Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Moderate Mixed Member model can balance all the values needed for electoral reform.

A Moderate Mixed Member model can balance all the values needed for electoral reform.

If large-urban communities will accept multi-member ridings, Fair Vote Canada’s new Rural-Urban Proportional Representation model may be the best answer for rural and small-urban communities' ridings, which it keeps only about 17% larger than today.  

If not, then this moderate mixed member proportional (MMP) model keeps our local ridings. 

As a general rule, a group of eight current ridings becomes a region electing five local MPs and three regional MPs.  The vast swaths of voters who are denied their preferred MP by the single-MP riding elections elect regional MPs to top up the local results The total MPs match the vote share in the region. Almost every vote counts, moderately, without risking a multitude of mini-parties.

The local ridings become 60% larger, but in return we help elect three regional MPs accountable to our local region, as well as one local MP who will champion our own community. The government will be accountable to MPs reflecting a true majority of voters.

Law Commission of Canada

In 2004 the Minister of Justice, the Hon. Irwin Cotler, tabled the Law Commission of Canada’s Report recommending a mixed member proportional system, just as outlined above. MMP is used in Germany, Scotland, New Zealand, and other jurisdictions. 

The Law Commission recommended one vital improvement: no closed lists. All MPs are elected and have faced the voters. If voters for a party are entitled to elect a regional MP, it will be the party’s regional candidate who got the most votes across the region. 

You have two votes. With your first vote, you help elect a local MP as we do today. With the second, you also help elect a few regional MPs: it’s proportional. You can cast a personal vote for the regional candidate you prefer: it’s personal.

The regional candidates will be democratically nominated in 45 regions, each small enough to make them accountable, not by the province-wide lists that Ontario voters rejected in their 2007 referendum.

Fair to all voters

In the 2011 election, Canada elected a one-party government where one man had complete power supported by only 39.5% of voters. Yet voters in eight of Quebec’s ten regions had no voice in the government. While 19% of Canadians voted Liberal, Liberal voters in 24 of those 42 regions had no voice in Ottawa. Despite the NDP forming the Official Opposition in 2011, NDP voters in 13 of those regions had no voice in the House of Commons.

Never again should this be possible.

Look at the factors the government has placed before the Special Committee on Electoral Reform.

1.   Effectiveness and legitimacy: that the proposed measure would increase public confidence among Canadians that their democratic will, as expressed by their votes, will be fairly translated and that the proposed measure reduces distortion and strengthens the link between voter intention and the election of representatives.

With this model every vote counts. Every voter has equal and effective votes. We get what we voted for.

As the Ministry notes, winner-take-all elections routinely create governments without majority popular support, and at times, with less popular support (but more seats) than the second place party. And the Australian system of preferential ballots in single-MP ridings mean voters end up with a choice between only two alternatives. Being represented by my second choice is the problem, not the solution.

As detailed below, on the votes cast in 2015, voters for all three parties would elect either local or regional MPs in almost all of the 42 regions across Canada. This keeps parties from monopolizing regions

2.    Engagement: that the proposed measure would encourage voting and participation in the democratic process, foster greater civility and collaboration in politics, enhance social cohesion and offer opportunities for inclusion of underrepresented groups in the political process;

The Ministry notes “Of the 34 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada is one of only three that continue to use the FPTP system to elect legislators.” The rest mostly use proportional representation and have stable majority coalition governments like Germany.

As experience shows in almost all of the many countries in Europe and elsewhere using PR, when you know that you will not able to govern alone, you learn to work together. No one man or one party can get his own way. 

As former Ontario Attorney-General John Gerretsen loved to say “Nobody is ever 100-per-cent right and nobody is ever 100-per-cent wrong. Governing is the art of compromise.” That’s why he supported proportional representation.

Canada’s new Minister for Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef, was interviewed by Peter Mansbridge. He said "People want the system changed. How are you going to go about that?" She replied: "Yes, Canadians voted for real change, for a government that puts their needs ahead of the party's. A government that celebrates our diversity, and not takes a divisive approach. . . . I hope that Canadians will be proud of their politicians and their country because of the kind of work we do and the respectful manner that we go about it.”

With two votes, you can vote for the party you want in government. And you can also vote for the local candidate you like best regardless of party, without hurting your party, since it's the second (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. MPs can thus win support from constituents of all political stripes, enabling them to act more independently in the House of Commons. 

3.    Accessibility and inclusiveness: that the proposed measure would avoid undue complexity in the voting process, while respecting the other principles, and that it would support access by all eligible voters regardless of physical or social condition;

Today many voters feel excluded, if their favourite party or candidate has no chance of election. Turnout is 5 to 6 points higher in countries where the electoral system is proportional, says research published by Elections Canada.

Complexity and accountability are trade-offs. The system used in Germany’s federal elections is very simple: you cast one vote for a local candidate, and one for a party’s closed list. The variation used in the German province of Bavaria has larger ballots, because you can vote for your preferred regional candidate of your party, just as the Law Commission of Canada recommended. Every MP has faced the voters, but in return, you have a bigger ballot. A good trade-off.

4.    Integrity: that the proposed measure can be implemented while safeguarding public trust in the election process, by ensuring reliable and verifiable results obtained through an effective and objective process that is secure and preserves vote secrecy for individual Canadians;

Never again will one man gain absolute power with the support of 39.6% of the voters. The public will know that every vote is effective.

5.    Local representation: that the proposed measure would ensure accountability and recognize the value that Canadians attach to community, to Members of Parliament understanding local conditions and advancing local needs at the national level, and to having access to Members of Parliament to facilitate resolution of their concerns and participation in the democratic process.

This is where this model shines. 

Voters are guaranteed two things which equal better local representation:
1.         A local MP who will champion their area, accountable only to local voters.
2.         An MP whose views best reflect their values, someone they helped elect in their local riding or local region.

The best of both worlds. By comparison, today the voter faces the party’s only candidate.

It is not just northern ridings which need single MPs. Canada has at least 126 present ridings whose communities rely on their local MP to champion their community. And the claim that large urban areas do not want their borough, ward or local town to have its own MP may be over-rated.

The region is small enough that the regional MPs are accountable. Every region will have fair representation in both government and opposition. 

Yes, the riding is larger, but in return, voters with their diverse voices will have diverse MPs, just as they do in Scotland and Wales.

MPs will be even more accountable if they must be democratically nominated, which would be a great improvement under any voting system.

What would this model look like?  

The Appendix below lists the regions I have used for this projection of how it would work. In reality, the usual impartial Boundaries Commissions would define the ridings and regions after the usual public hearings. Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand has assured Canadians that this can be done even if they have only 10 months, but I expect they will have more.

For example, the BC Interior and North has nine MPs. That would become six local MPs and three regional MPs (but in a metropolitan region that might become five and nine.) Last October Conservative voters elected five MPs with only 37% of the vote, the NDP three and the Liberals only one. With this model let’s assume the Conservatives win three local seats, the NDP two and the Liberals one. Liberal voters elect two regional MPs, and NDP voters one. As compared with the actual result last October, the Liberals have taken two seats from the Conservatives.  

For another example, look at the nine MPs in the northern suburbs of Montreal, the North Shore, the Laurentides—Lanaudière region. The Bloc swept six of those seats with only 31% of the vote, in four-way races. Let’s assume five local MPs (three Bloc and two Liberals). Liberal voters elect a regional MP, NDP voters two, and Conservatives one. Every vote counts.   

Moderately proportional

By using regions smaller than Scotland’s 16-MP regions, we get moderately proportional results. This was the goal of the UK’s Jenkins Commission when they too recommended 8-MP regions. It was also the goal of Stephane Dion’s P3 model.

If we had used province-wide perfect proportionality for 338 MPs, the results would have been: Liberal 137, Conservative 109, NDP 67, Bloc 15, Green 10. With this model's simulation, I calculate the results for 338 MPs are: 145 Liberals, 106 Conservatives, 70 NDP, 14 Bloc, and 3 Greens.

In 2015 the Green Party got only 3.5% of the vote. Some PR systems would use a threshold of 4% or 5% and give it no MPs beyond Elizabeth May. Even without a threshold, this model would let those Green Party voters elect only three MPs, all from British Columbia, not the 10 they deserve. 

But, as Prof. Dennis Pilon says in this video "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."

Green Party leaders know that, when more voters vote, their vote would double. In that case, this moderate model would let Green Party voters elect 12 MPs (official party status): six in BC, five in Ontario, and one Manitoba. No, not the full 22 MPs that perfect province-wide proportionality would give them, but pretty good for a moderate model.

Similarly, it would give almost perfect results to voters in every province. It would leave the Conservatives short one MP in New Brunswick, where the Liberals swept the province with only 51.6% of the vote, and short two MPs in Toronto, where the Liberals swept the city with only 51.9%. In several provinces the luck of rounding off fractions in regions will give a party one seat here and cost them one seat there, cancelling out across Canada, leaving the Conservatives short two MPs overall. Along with the Greens missing seven MPs, this would leave a bonus of nine MPs, which happens to become seven Liberals and two NDP.

How would regional MPs operate? 

Most regional MPs would each cover several ridings. Take Saskatchewan as an example. On the votes cast in October 2015, Liberal voters in Saskatoon and North Saskatchewan would have elected two regional MPs. They might be based in Saskatoon and Prince Albert, but they would likely have additional offices in North Battleford and elsewhere, just as MP Kelly Block has offices in Martensville, Humboldt and Rosetown. This is just the way it’s done in Scotland, where two regional MPs from a party will normally split the region between them for constituency service purposes, and hold office hours rotating across their region or their part of it. 

What if we used the preferential ballot to elect local MPs? 

If the preferential ballot were used to elect local MPs, Eric Grenier and others have shown it would have elected more Liberal MPs. But an MMP model might compensate for the disproportional local results, if they are not too extreme.

My simulation shows this model is not quite proportional enough to cope with the increased local Liberal sweeps, but close. The result in the West and Atlantic Canada is unchanged. 

In Quebec, this model had already given the Liberals a bonus of three MPs and the NDP a bonus of one: three from the Greens, one from the Conservatives. With the preferential ballot the Liberals end up with a further bonus of another two MPs, one from the Bloc, one from the NDP.

In Ontario, this model had already given them a bonus of three MPs: two from the Greens, and one from the NDP. With the preferential ballot the Liberals end up with a further bonus of another five MPs, three from the Conservatives, and two from the NDP.

Can we make this model more proportional, to cope with the increased disproportionality? Three of the newly disproportional regions in Ontario would need 50% of the MPs to be regional, and another would be equally unlikely. I suspect that Canada would just have to live with the model being less than perfectly proportional.

Technical notes

The Law Commission recommended Canada elect at least one-third of the MPs in each region as regional MPs. That number was based on a 1989 study. Since then, we have seen the Wales Assembly have very disproportional results despite one-third regional MPs. No other mixed member model in operation uses such a low ratio. However, 50% regional MP would mean doubling the size of local ridings. 

The Law Commission did not specify the region size. If we make the regions small enough that the regional MPs are accountable, we need a larger ratio such as 40%. If eight ridings become five new local ridings, the regional MPs are 37.5% of the total, and ridings are 60% larger. In other regions, it might be ten become six, 67% larger. But in a few rural areas it will be four local of six, or six local of nine. My current simulation ends up with an average of 37.8% regional MPs.

For a method of rounding fractional results, the Law Commission did not expressly recommend the “highest average” calculation used in Scotland, but they used it in their demonstration. Since then, we have seen that calculation give the Scottish National Party a majority government on 45.4% of the votes. Several other calculations can be used.  One criterion is simplicity and transparency. The simplest is “largest remainder” which Germany used to use, which they also claimed offset the high 5% threshold by being generous to smaller parties. If voters for party A cast enough votes for 4.3 MPs, Party B deserves 2.3 MPs, and Party C deserves 1.4 MPs, which party gets the eighth MP? Party C.

Appendix - the regions:

My simulation using this model lets voters elect 208 local MPs and 127 regional MPs in 45 regions, plus two each from the three Territories.

The regions are:

Ottawa—Cornwall 10, East Central Ontario (Kingston—Peterborough) 9, Durham 5, York Region 10, Scarborough—Willowdale 8, Toronto Central 9, North York—Etobicoke 8, Brampton—Malton 6, Mississauga—Halton 9, Hamilton—Niagara—Brant 11, Central Ontario (Barrie—Owen Sound) 6, Waterloo-Wellington-Dufferin 8, London-Oxford-Perth-Huron 7, Windsor—Sarnia 6, Northern Ontario 9.

Montreal-est 8, Montreal-ouest 6, Montreal-nord—Laval 8, Laurentides—Lanaudière 9, Outaouais—Abitibi-Témiscamingue—Nord 6, Rive-sud 6, Montérégie 8, Mauricie—Centre-du-Québec—Estrie 8, Quebec City—Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean—Côte-Nord 11, Chaudière-Appalaches—Bas-Saint-Laurent—Gaspésie 8.

New Brunswick:
Northeast 5, Southwest 5.

Nova Scotia:
Halifax and South Nova Scotia 6, North Nova Scotia 5.

Newfoundland & Labrador (one region): 7

Prince Edward Island (one region): 4

Winnipeg 8, Manitoba North and South 6.

Regina—South Saskatchewan 6, Saskatoon—North Saskatchewan 8

Calgary 10, South Alberta 5, Central Alberta 5, Edmonton 9, North Alberta 5.

British Columbia:
Vancouver—Richmond 8, Burnaby—North Shore—Coquitlam—Maple Ridge 8, Surrey—Delta—Fraser Valley 10, BC Interior and North 9, Vancouver Island 7

Voters for all three parties would elect either local or regional MPs in each of the 45 regions across Canada, except no Conservative in 8-MP Montreal-est and in 6-MP Outaouais—Abitibi-Témiscamingue—Nord.  Bloc voters would elect MPs in each of Quebec’s regions except 6-MP Montreal West. The results for 341 MPs are: 144 Liberals, 108 Conservatives, 71 NDP, 15 Bloc, and 3 Greens.

Who should have been elected?

Take a look at Canada's Missing MPs.