Monday, January 11, 2016

Accountable MPs and Open Lists: the key to a Canadian proportional representation model

A made-in-Canada model of proportional representation will never feature closed lists of candidates for MP. All MPs must be personally accountable to voters, not to just to those who nominated them as candidates.

Canadians don’t want a Parliament like the Netherlands, with 11 parties under their “pure proportional” model, nor like Israel’s. “Pure-list-PR” with candidates appointed by central parties, and no local MPs, will never work for Canada.

Even a mixed member model like Scotland’s with additional regional MPs elected from regional closed lists would not be fully accepted in Canada.

So we’re looking at mixed member models where you can vote for candidates both in a local riding and in a local region, like the one in this six-minute video designed by the Law Commission of Canada.

Pour information en français, voir la page 5: La Commission du droit du Canada recommande un système mixte.

The majority of MPs are still local MPs. Regional MPs are elected by those voters whose votes did not elect a local MP. Every vote counts to help elect an MP, as far as reasonably possible. (Maybe, in metropolitan areas, local districts might even elect several MPs, not just one?)

Open lists are practical

A much better precedent exists in the German province of Bavaria. Open lists have worked well in their mixed member model since 1949. Unlike our Law Commission model, Bavaria has no option to vote for the party list. You vote only for a local candidate in your local riding and for a regional candidate in your local region.

The Law Commission of Canada

As the Law Commission of Canada concluded back in 2004, "Based on the feedback received during our consultation process, many Canadian voters would also most likely desire the flexibility of open lists in a mixed member proportional system. In essence, allowing voters to choose a candidate from the list provides voters with the ability to select a specific individual and hold them accountable for their actions should they be elected."

That also means the regional MPs must be elected from regions small enough that the MPs will be accountable to a real local region.

How will regional MPs work for constituents? Here's how they do it in Scotland

Ontario’s 2007 model was not the answer

Across Ontario in the 2007 referendum, 63.1% voted against MMP. About 31% were simply against proportional representation. Many more were voters who wanted all MPPs to be personally elected, not on closed lists. Many more were voters who wanted all MPPs to be anchored in their own local region, not on province-wide lists. And 7.5% were voters outside Toronto who disliked province-wide lists even more than Toronto voters did. As Prof. Henry Milner wrote just after the referendum "opponents hammered away on the claim that there would be 39 MPPs beholden to party headquarters instead of voters. . . . in a short campaign, this image of unrepresentative party hacks from Toronto getting in through the back door was fatal.”

Designing a made-in-Canada system

Many Canadians who voted Liberal want assurance that never again will a divisive political leader win 100% of the power with 39% of the votes. And never again will voters have to vote against something, or vote for a less-preferred candidate to block the election of one even less preferred. So we don’t want a model where only half the votes count.

Groups like Fair Vote Canada have been saying “Make every vote count” for years. The new government of Canada was elected on a platform that said “We will make every vote count.” They pledged an all-party Parliamentary committee that will deliver its recommendations to Parliament, and legislation to enact electoral reform introduced within 18 months of forming government, following varied and robust consultations with Canadians, and serious, responsible study with expert assistance.

That process is about to begin.

Fair Vote Canada’s campaign says a model of Proportional Representation for Canada must respect the need for all MPs to face the voters and be accountable to voters.

For example, Bavaria’s seven regions are too large to make regional MPs accountable to a local region. Do we want a model with regions averaging only eight or nine MPs each? The regional MPs would be more accountable, but the model would be a little less proportional. Or do we want one with regions averaging 12 or 14 MPs? And do we want the local MPs to be 60% of the total? Or 65%, making the new ridings a little smaller, but the model would be a little less proportional?

These details will matter to the MPs who will face getting re-elected under the new model.

The principle

But details will not matter as much as the principle: make every vote count to help elect an MP, and make all MPs personally accountable to voters.

The implementation of truly representative government in Canada, via an element of proportional representation, will in future be seen as every bit as much an advance for the nation as old age pensions or medicare.

Democratic nominations

Candidates in federal elections getting 10% of the vote receive public subsidy (rebates) of 60% of election expenses up to the approved limit.

Today, we hear of parties appointing candidates. Why should an undemocratic process be rewarded?
We should change Canada's electoral finance system to require registered federal parties that wish to receive a candidate's election expense subsidy to nominate that candidate democratically, that is, by vote of all their members (or their elected delegates) living in the electoral district or region with valid memberships as of a specified cut-off date.

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