Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Time for Canada’s NDP to move electoral reform forward

Justin Trudeau’s broken promise to make every vote count cost the Liberals their majority last year. It’s time for the NDP to act on their policy, adopted two years ago, that the NDP would make proportional representation a condition for support for any minority government.

As many sources report, many Liberal MPs are quietly saying they know this issue cost them many of the young voters they picked up in 2015, which in turn cost them their majority.

Common ground

Of course Justin Trudeau will resist reversing himself 180 degrees overnight. But the electoral reform process ended in 2017 with the Liberal members stating “we recommend that the Government further undertake a period of comprehensive and effective citizen engagement before proposing specific changes to the current federal voting system. We believe that this engagement process cannot be effectively completed before 2019.” The NDP platform in 2019 promised “We’ll establish an independent citizen’s assembly to recommend the best way to put it in place.” So there is common ground on how to move forward on this issue.

Parties should work together

During the pandemic, everyone wants parties to work together, just as parties generally do in countries with proportional representation. But if the Liberals are tempted to roll the dice and try for a majority, and refuse to engage citizens about Justin’s broken promise, the NDP should be ready.

Ranked Ballots are off the table

Justin Trudeau said it himself on Feb. 10, 2017: "I always felt that we could offer people to give a preference on your ballot. To rank your ballot. A lot of people don’t like it. A lot of people say it favours Liberals. I have heard very clearly that people don’t think that’s a good thing, or that they 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.”

Not even the Liberal ERRE minority report recommend the ranked ballot. When the media asked why, the ERRE chair, Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia, said bluntly “nobody wants ranked ballots.”

I admit I could not have said it better.  So only proportional representation will make every vote count.

National NDP Policy

In February 2018 the NDP national convention passed overwhelmingly a resolution that:

"That the New Democratic Party of Canada reiterate its support for Mixed Member Proportional Representation and ensure that Mixed Member Proportional Representation be given a high profile in the NDP platform in the next federal election.

And that an NDP majority government will bring in proportional representation in time for the next election. In a minority parliament, the NDP would make proportional representation a condition for any potential alliance, or for support for any minority government." The arguments leading the convention to support this were Jagmeet’s own arguments, his statements during the leadership campaign and since. After three speakers on each side, it passed overwhelmingly. The resolution had been submitted to the Convention by 15 NDP riding associations across Canada.

Every MP will face the voters

In the past six years I have heard no New Democrat support a model with closed party lists. As the Law Commission of Canada recommended in 2004, "Based on the feedback received during our consultation process, many Canadian voters would also most likely desire the flexibility of open lists in a mixed member proportional system. In essence, allowing voters to choose a candidate from the list provides voters with the ability to select a specific individual and hold them accountable for their actions should they be elected."

The broken promise cost them their majority

In at least 16 ridings in 2015 the Liberal stick (Stop Harper) and carrot (this is the last time you will have to vote strategically and be represented by your second choice) had picked up enough Green and NDP votes for a Liberal candidate to pick up a seat. That includes some new voters who would have voted NDP or Green but switched to Liberal. Millennials were especially attracted by the pledge “we will make every vote count.”

The 2019 stick (Stop Scheer) held a few of those switchers, but with the carrot vanished, and the promises of “Sunny Ways” losing their shine, enough of those Green and NDP votes went back to the Greens or NDP to sink the Liberal in these 16 ridings. They fell 13 short of a majority.

The average in these 16 ridings was this: in 2015 the Liberals picked up about 5,200 votes from the NDP and about 700 from the Green Party. That’s about 5,900 mostly young voters. In 2019 they lost about 3,300 of them on average to the NDP and Greens. In each of these ridings that swing cost the Liberals the seat.

Four Liberal losses were to the NDP, Green or an Independent advocating proportional representation: St. John's East, Winnipeg Centre, Fredericton, and Vancouver Granville. The other 12 were to a Conservative: Calgary Centre, Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, Kildonan—St. Paul, Northumberland—Peterborough South, Hastings—Lennox & Addington, Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, Steveston—Richmond East, Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, Kelowna—Lake Country, Fundy Royal, New Brunswick Southwest, and Tobique—Mactaquac.

By contrast, in Beaches—East York Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith had won in 2015 on the same promise, but voted in the House for electoral reform, breaking ranks with the party. He won last fall with an increased majority.

BC Referendum

PR-sceptics may respond "the loss of the BC referendum changes things." But my own conclusion from polling data is "
Thousands of electoral reformers spent six months defending the process and how it was arrived at. It’s hard to admit that the process was the problem. But the polling evidence is clear. With a referendum on first-past-the-post versus a fully fleshed-out alternative, designed and explained via deep public consultation, PR would have won. Reformers should not be afraid to say so." 

Monday, March 2, 2020

Making every vote count: the Bélanger solution

The Bélanger solution

Looking at the Canadian scene today, what Liberal can tolerate thinking of an accidental majority Conservative government? Especially the idea of a dog-whistle populist elected by 40% of voters?

Anyone who forgets Stephen Harper in 2011 cannot forget that Doug Ford did so in 2018.

Liberal Convention delegates in 2014 voted overwhelmingly for Resolution 31 from the federal caucus for electoral reform: a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation. The preferential ballot is off the table: As Justin Trudeau wisely said Feb. 10, 2017, ”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.” And anyway, it would never pass the present House, no other party would support it.

Many Liberal MPs must be quietly thinking “too bad we didn’t prevent the risk of an accidental Conservative majority when we had the chance.”

Can this be done quickly and simply? Without a completely new system with new riding boundaries? A fast solution while the discussion continues about whether to adopt full proportional representation, how a PR model for Canada would work, and whether a Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform is a better way to settle these questions than holding a referendum?

How about a semi-proportional solution: keep the present ridings, and add 42 regional MPs to top-up the results from each region? These 42 extra MPs will not only make accidental majority governments far less likely, they would also make every vote count to some extent, and give all parties MPs from each region.

This 42 is the number of additional MPs the late Mauril Bélanger liked. He was MP for Ottawa-Vanier for 21 years, one of the Liberal MP supporters of proportional representation, and the man whose bill changed "in all thy sons command" to "in all of us command." :

It’s a moderate number: 60 additional MPs were recommended by "A Future Together," the report of the Pepin-Robarts Commission (Task Force on Canadian Unity) in 1979. Pierre Trudeau called this “an excellent idea.

A “national conversation?”

That isn’t just a partisan fix. How can we have a "national conversation" in Parliament when more than half our voices are shut out? When some voices get a megaphone - such as Conservatives occupying every seat in Saskatchewan and Liberals occupying every seat in Toronto - while others are silenced? In 2019, this model would have let voters for every major party elect MPs from each province except PEI, and Greens elect MPs from five provinces.

Does the Bélanger solution work?

Is 42 extra MPs really enough? Would it have prevented a Harper false majority in 2011? Checking the 2011 results, those 42 MPs would have been 17 Liberals, 12 New Democrats, 3 Greens, 5 Bloc, and 5 Conservatives (from Atlantic Canada and Quebec). Harper would have had 171 MPs out of 350, four short of half.

I’m assuming the 42 MPs are divided among the provinces in proportion to their present numbers of MPs. My 2011 simulation generates two Liberal regional MPs from the BC Lower Mainland, one from the rest of BC, one from Northern Alberta, one from Southern Alberta, one from Manitoba, two from Southwest Ontario, two from South Central Ontario, one from Peel-Halton, two from Toronto, two from Northern and Central Ontario, one from Central and Western Quebec, and one from Eastern Quebec.

Can an expansion of the House be justified? In fact, it is inevitable. After the next census, the smaller provinces will have their present seats protected, while the growing large provinces will be entitled to more MPs. This resulted in 30 more MPs in 2015. The next census will have a similar result, maybe even more.

The same ballot, with best runners-up? or open-list?

With 20 regions, they each have an average of 17 local MPs and 2 regional MPs. One alternative, keeping our present ballot, is to elect the one or two local candidates of the under-represented party who got the highest vote percent without winning. That’s the “best runners-up” model used by the German province of Baden-Wurttemberg and by Sweden. Or, like a normal Mixed Member Proportional system, we could elect the regional MPs from open regional lists. With the two-vote ballot you vote for your local MP, and you also vote for your favourite regional candidate of the party you want to see in government. This option makes regional MPs almost as accountable as under the 30 regions possible with normal MMP.

An immediate solution

There must be many Liberal MPs who will like this. Not because of how it would have worked in 2019 (six more Liberal MPs from the West: Ralph Goodale, Randy Boissonnault, Amarjeet Sohi, Nirmala Naidoo (Calgary) or Kent Hehr, Stephen Fuhr, and Nikki Macdonald or Mary Ann Murphy), but because it would provide a good chance that no accidental majority government will result from the next election.

(Note: revised March 6, 2020)