Friday, October 7, 2011

What would Ontario's legislature look like with a proportional voting system?

Let’s see what the Ontario legislature would have looked like with a proportional voting system if voters voted as they did on October 6, 2011.

Here is the result with a legislature of 129 MPPs, the number recommended by the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly in 2007, 22 more than today. On the votes as cast, we would have seen 49 Liberals, 46 PCs, 31 New Democrats, and 3 Greens, using a nine-region version of the Citizens' model.

See MMP Made Easy.

Still a minority legislature. The big difference would have been better representation for each region. No longer would parties be hived into regional strongholds.

Regional strongholds

Canadians are, sadly, used to seeing exaggerated regional differences in our federal elections. Now Ontario has joined this parade of stronghold politics, after the recent provincial election. The 2011 Ontario election gave voters very unequal voices.

In the 35 ridings in southern Ontario outside the GTA, Ottawa, and Hamilton-Niagara, 631,465 PC voters elected 24 MPPs (26,311 votes per MPP), 469,291 Liberal voters elected 9 MPPs (52,143 votes per MPP), and 310,590 NDP voters elected 2 MPPs (155,295 votes per MPP).

In the other 72 ridings, 1,153,164 Liberal voters elected 44 MPPs (26,208 votes per MPP), while 896,487 PC voters elected 13 MPPs (68,961 votes per MPP) and 669,811 NDP votes elected 15 MPPs (44,654 votes per MPP).

In regions where Liberal voters are unrepresented, with this model they would elect four more MPPs, while electing fewer in Liberal strongholds. Similarly, unrepresented PC voters, such as those in Toronto, would elect 13 more MPPs, and fewer in PC strongholds. Unrepresented NDP voters, such as those in Eastern Ontario, would elect 14 more MPPs. Green Party voters would elect three MPPs.

This projection assumes voters voted as they did in 2011. In fact, if voters knew every vote would count, more would have voted -- typically at least 6% more. And some would have voted differently, perhaps 18% of them by one study. 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?

Regional lists.

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 he was President of the Ontario Municipal Association in 1986. 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 the right-hand part of this ballot.

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.

Gerretsen has not given up on regional MMP. On Sept. 21, 2011, at an all-candidates meeting in Kingston he expressed renewed support for proportional representation. He was eloquent about the benefits of coalitions and agreements. As he said in 2007 “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.”

How would regional MPPs serve constituents? Here's how it works in Scotland.

Open list

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.

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.

In the 2007 Ontario referendum, 63.1% voted against MMP. About 31% were simply against proportional representation. Many more were voters who wanted all MPPs to be personally elected, not on closed lists. Many more were voters who wanted all MPPs to be anchored in their own region, not on province-wide lists. Another 7.5% were voters outside Toronto who disliked province-wide lists even more than Toronto voters did.

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 26, 17 local and 9 regional.

The other seven regions would have had 11 to 15 MPPs each, typically 9 local, 4 regional.

Unrepresented Liberal voters would have elected four more MPPs.

Central East Region Liberal voters would have elected four MPPs, not just two. Maybe Tweed's Leona Dombrowsky and Brighton's Lou Rinaldi or Kawartha Lakes' Rick Johnson, Barrie's Karl Walsh or Elmvale's Donna Kenwell.

Central West Region Liberal voters would have elected five MPPs, not just three. Maybe Stratford's John Wilkinson and Huron's Carol Mitchell or Waterloo's Leeanna Pendergast.

(However, Liberal voters would have elected eight fewer MPPs from regions where they are over-represented.)

Unrepresented Progressive Conservative voters would have elected 13 more MPPs.

Toronto PC voters would have elected six MPPs, not none. Maybe Michael Mostyn, Rocco Rossi, Vince Agovino, Mary Anne Demonte-Whelan, Liang Chen and Andrea Mandel-Campbell?

Peel-Halton PC voters would have elected four MPPs, not just two. Maybe Larry Scott and Pam Hundal or Geoff Janoscik?

Hamilton area PC voters would have elected four MPPs from Hamilton, Niagara and Burlington, not just two. Maybe St. Catharine's Sandie Bellows and Niagara-on-the-Lake's George Lepp or Hamilton's Donna Skelly. (However, Central West Region PC voters would have elected two fewer MPPs.)

Northern PC voters would have elected three MPPs, not one. Maybe Kenora's Rod McKay and Sudbury's Paula Peroni or Kapuskasing’s Al Spacek.

Ottawa - Cornwall PC voters would have elected four MPPs, not just three. Maybe Andrew Lister or Marilissa Gosselin? (However, Central East Region PC voters would have elected two fewer MPPs.)

NDP voters would have elected fourteen more MPPs.

Central West NDP voters would have elected three MPPs from the area from Norfolk to Owen Sound, not none. Maybe Cambridge's Atinuke Bankole, Brantford's Brian Van Tilborg and Guelph's James Gordon or Bruce County's Grant Robertson?

Central East region NDP voters would have elected two MPPs, not none. Maybe Peterborough’s Dave Nickle and Kingston’s Mary Rita Holland or Wasauksing First Nation's Alex Zyganiuk.

Ottawa - Cornwall NDP voters would have elected two MPPs, not none. Maybe Anil Naidoo and Cornwall's Elaine MacDonald?

York-Durham region NDP voters would have elected two MPPs, not none. Maybe Oshawa’s Mike Shields and York Region's Megan Tay?

Toronto NDP voters would have elected seven MPPs, not just five. Maybe Paul Ferreira and Cathy Crowe or Neethan Shan?

Peel-Halton NDP voters would have elected two MPPs, not just one. Maybe Michelle Bilek or Dalbir Singh Kathuria?

Southwestern NDP voters would have elected four MPPs, not just two. Maybe Windsor's Andrew McAvoy and Leamington's Aleksandra Navarro or Windsor's Helmi Charif or Sarnia's Brian White or Ingersoll's Dorothy Eisen (a member of the Wabigoon Lake First Nation)?

Green Party voters would have elected three MPPs.

Central East Region Green voters would have elected one: leader Mike Schreiner?

Toronto Green voters would have elected one: maybe Women's Issues critic Judyth Van Veldhuysen or Transport critic Tim Grant?

Peel-Halton Green voters would have elected one: maybe Deputy Leader Rob Strang?

90 local ridings

Local ridings would be slightly bigger than today, but not so you’d notice. Often, six present ridings would become five. (But the North could have kept unchanged the ten present ridings.)

Because the Citizens’ model had only 30% “top-up” MPPs, results are not guaranteed to be perfectly proportional, but this year 30% was enough. The perfect result would be 49 Liberals, 46 PCs, 30 NDP and 4 Green, but rounding anomalies from using nine regions produced 49, 46, 31 and 3. That's very close indeed.

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?

Not enough time

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.

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 had 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.

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. But he thought the basic model would have stayed the same: 129 MPPs, 90 local, 39 top-up.

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.

Regional candidates

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.


Raymond said...


Thank you for your vivid decriptions of how a new voting system could look like.

Just to play devil's advocate a bit on your choice of regions..

I'm not sure I would agree on the need to separate Kingston & Ottawa. Three parties (Liberal, New Democrat, and Green) all have only 6 regional organizations, which do combine Kingston & Ottawa in their eastern regions.

If there isn't too much internal party debate to change things, it's probably not so critical.

I think the most important factor in creating electoral regions is to separate the extremely urban ones (Toronto) from the extremely rural ones (North), because of their contrasting representational needs.

After that, one can expect the other areas to pretty much get along. (Also, too much attention to the linguistic characterisitics of a region can be limiting).

What do you think?

Wilf Day said...

John Gerretsen wanted Kingston and Ottawa to be in different regions, and he has more experience than me: former president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, a lawyer, the longest serving Mayor in Kingston’s history, an MPP for 16 years and counting. Also, Ottawa area francophones want a bilingual region, not to be represented by someone from Brockville or Belleville. Also, Peterborough folks likely have more in common with Kingston than with the GTA, but Peterborough and Ottawa have little in common. So I still agree with Gerretsen.