When Fair Vote Canada members first met Kingston’s cabinet minister John Gerretsen back in 2004, we didn’t have to explain the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system to him. He explained “the German system,” as he called it, to us. We later found he had been pushing for it since he was first elected in 1995 (and even since 1986 when he was President of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario). When the Liberals finally won in 2003, they had spent 60 years in the political wilderness minus only the five years from 1985-90 -- and in 47 of those years they were facing a government with a fake majority supported by a minority of voters. They remembered for a few years why they needed PR.
In “the German system” you have two votes, and more choice. We still elect majority of MPPs locally. Voters unrepresented by the local results top them up by electing regional MPPs. The total MPPs match the vote share. With the regional "Open list" version, voters can vote for whomever they like out of the regional candidates nominated by the party's regional nomination process. Like this ballot which won the 2016 referendum in PEI.
See MMP Made Easy.
To compensate for the disproportional local results we know all too well, the party’s voters elect personally some regional MPPs. They are the party's regional candidates who get the highest vote on the regional ballot. So the voter casts one vote for local MPP, and one for their party and (if they wish) for their favourite of their party's regional candidates. An exciting prospect: new voices from new forces in the legislature, and the voters have new power to elect who they like.
John Gerretsen was quite specific. The top-up MPPs should be elected regionally, and the regions should not be too large. Kingston should not be lumped in with Ottawa, he said. Those who know Eastern Ontario know that the mid-eastern and Lake Ontario regions and the Ottawa region have many divergent interests, so we were not surprised when Gerretsen mentioned one or two of them.
However, the model put to voters in the October 2007 referendum, designed by the 103 members of the Ontario Citizens Assembly (CA), had province-wide closed lists, not the mid-sized regions John Gerretsen had told us he wanted, and that Ontario NDP policy had favoured since 2002. Ontario voters rejected closed province-wide lists in the 2007 referendum.
What would the 2011 election results would have been under the model John Gerretsen wanted? And the 2014 results?
Not enough time
The original schedule prepared by the Democratic Renewal Secretariat called for the process to begin one year earlier. The legislation was to be passed in the spring of 2005. Due to an end-of-session legislative logjam, the PCs were able to demand a Select Committee be inserted in the process. Although it produced an excellent report, the resulting delay was fatal.
In May 2008 the CA’s Chair, George Thomson, spoke to the Annual General Meeting of Fair Vote Canada. He said that, if those 103 Citizens had had another six or eight weeks to deliberate, he felt some elements might have been different, like regional lists and open lists. (He thought the basic model would have stayed the same: 129 MPPs, 90 local, 39 top-up.) Those additional weekends were not possible due to the tight schedule.
Those candidates on province-wide lists were to be nominated democratically by parties, but in the few months between May and the referendum, no major party -- not even the NDP -- had enough time to design a nomination system. The model’s opponents -- even, ironically, an appointed Senator -- said it sounded like parties would appoint those 39 MPPs.
The public had not enough time to understand the CA’s recommendation, even if it had been publicized properly. Adding injury to injury, the Ontario government surprised the Citizens Assembly by refusing to distribute their Report, unlike the BC process which they had otherwise been following. Clearly the majority of cabinet had lost interest in their democratic reform effort.
Nine mid-sized regions
What would their model have looked like, with those mid-sized regions?
The North would have been a separate region. It could have had a special feature: it could have kept unchanged the ten present ridings north of the French River, and added only two regional MPPs.
The City of Toronto could have gone from 22 local MPPs to 25, 17 local and 8 regional.
The other seven regions would have had 12 to 14 MPPs each, such as 9 local, 4 regional.
How would regional MPPs serve constituents? Here's how it works in Scotland.
Since local candidates can also be on the regional half of the ballot, voters might have had ten or so of their party’s regional candidates to choose from, but not the “bed-sheet ballot“ found in some countries. So voters would have a real choice among a manageable number of competing candidates from the party they support. And they could also choose to vote just for their party, leaving the candidates ranked as their party’s nomination process had done. That's the variation of "open-list" recommended by the Law Commission of Canada, known as "flexible list."
The flexible 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.”
The most recent official Quebec study on the topic also looked favourably at regional open list MMP.
More women and minorities
With a choice of your party’s candidates on the regional ballot, we would elect more women. Polls show 94% of women voters want to see more women elected, but so do 86% of male voters.
And when parties nominate a group of candidates, not just one, they nominate more women. What regional convention, nominating five candidates, would nominate only one woman, or no minorities?
90 local ridings
Local ridings would be slightly bigger than today, but not so you’d notice. Often, ten present ridings would become nine. (But the North could have kept unchanged the ten present ridings.)
Closed province-wide lists?
So why did those 103 Citizens choose province-wide closed lists?
George Thomson’s comments in May 2008 show the process the 103 Citizens went through. Their big design problem was Ontario’s geography, and the fact that our local ridings are already too large. Until Mike Harris shrank the House in 1999 we had 130 MPPs, compared with 101 MPs at that time. Many members of the CA wanted to keep the present 107 ridings and add at least 36 “top-up.” Others wanted to keep 107 MPPs but have only 80 larger local ridings and 27 top-up. Others wanted a higher ratio of top-up. Their big achievement was consensus on 90 plus 39.
They had decided on province-wide lists early in the process, before they agreed on the numbers. Back at that point, many members wanted to use all the most proportional options in order to leave them free to have less proportional numbers of MPPs. For example, on those 2007 votes, because the Citizens’ model had only 30% “top-up” MPPs, it would have resulted in more than 55 Liberal MPPs. And then, making the lists regional rather than provincial added a further four more Liberal MPPs.
Still, once they had 39 top-up MPPs, regional lists became possible, and open list became possible. Four Liberal MPPs too many, in our 2007 example, would have been a modest price to pay for a more accountable and democratic model. But by the time they made that decision for 39 top-up MPPs, it was too late to go back and redesign.
This is no one’s fault. The Democratic Renewal Secretariat had planned for the whole process to start a year earlier. The legislature’s Select Committee got inserted into the process, and did a wonderful job, but that left both the CA and the public debate short of vital time.
Why do I say voters would have at least five of their party’s regional candidates to choose from, maybe ten or so, when most regions elect only four regional MPPs?
Take a region with 13 MPPs, nine local, four regional. Suppose Party C’s voters cast 30% of the votes in the region, but elect no local MPPs, and suppose no other party’s voters earn a regional MPP. Party C’s voters elect all four regional MPPs. But if one of them dies or resigns during the legislature term, the regional candidate with the next highest votes moves into that seat. A party must run at least five, to have a spare.
This matters to women and minorities. A regional convention, nominating five candidates, would almost certainly nominate at least two women, and at least one cultural minority member.
On the other hand, suppose Party A’s voters cast 61% of the votes in the region, but elect only seven of the nine local MPPs. They also elect one regional MPP. But if the seven local winners were also on the regional ballot, the party needed at least nine regional candidates, one elected, and again one spare. To get good balance I can see them nominating ten regional candidates.
What would the legislature have looked like in 2007?
For another example, let’s see what the Ontario legislature would have looked like under this model if voters voted as they did in 2007.
This projection assumes voters voted as they did in 2007. In fact, if voters knew every vote would count, more would have voted -- typically at least 6% more. And some would have voted differently -- no more strategic voting. We would likely have had different candidates -- more women, and more diversity of all kinds. Who knows who might have won real democratic elections?
But on the votes as cast, we would have seen 61 Liberals, 39 PCs, 20 New Democrats, and 9 Greens.
Since the Liberals got only 42% of the vote, they would not have had an outright majority of the 129 seats. But as John Gerretsen said “Nobody is ever 100-per-cent right and nobody is ever 100-per-cent wrong. Governing is the art of compromise. There’s nothing wrong with having the governing party take into account smaller parties.”
Because the Citizens’ model had only 30% “top-up” MPPs, this 2007 projection is not perfectly proportional. That would have meant 55 Liberals, 41 PCs, 22 NDP and 11 Green. But it’s close enough: the potential coalitions are the same either way.
Progressive Conservative voters would have elected 13 more MPPs.
Toronto PC voters would have elected five MPPs, not none. No doubt leader John Tory and councillor David Shiner, and maybe school trustee Angela Kennedy or Bernie Tanz or Pamela Taylor or Igor Toutchinski or Lillyann Goldstein or Andy Pringle or Gary Grant?
Peel-Oakville PC voters would have elected three MPPs, not just one. Maybe Rick Byers and Pam Hundal or Tim Peterson or Nina Tangri?
Ottawa Valley PC voters would have elected five MPPs, not just three. Maybe Chris Savard from Cornwall, and Graham Fox or Trina Morissette. (However, Central East Region PC voters would have elected one fewer MPP.)
Hamilton area PC voters would have elected five MPPs from Hamilton, Niagara, Brant and Burlington, not just three. Maybe Chris Corrigan and Bart Maves or Tara Crugnale.
Southwestern PC voters would have elected three MPPs, not just two from the London-Windsor area. Maybe Monte McNaughton or Allison Graham.
Northern PC voters would have elected two MPPs, not none. Maybe Bill Vrebosch and Rebecca Johnson or Ron Swain.
NDP voters would have elected nine more MPPs.
Central East region NDP voters would have elected two MPPs, not none. Maybe Kingston’s Rick Downes and Belleville’s Jodie Jenkins or Peterborough’s Dave Nickle or Muskoka's Sara Hall.
Southwestern NDP voters would have elected two MPPs, not none. Maybe London’s Stephen Maynard and Sarnia’s Barb Millitt or Windsor’s Mariano Klimowicz?
Central West NDP voters would have elected one MPP from the area from Waterloo to Owen Sound, not none. Maybe Rick Moffitt or Catherine Fife or Paul Klopp?
Peel-Oakville NDP voters would have elected one MPP, not none. Maybe Glenn Crowe or Shaila Kibria or Mani Singh or Gail McCabe?
Ottawa Valley NDP voters would have elected one MPP, not none. Maybe Will Murray or Edelweiss D'Andrea?
York-Durham region NDP voters would have elected two MPPs, not none. Maybe Oshawa’s Sid Ryan and York Region's Nancy Morrison or Rick Morelli?
Toronto NDP voters would have elected five MPPs, not just four. Maybe Paul Ferreira or Sheila White or Peter Ferreira or Sandra Gonzalez?
Green Party voters would have elected nine MPPs.
Toronto Green voters would have elected two MPPs: maybe leader Frank de Jong, and Caroline Law or Dan King?
York-Durham Green voters would have elected one: maybe June Davies of Uxbridge or Liz Couture of Richmond Hill?
Central East Region Green voters would have elected one: maybe Judy Smith Torrie of Northumberland, or Matt Richter of Muskoka, or Simcoe's Peter Ellis or Erich Jacoby-Hawkins, or Kingston's Bridget Doherty?
Peel-Oakville Green voters would have elected one: maybe Deputy Leader Dr. Sanjeev Goel, or Rob Strang or Marion Frances Schaffer or Paul Simas?
Central West Green voters would have elected one: maybe Shane Jolley of Owen Sound or Ben Polley of Guelph or Victoria Serda from Huron-Bruce or Judy Greenwood-Speers of Kitchener-Waterloo?
Ottawa Region Green voters would have elected one: maybe Greg Laxton or Elaine Kennedy?
Hamilton area Green voters would have elected one: maybe Melanie Mullen from Niagara or Peter Ormond from Hamilton or Ted Shelegy from Brant.
Southwest Region Green voters would have elected one: maybe Brett McKenzie or Jessica Fracassi?