Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Multi-MP ridings in big cities, proportional single-MP ridings in the rest of the country

Note: this post was revised and updated Oct. 29, 2016.

In the excellent debate on proportional representation April 2 at the Broadbent Institute’s 2016 Progress Summit, Andrew Coyne said most of our population live in large-urban areas, so you could have multi-MP ridings quite easily in those areas. “You may wish to have some kind of hybrid where the other areas could have one MP per riding. That’s going to be part of the debate.” See 46:55:

This echoes the similar suggestion by Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer from 1990 to 2007, who has gotten great interest by suggesting an urban/rural hybrid system.

So some of us started to discuss an urban+rural model for proportional representation. 

Rural-Urban Proportional Representation

This has become the Rural-Urban PR model now being proposed by Fair Vote Canada, along with the other models Fair Vote Canada also proposes. Details are here.
If large-urban communities will accept multi-member ridings, this model may be the best answer for rural and small-urban communities' ridings, which it keeps only about 17% larger than today.  

If not, then this moderate Mixed Member proportional representation model keeps our local ridings everywhere.

I will now outline the Kingsley-inspired example.

Multi-MP ridings in big cities, single-MP ridings in the rest of the country.

Large urban centres over 100,000 people contain 60.0% of Canada’s population, says Statistics Can from the 2011 census. A couple of those are cities with a bond to the single MP: Kingston just elected its former mayor Mark Gerretsen as its MP, while Guelph elected Lloyd Longfield. On the other hand, a couple of centres under 100,000 – like Saint John (N.B. – could be in a multi-MP riding. So could some people living near those large urban centres.

Still, that leaves about 84 MPs from the other ridings (see list below). In Ontario and the West the majority of those seats are safely held by Conservatives. No other party will agree to hand them these seats.

Whichever parties hold those 84 seats, those voters are the ones most in need of having their voice no longer silenced. In Quebec, 428,000 Conservative voters cast ineffective votes last October. In Atlantic Canada, everyone but Liberals was shut out. So we have to give unrepresented voters in those 84 ridings representation too.

Top-up seats - Regional MPs

Sweden elects 11% of their MPs as top-up MPs, because their multi-MP districts have a range of sizes, one with only two MPs, and four more with 4, 5 or 6 MPs. So one way to look at this model is, Sweden's model, but with about 25% of the MPs from our present single-member ridings. Since so many of the MPs come from multi-MP ridings, it will be easy to add a few regional MPs to compensate for any disproportional results. 

In my simulation, we keep 22% of MPs from single-MP ridings, and need only 14% of MPs in regional top-up seats. To keep the House of Commons the same size, the single-MP ridings would become about 17% larger.  That’s better for those communities (and their MPs) than having the ridings become 56% larger under an MMP model.

The typical top-up region might contain 20 MPs: 13 from multi-MP districts (typically with four or five MPs each) and four from single-MP ridings, all topped up by an additional three MPs (15% of the region). For the seven smaller provinces the province is the top-up region. See details of the 17 regions below.

So who would elect the 48 regional MPs?

Swedish option

They could, as in Sweden, be the best runner-up candidate in the region where that party’s voters were the most under-represented. Some people fear that MMP would mean list MPs from large urban centres would swamp the small-urban and rural communities. They prefer the Swedish model.

The three top-up regional MPs would be the party’s candidate in the region who was the best runner-up in the area where that party’s voters were the most under-represented; either a multi-MP district, or an aggregation of single-MP districts. 

Two-vote option

Or they could be elected from a regional ballot, where voters have two votes, as in MMP.

The three top-up regional MPs would, just like open-regional-list MMP, be the regional candidate of the party who got the most votes (after skipping over candidates who had already won a local seat).

One way to limit the size of the ballot, and eliminate the risk of a party trying to copy the Berlusconi trick (running a twin "decoy" list of regional candidates), would be to copy Bavaria and put only local candidates on the regional ballot.

How would the Swedish option actually work?

Take Saskatchewan. It has 14 MPs. Four will be elected from the Saskatoon region, three from the Regina—Moose Jaw region. Five single-MP ridings are only about 17% larger than today. That lets Saskatchewan have two regional MPs.

On the votes cast in 2015, the Conservatives win two seats in the Saskatoon district, the Liberals and NDP one each. Each party wins one seat in the Regina—Moose Jaw district. The NDP still wins the northern single-MP district, and the Conservatives win the other four. The two parties under-represented are the Liberals and NDP. Therefore, they each get a regional (provincial) MP.

The Liberals are most under-represented in the group of five single-MP ridings. Their best candidate in those ridings was aboriginal leader Lawrence Joseph, who came close to winning in the Northern riding of Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.

The NDP are most under-represented in the Saskatoon Region. If current MP Sheri Benson still won the first NDP seat there, those voters elect a second Saskatoon Region MP such as Claire Card.

Lawrence Joseph and Claire Card have dual mandates, although this is less obvious than under MMP. They were each ranked as a near-winner by voters in their district, but were elected thanks to voters in the whole of Saskatchewan. So they are Regional MPs (or in this case Provincial MPs). They would make themselves available to voters across the region not already served by a local MP of that party. They would be allowed to open satellite offices where needed across the region, just as Conservative MP Robert Kitchen has offices today in Estevan, Weyburn and Moosomin. Just the way it's done in Scotland.

It is proportional

On a simulation from the votes cast in 2015, adding one MP for each of the three Territories, the total results are (compared with perfect province-wide proportionality) Liberal 135 (137), Conservative 111 (110), NDP 71 (69), Bloc 15 (15), Green 9 (10). Little more than the inevitable rounding anomalies.

But how robust is this model? On a simulation from the votes cast in 2011 (transposed to the 2015 ridings), the total results are (compared with perfect province-wide proportionality) Conservative 147 (141), NDP 100 (103), Liberals 64 (66), Bloc 18 (18), Green 12 (13). This model is robust enough to give almost perfectly proportional Quebec results despite the Orange wave of 2011 (a Conservative bonus of 1). In a few regions of Ontario and BC a local Conservative sweep creates small bonuses.  

If the Green vote doubled (from non-voters, and except in Saanich—Gulf Islands), can it handle such a shift? The results are (again compared with perfect proportionality) Liberal 132 (132), Conservative 108 (105), NDP 68 (67), Bloc 14 (15), Green 19 (22). Again, the differences are rounding anomalies.

Would the Green regional MPs all come from the large-urban areas? In my simulation with the doubled Green vote, the 15 regional Green MPs are eight from large-urban areas, and seven from single-member districts, added to the four directly elected from multi-member ridings.   

We have used only five 2-MP ridings across Canada, and only when necessary, since voters generally want to have representation from more than two parties.

Accountable and proportional

The result of the simulation shows that this model lets voters elect MPs who are both highly accountable to the small regions or local ridings that voted for them, and very proportional to the votes cast.


The 84 present ridings become 74 single-MP ridings. The 254 larger-urban MPs become (adding three MPs from the Territories) 219 MPs from multi-MP ridings .

The large-urban multi-MP ridings could use any good PR system. (The Swedish open-list system, STV, or Dion’s P3.) For the simulation we used the Swedish system because it is the simplest calculation (it requires no assumptions about second choices).

The 74 single-MP ridings use a winner-take-all ballot: FPTP or AV.

This model lets communities under 200,000, and almost all medium-urban, small-urban and rural communities, keep their local MPs in ridings only about 17% larger than today, not 56% larger. This will not only please those voters, it will reassure many current MPs.

The seat totals are the same under the Swedish option or the two-vote option. Those options change who fills the seats, not the party totals.

Regions all keep their number of MPs

The regions will ensure that, for example, only Northern Ontario votes help elect Northern Ontario MPs, GTA votes elect GTA MPs, BC Lower Mainland voters elect Lower Mainland MPs, and all regions keep their present numbers of MPs.

Will voters in big cities accept multi-MP districts?

Take Toronto. The multi-MP districts would not include the whole megacity. They might be six MPs from the area served by the “Community Council” for Toronto and East York, and five from each of the others (North York, Scarborough, and Etobicoke—York). If the GTA’s 55 MPs are in one “top-up region” that includes seven regional MPs. So, no MP specifically from Beaches—East York. But a candidate who was already, for example, a ward councillor might get enough local support, added to support from the rest of the larger district, to elect him or her as one of those six MPs.

The BC Lower Mainland might have districts ranging from 3 MPs to 7 MPs.

Option: A bigger House 

If MPs prefer, these 48 additional MPs (plus 3 from the Territories) could be added to the House by expanding its size, so that the 338 present ridings would continue either as multi-MP ridings or single-MP ridings. It has often been said that "it is easier to have a more representative system if you have more representatives."

What would the map look like?

Of course, the actual multi-MP districts and single-MP districts would be set by the normal Boundaries Commissions process.

Still, here’s the map I used for my simulation.

A group of seven present ridings becomes (in large urban areas) a 6-MP district, or (in other areas) an aggregation of six single-MP ridings. Eight becomes seven, nine becomes eight, six becomes five, five becomes four, and four becomes three.

These multi-MP districts are from metropolitan areas with at least 200,000 residents, sometimes including adjacent communities. They also include, of necessity, St. John’s, Charlottetown, Barrie, Kelowna, Sudbury, Saguenay, Trois-Rivières, Moncton, Saint John, and Thunder Bay. 

Newfoundland & Labrador (2+4+1):
St. John's 2 
Singles 4
Nova Scotia (4+5+2):
Halifax 4
Singles 5
PEI (2+1+1)   
Eastern PEI 2
Single 1
New Brunswick (6+3+1):
Saint JohnFredericton 3 
Moncton—BeauséjourMiramichi 3
Singles 3
Eastern QuebecMauricieCentre-du-Quebec 25 (14+8+3)  
Quebec City 6  
Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean 3
Lévis—Lotbinière 2 
Mauricie 3
Centre-du-QuebecChaudière-AppalachesBas-Saint-Laurent—Gaspésie—Côte-Nord singles 8
Montreal-estMontérégieEstrie  27 (20+3+4)
Montreal-est 5                                                         
Montreal-nord 4                                                       
Longueuil 3
Richelieu 3
Vallée-du-Haut-Saint-Laurent 3 
Sherbrooke 2 
Singles 3
Quebec-ouest (Montreal-West, Laval-Lanaudiere-Laurentides and west) 26 (19+3+4)
Montreal West 6 
Laval 3 
Lanaudière 3
Laurentides 4
Outaouais 3                            
Singles 3
Eastern Ontario (19: 8+8+3)
Ottawa-East—Prescott-Russell—Cornwall 4 (the bilingual district)
Ottawa West 4 
Singles 8 (from Renfrew and Leeds—Grenville to Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes)
Greater Toronto Area 55 (48+7)
Toronto and East York 6
Etobicoke—York 5
North York 5
Scarborough 5
Markham—Aurora—Newmarket—Georgina 5
Vaughan—Richmond Hill 4
Durham Region 5
Brampton—Caledon 5
Mississauga 5
Oakville—Halton 3
South Central Ontario (Hamilton—Niagara—Waterloo) 19 (12+4+3)
Hamilton (incl. Burlington) 5                                  
Niagara Region 3
Waterloo Region 4  
Singles 4
Western Ontario (Barrie--London—Windsor) 18 (11+4+3)
BarrieSimcoe 3       
London—Elgin—Middlesex 4
Windsor-EssexChatham-Kent 4
Singles 4
Northern Ontario 10 (5+4+1)
SudburySault Ste. Marie region 3                
Thunder Bay region 2                     
Singles: 4
Manitoba 14 (7+5+2)
Winnipeg 7
Singles 5
Saskatchewan 14 (7+5+2)
Saskatoon 4 (incl. N½ of Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan)
Regina—Moose Jaw 3
Singles 5
Alberta 34 (18+11+5) 
Calgary South (5) & North (4)
South-Central Singles 6
Metropolitan Edmonton North (5) & South (4)
North Singles 5
British Columbia Lower Mainland 26 (22+4)
Vancouver and Vancouver North and West 7
Surrey—Richmond—Delta 7 
Burnaby--Maple Ridge 5
Fraser ValleyLangley East 3

BC Interior and North and Vancouver Island 16 (8+6+2)
Kelowna—Okanagan 3
VictoriaNanaimo 5
Singles 6
Territories 6 (2 from each)

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