Sunday, October 27, 2019

How would proportional representation fix our broken voting system?


Has this year’s election left the country more divided than ever?

The House of Commons is divided, sure, because of our broken electoral system.

Alberta and Saskatchewan voters voted 68.1% Conservative, yes, but somehow they elected 98% of the MPs from those provinces. Sounds like an old-fashioned Russian election? About 350,000 Liberal voters found their votes didn’t count.

On the other hand, Toronto, Peel Region and Halton Region elected 40 Liberal MPs and no others. The Liberals got only 53% of those votes, but the other 967,000 voters found their votes didn’t count. In fact, across Canada, more voters voted Conservative than Liberal.

The broken promise

The 2015 Liberal platform said "We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system. We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting."

A lot of the Liberals were serious. Some still are, like Wayne Long from New Brunswick who just said he “regrets not being more outspoken when his party backed off its promise of electoral reform. He has no doubt there are other Liberals who would like to revisit the conversation.” In a House of Minorities, where the Standing Committees have no government majority, we can certainly expect this conversation to be revisited

Imagine a House of Commons elected by Proportional Representation

What would the results of this year’s election be, with proportional representation? Let’s look the result with the votes cast this year, with the Mixed Member Proportional system: No PMO running a one-party government elected by only 39.5% of the votes.

On the votes as cast, the final count by province-wide proportionality (with a 4% threshold in each province) is Liberals 116, Conservatives 118, NDP 56, Bloc 26, Greens 21. That’s what Canadians voted for. The Constitution Act gives each province specified numbers of MPs, so maintaining this means no constitutional amendment is required. A detailed simulation for each region is below.

Stéphane Dion was right

Stéphane Dion wrote in 2012 “I do not see why we should maintain a voting system that makes our major parties appear less national and our regions more politically opposed than they really are. I no longer want a voting system that gives the impression that certain parties have given up on Quebec, or on the West. On the contrary, the whole spectrum of parties, from Greens to Conservatives, must embrace all the regions of Canada. In each region, they must covet and be able to obtain seats proportionate to their actual support. This is the main reason why I recommend replacing our voting system.”

Never again

The first effect of using proportional representation would have been to end strategic voting. Canadian voters want more than two choices, if they can vote for what they want. A poll by Angus Reid Sept. 17 showed 77% of respondents support moving towards a system of proportional representation.

A Stable Coalition government

Like most countries with proportional representation, no party would have an incentive to roll the dice and hope for an accidental majority. They would form a stable coalition government with a four-year term. Canada has seen 11 coalition governments.

Ranked ballots in single-member ridings are off the table

When Justin Trudeau announced the end of electoral reform in February 2017 he said: his favourite option was “to rank your ballot. I have heard very clearly that people think it would favour Liberals too much. And therefore I’m not going near it, because I am not going to do something that everyone is convinced is going to favour one party over another." He could also have mentioned that only four percent of expert witnesses at the Electoral Reform Committee had supported it. The Liberal MPs on the committee didn't even mention it in their minority report, and when the media asked the Liberal committee chair why not, he answered "nobody wants ranked ballots."

Stéphane Dion’s 2013 line was “Preferential voting . . . does nothing to correct the distortion between votes and seats and the under-representation of national parties compared to regional ones.” Only proportional representation will make every vote count.

Of citizens who showed up, 87% called for proportional representation. Did we fail? No, we succeeded. We stopped the PMO’s bait-and-switch operation. We not only stopped it, we exposed it. I not only want my vote to count, I want my neighbour’s vote to count. As the posters said in New Zealand, in the winning campaign to keep MMP, “Your vote is worth exactly the same as mine and that's a powerful thing.”

The open-list MMP system: Every MP represents actual voters and real communities

We’re not talking about a model with candidates appointed by central parties. We’re talking about the mixed member system designed by the Law Commission of Canada, where every MP represents actual voters and real communities. Almost 60% of MPs will be elected by local ridings as we do today, preserving the traditional link between voter and MP. The other 40% are elected as regional MPs, topping-up the numbers of MPs from your local region so the total is proportional to the votes for each party.

You have two votes. One is for your local MP. The second helps elect regional MPs, topping-up the numbers of MPs from your local region so the total is proportional to the votes for each party. You cast a personal vote for a candidate within the regional list. This is commonly called “open list.” Voters elect all the MPs. No one is guaranteed a seat. The region is small enough that the regional MPs are accountable. Every vote counts: it’s proportional. You vote for the regional candidate you prefer: it’s personal. There are no closed lists. Result: after the election, everyone has a local MP, plus a few regional MPs, likely including someone they helped elect.

Competing MPs:

You have a local MP who will champion your community, and about five competing regional MPs, normally including one whose views best reflect your values.

So you can vote for the local candidate you like best regardless of party, without hurting your party, since it's the party (regional) ballot that determines the party make-up of the legislature. About 32% of voters split their ballots this way in New Zealand with a similar system.

This makes it easier for local MPs to get the support of people of all political stripes. They can earn support for their constituency-representation credentials, not just for their party. This boosts the kind of support MPs bring with them into the House of Commons, thus strengthening their independence.

Did your vote count?

The 68% turnout in 2015 was the highest in seven elections. But the last election in New Zealand, where every vote counts, saw a 79% turnout elect a new government with three-party support.

Regional open list MMP

To make regional MPs accountable, we need regions small enough. The Law Commission Report was explicitly inspired by the models of Scotland, which has 16-MSP regions, and Wales, which has 12-MHA regions. My simulation uses regions with an average of 12 MPs (often seven local MPPs, five regional MPPs elected to top-up seats).

Rural and urban voters in every region would have effective votes and fair representation in both government and opposition. That’s a basic principle of proportional representation.

How would regional MPs serve residents?


Note: this is only a simulation

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." So I cannot promise that the husband and wife team of Elizabeth May and John Kidder would have both been elected, or her Deputy Leader Jo-Ann Roberts, or her Deputy Leader Daniel Green. I’m using 201 local MPs and 137 regional MPs in 30 regions, no additional MPs.

The West wants in

In Alberta (divided into 3 regions), the 14% of the voters who voted Liberal elected not one MP. A proportional system would have let them elect five Liberal regional MPs such as Nirmala Naidoo and Kent Hehr from Calgary, Randy Boissonnault and Amarjeet Sohi from Edmonton, and Amy Bronson from Lethbridge. Alberta voters would also have elected three more NDP MPs such as Mark Cherrington from Edmonton, Shandi Bleiken from Lethbridge, and Gurinder Singh Gill from Calgary.

In Saskatchewan, the 12% of voters who voted Liberal deserved to elect two of its 14 MPs, yet Ralph Goodale lost his seat. A proportional system, with eight local MPs and six regional MPs elected to top-up seats, would have let voters in Saskatchewan elect him and another Liberal MP like indigenous representative Tammy Cook-Searson, and three NDP MPs like incumbent MPs Sheri Benson (NDP national Deputy Leader) and indigenous representative Georgina Jolibois, and Claire Card from Saskatoon.

In Manitoba, Green voters would have elected an MP like Bill Tiessen from Brandon.

In the BC Interior and North’s nine ridings, Liberal voters cast 20% of the votes, but elected no one. They would have re-elected Stephen Fuhr from Kelowna, and Green voters would have elected someone like Iain Currie from Kamloops.

In Vancouver Island’s seven ridings, Liberal voters cast 16% of the votes, but elected no one, while NDP voters cast 32% of the ballots yet elected five of the seven MPs. A proportional system would have let Liberal voters on Vancouver Island elect an MP like Nikki Macdonald from Victoria, and Conservative voters elect an MP like Byron Horner from Parksville.

In Vancouver—Burnaby—North Shore—Maple Ridge, Green voters would have elected someone like West Vancouver’s Dana Taylor, and under-represented Conservative voters would have elected two more MPs like Nicholas Insley and Wai Young.

In Surrey—Richmond—Fraser Valley—Langley NDP voters would have elected two MPs like Surrey’s Harjit Singh Gill and Sarjit Singh Saran, while Green voters would have elected someone like John Kidder (Elizabeth May’s husband).

The Atlantic Provinces would not have been almost a one-party region

In Nova Scotia, Conservative voters would not have been limited to one MP. They would have elected two more like Scott Armstrong from Colchester County and Cape Breton’s Alfie MacLeod. NDP voters would, instead of being shut out, have elected two MPs like Christine Saulnier and Emma Norton from Halifax, or Jodi McDavid from Cape Breton. Green voters would have elected their Deputy Leader Jo-Ann Roberts.

In New Brunswick, NDP voters would have elected an MP like Daniel Thériault in Bathurst, and Green voters would have elected a second MP like Laura Reinsborough from.Sackville.

In Newfoundland & Labrador Conservative voters would have elected two MPs like Twillingate’s Alex Bracci and Trinity’s Sharon Vokey. NDP voters would have elected a second MP like Anne Marie Anonsen from Pouch Cove.

In PEI Conservative voters would have elected an MP like Logan McLellan from Summerside. Green voters would have elected an MP like Anna Keenan from Hunter River.

Ontario’s diverse voters would have been fully represented

In Southwestern Ontario’s 13 ridings, the 30% who voted Liberal elected only three MPs. A proportional system would have let voters in that region elect another Liberal MP like Sandra Pupatello or Huron-Bruce’s Allan Thompson, as well as another NDP MP like Tracey Ramsey from suburban Windsor, and the Green Party’s Dr. Collan Simmons of Stratford.

In West Central Ontario’s 14 ridings, the region’s MPs are eight Conservatives and six Liberals. A proportional system, with eight local MPs and six regional MPs, would have let voters in that region elect two New Democrat regional MP like Cambridge’s Dr. Scott Hamilton and Barrie’s Pekka Reinio, and two Greens like Guelph’s Steve Dyck and Kitchener’s Mike Morrice.

In Hamilton-Niagara’s 12 ridings, Green voters would have elected an MP like Norfolk nurse Brooke Martin, and NDP voters would have elected a third MP like Malcolm Allen of the Town of Pelham or Hamilton’s Nick Milanovic.

In Peel—Halton Region’s 14 ridings, instead of all Liberal MPs, Conservative voters would have elected four MPs like Milton’s Lisa Raitt, Stella Ambler, Terence Young and Sean Weir. NDP voters would have elected 2 MPs like Saranjit Singh and Jordan Boswell from Brampton.

In Toronto and East York—Etobicoke-York’s 13 ridings, rather than all Liberals, NDP voters would have elected two MPs like Andrew Cash and Min Sook Lee or Paul Taylor, Conservative voters would have elected two MPs like Ted Opitz and Barry O'Brien, and Green voters would have elected an MP like Tim Grant. In North York—Scarborough’s 12 ridings, rather than all Liberals, NDP voters would have elected an MP like Keith McCrady, while Conservative voters would have elected four MPs like Sarah Fischer, Chani Aryeh-Bain, Daniel Lee and Sean Hu.

In York—Durham’s 15 ridings, NDP voters would have elected two MPs like Oshawa’s Shailene Panylo and Bowmanville’s Sarah Whalen-Wright, while Green voters would have elected an MP like East Gwillimbury’s Jonathan Arnold.

In Central East Ontario’s nine ridings, NDP voters would have elected someone like Kingston’s Barrington Walker, while Green voters would have elected an MP like Stephen Kotze from Lanark Highlands.

In the Ottawa Valley’s 10 ridings, NDP voters would have elected 2 MPs like Ottawa’s Emilie Taman and Stéphanie Mercier, while Conservative voters would have elected a third MP like Ottawa’s Pierre Lemieux.

In Northern Ontario, Green voters would have elected an MP like Thunder Bay’s Bruce Hyer, while Conservative voters would have elected a second MP like Sault Ste. Marie’s Sonny Spina.

Quebec’s pluralism would be respected 

In Chaudière-Appalaches—Bas-Saint-Laurent—Gaspésie’s 8 ridings, Liberal voters would have re-elected Matane’s Rémi Massé rather than see him defeated. NDP voters would have re-elected Guy Caron from Rimouski.

In Quebec City—Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean—Côte-Nord’s 11 ridings, NDP voters would have re-elected Karine Trudel from Jonquière. Liberal voters would have re-elected Richard Hébert from Lac-Saint-Jean.

In Estrie—Mauricie—Centre-du-Québec’s 10 ridings, Conservative voters would have elected a second MP like Yves Lévesque in Trois-Rivières. NDP voters would have re-elected Ruth Ellen Brosseau or Sherbrooke’s Pierre-Luc Dusseault.

In Laurentides—Lanaudière—Outaouais—Abitibi-Témiscamingue—Nord’s 15 ridings, Liberal voters would have re-elected Linda Lapointe from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles. NDP voters would have elected an MP like Nicolas Thibodeau in Gatineau. Conservative voters would have elected an MP like Pontiac’s Dave Blackburn. Green voters would have elected an MP like Josée Poirier Defoy from Luskville.

In Montérégie’s 12 ridings, NDP voters would have re-elected Brigitte Sansoucy from Saint-Hyacinthe. Conservative voters would have elected an MP like Bernard Barré, also from Saint-Hyacinthe. Green voters would have elected floor-crosser Pierre Nantel in Longueuil.

In Montreal East—Laval’s 12 ridings, Conservative voters would have elected an MP like Tom Pentefountas. NDP voters would have elected a second MP like Nimâ Machouf. Green voters would have elected an MP like Juan Vazquez, spokesperson on Biodiversity who stood against Justin Trudeau. Bloc voters, over-represented outside Montreal but under-represented inside, would have elected two more like Simon Marchand and Lizabel Nitoi.

In Montreal-West’s 10 ridings, rather than all Liberals, NDP voters would have elected an MP like Andrea Clarke, Conservative voters would have elected an MP like David Tordjman, Green voters would have elected Deputy Leader Daniel Green, and Bloc voters would have elected an MP like Isabel Dion. 

Big-city rule? Or “Small and Rural”?

Some people fear proportional representation would mean big-city rule. Not so: In this year’s tax return, the rebate for carbon taxes includes a 10% supplement for residents of “small and rural communities:” those who live outside a Census Metropolitan Area, and presumably have to use more gasoline. Using that as a definition, 28 of the above examples of regional MPs come from small and rural communities.

Democratic nominations

Today, parties can nominate as they choose. Canada has no law to stop parties from appointing local candidates. Fair Vote Canada says they should have to nominate candidates democratically in order to qualify for campaign expense subsidy.

I expect parties would nominate local candidates first. As soon as they are finished, they hold the regional nomination process. I expect it’s an every-member online vote, after candidates’ speeches, carried online. In the run-up to the regional nomination, likely a party would hold all-candidates meetings in each riding. I expect almost all the local candidates would also stand for the positions of regional candidate, unless one of them was a token local candidate who had no interest in trying to compete across the region. 

On election day, voters can move a regional candidate up the regional list if he or she gets enough personal votes. Voters can elect that candidate ahead of another candidate whom the party’s regional nomination process had ranked higher. But still, it’s an advantage to be ranked first. So, the regional nomination process has to rank them, even if the eight regional candidates are acclaimed.

I expect some regional-only candidates would also be nominated, to add diversity to the ballot. Since voters can vote for the regional candidate they prefer, one of the regional-only candidates could be elected. This could be quite likely if the strongest local candidate wins a local seat, dropping off the regional count, opening the door for someone new.

Overhangs

With a regional MMP model, we risk local sweeps being so extreme that they create “overhangs.” Those are results too disproportional for the compensatory (“top-up”) MPs 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.

An overhang happens in my simulation with the Liberal sweep of Toronto, which results in a bonus of one MP for the Liberals at the cost of the NDP, and the Liberal sweep of Peel—Halton, a bonus of one from the Greens. However, the NDP near-sweep of Vancouver Island gives them a bonus of one MP from the Conservatives. Also, the Bloc sweep of Laurentides—Lanaudière gives them a bonus of one MP at the cost of the Conservatives. With a real MMP election where voters have more choice and do not need to cast negative votes, such sweeps will not normally happen. Random regional rounding differences also make slight changes.

Perfect province-wide proportionality would have resulted in Liberals 116, Conservatives 118, NDP 56, Bloc 26, Greens 21. My simulation happens to show Liberals 120, Conservatives 115, NDP 54, Bloc 26, Green 22, a bonus of four Liberals and one Green, three from the Conservatives, two from the NDP.

Provincial recap:
Ontario:
FPTP: Liberals 79, Conservatives 36, NDP 6  
PR: Liberals 54, Conservatives 39, NDP 20, Greens 8
Quebec:
FPTP Liberals 35, BQ 32, Conservatives 10, NDP 1
PR: Liberals 28, BQ 26, Conservatives 12, NDP 8, Greens 4
BC:
FPTP: Liberals 11, Conservatives 17, NDP 11, Greens 2, Jody W-R 1
PR: Liberals 10, Conservatives 15, NDP 10, Green 5, Jody W-R 1
Alberta:
FPTP: Liberals 0, Conservatives 33, NDP 1
PR: Liberals 5, Conservatives 25, NDP 4, Green 0
Saskatchewan:
FPTP: Liberals 0, Conservatives 14, NDP 0
PR: Liberals 2, Conservatives 9, NDP 3, Green 0
Manitoba:
FPTP: Liberals 4, Conservatives 7, NDP 3
PR: Liberals 4, Conservatives 6, NDP 3, Green 1
Nova Scotia:
FPTP: Liberals 10, Conservatives 1, NDP 0
PR: Liberals 5, Conservatives 3, NDP 2, Green 1
New Brunswick:
FPTP: Liberals 6, Conservatives 3, Green 1, NDP 0
PR: Liberals 4, Conservatives 3, Green 2, NDP 1
Newfoundland & Labrador:
FPTP: Liberals 6, Conservatives 0, NDP 1
PR: Liberals 3, Conservatives 2, NDP 2
Prince Edward Island:
FPTP: Liberals 4, Conservatives 0, Green 0, NDP 0
PR: Liberals 2, Conservatives 1, Green 1.

Technical Notes:

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-MPP region, if Party A deserves 3.2 MPPs, 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.

The purpose of the compensatory regional seats is to correct disproportional local results, not to provide a parallel system of getting elected. The Law Commission recommended that the right to nominate candidates for regional top-up seats should be limited to those parties which have candidates standing for election in at least one-third of the ridings within the top-up region. Jenkins recommended 50%. This prevents a possible distortion of the system by parties pretending to split into twin decoy parties for the regional seats, the trick which Berlusconi invented to sabotage Italy’s voting system.