Tuesday, June 12, 2018

What if every vote in Ontario had counted in 2018?

If every vote in Ontario had counted in 2018, what would that look like?

No one man would have a one-party government elected by only 40.5% of the votes.

On the votes cast in 2018, with proportional representation our Ontario legislature should have 51 PC MPPs, 42 New Democrats, 25 Liberals, and 6 Greens.

Rural and urban voters in every region of Ontario would have effective votes and fair representation in both government and opposition. That’s a basic principle of proportional representation.

For example, let’s see what would happen using the mixed-member proportional system with open lists in ten regions. The regions would have an average of 12 MPPs each (seven local MPPs, five regional MPPs elected to top-up seats).

Did your vote count?

In 2018, 52% of Ontario votes were not effective to help elect an MPP, as the First-Past-The-Post system threw them in the trash.

And who can say what a real democratic voting system would have given Ontario? This year’s 58% turnout was the highest in five Ontario elections. But last year New Zealand, where every vote counts, saw a 79% turnout elect a new government with three-party support.

The open-list MMP system: Every MPP represents actual voters and real communities

We’re not talking about a model with candidates appointed by central parties. We’re talking about the mixed member system designed by the Law Commission of Canada and endorsed by the Ontario NDP Convention in 2014, where every MPP represents actual voters and real communities. The majority of MPPs will be elected by local ridings as we do today, preserving the traditional link between voter and MPP. The other 39% are elected as regional MPPs, topping-up the numbers of MPPs from your local region so the total is proportional to the votes for each party.

You have two votes. One is for your local MPP. The second helps elect regional MPPs for the top-up seats (as above). The ballot would look like this ballot that PEI voters chose in their 2016 plebiscite.

Unlike the closed-list MMP model Ontario voters did not support in 2007, you can cast a personal vote for a candidate within the regional list. This is commonly called “open list.” All MPPs have faced the voters. No one is guaranteed a seat. The region is small enough that the regional MPPs are accountable.

How would regional MPPs serve residents?

Ontario’s Rural-Urban Divide
Our winner-take-all voting system exaggerates Ontario’s regional differences, especially the rural-urban divide.

Ontario’s suburban, small-town and rural voters somehow combined to make Doug Ford an all-powerful premier. But his majority in this year’s Ontario election came from our winner-take all voting system, not from voters. It came from the 31-MPP bonus that our skewed system foisted on those voters by throwing 51% of their ballots in the trash.

Take the 43 ridings in Toronto’s suburbs and the GTA. They elect more than one-third of Ontario’s MPPs. Voters for Doug Ford’s PCs swept them, electing all but seven. But only 45% of those voters voted PC. A proportional system would have let voters elect 12 New Democrats, not just six; 10 Liberals, not just one; and a Green Party MPP. Instead of 36 PC MPPs, they would have had 20.

What’s more, the PC heartland, the blue belt running from Cornwall to Barrie to Chatham, is not nearly as blue as it looks. Those 37 ridings elected 33 PC MPPs, all but four, yet they voted only 48% PC. A proportional system would have let those voters elect 11 NDP MPPs, not just three; five Liberals rather than zero; and three Greens, not just one, leaving the PCs with 18.

Conversely, Ontario’s urban cores (electing 12 MPPs in Toronto, nine in Hamilton-Niagara, five in Ottawa, and three each in London and Windsor) voted 29% PC but elected only four MPPs to Doug Ford’s caucus. A proportional system would have added five more. Picture the governing caucus with two more MPPs from Central Toronto (south of the 401, between Scarborough and Etobicoke) like Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, Andrew Kirsch, Gillian Smith, Jon Kieran or Mark DeMontis. With former MP Susan Truppe from London, an MPP like April Jeffs from Niagara Region and an MPP like Chris Lewis from Windsor-Essex.

The NDP Caucus would also be more representative, with MPPs like Sean Conway from Peterborough, Joanne Belanger from Belleville, Bonnie Jean-Louis and Chandra Pasma from the Ottawa area, Sarnia’s Kathy Alexander, Bruce County’s Jan Johnstone, Barrie’s Pekka Reinio, Orillia’s Elizabeth Van Houtte, Brantford’s Alex Felsky, Whitby’s Niki Lundquist, Newmarket‘s Melissa Williams, and Georgina’s Dave Szollosy.

Liberal voters would be fairly represented, with 25 MPPs holding the balance of power, as would Green voters with six MPPs. See details below.

Competing MPPs:
You have a local MPP who will champion your community, and about five competing regional MPPs, normally including one whose views best reflect your values, someone you helped elect in your local district or local region.


This was the stronghold of Doug Ford’s false majority. PC voters cast only 50% of the votes in York Region and Durham Region, yet elected 14 of the 15 MPPs. With MMP, instead of electing only one NDP member, they would have also elected three New Democrat regional MPPs (such as Niki Lundquist, Melissa Williams and Nerissa CariƱo or Joel Usher or Dave Szollosy), and three Liberal regional MPPs (maybe Steven Del Duca, Joe Dickson and Helena Jaczek), along with eight PCs. 


Voters electing 13 MPPs from Peel Region and Oakville would, instead of electing only three NDP members and 10 PCs, have elected three Regional Liberal MPPs (maybe Charles Sousa, Kevin Flynn, and Dipika Damerla), and one more New Democrat (maybe Nikki Clarke or Jagroop Singh), along with six Progressive Conservatives. 

City of Toronto

Voters electing 12 MPPs from North York-Scarborough would, instead of electing only one New Democrat and three Liberals, have elected two NDP regional MPPs (such as Felicia Samuel and Zeyd Bismilla) and another Liberal MPP (maybe Mike Colle), along with five PCs.

Voters electing 13 MPPs from Toronto—Etobicoke-York would, instead of electing only NDP and PC MPPs, have elected three Liberals and a Green, along with six New Democrats and three PCs.

Mid-East Ontario (Kingston—Peterborough)

Voters electing eight MPPs from Mid-East Ontario would, instead of electing one New Democrat and seven PCs, have elected two Liberal regional MPPs such as Jeff Leal and Sophie Kiwala), along with another New Democrat (maybe Peterborough’s Sean Conway or Belleville’s Joanne Belanger) and four local PC MPPs. 

Eastern Ontario (Ottawa—Cornwall)

Voters electing 11 MPPs from Eastern Ontario would, instead of electing only one New Democrat, have elected two regional NDP MPPs (maybe Ottawa’s Chandra Pasma and Bonnie Jean-Louis or John Hansen) along with three Liberals and five PCs. 

Central West (Simcoe—Bruce—Waterloo)

Voters electing 15 MPPs from Central West Ontario would, instead of electing only two New Democrats and a Green but no Liberals, have elected two more New Democrat MPPs and two Liberals, along with Green leader Mike Schreiner and a second Green MPP, and seven local PC MPPs. 

Central South (Hamilton—Niagara—Brantford--Burlington)

Voters electing 13 MPPs from Central South Ontario would, instead of electing no Liberal or Green MPP, have elected two regional Liberal MPPs (maybe Indira Naidoo-Harris and Jim Bradley) and a Green regional MPP, along with five New Democrat MPPs and five PCs. 

Southwest (London—Windsor)

Voters electing 12 MPPs from Southwest Ontario would, instead of electing no Liberal or Green MPP, have elected a regional Liberal MPP (maybe London’s Kate Graham) and a Green, along with five New Democrats and five PCs. 

Northern Ontario

Voters electing 12 MPPs from Northern Ontario would, instead of electing only one Liberal MPP and three PCs, have elected a regional Liberal MPP and a regional PC MPP along with six New Democrat MPPs.


The NDP caucus already had good diversity of women and black candidates, but only one aboriginal. Top-up MPPs elected to regional seats will better represent groups that have been historically under-represented. In the above simulation, even the NDP would have 16 regional MPPs. Ontario will have the kind of diversity around the table that we need to be more focussed on major policy issues. 

What sort of government would Ontario have had?
Cooperation between parties representing a majority can get a lot of good things done. This is the norm in most western democracies.

The Ontario government might have been:

1. A minority PC government with a supply-and-confidence agreement (like the Accord in Ontario in 1985) with the Liberals, ensuring a stable government for four years (giving the Liberals time to rebuild). Possible but unlikely.
2. A minority NDP government with a supply-and-confidence agreement (like the Accord in Ontario in 1985) with the Liberals, ensuring a stable government for four years (giving the Liberals time to rebuild). More likely than option 1.
3. A coalition government between the NDP and the Liberals. Less likely in today’s climate, more likely under PR when the public is more used to cooperation between parties representing a majority.
4. A coalition government between the PCs and the Liberals. Possible but less likely, even after the public is more used to cooperation between parties representing a majority.
5. A minority government with no agreement or Accord, relying on support from one or more other parties issue by issue. Possible but less stable (although Bill Davis made it work for four years from 1977 to 1981). Today, it would be very unstable because the minority government would be looking for an excuse to roll the dice and try for an accidental majority. Under PR, when an accidental false majority would not be possible, everyone might want to make it work (as happened in Scotland for four years from 2007 to 2011).

Ontario NDP Policy (Convention)
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Ontario NDP reaffirms its endorsement of a system of proportional representation for Ontario.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the proposed system of voting incorporate the following characteristics:
a) preservation of the traditional link between voter and MPP by keeping constituency seats;
b) two votes: one for a local constituency candidate and one for a Party's list of candidates;
c) Party lists to be developed and applied at a regional rather than provincial level;
d) restoration and enhancement of democracy through the provision of additional seats in the Legislature;
e) additional seats to be filled from Party Lists so as to offset disproportionality between the constituency elections and the popular Party vote.
f) voters to have the option of either endorsing the party’s regional list, or casting a personal vote for a candidate within the regional list.

Updated: An Ontario NDP government will convene a Citizen's Assembly (an independent group of citizens) that will be mandated to develop a made-in-Ontario model of MMP. The group will be supported in its work by a panel of experts and representatives of Ontario's major parties. The CA will also be mandated to make recommendations to the government on timelines, implementation and ratification for the change to an MPP voting system.

Technical Notes:
1.    Because of rounding errors when Ontario is divided into ten regions, the projection above happens to give the PCs a bonus of 1, at the cost of the Greens. The overall results are still close to proportionality.

I have also done a simulation with the Green vote doubling. Once every vote counts, with no more strategic voting, that’s likely what would happen. That would mean Green voters would have cast 8.9% of the votes, and should elect 11 MPPs. Sure enough, my simulation shows Green voters electing a regional MPP in each of the 10 regions. In Central West (Simcoe-Bruce-Wellington) they would elect Mike Schreiner and a second MPP.

2.    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-MPP region, if Party A deserves 3.2 MPPs, 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.

The purpose of the compensatory regional seats is to correct disproportional local results, not to provide a parallel system of getting elected. The Law Commission recommended that the right to nominate candidates for regional top-up seats should be limited to those parties which have candidates standing for election in at least one-third of the ridings within the top-up region. Jenkins recommended 50%. This prevents a possible distortion of the system by parties pretending to split into twin decoy parties for the regional seats, the trick which Berlusconi invented to sabotage Italy’s voting system. 

How many MPPs should Ontario have?

One of the advantages of a Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform is to decide this question, since elected politicians are too nervous about recommending more MPPs.

In 2002 Jack Murray’s Ontario NDP PR Task Force was dealing with Mike Harris having cut the number of MPPs by 27. The Task Force recommended restoring the 27 MPPs and adding “some” additional MPPs to enhance democracy, in the interests of proportionality. It suggested at least 30 percent of MPPs be regional top-up MPPs, and mentioned Wales where 33% are regional top-ups. In fact most experts recommend 40%. Scotland has 43%. New Zealand has 40%. The 2007 Ontario Citizens Assembly struggled with this issue, and ended up recommending the 103 seats be reduced to 90, and the total be increased to 129, with 39 top-up MPPs (30%).

If an MMP system for Ontario kept the present 124 ridings and added 30% top-up seats, that would mean 177 MPPs, 53 top-up. If the ratio was 40%, that would be 207 MPPs, 83 top-up, which no one has proposed. So the calculations above assume the present 124 MPPs continue, with local ridings reduced to 76 seats, plus 48 regional top-up seats (39%). I hope a Citizens Assembly would increase the number of MPPs.

(Note: this post was updated May 17, 2022.)