Sunday, December 18, 2016

Canada wants moderate proportionality.

Many people have said Canada needs “a moderate proportional voting system.” Sure, Canadians are not extremists. But what does that mean?

In the 2015 election, the Liberals famously got 39.5% of the vote. (Actually, they got 39.8% of the five-party vote.) Under perfect province-wide proportionality, they would elect 40.5% of the MPs, but First Past The Post gifted them a “winner’s bonus” of 47 seats. In 2011 FPTP gifted Harper a “winner’s bonus” of 40 seats, in a smaller House.

On the votes cast in 2015, if you exclude Green votes outside BC where they got less than 5%, the Liberals got 40.7% of the votes, and under perfect province-wide proportionality they would elect 41.7% of the MPs. In a conventional MMP model with 14-MP regions and counting all Green votes, the Liberals elect 41.3% of the MPs.

In a more moderate 8-MP-region model with 38% top-up MPs, the Liberals elect 42.9% of the MPs, a bonus of 8 seats. Way better than the actual bonus of 47 seats. We can live with that.

The ranked ballot in single-member ridings is off the table.

One thing “moderately proportional” does NOT mean is the ranked ballot in single-member ridings. The multi-party Electoral Reform Committee’s majority report said the choice is between a good proportional system and First-Past-The-Post. The Liberal minority report did not even mention the ranked ballot. The Committee Chair, Liberal Francis Scarpallegia, said “no one wants the ranked ballot.” A huge step forward.

Justin Trudeau promised to make every vote count.

A recent Environics poll found 67% of Liberal voters feel the Liberal government should keep its promise and move forward with reforming Canada’s voting system. Only 10% disagreed, while 23% were unsure.

Canadians expect him to deliver this promise in full and on time.

A Scott Simms-inspired model?

In a recent discussion with Newfoundland MP Scott Simms, former Democratic Reform Critic for the Liberals, Simms agreed 10% top-up MPs was way too light, but suggested 20%. Lord Jenkins’ Report in the UK recommended 15% to 20% top-up MPs. I cannot imagine two people more different that Lord Jenkins and Scott Simms, yet they have the same thought.

For example, say we give each province 18.7% top-up MPs. Suppose we start by adding 44 top-up MPs to the House, by giving each province 10.5% more MPs and rounding the number up. The neat feature of these numbers is that they give the Atlantic provinces the 18.7% we want. The present 32 Atlantic ridings are unchanged, like the 3 ridings of the Territories. (The 44 new seats includes 3 more MPs for the Territories.) In the rest of Canada, we make enough of the present ridings bigger to give each province 18.7% top-up MPs. This adds another 28 regional MPs, cutting the number of local ridings to 310, each only 10% larger (outside Atlantic Canada). In total we have 72 regional top-up MPs.

I have done a simulation. With 32 regions, each with about 11 MPs today, outside Altantic Canada they will each generally become 10 local MPs and 2 regional top-up MPs.

Overly moderate, too moderate for me. And yet, no false majority on the votes cast in 2015. The Liberals get a bonus of 29 seats, but are 8 MPs short of a majority in the larger House. Interesting to look at.

This model still has many of the benefits of proportional representation. Liberal voters now unrepresented elect MPs in non-metropolitan Alberta, Vancouver Island, and the Barrie—Owen Sound region. And under-represented Liberal voters elect more MPs in Saskatchewan, Calgary, Edmonton, the BC Interior and North, and the London—Windsor region. Conservative voters unrepresented in five of Quebec’s seven regions elect MPs, as do those in Toronto, Peel Region, Northern Ontario, the north half of Metro Vancouver, Vancouver Island, and Yukon. The Atlantic Provinces have six opposition MPs. NDP voters everywhere outside PEI are represented. Even Green voters in Vancouver, Manitoba and west-central Ontario elect MPs, and 14 in total after the Green vote doubles under PR.

And as Prof. Dennis Pilon says in this video "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."

“A moderate system”

Prof. Nathalie Des Rosiers told the Electoral Reform Committee about the Law Commission Report on Aug. 22 “We were trying to maintain the good parts of the first past the post system while remedying the bad parts. It was a moderate report that was aimed at helping Canadians and Parliament grapple with this issue of electoral reform.” She mentioned one-third top-up MPs.

Alex Boulerice responded “as the Scottish model shows, even in the Westminster tradition, changes can be made toward a moderate proportional voting system. I don't think anyone here would want our system to become extreme.

New Zealand’s 2012 MMP Review Commission said “The system of MMP adopted by New Zealand in 1993 is a moderate form of proportional representation which seeks to balance two important objectives. One is the principle of proportionality: that a party’s share of seats should reflect its share of the nationwide vote. The other is the need to ensure elections deliver effective Parliaments and stable governments by avoiding an undue proliferation of very small parties in Parliament.”

Oddly, the Electoral Reform Committee never heard one witness advocate the full Jenkins Commission Report, which was only 15% to 20% top-up MPs; deliberately very moderate. Jenkins wrote:
“In considering the level of Top-up we are required to balance carefully the potentially competing criteria set out in our terms of reference. On the one hand the importance of maintaining the link between MPs and their constituencies and the need to ensure stable government - to the arguable extent that this requires single party majority government most of the time - pushes towards keeping the level of Top-up as low as possible. On the other hand the requirement to deliver broad proportionality would push us towards a larger Top-up sufficient to correct, or at least substantially to ameliorate, potential disproportional outcomes on the constituency side. . . . a Top-up of between 15% and 20% of MPs would do sufficient justice to the three competing criteria discussed above to be acceptable.
. . . . . . . without producing any likelihood of a stagnant and unhealthy prospect of constant and unchangeable coalition.”

Electoral Reform Committee Chair Francis Scarpaleggia said on CBC Dec. 7: “I think you would want a moderate system of proportionality that would still allow for majority governments.” I expect he meant the same thing as Jenkins: a moderate level of proportionality that would still allow for some single-party majority governments.

So we can promote moderate proportionality, as long as it is fairly proportional. Many PR countries have a Gallagher index much less than five. Canada is a moderate country, after all.

But not too moderate

But this Scott Simms-inspired model is too moderate for me. Interesting to look at, though. 

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