Tuesday, October 12, 2021

2021 Canadian election results under moderate MMP.

Our voting system keeps tempting governments to roll the dice and try for an accidental majority government with only 39% voter support. Why should Canada put up with this system?

A system that rewards toxic partisanship? Where at least 30% of voters are voting to stop another party winning? Which fails to encourage minority governments to see working with other parties, or Confidence and Support Agreements, or Coalitions as normal?

That leaves more than 350,000 Liberal voters in Alberta and Saskatchewan represented by only two MPs when they deserve seven? That leaves more than 500,000 Conservative voters in the City of Toronto and the Peel and Halton regions represented by no one but Liberal MPs when they deserved to elect 11 MPs? That lets 1.3 million Bloc Quebecois voters elect 32 MPs while more than three million NDP voters elect only 25 MPs?

But wouldn’t proportional representation encourage extremists? Would it give Maxime Bernier’s People Party 17 seats in the House of Commons? Would it put MPs in the House who are not accountable to real communities?

No, no, and no. Not if Canada uses the Mixed Member Proportional system recommended by the Law Commission of Canada in 2004. And I’m using a threshold of 5% (like Germany and New Zealand), applied at the provincial level (as Germany did at first, and as Canada must if we don’t want Quebec’s election affected by votes cast in Alberta).

And I’m using a moderate level of proportionality, where the regional MPs elected to top-up seats are elected in 42 small regions across Canada, with an average size of only 8 MPs. This would elect only eight Peoples Party MPs, not 17. (Its enemies would say, at least it keeps eight of them off the streets.)

Why should Canada keep using an outdated voting system where 14 of those 42 regions would be one-party kingdoms, swept by a single party?

With MMP, 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.

In my 2021 simulation, voters for every major party would have elected someone in almost all of these 42 regions, except five (no NDP in two regions of Quebec or in PEI, no Northern Alberta Liberal, and no Bloc in West Montreal).

The West’s unrepresented voters would have helped elect diverse MPs from regions outside their strongholds, including 12 more New Democrats, nine more Liberals, and four PPC (who got over 5% in the three Prairie provinces).

Ontario’s unrepresented voters would have helped elect diverse MPs from regions outside their strongholds, including 18 more New Democrats, 16 urban Conservatives, four Liberals outside the GTA, and three MPs from the Peoples Party (they got 5.5% of the Ontario vote).

Quebec’s unrepresented voters would have helped elect diverse MPs from regions outside their strongholds, including eight more New Democrats, eight more Conservatives, four more Bloc and three more Liberals.

Atlantic Canada’s unrepresented voters would have helped elect diverse MPs from regions outside their strongholds, including five New Democrats, two more Conservatives, two Greens, and one PPC.

(Detailed breakdown below) 

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

We’re not talking about a model like Israel’s with no local MPs, and candidates appointed by national 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. More than half of MPs will be elected by local ridings as we do today, preserving the traditional link between voter and MP. The others are elected as regional MPs for top-up seats, 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. 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. No closed lists. Result: after the election, everyone has a local MP, plus a few regional MPs.

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, until the PMO told them to bite their tongues. Some are still speaking up, like Wayne Long from New Brunswick and Nate Erskine-Smith in Toronto, and the Liberal MPs on the House of Commons standing Committee who voted June 22 to study establishing a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform to make recommendations about how Canadians elect Members of Parliament and how the make up of Parliament reflects the votes cast by Canadians. 

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 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.”

Competing MPs:

You have a local MP who will champion your community, and four or five competing regional MPs, normally including someone you helped elect 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 House of Commons. 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.

See how it has worked in Scotland.

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." However, on the votes cast in 2021, my simulation results in 120 Liberal MPs, 115 Conservatives, 65 New Democrats, 26 Bloc, eight PPC, and four Greens, due to the 5% threshold and small regions (with perfect province-wide proportionality it would have been 116 Conservatives, 115 Liberals, 62 NDP, 27 BQ, 13 PPC, and 5 Greens.)

Regional Breakdown

The West

In BC, the nine MPs from the Interior would have included two Liberals like Kelowna’s Tim Krupa and Merrit’s Sarah Eves, and another New Democrat like Wayne Stetski or Bill Sundhu.

The nine MPs from Surrey--Fraser Valley woold have included two New Democrats like Surrey’s Sonia Andhi and Fraser Valley’s Danielle (D J) Pohl.

The nine MPs from Vancouver-Richmond-Delta would have included two Conservatives like Alice Wong and Kenny Chiu, and another New Democrat like Vancouver’s Anjali Appadurai, and

The eight MPs from Burnaby-Maple Ridge-North Shore would have included a second Conservative MP like Nelly Shin.

The seven MPs from Vancouver Island would have included a Liberal like Nikki Macdonald and two Conservatives like Port McNeill’s Shelley Downey and Mary Lee from Comox.

In Alberta, the 10 MPs from Calgary would include a second Liberal like Sabrina Grover and two New Democrats like Kathleen Johnson and Gurmit Bhachu or Raj Jessel.

The eleven MPs from the Edmonton area would include a second Liberal like Ben Henderson, a third New Democrat like Charmaine St. Germain, and a People’s Party candidate like Murray MacKinnon or Tyler Beauchamp.

The seven MPs from Southern Alberta, rather than all Conservatives, would include an NDP candidate like Elaine Perez from Lethbridge or Red Deer’s Marie Grabowski, a Liberal like Devon Hargreaves from Lethbridge, and a PPC candidate like Red Deer’s Megan Lim.

The six MPs from Northern Alberta, rather than all Conservatives, would include an NDP candidate like Gail Ungstad from Slave Lake and a PPC candidate like Michael Manchen in Yellowhead.

Saskatchewan’s MPs would not be all Conservatives. The six MPs from Regina and Southern Saskatchewan would include a Liberal MP like Sean McEachern and an NDP MP like Tria Donaldson. The eight MPs from Saskatoon and Northern Saskatchewan would include two NDP MPs like Robert Doucette and Clare Card, and a Liberal MP like Buckley Belanger or Rokhan Sarwar.

In Manitoba, the six MPs outside Winnipeg would now include a Liberal MP like Shirley Robinson of Cross Lake First Nation, and a Peoples’ Party of Canada MP like Solomon Wiebe in the Pembina Valley, while the eight Winnipeg MPs would now include a Conservative like Melanie Maher.

Ontario

In Ottawa-Cornwall’s 10 ridings, NDP voters would have elected two MPs like Ottawa’s Angella MacEwen and Lyse-Pascale Inamuco, while Conservative voters would have elected a third MP like Ottawa’s Jennifer McAndrew.

In Central East Ontario’s nine ridings, Liberal voters would have re-elected two more MPs like  Maryam Monsef and Neil Ellis, while NDP voters would have elected two MPs like Kingston’s Vic Sahai and Deep River’s Jodie Primeau or Peterborough’s Joy Lachica.

In Durham-Rouge Park’s six ridings, NDP voters would have elected an MP like Oshawa’s Shailene Panylo.

In Scarborough--Don Valley’s eight ridings, rather than all Liberals, Conservative voters would have elected two MPs like Yvonne Robertson and Sabrina Zuniga, and an NDP MP like Guled Arale.

In Toronto and East York’s eight ridings, rather than all Liberals, NDP voters would have elected three MPs like Alejandra Bravo, Paul Taylor and Clare Hacksel or Norm Di Pasquale, Conservative voters would have elected an MP like Stephanie Osadchuk or Steven Taylor.

In the eight ridings of Etobicoke-York-Willowdale, rather than all Liberals, Conservative voters would have elected three MPs like Joel Yakov Etienne, Geoffrey Turner and Geoff Pollock, while NDP voters would have elected an MP like Hawa Mire or Matias de Dovitiis. 

The 10 MPs from York Region would have included a New Democrat like Benjamin Jenkins or Yvonne Kelly, and another Conservative like re-elected Leona Alleslev.

The six MPs from Central Ontario (Barrie-Owen Sound), rather than all Conservatives, would have included two Liberals like Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux of Chippewa of Georgina Island First Nation, and Barrie’s Lisa-Marie Wilson; and a New Democrat like Gravenhurst’s Heather Hay or Barrie’s Sarah Lochhead.

The seven MPs from Brampton—Mississauga North, rather than all Liberals, would have included two Conservatives like Jasveen Rattan and Jagdeep Singh, and a New Democrat like Jim McDowell or Gail Bannister-Clarke.

The eight MPs from Mississauga—Halton, rather than all Liberals, would have included three Conservatives like Kerry Colborne, Michael Ras and Hanan Rizkalla, and a New Democrat like Lenaee Dupuis or Tom Takacs.

In Hamilton-Niagara-Brant’s 11 ridings, NDP voters would have elected a second MP like former MP Malcolm Allen, and the Peoples Party would have elected an MP like Norfolk’s Ken Gilpin.

The eight MPs from Waterloo-Wellington-Dufferin would (assuming Green MP Mike Morrice was elected in his riding) have included an NDP MP like Guelph’s Aisha Jahangir, and a third Conservative MP like Waterloo Region’s Carlene Hawley.

The seven MPs from London--Oxford--Perth—Huron would have included a second NDP MP like London’s Dirka Prout.

The six MPs from the Windsor-Sarnia region would have included a second NDP MP like Tracey Ramsay from suburban Windsor and a People’s Party MP like Chatham’s Liz Vallee.

In Northern Ontario, Conservative voters would have elected two more MPs like Sault Ste. Marie’s Sonny Spina and North Bay’s Steven Trahan, while the PPC would have elected an MP like Englehart’s Stephen MacLeod.

Quebec

The eight MPs from East Montreal would have included another New Democrat like Nimâ Machouf, a Conservative like Steve Shanahan, and another Bloc MP like Simon Marchand.

The six MPs from West Montreal, rather than all Liberals, would have included a Conservative like Frank Cavallaro and a New Democrat like Emma Elbourne-Weinstock.

The eight MPs from Montreal-Nord—Laval, rather than all Liberals, would have included a Conservative like Spyridonas Pettas, a New Democrat like Ghada Chaabi or Ali Faour, and two Bloc MPs like Manon Lacharité and Isabel Dion.

The nine MPs from Laurentides—Lanaudière, rather than all Bloc, would have included two Liberals like former MP and MNA Linda Lapointe and former MP Ramez Ayoub, a Conservative like Catherine Lefebvre of Deux-Montagnes, and a New Democrat like Benoit Bourassa of Deux-Montagnes.

The ten MPs from Longueuil-Suroit would have included a Conservative like Karen Cox or Brossard’s Marcos Alves, and a New Democrat like Niklas Brake or Marc Audet.

The six MPs from Montérégie-est—Estrie would have included a Conservative MP like Pierre Tremblay (Sherbrooke municipal councillor) and an NDP MP like Marika Lalime.

The six MPs from Outaouais--Abitibi—Nord would have included a Conservative MP like Michel Gauthier (former Editor of Le Droit).

The six MPs from Centre-du-Québec—Mauricie would have included a New Democrat like former MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau and a second Conservative like former Trois-Rivières mayor Yves Lévesque.

The 11 MPs from Quebec City--Saguenay--Côte-Nord would have included a New Democrat like Tommy Bureau or Camille Esther Garon.

The eight MPs from Chaudière-Appalaches—Gaspésie would have included a second Liberal MP like Léonie Lajoie, and a third Bloc MP like Guy Bernatchez.

Atlantic Canada

The ten New Brunswick MPs would have included an NDP MP like Serge Landry, a PPC MP like Jack Minor, and a Green MP like Nicole O'Byrne.

The four PEI MPs would have included, rather than all Liberals, a Conservative like Jody Sanderson or Doug Currie, and a Green MP like Anna Keenan.

The eleven Nova Scotia MPs would have included three New Democrats like Lisa Roberts, Kevin Payne and Jenna Chisholm.

The seven MPs from Newfoundland and Labrador would have included a second Conservative like Sharon Vokey and a New Democrat like Mary Shortall.

 

 

Monday, November 30, 2020

When Pierre Trudeau supported Proportional Representation

Many people don’t know Pierre Trudeau supported Proportional Representation in 1980. You can listen to him here:

https://www.cbc.ca/archives/when-pierre-trudeau-said-canada-needed-proportional-representation-1.5358177

Hearing Pierre Trudeau explain why he supported proportional representation, his reasons sound totally familiar 40 years later.

The Pépin-Robarts solution (now the Bélanger solution)

In the 1979 election, Liberals in Alberta cast 22% of the votes but elected zero members – in fact they had only one Liberal MP west of Winnipeg. The Liberals had no Saskatchewan MP after their young star Ralph Goodale lost his seat. And conversely, Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservative Party got 13% of the Quebec vote and only two members, and much the same for the NDP.

Pierre Trudeau said “I think we have to move in this direction because the national parties, even though they have many voters in all parts of Canada, don’t have sitting in Ottawa members of Parliament from that particular region on the government side. In the case of Mr. Clark’s government, he doesn’t have a lot of members and ministers in the house who could speak for Quebec, and in the case of our government we didn’t have a lot of members or ministers who could speak for Alberta. You are aware, of course, that the Pépin-Robarts Committee also recommended something along those lines.” 

The Pépin-Robarts Commission

“To move in the direction of proportional representation” was the solution recommended by the Pépin-Roberts Commission Jan. 25, 1979. That Commission (the “Task Force on Canadian Unity”) was multi-partisan, co-chaired by former Ontario Conservative Premier John Robarts. They proposed electing an additional 60 MPs to the House of Commons to top-up the results from each province, keeping the present ridings.

Trudeau did not endorse it right away. The 1979 election was held May 22. Pierre Trudeau’s government lost its majority, even though they actually got more votes than the PCs. Even the Liberals and NDP combined were 2 seats short of a majority. Trudeau resigned as PM June 3 and announced his resignation as Liberal leader Nov. 21. Three days later, speaking at the University of Montreal, he endorsed the Pépin-Robarts recommendation to give each province fair representation from voters for each party. When Joe Clark then lost a confidence vote, Pierre Trudeau withdrew his resignation and was re-elected Prime Minister Feb. 18, 1980. Earlier that February he told CBC he still supported the Pépin-Robarts recommendation.

Those additional 60 MPs would (in 1979) have included 23 Liberal MPs, 17 from the West: 3 from Alberta, 3 from Saskatchewan, 6 more from BC where they had only 1, 3 from the Territories,.and 2 more from Manitoba, plus 4 more from Ontario, I more from Nova Scotia, and 1 from PEI. PC voters would have elected 7 more MPs from Quebec. NDP voters would have elected MPs from Quebec, New Brunswick and Alberta, and more from other provinces.

The actual 1979 election result was PCs 136, Liberals 114, NDP 26, Creditistes 6. With the additional 60 provincial MPs, the results would have been 137 Liberals, 143 PCs, 51 New Democrats, and 11 Creditistes. With 172 seats needed for a majority, the Liberals would have had to work with the NDP as they did from 1972 to 1974, or even form a coalition government. A perfectly proportional result with 342 MPs would have been 140 Liberals, 125 PCs, 62 New Democrats, and 15 Creditistes, but the governmental outcome would have been the same either way. 

Pierre’s same reasons apply today

Today, 40 years later, the Prime Minister should make his father’s argument, since the Liberals once again have no MPs from Alberta and Saskatchewan, after their Saskatchewan veteran Ralph Goodale once again lost his seat.

With the House of Commons larger now, the Pépin-Roberts recommendation could be for 72 more MPs. But even 60 more MPs, or even a modest 42 MPs, is worth looking at.

It’s a semi-proportional solution: keep the present riding boundaries, and add some additional MPs to top-up the results from each province or region. These extra MPs will give all parties MPs from each region. They will make every vote count to some extent, and will also make accidental majority governments far less likely.

It could be permanent. Or it could be 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?

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 again, 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 Bélanger Solution

A modest 42 additional MPs 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." 

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.

More about the Belanger solution here.

 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

What would the 2020 BC election result have been under proportional representation?

The MMP system preferred by the majority of PR supporters in the 2018 referendum had a threshold of 5% for voters for a party to elect top-up MLAs. So I’ll start with the three parties which got more than that threshold.

The NDP got 49.4% of the three-party vote, almost enough for a majority, but my projection shows them with 43 of the 87 seats, one short of a majority. However, NDP voters would have been better represented in the Interior and North.

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."

Better regional representation

In the 14 seats of the Interior (including Kamloops—Thompson but not Cariboo), NDP voters would have elected six MLAs rather than four. That might have included Sadie Hunter from Kamloops and Aaron Sumexheltza from Fraser—Nicola (the Lower Nicola Indian Band), or maybe Toni Boot from Penticton or Nicole Cherlet from Revelstoke. The winners would be the regional NDP candidates who got the most votes (other than those who had won local seats), so my examples are those who had gotten the highest percent of the vote.

The Interior would have elected eight local MPs from larger ridings, and six regional MLAs for top-up seats: six Liberals, six New Democrats, and two Greens. Green voters might have elected Nicole Charlwood from Nelson and Amanda Poon from Kelowna, or Andrew Duncan from Rossland or Dan Hines from Kamloops. I have used the “largest remainder” calculation, which Germany used until recently, because it is the simplest and most transparent. If Party A gets 6.4 seats and Party B gets 5.6 seats, who gets the 12th seat? Party B.

In the ten Northern seats NDP voters would have elected four MLAs, not just two. That might have included Nicole Halbauer from Terrace and Kitsumkalum First Nation (Skeena) and Scott Elliott from Quesnel (Cariboo North), or Anne Marie Sam from Nechako Lakes and Nak’azdli Band, or Joan Atkinson, Mayor of Mackenzie District (Prince George—Mackenzie). Green voters would have elected someone like MacKenzie Kerr from Prince George. The North would still have ten MLAs (six local, four regional MLAs for top-up seats).

Liberal voters would have elected 31 MLAs, only 3 more than the 2020 result, but they would have elected 17 MLAs from the Lower Mainland instead of only 10, and they would have elected 3 MLAs from Vancouver Island instead of none at all.

Green voters would have elected 13 MLAs. Three from the 16 ridings of Vancouver-North Shore, such as Jeremy Valeriote from Whistler, Bridget Burns from East Vancouver, and Kelly Tatham from Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, or Kim Darwin from Sechelt, or Ian Goldman from Vancouver-Fairview. One from Burnaby-Tri-Cities-Maple Ridge such as Cyrus Sy from New Westminster. One from Surrey-Delta-Richmond like Peter van der Velden from Delta or Beverly (Pixie) Hobby from Surrey, a former NDP candidate. One from the eight ridings of Fraser Valley-Langley such as Abbotsford’s Aird Flavelle or Langley’s Cheryl Wiens. Two more from Vancouver Island like Victoria school trustee Nicole Duncan, Annemieke Holthuis or Jenn Neilson in Victoria, or Chris Istace from North Cowichan, two from the Interior (see above) and one from the North (see above). 

Why do the Greens get only 13 MLAs? Province-wide, they might deserve 13.59, while the Liberals deserve 30.43. But the Liberals do better in the North which is over-represented to give sparsely populated areas and indigenous minorities fair representation, while the Greens ran only four candidates in those ten ridings, giving a slight edge to the Liberals. This MMP model has 52 local MLAs, and 35 regional MLAs for top-up seats.

Who would be the government?

The projected result is 43 NDP, 31 Liberals, 13 Greens. With the NDP one short of a majority, I assume the NDP would have continued to govern with a confidence and support agreement with the Greens, as they did since 2017.  A coalition government might be even better, but many Green MLAs say they will not be bound to vote along party lines, making it difficult for them to be part of a government whose measures have to be sustained by a majority of MLAs for four years. (They did vote confidence in the NDP government from 2017 to 2020, but that's not quite the same thing.) A Liberal-Green coalition government would not likely be workable. 

What about the BC Conservatives?

The BC Conservative Party ran only 19 candidates in the 87 ridings, so they got only 1.9% of the vote, but at that rate a full slate would have gotten 8.7%. Furthermore, to repeat, when every vote counts, voters won't have to worry about splitting the vote, or casting a strategic vote. So the BC Conservatives would have cast enough votes to elect some MLAs. Even with the few votes cast for those 19, if you ignore the threshold they got enough votes to elect their leader Trevor Bolin in the North, one in the Interior like party Vice-President Darryl Seres in Osoyoos or Kyle Delfing in Vernon, and one in Fraser Valley-Langley like former Liberal Diane Janzen in Chiliwack or party past-President Ryan Warawa in Langley.

Why think about proportional representation in BC after the referendum outcome?

Polling evidence is clear: A simple pro-rep question could have won. It's clear that some potential supporters voted against PR because they did not feel informed enough, or perceived the whole process unacceptable, or found the options unclear or unconvincing, or found the questions confusing, or feared MLAs being appointed from party lists, or they were just afraid to vote for "the mystery box.” The survey shows that large majorities of British Columbians support basic PR concepts. More details here.


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 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.

Can an accidental Conservative majority be prevented 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 Nov. 30, 2020)

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

What lessons can be learned from the results of the 2018 BC referendum on proportional representation?

As I expected, a post-referendum poll shows that BC residents still like PR.

“A simple pro-rep question could have won” said the headline:

https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/a-simple-pro-rep-question-could-have-won-poll-finds

Summary

From this poll, it's clear that some potential supporters voted against PR because they did not feel informed enough, or perceived the whole process unacceptable, or found the options unclear or unconvincing, or found the questions confusing, or feared MLAs being appointed from party lists, or they were just afraid to vote for "the mystery box." (See below).

A poor process

One can argue that this referendum should never have been held, but it was in the NDP Platform. However, after Attorney-General David Eby was appointed to be the independent Minister in Charge, he conducted consultations and made recommendations concerning how the referendum process should be conducted. It ended up with a two-part question with three systems on the ballot.

The referendum timing was intended to be fast, to leave time for Elections BC to hold boundaries hearings for new ridings for the 2021 election, with a simple referendum. It did not allow enough time for public education on three systems. The consequences of this are discussed below.

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 one fully fleshed-out alternative, designed and explained via deep public consultation, PR would have won. Reformers should not be afraid to say so.

Research Co. poll:

An online study conducted from December 18 to December 20, 2018, among 803 adults in British Columbia.

https://researchco.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Tables_ElectoralReferendum_21Dec2018.pdf

(There was also an Angus Reid poll, but it asked less useful questions, and gave no results from non-voters. And its sample did not match the referendum outcome.)

The Research Co. poll mirrored the results of the referendum, with 49% of respondents reporting they voted for the first-past-the-post system, 31% voting to move to a proportional representation system, and 20% not casting a ballot. Once the non-voters are removed, the result of the “exit poll” is 61% choosing to retain the existing system and 39% opting to change it.

The survey shows that large majorities of British Columbians support basic PR concepts such as attempting to eliminate “strategic voting” (75%), that a party should only win majority power if its candidates won a majority of the votes (70%), a party not governing with a majority of seats but with fewer than 40% of all votes cast (63%), and MLAs being elected from different parties in close proportion to how voters voted in each region voted (57%). (Also, the notion of smaller parties holding the balance of power influenced the way 55% of voters voted, but the poll does not say what percent found that good and what percent bad.)

Majorities of British Columbians also endorse other concepts, such as that the voting system should not disadvantage independent candidates (70%), almost all votes helping elect an MLA (64%), voters being able to choose among different candidates from their preferred party (58%), and voters being able to make their vote count for a more popular candidate rather than having it ignored (52%).

Why did PR lose?

The No. 1 issue for those who chose not to vote is “not feeling informed enough” (48%). While some non-voters also claimed they never received a ballot (18%) or simply forgot to mail it (17%), nothing came close to the uneasy feeling of being in the dark.

When asked about issues that influenced the way they voted, majorities of British Columbians mention

1. the details of the three options on the second question not being fully fleshed out (59%),
2. the three options listed on the second question being confusing and not clearly explained (55%), and
3. MLAs being appointed from party lists (53%).

Many refused to vote yes on the first question when the result of the second question was a "mystery box," which might be an unknown system.

The no side was highly effective at convincing people that many details would be decided later. In fact, other than closed lists, not many details that made much of a practical difference were left to be decided later, but since voters were confused and ill-informed, explaining this was too hard. The conservative news media were no help.

This is no surprise. The No campaign’s best messages were bound to be “we don’t understand this enough” and “we don’t know enough.” Research has shown that low info voters will take the status quo when they don't understand the alternative. The opposition preyed on those fears.

Unfortunately, the Yes campaign played into its weakness, merely playing defence, reassuring voters of the benefits. This didn’t work. Voters couldn’t focus on what’s wrong with winner-take-all voting, when they were confused about PR.

Confusion on PR caused other problems: 50% of respondents were concerned over coalition deals being worked out “in the back room,” 49% over fringe or extremist parties winning seats, urban centres having disproportionate influence over future governments, and the details of the chosen proportional representation option being left to an all-party committee. Slightly smaller proportions of voters were influenced by the notion that voters from rural areas might lose local representation (45%) or the government possibly rigging the process for partisan gain (41%).

The PEI plebiscite had shown that a multi-option referendum could work well. Some reformers told Attorney-General Eby that a multi-option referendum would be better in BC. However, when New Zealand held their first multi-option referendum in 1992, every household in the country received a booklet in the mail, with detailed explanations of all four models, much more detail than Elections BC could give. New Zealand’s public education program ran for many months. It included TV debates with proponents of each of the four models. Of the 55% of registered electors who took part, an overwhelming 85% voted to change their electoral system. In the second part of the same vote, 70% favoured MMP.

So a good multi-option referendum is indeed possible. There was no time for that in BC, unless the referendum would have been the next spring, two years into the government’s mandate, when it might well have been suffering from a mid-term slump that would have led to PR’s defeat. Besides, Elections BC needed more time for new boundaries. No one wanted to wait that long. But a fast process was incompatible, as we have just seen, with a multi-option referendum.

Reformers expected voters to accept that the first question was the most important (although Elections BC materials did not say that). But many felt overwhelmed deciding on systems when they were not familiar with the systems on the ballot.

Can reformers learn how to scale up their greatest strength – relationships -- to withstand the forces of No? Not in a fast process.

As a Globe and Mail editorial said “Even the details of the proposed mixed-member proportional system, the system that was supposed to win the referendum, were to be left to the discretion of the government. It was like asking someone if they wanted the usual for lunch, or a sandwich. What kind of sandwich? Can’t say. Vote “sandwich” and leave it to the politicians to figure what goes between the bread."

Political leadership

Many have complained of the lack of political leadership from the NDP. However, in March 2017 when reformers interviewed Horgan, he said “Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) is the preferred electoral system if we’re going to change from what we have now. It’s party policy and if people don’t like it, there’s always the party convention." (Meaning: don’t try to change party policy undemocratically, it was set by Convention.)  "I’m confident that the group I’m leading now is behind me on this.” Regardless whether the platform mentioned MMP, every MLA knew it was party policy.

Right after the 2017 election, the BC NDP and Greens signed a Confidence and Supply Agreement committing both the New Democrat Government and the Green Caucus to proportional representation. "Legislation will be introduced in the 1st session that: (1) A referendum on proportional representation will take place in the fall of 2018, concurrent with the next municipal election; and (2) The form of proportional representation approved in the referendum will be enacted for the next provincial election. The parties agree to both campaign actively in support of the agreed-upon form of proportional representation." A fast
 referendum on a single form of PR. Not enough time for public education on three systems. 

Eby’s non-partisan experts took FVC’s input and came up with a new referendum model. However, no NDP MLA was elected on a platform of holding a referendum on a "mystery box" that might have chosen an unknown system. 

Although Fair Vote Canada has not supported any closed-list model since 2013, FVC somehow failed to convince Eby to keep it off the table. About two months before the campaign started, the BC NDP's own pro-PR website said the MMP model would be open-list, with a sample open-list ballot; but this contradicted the Elections BC materials. So by the time Horgan belatedly took closed-list MMP off the table, at least 53% of referendum voters either didn’t hear him or didn’t believe him.

Reformers could have had strong NDP leadership. Instead, the process reduced Horgan to asking voters, feebly, to “take a leap of faith.” Many NDP voters liked the result of the 2017 election, and had lost some appetite for PR.

By contrast, the MDN in Quebec worked to build up five-party support for a specific model of regional MMP which MDN had endorsed first.

Back to the Research Co. poll: “While BC Liberal voters from 2017 were decidedly more likely to support first past the post (82%), only 53% (really?) of those who say they voted for the NDP and the Greens favoured proportional representation.” (The Angus Reid poll found the NDP voters who voted in the referendum split 70/30, but 70% of 42% of 716,421 is 210,628, or 39% of the yes votes, so it’s not that simple.)

“Almost four-in-five British Columbians (78%) agree that politicians are in a conflict of interest when it comes to making decisions about how we vote, and would like any future proposals to involve an independent, non-partisan citizens’ body. This includes 77% of those who voted for Proportional Representation and 82% of those who voted to keep the First Past the Post system.” A logical conclusion when BC voters look at how the politicians screwed this process up.

The Liberals made it a partisan question

The party opposed campaigned for NO like their life depended on it, the most Trumpian campaign Canada has ever seen. Many say that partisan interests lie at the core of the problem, including the partisan interests of political parties elected to form government thanks to FPTP, the partisan interests of incumbents who fear losing their seats were the electoral system to be changed or the partisan preferences of voters themselves. One of their messages was that the referendum was RIGGED (“stacked deck” “rigged game”) in favour of the NDP and Greens, and the idea was that the NDP/Greens would be in power forever with PR - they made sure their Liberal voters heard this, despite there being no factual basis. When the debate was held between Horgan and Wilkinson, that made the referendum even more of a partisan fight than it already was.

Referendums rarely achieve the social license for changes. As the recent Brexit and BC referendums have shown, referendums are divisive and not a way to develop social consensus, especially with “opponent” and “proponent” groups expected to duke it out as a dystopian form of “public education.”

Turnout

Does low turnout correlate with low support for PR? Yes, and the Yes campaign failed on ethnic/minority out-reach. But that’s only part of the story. In last year's provincial election in BC, 1,973,914 voters cast ballots. In this referendum, 1,403,358 completed voting packages were returned to Elections BC. That's 570,556 previous voters who did not vote. Still, if they had all voted, it would have taken 441,137 of them (78% of those non-voters) to vote for PR to change the result. Plus everyone who turned 18 in the past 16 months, which should have given the PR side a boost. But the mail-in ballot made the turnout worse because young people don't use mail. Being more likely not to have up to date voter registration, many didn't receive their ballot.

The silver living: MMP won

The referendum was not a complete loss. Some PR supporters in BC were still trying to fight the 2009 referendum over again, hoping to resurrect BC-STV. MMP won the first round on Question 2, and then won 63.05% on the final count. Since it also won the 2016 PEI plebiscite, and is the only model being considered in Quebec, this simplifies the debate on both sides of the Rockies.

As previously noted, the BC-STV model designed by the Electoral Boundaries Commission was not very proportional. With each district having, on average, only 4.25 MLAs, Green Party voters, who deserved to elect seven MLAs on the votes cast in 2009, would have been lucky to elect even three MLAs. Yet many BC voters complained that the proposed 20 districts, with an average population of about 222,000, were already unmanageably-large. This is not a trivial point. In a country with as much geography as Canada, fitting our geography into the voting system is the major design issue.

Anecdotal evidence

Every one has their favourite anecdotal comments. Here are mine, which match the polling results. Two of them are from friends I trust, retired Ontario teachers who moved to BC.

“I voted to keep FPTP not because I reject PR, but I was against all the devilish details of implementation being left to be decided later – no doubt in a way that favours the ruling party. We had no option except FPTP. The PR choices were vague and scant with details and explanations. It appeared that if FPTP was defeated, politicians would decide how to implement PR.  Unacceptable to 61 percent of us. The yes PR side campaign was a cluster f of “the right thing and the high road” but no details. That’s why 61 percent of us said NO!!”

“This campaign DID NOT properly explain what PR meant and until people get an understanding of what it is, they will be afraid to vote for it. There must be a way to make it simple and understandable. So disappointed. Let's keep advocating for it in the sense of educating people about it.”

People don't trust politicians to decide anything about electoral reform for totally understandable reasons. Unfortunately, politicians don't want to give up control to processes like citizens assemblies that people do trust more to decide details. “If I’d lived in BC, I wouldn’t have been happy with a blank cheque checkbox.”

“The politically informed and engaged typically understand the big picture (and often the finer details) of PR -- not so for the average voter or citizen. Anyone who doesn't understand (or take the time to understand) an alternative will favour the status quo or not vote.”

Last word to former BC Citizens Assembly member Shoni Field: "Did women give up fighting to get the vote after their first few failures? No, this is a long haul fight. We'd hoped that BC would be the first in Canada, and maybe now they'll be the last. But change is inevitable and one day we'll be using a proportional system and we'll keep working to make that happen.”

(Updated August 9, 2020.)


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 MPs, five regional MPs 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.

In my 2019 simulation, voters for every major party elect someone in each of the 30 regions, except no New Democrat in PEI. On the votes cast in 2019, Greens elect an MP in 19 of the 30. (Of course, the Green vote would actually increase.)

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.

Or here’s a different version with 223 local MPs and 118 regional MPs in 34 regions.  

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.

For the three Territories, I would actually prefer to give them each a second MP, but for simplicity, in this simulation I left them unchanged.