Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Parade of Strongholds Continues, Again

In Canada’s 2015 election we saw a healthy range of diverse opinions.
Outside Quebec, across Canada the balance was 37% Conservative Party voters, 41% Liberal Party voters, and 22% NDP or Green voters. In Quebec it was 17% Conservative Party voters, 36% Liberal Party voters, 28% NDP or Green voters, and 19% Bloc voters.

Yet our House of Commons looks very polarized. And I don’t just mean the Liberal sweep of Atlantic Canada

From Canada’s big four metropolitan areas we find Liberal voters cast 46% of the votes but elected 77% of those 126 MPs, 97 MPs. Conservative voters cast 25% of those votes but elected only 11 MPs. NDP and Green voters cast 22% of those votes but elected only 11 MPs. Bloc voters cast 6% of those votes and elected 7 MPs.

Liberal Strongholds

So the big Liberal strongholds are the big four metropolitan areas (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa/Gatineau) where they got a bonus of 39 MPs. Of the 31 cabinet ministers, 15 are from those big four, although they have only 39% of Canada’s population.

The smaller Liberal stronghold, with a bonus of 13 MPs, is Atlantic Canada, where 59% of the voters cast Liberal votes but elected 100% of the MPs. The 18% who cast NDP votes, the 4% who cast Green votes and the 19% who cast Conservative votes were all disregarded.

Just as happened in the 2014 Ontario election: a parade of strongholds.

The flip side of those Liberal bonuses is other Conservative bonuses.

Conservative Strongholds

From Ontario and Quebec outside metropolitan Toronto, Ottawa-Gatineau and Montreal, and the West outside metropolitan Vancouver, Conservative voters cast 39% of the votes but elected half the MPs, a bonus of 19 MPs.

Let’s break down those Conservative “strongholds.”

In the West outside metropolitan Vancouver, Conservative voters cast 47% of the votes but elected 62% of the MPs, a bonus of 12 MPs. Liberal voters were shortchanged by nine MPs. Green voters were short three.

In Quebec outside metropolitan Montreal and Gatineau, the Conservatives got 23 % of the votes but 32% of the MPs, a bonus of four MPs.

In Ontario outside metropolitan Toronto and Ottawa Conservative voters cast 37% of the votes but elected 43% of the MPs, a bonus of three MPs.

Those bonuses echo the ones that gave the Conservatives a false majority in 2011, and could do so again.

Proportional Representation

Canadian voters want to be able to say "never again can any one-man one-party government seize undeserved power as Harper did in 2011." Canadians entrusted the new government with a majority because they felt so strongly that these kinds of false majorities are not fair. Only an electoral system featuring proportionality will end the magnification of our regional differences rather than highlighting our common ground. Only an electoral system featuring proportionality will end policy lurch and the distortion between votes and seats.

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

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.

Real Change

The Liberal Party should fix the problem once and for all by bringing in Real Change in the form of Proportional Representation, not small change in the form of the preferential ballot.

As Stephane Dion says, the preferential ballot in single-member districts alone ”does nothing to correct the distortion between votes and seats and the under-representation of national parties compared to regional ones.”  It makes only half the votes count. It can be even worse than First Past The Post in creating false majorities. Only proportional representation will make all our votes count toward electing our first choice. A preferential ballot can be built into a proportional system. The preferential ballot is not a system, it is a tool.

Appealing to All Parts of Canada

These bonuses are bad for democracy in Canada.

As John Ibbitson has written about the Conservative leadership race “. . .  the new leader may need to appeal to all parts of the country under a proportional representation system rather than building from the regional blocs on which the two parties are based right now. . . . vast swaths of urban and suburban (Conservative) MPs were wiped out in Ontario and the party was shut out in Atlantic Canada. The Conservative caucus is probably to the right of where the party should be."

And Liberals in the West are, as usual since 1972, under-represented in the government caucus.

Look who could have been MPs

If diverse Conservative voters were fairly represented, they would have elected GTA MPs like their new star candidate Bin Chang in Scarborough (she is a professor of Finance) and lawyer Leslyn Lewis; Effie Triantafilopoulos (a lawyer who was Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children Canada); and Mark Adler's right-hand-woman Marnie MacDougall. In Quebec they might have elected former municipal mayor Robert Libman, Montreal lawyer Valerie Assouline, and former Afghan refugee Qais Hamidi in Longueuil. In Metro Vancouver they might have elected North Vancouver Councillor Mike Little, Vancouver lawyer Blair Lockhart (she has taught environmental law), recent Richmond school board trustee Kenny Chiu, and recent Coquitlam MLA Douglas Home.

If diverse Liberal voters in the West outside metropolitan Vancouver were fairly represented, they would have elected Alberta MPs like Kerry Cundal and Nirmala Naidoo from Calgary, Chandra Kastern from Red Deer or Kyle Harrietha from Fort McMurray, and Karen Leibovici from Edmonton. And BC MPs like Karley Scott from West Kelowna, Tracy Calogheros from Prince George, David Merner from Victoria and Carrie Powell-Davidson from the City of Parksville. And Tracy Muggli or Cynthia Block from Saskatoon and aboriginal leader Lawrence Joseph from Prince Albert.

Regional MPs

Every voter in the region will be served by competing MPs. You can choose to go to your local MP for service or representation, or you can go to one of your regional MPs, likely including someone you helped elect.

How would regional MPs do their work? Just the way they do in Scotland. They would cover several ridings each, with several offices as many MPs do today.

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 my view, parties should be required to nominate candidates democratically for the candidate to get public subsidy of election expenses.

Accountable MPs

The 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.”

What would have happened with proportional represetation?

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."

Canadians support proportional representation

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Good analogy, so straight forward that it makes one wonder why it wasn't used before ... could it be in naivety and innocence ... we never had envisioned the 'Harper' experience before?