Monday, November 30, 2009

What would Quebec’s National Assembly look like with a proportional voting system?

Below is a simulation based on the votes cast in 2008 and the new electoral map just announced. With 133 MNAs, Quebec would have 58 Liberals, 48 PQ, 23 ADQ, and four Quebec Solidaire.

Quebec has been debating proportional representation since before 1980. The latest step in the debate is the new electoral map announced Nov. 25, 2009.

Why a new map?

Population growth has been concentrated in the Montreal suburbs. Several no-growth regions of Quebec stood to lose seats if the number of MNAs was kept at 125. Without an increase, the ridings of Gaspé, Kamouraska-Témiscouata and Beauce-Nord would have been scrapped.

(This is a familiar issue in Ontario. In 2003, the no-growth North stood to lose up to three of its 11 MPPs. McGuinty’s Liberals promised to let the North keep them, and they kept that promise. But as the Conservative opposition critic Norm Sterling told the House: “Our Constitution has been interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada to say that you can't give more electoral power to one segment of our population than others. . . if you're going to have 11 ridings in the north, you're probably going to have to have, not 96, but 105, or maybe even 110, in the south.” Ontario needed more MPPs, but left that issue to the Citizens' Assembly which recommended a return to 129 MPPs, inserting that issue into the debate on proportional representation. Quebec may be wiser in tackling the issues separately.)

Quebec’s Bill 78 will protect the four ridings of Bas-St-Laurent, the three of Gaspésie, and the eight in Chaudière-Appalaches, as well as all the other regions, totalling 123 seats. As well, three exceptional ridings are spelled out: Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Ungava and Nunavik. After dividing the population of the 123 normal ridings by 123, any region with a shortfall is given more seats. By my calculation this means seven extra ridings, for a total of 133.

A unanimous consensus

On Nov. 11 and 12, 2009, Quebec's National Assembly unanimously voted for Amir Khadir's motion that reform of the Elections Act ensure "fair representation of political pluralism." As the government spokesman said "Everyone can agree on the principle, the problem is the how. . . We want a proportional voting system, we must specify which method of proportional representation we put forward. We have resumed the debate, the issue is not dead, the issue is evolving, the question is before us, the issue moves forward."

The DGE Report

Quebec’s Chief Electoral Officer (DGE) reported on mixed compensatory models for Quebec in December 2007: “Systèmes Mixtes Avec Compensation (SMAC),” what the rest of Canada calls the Mixed Member Proportional system.

See MMP Made Easy.

Based on his report, my simulation uses the nine regions he uses, with the open list system called “flexible lists,” a 3% threshold, and region-by-region calculation.

In referendums in PEI and Ontario, voters turned down a Mixed-Member system with closed province-wide lists. BC voters recently turned down an STV model. That leaves a Mixed-Member system with regional open lists.

Open regional lists

You have two votes. You vote for your local MNA -- whoever you like best locally, and this vote won't count against your party, for a change -- and you also have a vote for your favourite out of your party's candidates for regional MNA. Your regional vote counts for your party.

A regional MNA, who faced the voters in the region, will represent voters in the region whose votes didn‘t elect a local MNA. Unrepresented and under-represented voters will finally have a voice. And all voters will then have a choice after the election: you can go to your local MNA for service, or to one of your regional MNAs. Instead of having to vote for your party's single candidate, and then having to go to your single MNA, you have competing MNAs! What a concept!

Simulation of 2008 results

In the following simulation, Quebec has nine regions, based on its established 17 regions but grouping some smaller ones. Overall, 61% of the MNAs are still from local ridings, 81 of them, while 52 MNAs are from the nine regions. Montreal Island has 28 MNAs as it does today: 17 local (from larger ridings) and 11 regional. The three regions of Outaouais–Abitibi-Témiscamingue–Nord-du-Québec (West-and-north Quebec) have 11 ridings under the new map, up from the current nine since Nunavik gets a special seat and the Outaouais gets an extra MNA due to growth. With PR this becomes seven local MNAs, four regional.

Take the votes as cast in 2008. (This isn’t real, since many voters in safe ridings don’t bother to vote today, while others have no hope of their vote counting and also stay home. So with a Mixed-Member system more voters would vote, and we’d expect more choices to vote for. But take 2008 as an example.)


In Montreal’s northern suburbs of Laurentides--Lanaudière, Liberal voters elected only one MNA last fall, despite casting 30% of the region’s ballots. They would have elected three more. Which three? The ones who got the most votes on the regional ballot (after skipping over anyone who won a local seat.) I’d bet on the three who were the best runners-up: Monique Laurin, director of the Collège Lionel - Groulx, who missed election by only 403 votes. Then Isabelle Lord, Political Assistant responsible for the Laurentians Region to the one Liberal MNA previously elected. Then Johanne Berthiaume, former municipal councillor for the City of Boisbriand.

Under-represented Liberal voters would have elected two more MNAs from the suburban Montérégie south of Montreal. Maybe two rising young Liberal stars: Chambly lawyer Stéphanie Doyon, and Longueuil lawyer Isabelle Mercille who is also Director of Public Affairs for the well-known comedy festival “Just for Laughs.” (Polls show 90% of Canadians want to elect more women, and if a good woman candidate is on the ballot, we’ll elect them.)

In Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean–Côte-Nord Liberal voters again elected only one MNA last fall, despite winning 37% of the vote. They would have elected at least one more: the best runner-up was Joan Simard, a former Chicoutimi Councillor.

The government would have fewer MNAs, but a more representative caucus.

Parti Québecois

Two more MNAs from Montreal, where PQ voters were underrepresented. Maybe Frédéric Isaya, a teacher whose father was born in Côte d'Ivoire and whose adoptive father is of Congolese origin, and Martine Banolok, a marketing professional of Nigerian origin.

Two more from Outaouais–Abitibi-Témiscamingue–Nord-du-Québec. Maybe Dr. Gilles Aubé of Gatineau, plus former Val-d'Or MNA Alexis Wawanoloath (first aboriginal elected to the National Assembly), former Rouyn MNA and teacher Johanne Morasse, or Gatineau teacher Thérèse Viel-Déry.

One from the City of Laval. Maybe legal aid lawyer Donato Centomo, real estate agent Rachel Demers or retired police office Marc Demers.

One more from Capitale-Nationale--Mauricie. Maybe Congolese-born Neko Likongo who just finished his LL.M., or lawyer and United Way Campaign Chair Françoise Mercure.

One more from Chaudière-Appalaches–Bas-Saint-Laurent–Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine (Est-du-Québec). Maybe Annie Chouinard from Gaspé, who teaches social work techniques and is president of the teachers union at the Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles. She was Québec Solidaire’s candidate in 2007 but came back to the PQ in 2008.

Action démocratique du Québec

The 2008 election was a disaster for Mario Dumont’s Action démocratique du Québec, which dropped from 41 MNAs to only seven, losing official party status. However, its voters cast more than 16% of the votes, and deserved to elect 23 MNAs. That would have included:

Three from Laurentides--Lanaudière, where the ADQ was wiped out. Maybe François Desrochers MNA for Mirabel 2007-8, a Vice-Principal and Shadow Minister of Education. Maybe Pierre Gingras, MNA for Blainville 2007-8, former mayor of Blainville and ADQ Caucus Chair. Maybe Linda Lapointe, MNA for Groulx 2007-8.

Three more from Montérégie, where the ADQ was reduced to only one MNA. Maybe Richard Merlini, MNA for Chambly in 2007-8 and vice-president of the ADQ in 2006. Maybe Simon-Pierre Diamond, MNA for Marguerite-D'Youville from 2007-8, the youngest MNA ever elected, a law student who was ADQ Youth President. Maybe Lyne Denechaud; she was political assistant to ADQ MNA André Riedl until he crossed the floor to the Liberals.

Two from the Island of Montreal: maybe Diane Charbonneau, lawyer, vice-president of the ADQ, and three-term president of the Association of Businesspeople of Ahuntsic-Cartierville; and maybe 45-year-old lawyer Pierre Trudelle.

Two from Estrie-Centre-du-Québec. Maybe Jean-François Roux, MNA for Arthabaska 2007-8, and Sébastien Schneeberger, MNA for Drummond 2007-8.

Two more from Capitale-Nationale--Mauricie. Maybe Sébastien Proulx, MNA for Trois-Rivières 2007-8, lawyer and House Leader of the ADQ, and Catherine Morissette, lawyer, MNA for Charlesbourg 2007-8 and Vice-President of the ADQ.

One from the City of Laval: likely Tom Pentefountas, who was then President of the ADQ.

One from Outaouais–Abitibi-Témiscamingue–Nord-du-Québec. Maybe Gilles Taillon, MNA 2007-8 and party President 2006-7.

One from Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean–Côte-Nord. Maybe Robert Émond, a union militant in the CSN for 20 years, or Baie-Comeau chiropractor Dr. Louis-Olivier Minville.

One more from Chaudière-Appalaches–Bas-Saint-Laurent–Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine (Est-du-Québec). Maybe Christian Lévesque, MNA for Lévis 2007-8, or Claude Morin, MNA for Beauce-Sud 2007-8.

The ADQ would have a broader base and wider perspective.

Québec Solidaire

To add to Dr. Amir Khadir’s solitary win in Mercier, PR would let Québec Solidaire voters elect at least three more MNAs.

One more in Montreal, no doubt co-leader Françoise David.

One from Montérégie. Maybe young Longueuil trade unionist Sebastian Robert who is responsible for QS internal communications at the national level, or Longueuil community development worker Manon Blanchard.

One from Capitale-Nationale--Mauricie. Maybe Serge Roy, president of the Quebec Public Service Union (SFPQ) from 1996 to 2001, or Martine Sanfaçon, community activist.

Power to voters

What’s the point? First, voters everywhere would have real choices, for both candidates and parties.

Second, all voters would have an MLA they trusted. Competing MLAs would be more accountable.

Third, you’d be sure that the system gave fair results. Supporters of all political parties would be fairly represented in proportion to the votes they cast.

Rural and urban voters would be fully represented. All regions would be sure of effective representation.

MNAs would have real control, not be rubber-stamps for a powerful Premier. MNAs and their parties would have to work together, like a real democracy. Bring it on!

Does anyone else use this particular model? Lots of countries use a Mixed-Member system. This particular open-regional-list model is used in the German province of Bavaria, and has been recommended as an improvement to Scotland's similar system.

Quebec-wide proportionality

The Citizens’ Committee in 2006 insisted on Quebec-wide proportionality. (Original French text here.) However, their model was not complete. The DGE’s Report seemed to favour the German model of national calculation and regional allocation, within parties, by the weight of the regional votes within that party’s total, even though this can cause a region to gain or lose “a seat or two” said the DGE’s report.

So I calculated my simulation both ways. With province-wide calculation, some regions lose more than two seats.

My 2008 province-wide projection shows the East losing all three seats that the government just decided to give back to them. Montreal also loses three seats due to lower turnout. Ouest-et-Nord-du-Québec loses the two seats the new map would have given them, and one more. The winners are:

- Capitale-Nationale--Mauricie with three more than even the government wants to give them (they now have 16, the new map gives them 17, and regional allocation gives them 20)
- Montérégie with two more than even the government wants to give them (they now have 21, the new map gives them 23, and regional allocation gives them 25)
- Laurentides--Lanaudière also with two more than even the government wants to give them (they now have 14, the new map gives them 16, and regional allocation gives them 18)
- Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean–Côte-Nord with one more than they have now (the new map left them unchanged)
- Estrie-Centre-du-Québec with one more than they have now (the new map left them unchanged)

In return for all this, would Quebec get more proportionality?

Well, Québec Solidaire would get a fifth MNA, in Laurentides--Lanaudière. Maybe Lise Boivin, a teacher at Cégep de St-Jérôme, and former full-time coordinator of the Women’s Committee of the Quebec Teachers Federation.

The model of regional calculation works better than many had feared. The model of Quebec-wide calculation works much worse than I had expected.

Can the DGE’s 9-region model be improved upon? Certainly. The smallest of their nine regions is Laval, which is hardly a remote region. It does not need to be a separate region. Combine it with Laurentides--Lanaudière, and you will have eight regions which work even better. For example, QS got only four seats with the 9-region model, when it deserves five; but with the 8-region model it gets a seat in Laval--Laurentides--Lanaudière.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why doesn't New Zealand have open regional lists?

Since the consensus among Ontario electoral reformers now is that closed province-wide lists will not fly here -- as some founding FVC members had warned from the start -- we should examine why New Zealand has closed nation-wide lists for its MMP system. (Open lists require regional lists, since voters need a manageable number to choose from, and most candidates don't have nation-wide reputations.)

This very issue was examined in New Zealand's last review of their MMP model, by Parliament in 2001:

“Survey information shows significant majority support for the principle of open lists, the idea that closed party lists deprive voters of choice has wide currency. Those favouring open lists suggested that MMP would not be fully accepted until voters had the opportunity to exercise some influence over which candidates were to be elected from party lists.

The United party suggested the use of open lists would provide voters with a means to signal to parties how they rated the performance of particular members. The party submitted “there is an understandable adverse reaction [when a member is defeated in an electorate] if an MP defeated in this way returns to Parliament subsequently because of a high place on the list.” The party also submitted list MPs were “effectively beyond public sanction” and, as long as they retained the confidence of their parties, were likely to be re-elected because of their place on the list."

But all parties except the small United Party liked it that way.

The original Royal Commission had considered the issue of open or closed lists at some length. Did subsequent public opinion matter? Apparently not.

"It (the Royal Commission) noted that while the idea of voters having some influence over lists was attractive in principle, there were considerable difficulties in practice with combining open national lists with constituency contests, particularly with dual candidacies. Although supportive in principle of the idea of open regional lists, in the end the Royal Commission recommended that a system of closed national lists be adopted.

The parties that supported the status quo agreed it was good for democracy when political parties had the ability and a strong electoral incentive to present a balanced list.

These parties also saw the ability to control the party lists as an important means to encourage party discipline.

• a national list enables parties to ensure balanced representation among its candidates

• regional lists may lead MPs and electors to concentrate unduly on local or regional issues to the detriment of national issues

• since New Zealand does not have clearly defined regions and is not a federal state, it may be unnecessary and unwise to artificially create such divisions

• with regional lists and each party’s entitlement determined nationally, there is no obvious correlation between list position and the likelihood of election

• in order to make it clear that the party vote is a choice between parties and their leaders, all voters should have the same key names in front of them.

• parties should be able to retain those they regard as talented even if the public did not appreciate these talents to the same degree.

• open lists would undermine the effectiveness and legitimacy of political parties by providing for an outside influence that might rank candidates on a superficial basis."

Good arguments, but hardly democratic ones.

In Scotland surveys also showed significant majority support for the principle of open lists, so their Arbuthnott Commission reviewed the model and recommended a change to the open-list variation of MMP. There is one available for inspection in the German province of Bavaria, with seven regions, that might suit Scotland, and Canada's larger provinces, nicely.

The open list method was also recommended by the Jenkins Commission in the UK. Their colourful explanation accurately predicted why closed lists would be rejected in Canada: additional members locally anchored are “more easily assimilable into the political culture and indeed the Parliamentary system than would be a flock of unattached birds clouding the sky and wheeling under central party directions.”

Does New Zealand have, say, four natural regions? Perhaps not, but Canada's four large provinces certainly have natural regions. As for ensuring balanced representation among parties' candidates, all polls show that most Canadians want more women in parliament, and if parties give us women we can vote for, we'll elect them. Open regional lists will do that. MMP with open regional lists is the Ontario model the Citizens’ Assembly almost chose.