NDP MPs. Liberal voters might have elected Tracy Muggli from Saskatoon and aboriginal leader Lawrence Joseph from Prince Albert.

The preferential ballot would not have helped western Liberals. Only two ridings in Saskatchewan elected Conservative MPs by less than 50% of the vote, and the NDP was second in both. In Alberta I see only one riding where it might have helped Liberals.  In central Canada, if it did anything it would only have padded the Liberal majority.

Even some Ontario regions show the same lack of Liberal MPs. 

In the 15 ridings of West Central Ontario, Liberal voters cast 42% of the ballots, while Conservative voters cast only 41%. Yet the region’s 15 MPs are ten Conservatives and only five Liberals, all but one men. A proportional system would have let voters in that region elect six Liberal MPs, six Conservative MPs, two New Democrats and one Green. Liberal voters might have elected Orillia’s Liz Riley, Muskoka’s Trisha Cowie, or Owen Sound’s Kimberley Love.

In the 11 ridings of southwestern Ontario, NDP voters elected four MPs with 27% of the vote, yet the 33% who voted Liberal elected only two MPs, one female. A proportional system would have let voters in that region elect four Liberal MPs, four Conservative MPs, and three NDP MPs. Liberal voters might have elected Chatham’s Katie Omstead and Lori Baldwin-Sands from St. Thomas.

NDP old and new stars

NDP voters would have elected some of their stars who everyone says will be missed: Megan Leslie, Peter Stoffer, Jack Harris, Françoise Boivin, Nycole Turmel, Paul Dewar, Craig Scott, Peggy Nash, and Jinny Sims.

But the NDP did elect 16 new members of their 44-MP caucus: seven from BC, three from Ontario, three from Saskatchewan, two from Quebec, and one from Manitoba.

PR would have added breadth to the NDP by adding 13 more new people such as young Calgary lawyer Laura Weston, Cheryl Meheden from Lethbridge, Edmonton’s Janis Irwin, Saskatoon’s Claire Card, Harbaljit Singh Kahlon from Brampton, Dianne Douglas from Mississauga, Oshawa’s Mary Fowler, Peterborough’s Dave Nickle, Kitchener’s Susan Cadell, Stratford’s Ethan Rabidoux, Jason Godin and AJ Griffin from New Brunswick, and Joe Byrne from PEI.

Winner's bonus

In any winner-take-all election, the largest party usually gets a “winner’s bonus.” In Quebec, the Liberal “winner’s bonus” was 12 seats, at the cost of the Bloc (five seats), NDP (four), Greens (two), and Conservatives (one). They not only swept the federalist ridings of Montreal and western Quebec, they even won nine of the 14 seats in south-shore Montérégie, leaving four for the NDP and one for the Bloc.

With a regonal MMP model, we risk local sweeps being so extreme that they create “overhangs.” Those are results too disproportional for the compensatory (“top-up”) MPs to correct, when they are only 37% of the total. That’s the trade-off in the system design, to keep local ridings from being almost double their present size.

This happened on Oct.19 with the never-before-seen Liberal sweep of New Brunswick, and with the sweep of Toronto. In a simulation of the 2015 votes cast with regions averaging only 12 MPs, this results in a bonus of three MPs for the Liberals. With a real MMP election where voters have more choice and do not need to cast negative votes, such sweeps will not normally happen.

Also, the small vote for the Greens leaves them with only six MPs, not the ten which perfect proportionality would give them. This adds another two to the Liberal bonus, and gives the NDP a bonus also. The final count in my regional simulation is Liberals 143, Conservatives 105, New Democrats 69, Bloc 15, and Greens six.

Also, when we make districts small enough to make regional MPs more accountable, we again risk local sweeps being too extreme. In 2015, that wasn’t the problem: a 25-MP Toronto region would have the identical overhang to the two smaller regions.


Again, the biggest result of using PR would be to end strategic voting, and to let every voter help elect an MP representing his or her first choice of views.


Ben Burd said...

So who appoints/selects the MPs on the list?

Wilf Day said...

Good question, as to how regional candidates are nominated. (As stated above, with your regional 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. You can vote for the regional candidate you prefer: it’s personal. There are no closed lists. Voters elect all the MPs.)

Today, parties can nominate as they choose. Canada has no law to stop parties from appointing local candidates. I think they should have to nominate candidates democratically in order to qualify for campaign expense subsidy.

Here’s what I expect would happen, based on experience in New Zealand and Germany. Take Central East Ontario (Kingston—Peterborough region) as an example. It has eight MPs stretching from Lindsay to Brockville. Most regions will be a bit larger than 8 MPs, but we have only 19 MPs east of the GTA -- that looks like an Ottawa Valley region with 11 MPs, and Central East with eight. It will have five larger local ridings, and three regional MPs.

I expect parties would nominate local candidates first. As soon as they are finished, they hold the regional nomination process. I expect it’s an every-member online vote, after candidates’ speeches, carried online. In the run-up to the regional nomination, likely a party would hold all-candidates meetings in each riding.

I expect almost all the local candidates would also stand for the positions of regional candidate, unless one of them was a token local candidate who had no interest in trying to compete across the region.

I’m sure some regional-only candidates would also be nominated. Even if all five local candidates are on the regional ballot too, in theory the party might get 75% of the vote (the Conservatives just got 71% of the vote in non-metropolitan Alberta) and elect six MPs. More seriously, the five local candidates might be four men and one woman. I can see the regional-only candidates including two or three women. Since voters can vote for the regional candidate they prefer, one of the regional-only candidates could be elected. This could be quite likely if the strongest local candidate wins a local seat, dropping off the regional count, opening the door for someone new.

On election day, voters can move a regional candidate up the regional list if he or she gets enough personal votes. Voters can elect that candidate ahead of another candidate whom the party’s regional nomination process had ranked higher. But still, it’s an advantage to be ranked first. So, the regional nomination process has to rank them, even if the eight regional candidates are acclaimed.

Result: after the election, everyone has a local MP, plus three regional MPs, likely including someone they helped elect. The regional MPs would have satellite offices where required, just as Pierre Lemieux already has offices in Hawkesbury, Rockland, Embrun and Alexandria.