Monday, December 12, 2016

Could Canada take an "incremental approach" to proportional representation?

The Electoral Reform Committee acknowledged that the overwhelming majority of testimony was in favour of proportional representation.

The choice, it found, is between keeping the present system or adopting a good proportional representation system that maintains the connection between voters and their MP. That would be the mixed-member proportional system described in detail here

An "incremental approach?"

Could an “incremental approach” to an MMP model work? This trial balloon was floated by the NDP and Green members of the Electoral Reform Committee.

This is not the best solution. It could mean waiting until 2025 for full implementation. But let's see what it would mean.

There will be a redistribution after the 2021 census. With the growing population of several provinces, I think there should be 35 more MPs from the growing provinces. Otherwise, the six smaller over-represented provinces will become even more over-represented.

An incremental approach is to keep the present ridings for 2019, and add 38 MPs to the House (including 3 extra MPs for the Territories) as top-up MPs for the 2019 election and the next election (2023 or earlier).

The second phase is to adopt, by legislation in 2017, a full mixed-member proportional representation system, to be implemented along with the recommendations of the Electoral Boundaries Commissions after the 2021 census, which are likely to take effect May 1, 2024. Again, it would have 376 MPs.


With only 11% top-up MPs, the first phase is an “MMP-lite” model.

On the votes cast in 2015, the projected results would have been 189 Liberals, 112 Conservatives, 56 NDP, 13 Bloc, and 6 Greens. By contrast, a fully proportional model would have elected 153 Liberals, 119 Conservatives, 76 NDP, 17 Bloc, and 11 Greens.

With 376 MPs, that’s a Liberal majority of only 1, compared to the current majority of 15. To have a stable government, a coalition or accord would be advisable. Canada has seen ten coalition governments, and six stable Liberal minority governments. With an election in 2019 on this model, a false majority government would still be possible, but rather less likely.

Although this first phase model is poorly proportional, it still has some of the benefits of a proportional system.

Liberal voters are better represented in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Southwest Ontario, with five more MPs from those regions. Strong near-winner candidates in southwest Ontario like Kimberley Love and Allan Thompson or Katie Omstead or Stephen McCotter would be in Parliament. So would a strong candidate from the north half of Saskatchewan like Tracy Muggli or Lawrence Joseph. So would strong near-winner candidates from Alberta like Matt Grant and Karen Leibovici.

Green voters are better represented, with MPs like Gord Miller and Bruce Hyer from Ontario, Jo-Ann Roberts and Frances Litman or Ken Melamed from BC, and Daniel Green or JiCi Lauzon from Quebec.

Conservatives in Atlantic Canada elect three MPs instead of being silenced. Conservatives in Metropolitan Montreal and western Quebec elect four strong candidates like former MLA and mayor Robert Libman, Moroccan-born lawyer Valerie Assouline, business community leader Jimmy Yu, and Lebanese-Canadian architect Roland Dick.

New Democrats would have re-elected  Peggy Nash, Craig Scott and Andrew Cash in Toronto, Paul Dewar in Ottawa, Wayne Marston in Hamilton, and Jack Harris in Newfoundland, and added two new MPs in Ontario and two in Alberta.

Second phase

The second step is legislation in 2017 for a full mixed-member proportional representation system. It could have more than 33% regional MPs. The only reason to keep the number to 33% was to follow the present boundaries whenever possible, usually making three ridings into two. This is irrelevant with redistribution after the 2021 census, which are likely to take effect May 1, 2024.

The six small over-represented provinces would have temporarily gained a top-up MP, which ends with redistribution. Since they are over-represented, they are unlikely to complain. Using 2021 estimated populations from Statistics Canada, the other provinces will get: 83 for Quebec (close to the 86 they had temporarily), 138 for Ontario (up from the temporary 134), 49 in BC (up from 46), and 40 in Alberta (up from 38).

Technical note on projected size of the House:

The “electoral quotient” was set at 111,166 for the redistribution after the 2011 census, with a national population of 34,482,779. For the redistribution after the 2021 census the electoral quotient will be adjusted to reflect average provincial population growth since the previous redistribution. It might be increased to as much 123,812, but that would make Quebec over-represented.

It might be 119,180. In that case, the next House would have 351 MPs, an increase of only 3.85%. 
With some options, the six small over-represented provinces would temporarily gain a top-up MP, but lose that seat with redistribution. Since they are over-represented, they are unlikely to complain. 
Quebec, however, could find it humiliating to gain Top-Up MPs in phase 1, and lose them all again in phase 2. A risky tactic. 

Better to set the size of the next House high enough that Quebec gets to keep five of its eight temporary top-up” seats. If it becomes 376 MPs, the quotient is 109,970. 

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