Saturday, May 13, 2017

What would BC’s 2017 election results have been, with proportional representation?

What would BC’s 2017 election results have been, with a proportional representation system where every vote counts?

Of course, I’m not talking about the kind of province-wide system used in the Netherlands, with no local ridings, no threshold, and 13 parties in their Parliament.

I’m talking about the open-regional-list Mixed Member Proportional system, where every MLA has faced the voters. That's the way the BC NDP wants the Mixed Member system to work: voters would cast two ballots: one for a local MLA and one for a regional representative. 

That’s also the system PEI voters chose in 2016, with a workable ballot as you can see here. It’s also the model on which the federal Electoral Reform Committee found consensus: like other models, it is a local proportional representation model.

Its best feature, compared with other PR models for BC, is that the number of seats per region can be consistent across the different regions of BC, giving all voters equally proportional election outcomes. No Urban/Rural divide.

(Note: this blogpost has been revised on Sept. 2, 2018.) 

Do you want your vote to count?

You have two votes

You have two votes: one for your local MLA, and one for a regional MLA from your local region. You cast your second vote for a party’s regional candidate you prefer, which counts as a vote for that party. This is the same practical model used in Scotland, with one vital improvement: Canadian voters would like to vote for a specific regional candidate and hold them accountable. 

I’m assuming 52 local MLAs and 35 regional MLAs, so 60% of MLAs are elected in local districts as we do today. The other 35 are elected from seven regions.  The regions have an average of 12 MLAs each: seven local, five regional.

Every voter for any of the three parties in all seven regions has an MLA they helped elect, either from their local district or from their local region.

The best of both worlds

Would proportional representation hurt small communities? Just the opposite: voters are guaranteed two things which equal better local representation:
1.         A local MLA who will champion their area.
2.         An MLA whose views best reflect their values, someone they helped elect in their local district or local region.

No longer does one person claim to speak for everyone in the district. No longer does one party claim unbridled power with only 40% support. Local districts are bigger than today, but in return you have competing MLAs: a local MLA, and about five regional MLAs from your local region.

Parties will work together

Parties will, unless one party had outright majority support, have to work together - to earn our trust where others have broken it, and to show that a new kind of governance is possible. Research clearly shows that proportionately-elected governments and cooperative decision-making produce better policy outcomes and sustainable progress on major issues over the long term.

BC’s rural/urban divide

One factor I have left alone is the all-party consensus to protect the 17 electoral districts in the North Region, the Cariboo-Thompson Region, and the Columbia-Kootenay Region, largely rural and small-urban. These elected 13 Liberals and four New Democrats in 2017. Any likely proportional system for BC will keep the same regional balance. Thus, it is not surprising that my simulation gives the Liberals a bonus of one MLA, at the cost of the NDP. 

Province-wide result: 37 Liberals, 35 NDP, 15 Greens

The perfectly proportional result would have been 36 Liberal MLAs, 36 NDP MLAs, and 15 Greens. Instead, for the reason above, I get 37, 35 and 15. This does not change the election outcome, since the parties will form the coalitions they choose to form, regardless which party has a few more seats than the other.

Regional nominations

Typically, party members will nominate local candidates first, then hold a regional nomination process. Often the regional candidates will include the local candidates, plus a few regional-only candidates who will add diversity and balance to the regional slate. In order to ensure democratic nominations, it would be useful to deny taxpayer subsidy to any party not nominating democratically.  The meeting would decide what rank order each would have on the regional ballot. But then voters in the region would have the final choice.

A simulation

What follows is only a simulation from the votes cast in 2017. In any election, as Prof. Dennis Pilon says"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."
The North and the Cariboo Region

Instead of electing eight Liberal MLAs and only two New Democrats, these voters would have elected another New Democrat. That would be the candidate who got the most votes across the region (after crossing off the regional list those who were elected as Local MLAs). Maybe Anne Marie Sam (an elected councilor with the Nak’azdli Nation) or Quesnel city councilor Scott Elliott or Prince George labour lawyer Bobby Deepak. And they would have elected a Green MLA, maybe Rita Giesbrecht from 100 Mile House (Party Spokesperson for Rural development) or Nan Kendy from Prince George.

The Interior including the Columbia—Kootenay Region and Kamloops

Instead of electing 12 Liberal MLAs and two New Democrats, these voters would have elected two more New Democrats as well as Michelle Mungall and Katrine Conroy. Maybe Harry Lali from Merritt and Barb Nederpel from Kamloops or Barry Dorval from Vernon or Colleen Ross from Grand Forks or Gerry Taft from Invermere. And Green voters would have elected three MLAs such as former Nelson city councillor Kim Charlesworth (Party Spokesperson for Agriculture and food systems), Dan Hines from Kamloops (Green Party Spokesperson for Forestry), and Keli Westgate from Vernon.

Fraser Valley-Langley Region

Instead of electing Liberal MLAs in all seven districts, these voters would have elected two NDP MLAs such as Langley Teachers Association leader Gail Chaddock-Costello and Chiliwack shelter director Patti MacAhonic, and a Green MLA like Langley’s Bill Masse (Green Party Research and Policy Chair) or Elizabeth Walker.

Vancouver—North Shore Region

Instead of electing only ten NDP MLAs and six Liberal MLAs, these voters would have elected three Green Party MLAs. Maybe Dana Taylor (he was a North Vancouver city councilor), Kim Darwin from the Sunshine Coast (she was President of the Sechelt Chamber of Commerce) and David Wong (architect and author of ‘Escape to Gold Mountain’) or Prof. Michael Markwick (Party Spokesperson for Democratic Security and Human Rights) or Jerry Kroll (Party Spokesperson on Transportation).

Burnaby—Tri-Cities—Maple Ridge Region

Instead of electing ten NDP MLAs and only one Liberal, these voters would have elected a Green MLA (likely Jonina Campbell, New Westminster School Board chair and Party Spokesperson for Education), as well as two Liberal incumbents like Linda Reimer and Richard Lee.

Surrey-Delta-Richmond Region

Instead of electing only eight Liberals and seven New Democrats, these voters would also have elected two Green MLAs, such as Roy Sakata (retired school administrator of Richmond School District) and Surrey’s Rita Fromholt or Delta’s Jacquie Miller or White Rock’s Bill Marshall.
Vancouver Island

These voters would have elected another Green MLA like Lia Versaevel from North Cowichan, Victoria’s Kalen Harris, or Mark Neufeld (party spokesperson on Youth and intergenerational equity), and three more Liberal MLAs like Jim Benninger from Comox, indigenous leader Dallas Smith from North Island, and Nanaimo’s Paris Gaudet.

How will regional MPs operate? 

Most regional MPs will each cover several ridings. This is just the way it’s done in Scotland, where each regional MP normally covers about three local ridings, and holds office hours rotating across them. 


With a regional MMP model, we risk local sweeps being so extreme that they create “overhangs.” Those are results too disproportional for the regional compensatory (“top-up”) MLAs to correct, when they are only 40% of the total. That’s the trade-off in the system design, to keep local ridings from being almost double their present size. In this simulation we find one overhang. The NDP near-sweep in Burnaby-Tri-Cities-Maple Ridge gives them an extra MLA there, offsetting the NDP’s rural shortfall.

Technical note

The calculation for any PR system has to choose a rounding method, to round fractions up and down. I have used the “largest remainder” calculation, which Germany used until recently, because it is the simplest and most transparent. In a 10-MLA region, if Party A deserves 3.2 MLAs, Party B deserves 3.1, Party C deserves 2.3, and Party D deserves 1.4, which party gets the tenth seat? Party D has a remainder of 0.4, the largest remainder. In a region where one party wins a bonus (“overhang”), I allocate the remaining seats among the remaining parties by the same calculation.

Other design questions:

What qualification is required for election of regional candidates? The purpose of the top-up seats is to correct disproportional local results, not to provide a parallel system of getting elected. The Law Commission of Canada recommended a party be eligible for top-up regional seats only if it presents local candidates in at least 33 percent of the ridings in the region; Jenkins recommended 50%. These rules prevent the Berlusconi trick of running twin parties, one party with local candidates, the other with regional candidates. 

Eight region model:

I designed an eight-region model. Sadly, it elects one less Green: 38 Liberals, 36 NDP, and 14 Greens. I do not advocate it, so I have deleted it.

Other models:

The referendum ballot lets voters rank two other options. I cannot prepare a simulation for how “Dual Member” would work since it depends on how the “reserve factor” is used, and on how many exceptional single-member seats are created. I have not prepared a simulation on how “Rural Urban” would work, since many reformers believe it will be modified to make it more proportional than the model described in the Attorney-General’s Report.