Saturday, May 13, 2017

What would BC’s 2017 election results have been, with proportional representation?

What would BC’s 2017 election results have been, with a proportional representation system where every vote counts?

Of course, I’m not talking about the kind of province-wide system used in the Netherlands, with no local ridings, no threshold, and 13 parties in their Parliament.

I’m talking about the open-regional-list Mixed Member Proportional system, where every MLA has faced the voters. That’s the system PEI voters chose last November, with a workable ballot as you can see here. It’s also the model on which the federal Electoral Reform Committee found consensus: like other models, it is a local proportional representation model.

Its best feature, compared with other PR models for BC, is that the number of seats per region can be consistent across the different regions of BC, giving all voters equally proportional election outcomes. No Urban/Rural divide.

(Note: this blogpost has been revised on Jan. 14, 2018.) 

Do you want your vote to count?

You have two votes

You have two votes: one for your local MLA, and one for a regional MLA from your local region. You cast your second vote for a party’s regional candidate you prefer, which counts as a vote for that party. This is the same practical model used in Scotland, with one vital improvement: Canadian voters would like to vote for a specific regional candidate and hold them accountable. 

I’m assuming 52 local MLAs and 35 regional MLAs, so 60% of MLAs are elected in local districts as we do today. The other 35 are elected from seven regions.  The regions have an average of 12 MLAs each: seven local, five regional.

Every voter for any of the three parties in all seven regions has an MLA they helped elect, either from their local district or from their local region.

The best of both worlds

Would proportional representation hurt small communities? Just the opposite: voters are guaranteed two things which equal better local representation:
1.         A local MLA who will champion their area.
2.         An MLA whose views best reflect their values, someone they helped elect in their local district or local region.

No longer does one person claim to speak for everyone in the district. No longer does one party claim unbridled power with only 40% support. Local districts are bigger than today, but in return you have competing MLAs: a local MLA, and about five regional MLAs from your local region.

Parties will work together

Parties will, unless one party had outright majority support, have to work together - to earn our trust where others have broken it, and to show that a new kind of governance is possible. Research clearly shows that proportionately-elected governments and cooperative decision-making produce better policy outcomes and sustainable progress on major issues over the long term.

BC’s rural/urban divide

One factor I have left alone is the all-party consensus to protect the 17 electoral districts in the North Region, the Cariboo-Thompson Region, and the Columbia-Kootenay Region, largely rural and small-urban. These elected 13 Liberals and four New Democrats in 2017. Any likely proportional system for BC will keep the same regional balance. Thus, it is not surprising that my simulation gives the Liberals a bonus of one MLA, at the cost of the NDP. 

Province-wide result: 37 Liberals, 35 NDP, 15 Greens

The perfectly proportional result would have been 36 Liberal MLAs, 36 NDP MLAs, and 15 Greens. Instead, for the reason above, I get 37, 35 and 15. This does not change the election outcome, since the parties will form the coalitions they choose to form, regardless which party has a few more seats than the other.

Regional nominations

Typically, party members will nominate local candidates first, then hold a regional nomination process. Often the regional candidates will include the local candidates, plus a few regional-only candidates who will add diversity and balance to the regional slate. In order to ensure democratic nominations, it would be useful to deny taxpayer subsidy to any party not nominating democratically.  The meeting would decide what rank order each would have on the regional ballot. But then voters in the region would have the final choice.

A simulation

What follows is only a simulation from the votes cast in 2017. In any election, as Prof. 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."
The North and the Cariboo Region

Instead of electing eight Liberal MLAs and only two New Democrats, these voters would have elected another New Democrat. That would be the candidate who got the most votes across the region (after crossing off the regional list those who were elected as Local MLAs). Maybe Anne Marie Sam (an elected councilor with the Nak’azdli Nation) or Quesnel city councilor Scott Elliott or Prince George labour lawyer Bobby Deepak. And they would have elected a Green MLA, maybe Rita Giesbrecht from 100 Mile House (Party Spokesperson for Rural development) or Nan Kendy from Prince George.

The Interior including the Columbia—Kootenay Region and Kamloops

Instead of electing 12 Liberal MLAs and two New Democrats, these voters would have elected two more New Democrats as well as Michelle Mungall and Katrine Conroy. Maybe Harry Lali from Merritt and Barb Nederpel from Kamloops or Barry Dorval from Vernon or Colleen Ross from Grand Forks or Gerry Taft from Invermere. And Green voters would have elected three MLAs such as former Nelson city councillor Kim Charlesworth (Party Spokesperson for Agriculture and food systems), Dan Hines from Kamloops (Green Party Spokesperson for Forestry), and Keli Westgate from Vernon.

Fraser Valley-Langley Region

Instead of electing Liberal MLAs in all seven districts, these voters would have elected two NDP MLAs such as Langley Teachers Association leader Gail Chaddock-Costello and Chiliwack shelter director Patti MacAhonic, and a Green MLA like Langley’s Bill Masse (Green Party Research and Policy Chair) or Elizabeth Walker.

Vancouver—North Shore Region

Instead of electing only ten NDP MLAs and six Liberal MLAs, these voters would have elected three Green Party MLAs. Maybe Dana Taylor (he was a North Vancouver city councilor), Kim Darwin from the Sunshine Coast (she was President of the Sechelt Chamber of Commerce) and David Wong (architect and author of ‘Escape to Gold Mountain’) or Prof. Michael Markwick (Party Spokesperson for Democratic Security and Human Rights) or Jerry Kroll (Party Spokesperson on Transportation).

Burnaby—Tri-Cities—Maple Ridge Region

Instead of electing ten NDP MLAs and only one Liberal, these voters would have elected a Green MLA (likely Jonina Campbell, New Westminster School Board chair and Party Spokesperson for Education), as well as two Liberal incumbents like Linda Reimer and Richard Lee.

Surrey-Delta-Richmond Region

Instead of electing only eight Liberals and seven New Democrats, these voters would also have elected two Green MLAs, such as Roy Sakata (retired school administrator of Richmond School District) and Surrey’s Rita Fromholt or Delta’s Jacquie Miller or White Rock’s Bill Marshall.
Vancouver Island

These voters would have elected another Green MLA like Lia Versaevel from North Cowichan, Victoria’s Kalen Harris, or Mark Neufeld (party spokesperson on Youth and intergenerational equity), and three more Liberal MLAs like Jim Benninger from Comox, indigenous leader Dallas Smith from North Island, and Nanaimo’s Paris Gaudet.

How will regional MPs operate? 

Most regional MPs will each cover several ridings. This is just the way it’s done in Scotland, where each regional MP normally covers about three local ridings, and holds office hours rotating across them. 


With a regional MMP model, we risk local sweeps being so extreme that they create “overhangs.” Those are results too disproportional for the regional compensatory (“top-up”) MLAs to correct, when they are only 40% of the total. That’s the trade-off in the system design, to keep local ridings from being almost double their present size. In this simulation we find one overhang. The NDP near-sweep in Burnaby-Tri-Cities-Maple Ridge gives them an extra MLA there, offsetting the NDP’s rural shortfall.

Technical note

The calculation for any PR system has to choose a rounding method, to round fractions up and down. I have used the “largest remainder” calculation, which Germany used until recently, because it is the simplest and most transparent. In a 10-MLA region, if Party A deserves 3.2 MLAs, Party B deserves 3.1, Party C deserves 2.3, and Party D deserves 1.4, which party gets the tenth seat? Party D has a remainder of 0.4, the largest remainder. In a region where one party wins a bonus (“overhang”), I allocate the remaining seats among the remaining parties by the same calculation.

A Simpler Alternative: the Personalized No-List Proportional System (Best Runners-up, One-vote)

To keep voting simple, with no party lists, you can use the “best runner-up” model.

You cast only one vote, for your local MLA, which also counts as a vote for that candidate’s party (if he or she has one). You have a local MLA, and regional MLAs in top-up seats, just like the normal MMP model. But the candidates elected to those regional seats are the local candidates who, while not elected locally, got the highest vote percent of that party’s candidates in that region.

The party outcome is identical to the normal MMP model, but the regional MLAs are simply the best runners-up in the region of the party whose voters are under-represented in that region. The simple ballot is just like today’s ballot.

Who invented this model? No one, it is in actual use in the German province of Baden-Wurttemberg. They’ve used it since 1952. They call it the Personalized No-List Proportional System.

It’s a very local model: the best runners-up are ranked only by how well their local voters liked them.


True, with no regional nomination process, a party’s members have no opportunity to nominate additional regional candidates from minority groups, or women. Voters across the region have no second vote, no opportunity to vote region-wide for the regional candidate they prefer. And voters are not free to vote for a local candidate of a different party than they want in government. 

Still, every MLA has faced the local voters, with one tiny exception: you still need a regional nomination process to nominate a few alternate candidates. Suppose voters for a party cast 67% of the votes in a 12-MLA region, and elect MLAs in all seven local seats. They are entitled to elect an eighth MLA, a regional MLA to top-up the regional results, but the party has no best-runners up in the region. So it will have to be the top candidate on the party’s regional list. Yes, ranked by the party’s nomination process, not by the voters, but this will happen very rarely, if ever.

The government, after the public consultations, may decide to put more than one PR model on the ballot. This one would be a simple and practical alternative.    

Other design questions:

Legal threshold: the effective threshold with 12-MLA regions is about 7% or 8%. But a party with a regional stronghold might win one seat there, while getting only 2% across BC. Starting to sound like the Netherlands or Israel. Would a legal threshold of 5% reassure anyone worried about fringe parties?

What qualification is required for election of regional candidates? The purpose of the top-up seats is to correct disproportional local results, not to provide a parallel system of getting elected. The Law Commission of Canada recommended a party be eligible for top-up regional seats only if it presents local candidates in at least 33 percent of the ridings in the region; Jenkins recommended 50%. These rules prevent the Berlusconi trick of running twin parties, one party with local candidates, the other with regional candidates. 

Eight region model:

Some people feel the North Shore has a unique character, despite having only five MLAs (including Powell River-Sunshine Coast), and should be its own region. I don't recommend this, but it does have the minor advantage of letting Richmond be paired with Vancouver rather than with Surrey, a better match. So, for interest, here’s that alternative. (Sadly, it elects one less Green: 38 Liberals, 36 NDP, and 14 Greens):

Vancouver—Richmond Region

Instead of electing only eight NDP MLAs and seven Liberal MLAs, these voters would also have elected two Green Party MLAs. Maybe David Wong (architect and author of ‘Escape to Gold Mountain’) and elected school trustee Janet Fraser, or Jerry Kroll (Party Spokesperson on Transportation) or Bradley Shende (Party Spokesperson for income security).

Surrey-Delta Region

Instead of electing only four Liberals and seven New Democrats, these voters would also have elected a Green MLA, such as White Rock’s Bill Marshall or Surrey’s Aleksandra Muniak, or Delta’s Jacquie Miller or Surrey’s Rita Fromholt.

North Shore Region

Instead of electing only two NDP MLAs and three Liberal MLAs, these voters would also have elected a Green Party MLA. Maybe Dana Taylor (he was a North Vancouver city councilor), or Kim Darwin from the Sunshine Coast (she was President of the Sechelt and District Chamber of Commerce), or Prof. Michael Markwick (Party Spokesperson for Democratic Security and Human Rights).

Fast Boundaries version:

Suppose, as a matter of possible (but unlikely) interest, the new government wanted to implement MMP without an entire Boundaries Hearing process for the new electoral districts? They could use the existing 42 federal electoral districts. The government would only have to choose the regions. Then, each region would also have enough regional MLAs that the present numbers of MLAs from each district would be unchanged.  BC would still have 87 MLAs: 42 local, 45 regional.

The North and the Cariboo Region

It would have only three local MLAs, but would have seven regional MLAs. The result would be the same as outlined above: six Liberals, three New Democrats and a Green. The local result in Skeena—Bulkley Valley would have been very close, but even if the Liberals won all three local seats, the NDP would have three regional MLAs, the Greens one, and the Liberals three. Again, the regional MLAs would be those candidates who got the most votes across the region (after crossing off the regional list those who were elected as Local MLAs).

The Interior including the Columbia—Kootenay Region and Kamloops

Because the federal electoral district of Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon runs up to Lillooet and Cache Creek, it includes 33.1% of the population of Fraser-Nicola, and Chilliwack—Hope includes another 20.1%. Therefore, I have to count Fraser-Nicola as part of the Fraser Valley-Langley Region, so this Interior region has only 13 MLAs today. They will now have six local MLAs and seven regional MLAs: five local Liberals and one local NDP, plus three regional NDP MLAs, two regional Liberal MLAs, and two regional Green MLAs.

Fraser Valley-Langley Region

Adding Fraser-Nicola, this region now has nine MLAs, and will continue to: four local MLAs (all Liberals) and five regional: three NDP, one Green and one more Liberal.


The province-wide result is 38 Liberals, 35 NDP, and 14 Green. Again, this does not change the election outcome, since the parties will form the coalitions they choose to form, regardless which party has a few more seats than the other.


Maxwell Anderson said...

Thanks Wilf, terrific and sensible!
I only hope you or FVC can get this into some mass media.

William Marshall said...

Brilliant work Wilf, I am one of those candidates affected and could have possibly got in. This is what democracy was meant to be rep by pop. We will get this changed this sitting! thanks again

Rev. Frances Deverell said...

I'm going to ask the Unitarians to promote this blog. It provides a good education. I wish you would provide us with a similar blog showing the comparison of the last 18 elections. That sounded really interesting.