Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Stephane Dion’s favourite proportional representation model.

For months, former Liberal leader Stephane Dion has been hinting that he will talk about proportional representation soon.

On Feb. 19, he finally did, at a meeting in Toronto hosted by Liberal MP and PR supporter Carolyn Bennett.

NOTE: This entire post is now out-of-date. Dion has published a modified proposal discussed here.

Back in 2006 he favoured the Mixed Member Proportional system, with two-thirds of the seats being elected as they are now and a further one-third compensatory (top-up) seats with a five percent threshhold in every province. He wanted to guarantee that each region of our country is not marginalized, i.e., to make it possible for, say, a Liberal government to have MPs elected in areas where they tend to be weaker, so that one region of a country doesn't dominate another.

But now he has a new proposal.

Swedish-style list PR with small regions

Dion advocates Swedish-style list PR, but with small regions like Spain's but even smaller. You elect between four and six MPs from multi-member districts, with some exceptions like northern seats, but generally, four in rural Canada and six in urban Canada. He wants open lists like Sweden, and with small regions this would be very feasible. You would have two votes: one for a party, one for a candidate on the party list.

So, how proportional would the result be, with small regions? You’d expect it should be very close to perfect proportionality for larger parties, less so for the Greens.

As Dion said “proportional in a way that is not extreme, that is moderate.”

Sure enough. Let’s take the votes as cast in 2011 for the present 308 MPs.

Spreadsheet simulations

In my spreadsheet’s simulation of Dion's model, due to small regions the results are: 129 Conservatives, 101 NDP, 59 Liberals, 18 Bloc, and only 1 Green. If I had used province-wide totals with perfect proportionality the results would have been: 126 Conservative, 94 New Democrats, 59 Liberals, 18 Bloc, and 11 Greens. The small regions cost the Greens 10 MPs, and give the NDP a bonus of seven, and the Conservatives a bonus of three.

What difference does this make? With full proportionality the NDP and Liberals have 153 seats, one less than a majority: an NDP-Liberal Coalition needs support from either the Greens or the Bloc. With Dion’s model an NDP-Liberal Coalition would have 160 seats, a clear majority.

In my simulation, Vancouver Island is a six-MP district, and the Greens got 14.9% of the votes, which might not have been quite enough, but assuming you use the “highest remainder” rule the quotient calculation is:
NDP 2.316 quotients: 2 MPs
Conservative 2.31: 2 MPs
Green 0.89: 1 MP
Liberal 0.47: 1 MP

Charest's 2005 Quebec proposal

This is not the first time a Liberal in Quebec has proposed a "moderate" small-region model. It's what Charest's government proposed in 2005. He proposed an MMP model with five-MNA regions (three local, two regional.) Except in rural areas it would be three-MNAs (two local, one regional.) Pretty similar. They held public hearings in 2005-6, by a joint committee: a Select Committee of the National Assembly sitting together with an 8-member Citizens' Committee (an excellent consultation model, by the way.) The superb Report of the Citizens' Committee reflected the public reaction: such a small-region model was not sufficiently proportional to "reflect the diversity of ideas that exist in Quebec society." "In concrete terms, the actual threshold for entry into the National Assembly could be between 13 and 17%. Given that one of the objectives of reform is to ensure effective representation of the electorate in terms of equality of votes, this threshold is far from being acceptable."

But Dion also has a new idea not used in Sweden. He wants voters to rank the parties with a preferential ballot. Not STV, where a surplus is transferred; just preferential. A party would be dropped from the count in favour of your second choice party if it didn't get enough votes to elect someone in your small district.

So the Green votes would count for their second choice.

The Greens’ next best districts in my simulation were Okanagan—Kootenay with 8.39% and 5 MPs, Calgary with 8.31% and 6 MPs, Vancouver-Richmond with 6.99% and 6 MPs, and Simcoe-Muskoka with 6.06% and 5 MPs. None of those are enough for an MP.

Would the preferential vote make a difference in those districts? In Okanagan—Kootenay, Liberal voters might have:
Conservative 2.64 quotients (3 MPs)
NDP 1.54 (2 MPs)
Green 0.42
Liberal 0.39

If Liberal second preferences went 60% Green, 40% NDP, they would give both parties a higher remainder than the Conservatives, and the Greens would have taken a seat from the Conservatives. Elizabeth May would have had a seat-mate (maybe retired lawyer Greig Crockett or real estate agent Alice Hooper?)

But the Greens still would not have held the balance of power. In Calgary by my spreadsheet the Conservatives would clinch 4 MPs, the Liberals 1 and the NDP 1; the Green second preferences would make no difference. In Vancouver-Richmond the three parties would each get 2 of the six MPs, and the Green second preferences would again make no difference. In Simcoe-Muskoka it would be Conservatives 3, NDP 1, Liberal 1, wherever the Green votes go.

Of course, these projections 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?

So Dion's "moderate" model might be good for the Greens after all, if they got more votes. Anyway, it's a vast improvement over winner-take-all. By having no local MPs, it might be less appealing in single-MP communities than the Law Commission's MMP model.

Other options

The real Swedish model would work better: they allocate 11 per cent of their MPs to top up the regional results, with similar results to the Mixed Member Proportional model recommended by the Law Commission of Canada. Except the Law Commission’s MMP model would let us elect two-thirds of the MPs from local single-member ridings, and the other one-third from regional open lists, so every MP has faced the voters: the regional vote can be cast by marking your ballot with an X for any regional candidate standing on the regional ballot.