Tuesday, September 25, 2018

In New Brunswick the party with more votes got fewer seats -- again.

New Brunswick voters lost in this year’s election, as the party with more votes got fewer seats, as in 2006.

With only 31.9% of the votes, the New Brunswick PCs have won 22 seats, while the Liberals with 37.8% of the votes have won only 21 seats. Since the potential Conservative ally, the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick, has three seats while the Greens also have three seats, the Conservatives claim they will form the next government.

This "plurality reversal" with a spread of 5.9% of the votes is the worst across Canada in 52 years. In the Quebec election of 1966 the Union Nationale won more seats than the Liberals despite having 6.5% fewer votes.  

Fair Province-wide result: 19 Liberals, 16 PCs, 6 Greens, 6 People’s Alliance, 2 NDP

But a fair and proportional voting system would have let every vote count. With 49 MLAs in New Brunswick, those Liberal voters deserved to elect 19 MLAs against only 16 PCs. Voters for the Greens and People’s Alliance deserved six MLAs each, while the 5% who voted NDP deserved two MLAs.

Instead of a coalition representing only 44% of voters, the new government would have been accountable to the majority of voters.

Donald Wright, a professor of political science at the University of New Brunswick, says: “Darwin was right. Ecosystems need genetic diversity … finally, we have some in the legislature.”

Worse, New Brunswick appears more divided into linguistic groups than it really is.

New Brunswick’s Commission on Legislative Democracy proposed four regions

The New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy proposed a proportional voting system in 2004 with four regions, so that voters in each region would be fairly represented in both government and opposition. Their Mixed Member Proportional model was similar to the model PEI voters chose in their plebiscite in November 2016.

In the 12 ridings of Northern New Brunswick, heavily francophone, the Liberals won all but one seat. However, those voters cast 24% of their votes for the PCs, 8.9% for the Greens and 8.5% for the NDP. They could have elected regional MLAs like PCs Danny Soucy and Jeannot Volpe, Green Charles Thériault who won 32% of the local vote and New Democrat Jean Maurice Landry who won 30%.

Conversely, in the 12 ridings of the South West, heavily English-speaking, Liberal voters elected only one MLA. They deserved two more, like incumbents John Ames and Rick Doucet. Green voters also deserved an MLA like Deputy Leader Marilyn Merritt-Gray, while People’s Alliance voters deserved two like Jim Bedford and Craig Dykeman.

In the South East someone like Michel Boudreau (past-President of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour) would have been a regional NDP MLA.  In Central New Brunswick Liberal Bill Fraser could have returned as a Regional MLA, while someone like Hanwell councillor Susan Jonah would have become a second Green MLA for the region.

I’m not talking about a closed-list system. The open-regional-list Mixed Member Proportional system means every MLA has faced the voters. That’s the system PEI voters chose last November, with a workable ballot as you can see here. That's also 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. It’s also the model on which the federal Electoral Reform Committee found consensus: a local and personalized proportional representation model. (The 2004 Commission recommended a closed-list MMP model, but Fair Vote Canada no longer recommends that version.)

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.

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.

Some fear-mongers claim proportional representation favours extremists. However, as a former conservative MLA in British Columbia, Nick Loenen, said recently “The best guarantee against abuse of government power is to share that power among the many, rather than the few."

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.


In 2006 New Brunswick saw a sad irony: Bernard's Lord's PCs had planned a referendum on the Commission on Legislative Democracy's recommended PR system, which Lord supported. When a resignation forced an early election, he won the most votes but the Liberals won the most seats, and shelved the Commission on Legislative Democracy's recommendation.

Note: my regional simulation, due to the breakdown between the four regions, happens to cost the People’s Alliance a seat, to the benefit of the PCs. This is because the PA cast their appeal mainly to the South West and Central regions, and got only 3% in the North and 4% in the South East, too few to elect anyone, so those 6,806 votes were ineffective. Result: 19 Liberals, 17 PCs, 6 Greens, 5 People’s Alliance, 2 NDP.

Technical note: the New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy proposed four regions which mostly had 14 MLAs each, nine local and five regional. At that time New Brunswick had 55 MLAs. Today that has shrunk to 49, so most regions have 12 MLAs. I am still using five regional MLAs for each region, leaving seven or eight local MLAs. That means 40.8% of the MLAs are regional, which matches the 40% BC is looking at. A region with only four regional MLAs, only one-third, would not be enough to correct the disproportional results in New Brunswick’s disparate regions.