Wednesday, November 20, 2019

What lessons can be learned from the results of the 2018 BC referendum on proportional representation?

As I expected, a post-referendum poll shows that BC residents still like PR.

“A simple pro-rep question could have won” said the headline:


From this poll, it's clear that some potential supporters voted against PR because they did not feel informed enough, or perceived the whole process unacceptable, or found the options unclear or unconvincing, or found the questions confusing, or feared MLAs being appointed from party lists, or they were just afraid to vote for "the mystery box." (See below).

A poor process

One can argue that this referendum should never have been held, but it was in the NDP Platform. However, after Attorney-General David Eby was appointed to be the independent Minister in Charge, he conducted consultations and made recommendations concerning how the referendum process should be conducted. It ended up with a two-part question with three systems on the ballot.

The referendum timing was intended to be fast, to leave time for Elections BC to hold boundaries hearings for new ridings for the 2021 election, with a simple referendum. It did not allow enough time for public education on three systems. The consequences of this are discussed below.

Thousands of electoral reformers spent six months defending the process and how it was arrived at. It’s hard to admit that the process was the problem. But the polling evidence is clear. With a referendum on first-past-the-post versus one fully fleshed-out alternative, designed and explained via deep public consultation, PR would have won. Reformers should not be afraid to say so.

Research Co. poll:

An online study conducted from December 18 to December 20, 2018, among 803 adults in British Columbia.

(There was also an Angus Reid poll, but it asked less useful questions, and gave no results from non-voters. And its sample did not match the referendum outcome.)

The Research Co. poll mirrored the results of the referendum, with 49% of respondents reporting they voted for the first-past-the-post system, 31% voting to move to a proportional representation system, and 20% not casting a ballot. Once the non-voters are removed, the result of the “exit poll” is 61% choosing to retain the existing system and 39% opting to change it.

The survey shows that large majorities of British Columbians support basic PR concepts such as attempting to eliminate “strategic voting” (75%), that a party should only win majority power if its candidates won a majority of the votes (70%), a party not governing with a majority of seats but with fewer than 40% of all votes cast (63%), and MLAs being elected from different parties in close proportion to how voters voted in each region voted (57%). (Also, the notion of smaller parties holding the balance of power influenced the way 55% of voters voted, but the poll does not say what percent found that good and what percent bad.)

Majorities of British Columbians also endorse other concepts, such as that the voting system should not disadvantage independent candidates (70%), almost all votes helping elect an MLA (64%), voters being able to choose among different candidates from their preferred party (58%), and voters being able to make their vote count for a more popular candidate rather than having it ignored (52%).

Why did PR lose?

The No. 1 issue for those who chose not to vote is “not feeling informed enough” (48%). While some non-voters also claimed they never received a ballot (18%) or simply forgot to mail it (17%), nothing came close to the uneasy feeling of being in the dark.

When asked about issues that influenced the way they voted, majorities of British Columbians mention

1. the details of the three options on the second question not being fully fleshed out (59%),
2. the three options listed on the second question being confusing and not clearly explained (55%), and
3. MLAs being appointed from party lists (53%).

Many refused to vote yes on the first question when the result of the second question was a "mystery box," which might be an unknown system.

The no side was highly effective at convincing people that many details would be decided later. In fact, other than closed lists, not many details that made much of a practical difference were left to be decided later, but since voters were confused and ill-informed, explaining this was too hard. The conservative news media were no help.

This is no surprise. The No campaign’s best messages were bound to be “we don’t understand this enough” and “we don’t know enough.” Research has shown that low info voters will take the status quo when they don't understand the alternative. The opposition preyed on those fears.

Unfortunately, the Yes campaign played into its weakness, merely playing defence, reassuring voters of the benefits. This didn’t work. Voters couldn’t focus on what’s wrong with winner-take-all voting, when they were confused about PR.

Confusion on PR caused other problems: 50% of respondents were concerned over coalition deals being worked out “in the back room,” 49% over fringe or extremist parties winning seats, urban centres having disproportionate influence over future governments, and the details of the chosen proportional representation option being left to an all-party committee. Slightly smaller proportions of voters were influenced by the notion that voters from rural areas might lose local representation (45%) or the government possibly rigging the process for partisan gain (41%).

The PEI plebiscite had shown that a multi-option referendum could work well. Some reformers told Attorney-General Eby that a multi-option referendum would be better in BC. However, when New Zealand held their first multi-option referendum in 1992, every household in the country received a booklet in the mail, with detailed explanations of all four models, much more detail than Elections BC could give. New Zealand’s public education program ran for many months. It included TV debates with proponents of each of the four models. Of the 55% of registered electors who took part, an overwhelming 85% voted to change their electoral system. In the second part of the same vote, 70% favoured MMP.

So a good multi-option referendum is indeed possible. There was no time for that in BC, unless the referendum would have been the next spring, two years into the government’s mandate, when it might well have been suffering from a mid-term slump that would have led to PR’s defeat. Besides, Elections BC needed more time for new boundaries. No one wanted to wait that long. But a fast process was incompatible, as we have just seen, with a multi-option referendum.

Reformers expected voters to accept that the first question was the most important (although Elections BC materials did not say that). But many felt overwhelmed deciding on systems when they were not familiar with the systems on the ballot.

Can reformers learn how to scale up their greatest strength – relationships -- to withstand the forces of No? Not in a fast process.

As a Globe and Mail editorial said “Even the details of the proposed mixed-member proportional system, the system that was supposed to win the referendum, were to be left to the discretion of the government. It was like asking someone if they wanted the usual for lunch, or a sandwich. What kind of sandwich? Can’t say. Vote “sandwich” and leave it to the politicians to figure what goes between the bread."

Political leadership

Many have complained of the lack of political leadership from the NDP. However, in March 2017 when reformers interviewed Horgan, he said “Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) is the preferred electoral system if we’re going to change from what we have now. It’s party policy and if people don’t like it, there’s always the party convention." (Meaning: don’t try to change party policy undemocratically, it was set by Convention.)  "I’m confident that the group I’m leading now is behind me on this.” Regardless whether the platform mentioned MMP, every MLA knew it was party policy.

Right after the 2017 election, the BC NDP and Greens signed a Confidence and Supply Agreement committing both the New Democrat Government and the Green Caucus to proportional representation. "Legislation will be introduced in the 1st session that: (1) A referendum on proportional representation will take place in the fall of 2018, concurrent with the next municipal election; and (2) The form of proportional representation approved in the referendum will be enacted for the next provincial election. The parties agree to both campaign actively in support of the agreed-upon form of proportional representation." A fast
 referendum on a single form of PR. Not enough time for public education on three systems. 

Eby’s non-partisan experts took FVC’s input and came up with a new referendum model. However, no NDP MLA was elected on a platform of holding a referendum on a "mystery box" that might have chosen an unknown system. 

Although Fair Vote Canada has not supported any closed-list model since 2013, FVC somehow failed to convince Eby to keep it off the table. About two months before the campaign started, the BC NDP's own pro-PR website said the MMP model would be open-list, with a sample open-list ballot; but this contradicted the Elections BC materials. So by the time Horgan belatedly took closed-list MMP off the table, at least 53% of referendum voters either didn’t hear him or didn’t believe him.

Reformers could have had strong NDP leadership. Instead, the process reduced Horgan to asking voters, feebly, to “take a leap of faith.” Many NDP voters liked the result of the 2017 election, and had lost some appetite for PR.

By contrast, the MDN in Quebec worked to build up five-party support for a specific model of regional MMP which MDN had endorsed first.

Back to the Research Co. poll: “While BC Liberal voters from 2017 were decidedly more likely to support first past the post (82%), only 53% (really?) of those who say they voted for the NDP and the Greens favoured proportional representation.” (The Angus Reid poll found the NDP voters who voted in the referendum split 70/30, but 70% of 42% of 716,421 is 210,628, or 39% of the yes votes, so it’s not that simple.)

“Almost four-in-five British Columbians (78%) agree that politicians are in a conflict of interest when it comes to making decisions about how we vote, and would like any future proposals to involve an independent, non-partisan citizens’ body. This includes 77% of those who voted for Proportional Representation and 82% of those who voted to keep the First Past the Post system.” A logical conclusion when BC voters look at how the politicians screwed this process up.

The Liberals made it a partisan question

The party opposed campaigned for NO like their life depended on it, the most Trumpian campaign Canada has ever seen. Many say that partisan interests lie at the core of the problem, including the partisan interests of political parties elected to form government thanks to FPTP, the partisan interests of incumbents who fear losing their seats were the electoral system to be changed or the partisan preferences of voters themselves. One of their messages was that the referendum was RIGGED (“stacked deck” “rigged game”) in favour of the NDP and Greens, and the idea was that the NDP/Greens would be in power forever with PR - they made sure their Liberal voters heard this, despite there being no factual basis. When the debate was held between Horgan and Wilkinson, that made the referendum even more of a partisan fight than it already was.

Referendums rarely achieve the social license for changes. As the recent Brexit and BC referendums have shown, referendums are divisive and not a way to develop social consensus, especially with “opponent” and “proponent” groups expected to duke it out as a dystopian form of “public education.”


Does low turnout correlate with low support for PR? Yes, and the Yes campaign failed on ethnic/minority out-reach. But that’s only part of the story. In last year's provincial election in BC, 1,973,914 voters cast ballots. In this referendum, 1,403,358 completed voting packages were returned to Elections BC. That's 570,556 previous voters who did not vote. Still, if they had all voted, it would have taken 441,137 of them (78% of those non-voters) to vote for PR to change the result. Plus everyone who turned 18 in the past 16 months, which should have given the PR side a boost. But the mail-in ballot made the turnout worse because young people don't use mail. Being more likely not to have up to date voter registration, many didn't receive their ballot.

The silver living: MMP won

The referendum was not a complete loss. Some PR supporters in BC were still trying to fight the 2009 referendum over again, hoping to resurrect BC-STV. MMP won the first round on Question 2, and then won 63.05% on the final count. Since it also won the 2016 PEI plebiscite, and is the only model being considered in Quebec, this simplifies the debate on both sides of the Rockies.

As previously noted, the BC-STV model designed by the Electoral Boundaries Commission was not very proportional. With each district having, on average, only 4.25 MLAs, Green Party voters, who deserved to elect seven MLAs on the votes cast in 2009, would have been lucky to elect even three MLAs. Yet many BC voters complained that the proposed 20 districts, with an average population of about 222,000, were already unmanageably-large. This is not a trivial point. In a country with as much geography as Canada, fitting our geography into the voting system is the major design issue.

Anecdotal evidence

Every one has their favourite anecdotal comments. Here are mine, which match the polling results. Two of them are from friends I trust, retired Ontario teachers who moved to BC.

“I voted to keep FPTP not because I reject PR, but I was against all the devilish details of implementation being left to be decided later – no doubt in a way that favours the ruling party. We had no option except FPTP. The PR choices were vague and scant with details and explanations. It appeared that if FPTP was defeated, politicians would decide how to implement PR.  Unacceptable to 61 percent of us. The yes PR side campaign was a cluster f of “the right thing and the high road” but no details. That’s why 61 percent of us said NO!!”

“This campaign DID NOT properly explain what PR meant and until people get an understanding of what it is, they will be afraid to vote for it. There must be a way to make it simple and understandable. So disappointed. Let's keep advocating for it in the sense of educating people about it.”

People don't trust politicians to decide anything about electoral reform for totally understandable reasons. Unfortunately, politicians don't want to give up control to processes like citizens assemblies that people do trust more to decide details. “If I’d lived in BC, I wouldn’t have been happy with a blank cheque checkbox.”

“The politically informed and engaged typically understand the big picture (and often the finer details) of PR -- not so for the average voter or citizen. Anyone who doesn't understand (or take the time to understand) an alternative will favour the status quo or not vote.”

Last word to former BC Citizens Assembly member Shoni Field: "Did women give up fighting to get the vote after their first few failures? No, this is a long haul fight. We'd hoped that BC would be the first in Canada, and maybe now they'll be the last. But change is inevitable and one day we'll be using a proportional system and we'll keep working to make that happen.”

(Updated August 9, 2020.)

Sunday, October 27, 2019

How would proportional representation fix our broken voting system?

Has this year’s election left the country more divided than ever?

The House of Commons is divided, sure, because of our broken electoral system.

Alberta and Saskatchewan voters voted 68.1% Conservative, yes, but somehow they elected 98% of the MPs from those provinces. Sounds like an old-fashioned Russian election? About 350,000 Liberal voters found their votes didn’t count.

On the other hand, Toronto, Peel Region and Halton Region elected 40 Liberal MPs and no others. The Liberals got only 53% of those votes, but the other 967,000 voters found their votes didn’t count. In fact, across Canada, more voters voted Conservative than Liberal.

The broken promise

The 2015 Liberal platform said "We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system. We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting."

A lot of the Liberals were serious. Some still are, like Wayne Long from New Brunswick who just said he “regrets not being more outspoken when his party backed off its promise of electoral reform. He has no doubt there are other Liberals who would like to revisit the conversation.” In a House of Minorities, where the Standing Committees have no government majority, we can certainly expect this conversation to be revisited

Imagine a House of Commons elected by Proportional Representation

What would the results of this year’s election be, with proportional representation? Let’s look the result with the votes cast this year, with the Mixed Member Proportional system: No PMO running a one-party government elected by only 39.5% of the votes.

On the votes as cast, the final count by province-wide proportionality (with a 4% threshold in each province) is Liberals 116, Conservatives 118, NDP 56, Bloc 26, Greens 21. That’s what Canadians voted for. The Constitution Act gives each province specified numbers of MPs, so maintaining this means no constitutional amendment is required. A detailed simulation for each region is below.

Stéphane Dion was right

Stéphane Dion wrote in 2012 “I do not see why we should maintain a voting system that makes our major parties appear less national and our regions more politically opposed than they really are. I no longer want a voting system that gives the impression that certain parties have given up on Quebec, or on the West. On the contrary, the whole spectrum of parties, from Greens to Conservatives, must embrace all the regions of Canada. In each region, they must covet and be able to obtain seats proportionate to their actual support. This is the main reason why I recommend replacing our voting system.”

Never again

The first effect of using proportional representation would have been to end strategic voting. Canadian voters want more than two choices, if they can vote for what they want. A poll by Angus Reid Sept. 17 showed 77% of respondents support moving towards a system of proportional representation.

A Stable Coalition government

Like most countries with proportional representation, no party would have an incentive to roll the dice and hope for an accidental majority. They would form a stable coalition government with a four-year term. Canada has seen 11 coalition governments.

Ranked ballots in single-member ridings are off the table

When Justin Trudeau announced the end of electoral reform in February 2017 he said: his favourite option was “to rank your ballot. I have heard very clearly that people think it would favour Liberals too much. And therefore I’m not going near it, because I am not going to do something that everyone is convinced is going to favour one party over another." He could also have mentioned that only four percent of expert witnesses at the Electoral Reform Committee had supported it. The Liberal MPs on the committee didn't even mention it in their minority report, and when the media asked the Liberal committee chair why not, he answered "nobody wants ranked ballots."

Stéphane Dion’s 2013 line was “Preferential voting . . . does nothing to correct the distortion between votes and seats and the under-representation of national parties compared to regional ones.” Only proportional representation will make every vote count.

Of citizens who showed up, 87% called for proportional representation. Did we fail? No, we succeeded. We stopped the PMO’s bait-and-switch operation. We not only stopped it, we exposed it. I not only want my vote to count, I want my neighbour’s vote to count. As the posters said in New Zealand, in the winning campaign to keep MMP, “Your vote is worth exactly the same as mine and that's a powerful thing.”

The open-list MMP system: Every MP 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, where every MP represents actual voters and real communities. Almost 60% of MPs will be elected by local ridings as we do today, preserving the traditional link between voter and MP. The other 40% are elected as regional MPs, topping-up the numbers of MPs from your local region so the total is proportional to the votes for each party.

You have two votes. One is for your local MP. The second helps elect regional MPs, topping-up the numbers of MPs from your local region so the total is proportional to the votes for each party. You cast a personal vote for a candidate within the regional list. This is commonly called “open list.” Voters elect all the MPs. No one is guaranteed a seat. The region is small enough that the regional MPs are accountable. Every vote counts: it’s proportional. You vote for the regional candidate you prefer: it’s personal. There are no closed lists. Result: after the election, everyone has a local MP, plus a few regional MPs, likely including someone they helped elect.

Competing MPs:

You have a local MP who will champion your community, and about five competing regional MPs, normally including one whose views best reflect your values.

So you can vote for the local candidate you like best regardless of party, without hurting your party, since it's the party (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.

This makes it easier for local MPs to get the support of people of all political stripes. They can earn support for their constituency-representation credentials, not just for their party. This boosts the kind of support MPs bring with them into the House of Commons, thus strengthening their independence.

Did your vote count?

The 68% turnout in 2015 was the highest in seven elections. But the last election in New Zealand, where every vote counts, saw a 79% turnout elect a new government with three-party support.

Regional open list MMP

To make regional MPs accountable, we need regions small enough. The Law Commission Report was explicitly inspired by the models of Scotland, which has 16-MSP regions, and Wales, which has 12-MHA regions. My simulation uses regions with an average of 12 MPs (often seven local MPs, five regional MPs elected to top-up seats).

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

In my 2019 simulation, voters for every major party elect someone in each of the 30 regions, except no New Democrat in PEI. On the votes cast in 2019, Greens elect an MP in 19 of the 30. (Of course, the Green vote would actually increase.)

How would regional MPs serve residents?

Note: this is only a simulation

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." So I cannot promise that the husband and wife team of Elizabeth May and John Kidder would have both been elected, or her Deputy Leader Jo-Ann Roberts, or her Deputy Leader Daniel Green. I’m using 201 local MPs and 137 regional MPs in 30 regions, no additional MPs.

Or here’s a different version with 223 local MPs and 118 regional MPs in 34 regions.  

The West wants in

In Alberta (divided into 3 regions), the 14% of the voters who voted Liberal elected not one MP. A proportional system would have let them elect five Liberal regional MPs such as Nirmala Naidoo and Kent Hehr from Calgary, Randy Boissonnault and Amarjeet Sohi from Edmonton, and Amy Bronson from Lethbridge. Alberta voters would also have elected three more NDP MPs such as Mark Cherrington from Edmonton, Shandi Bleiken from Lethbridge, and Gurinder Singh Gill from Calgary.

In Saskatchewan, the 12% of voters who voted Liberal deserved to elect two of its 14 MPs, yet Ralph Goodale lost his seat. A proportional system, with eight local MPs and six regional MPs elected to top-up seats, would have let voters in Saskatchewan elect him and another Liberal MP like indigenous representative Tammy Cook-Searson, and three NDP MPs like incumbent MPs Sheri Benson (NDP national Deputy Leader) and indigenous representative Georgina Jolibois, and Claire Card from Saskatoon.

In Manitoba, Green voters would have elected an MP like Bill Tiessen from Brandon.

In the BC Interior and North’s nine ridings, Liberal voters cast 20% of the votes, but elected no one. They would have re-elected Stephen Fuhr from Kelowna, and Green voters would have elected someone like Iain Currie from Kamloops.

In Vancouver Island’s seven ridings, Liberal voters cast 16% of the votes, but elected no one, while NDP voters cast 32% of the ballots yet elected five of the seven MPs. A proportional system would have let Liberal voters on Vancouver Island elect an MP like Nikki Macdonald from Victoria, and Conservative voters elect an MP like Byron Horner from Parksville.

In Vancouver—Burnaby—North Shore—Maple Ridge, Green voters would have elected someone like West Vancouver’s Dana Taylor, and under-represented Conservative voters would have elected two more MPs like Nicholas Insley and Wai Young.

In Surrey—Richmond—Fraser Valley—Langley NDP voters would have elected two MPs like Surrey’s Harjit Singh Gill and Sarjit Singh Saran, while Green voters would have elected someone like John Kidder (Elizabeth May’s husband).

The Atlantic Provinces would not have been almost a one-party region

In Nova Scotia, Conservative voters would not have been limited to one MP. They would have elected two more like Scott Armstrong from Colchester County and Cape Breton’s Alfie MacLeod. NDP voters would, instead of being shut out, have elected two MPs like Christine Saulnier and Emma Norton from Halifax, or Jodi McDavid from Cape Breton. Green voters would have elected their Deputy Leader Jo-Ann Roberts.

In New Brunswick, NDP voters would have elected an MP like Daniel Thériault in Bathurst, and Green voters would have elected a second MP like Laura Reinsborough from.Sackville.

In Newfoundland & Labrador Conservative voters would have elected two MPs like Twillingate’s Alex Bracci and Trinity’s Sharon Vokey. NDP voters would have elected a second MP like Anne Marie Anonsen from Pouch Cove.

In PEI Conservative voters would have elected an MP like Logan McLellan from Summerside. Green voters would have elected an MP like Anna Keenan from Hunter River.

Ontario’s diverse voters would have been fully represented

In Southwestern Ontario’s 13 ridings, the 30% who voted Liberal elected only three MPs. A proportional system would have let voters in that region elect another Liberal MP like Sandra Pupatello or Huron-Bruce’s Allan Thompson, as well as another NDP MP like Tracey Ramsey from suburban Windsor, and the Green Party’s Dr. Collan Simmons of Stratford.

In West Central Ontario’s 14 ridings, the region’s MPs are eight Conservatives and six Liberals. A proportional system, with eight local MPs and six regional MPs, would have let voters in that region elect two New Democrat regional MP like Cambridge’s Dr. Scott Hamilton and Barrie’s Pekka Reinio, and two Greens like Guelph’s Steve Dyck and Kitchener’s Mike Morrice.

In Hamilton-Niagara’s 12 ridings, Green voters would have elected an MP like Norfolk nurse Brooke Martin, and NDP voters would have elected a third MP like Malcolm Allen of the Town of Pelham or Hamilton’s Nick Milanovic.

In Peel—Halton Region’s 14 ridings, instead of all Liberal MPs, Conservative voters would have elected four MPs like Milton’s Lisa Raitt, Stella Ambler, Terence Young and Sean Weir. NDP voters would have elected 2 MPs like Saranjit Singh and Jordan Boswell from Brampton.

In Toronto and East York—Etobicoke-York’s 13 ridings, rather than all Liberals, NDP voters would have elected two MPs like Andrew Cash and Min Sook Lee or Paul Taylor, Conservative voters would have elected two MPs like Ted Opitz and Barry O'Brien, and Green voters would have elected an MP like Tim Grant. In North York—Scarborough’s 12 ridings, rather than all Liberals, NDP voters would have elected an MP like Keith McCrady, while Conservative voters would have elected four MPs like Sarah Fischer, Chani Aryeh-Bain, Daniel Lee and Sean Hu.

In York—Durham’s 15 ridings, NDP voters would have elected two MPs like Oshawa’s Shailene Panylo and Bowmanville’s Sarah Whalen-Wright, while Green voters would have elected an MP like East Gwillimbury’s Jonathan Arnold.

In Central East Ontario’s nine ridings, NDP voters would have elected someone like Kingston’s Barrington Walker, while Green voters would have elected an MP like Stephen Kotze from Lanark Highlands.

In the Ottawa Valley’s 10 ridings, NDP voters would have elected 2 MPs like Ottawa’s Emilie Taman and Stéphanie Mercier, while Conservative voters would have elected a third MP like Ottawa’s Pierre Lemieux.

In Northern Ontario, Green voters would have elected an MP like Thunder Bay’s Bruce Hyer, while Conservative voters would have elected a second MP like Sault Ste. Marie’s Sonny Spina.

Quebec’s pluralism would be respected 

In Chaudière-Appalaches—Bas-Saint-Laurent—Gaspésie’s 8 ridings, Liberal voters would have re-elected Matane’s Rémi Massé rather than see him defeated. NDP voters would have re-elected Guy Caron from Rimouski.

In Quebec City—Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean—Côte-Nord’s 11 ridings, NDP voters would have re-elected Karine Trudel from Jonquière. Liberal voters would have re-elected Richard Hébert from Lac-Saint-Jean.

In Estrie—Mauricie—Centre-du-Québec’s 10 ridings, Conservative voters would have elected a second MP like Yves Lévesque in Trois-Rivières. NDP voters would have re-elected Ruth Ellen Brosseau or Sherbrooke’s Pierre-Luc Dusseault.

In Laurentides—Lanaudière—Outaouais—Abitibi-Témiscamingue—Nord’s 15 ridings, Liberal voters would have re-elected Linda Lapointe from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles. NDP voters would have elected an MP like Nicolas Thibodeau in Gatineau. Conservative voters would have elected an MP like Pontiac’s Dave Blackburn. Green voters would have elected an MP like Josée Poirier Defoy from Luskville.

In Montérégie’s 12 ridings, NDP voters would have re-elected Brigitte Sansoucy from Saint-Hyacinthe. Conservative voters would have elected an MP like Bernard Barré, also from Saint-Hyacinthe. Green voters would have elected floor-crosser Pierre Nantel in Longueuil.

In Montreal East—Laval’s 12 ridings, Conservative voters would have elected an MP like Tom Pentefountas. NDP voters would have elected a second MP like Nimâ Machouf. Green voters would have elected an MP like Juan Vazquez, spokesperson on Biodiversity who stood against Justin Trudeau. Bloc voters, over-represented outside Montreal but under-represented inside, would have elected two more like Simon Marchand and Lizabel Nitoi.

In Montreal-West’s 10 ridings, rather than all Liberals, NDP voters would have elected an MP like Andrea Clarke, Conservative voters would have elected an MP like David Tordjman, Green voters would have elected Deputy Leader Daniel Green, and Bloc voters would have elected an MP like Isabel Dion. 

Big-city rule? Or “Small and Rural”?

Some people fear proportional representation would mean big-city rule. Not so: In this year’s tax return, the rebate for carbon taxes includes a 10% supplement for residents of “small and rural communities:” those who live outside a Census Metropolitan Area, and presumably have to use more gasoline. Using that as a definition, 28 of the above examples of regional MPs come from small and rural communities.

Democratic nominations

Today, parties can nominate as they choose. Canada has no law to stop parties from appointing local candidates. Fair Vote Canada says they should have to nominate candidates democratically in order to qualify for campaign expense subsidy.

I expect parties would nominate local candidates first. As soon as they are finished, they hold the regional nomination process. I expect it’s an every-member online vote, after candidates’ speeches, carried online. In the run-up to the regional nomination, likely a party would hold all-candidates meetings in each riding. I expect almost all the local candidates would also stand for the positions of regional candidate, unless one of them was a token local candidate who had no interest in trying to compete across the region. 

On election day, voters can move a regional candidate up the regional list if he or she gets enough personal votes. Voters can elect that candidate ahead of another candidate whom the party’s regional nomination process had ranked higher. But still, it’s an advantage to be ranked first. So, the regional nomination process has to rank them, even if the eight regional candidates are acclaimed.

I expect some regional-only candidates would also be nominated, to add diversity to the ballot. Since voters can vote for the regional candidate they prefer, one of the regional-only candidates could be elected. This could be quite likely if the strongest local candidate wins a local seat, dropping off the regional count, opening the door for someone new.


With a regional MMP model, we risk local sweeps being so extreme that they create “overhangs.” Those are results too disproportional for the compensatory (“top-up”) MPs 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.

An overhang happens in my simulation with the Liberal sweep of Toronto, which results in a bonus of one MP for the Liberals at the cost of the NDP, and the Liberal sweep of Peel—Halton, a bonus of one from the Greens. However, the NDP near-sweep of Vancouver Island gives them a bonus of one MP from the Conservatives. Also, the Bloc sweep of Laurentides—Lanaudière gives them a bonus of one MP at the cost of the Conservatives. With a real MMP election where voters have more choice and do not need to cast negative votes, such sweeps will not normally happen. Random regional rounding differences also make slight changes.

Perfect province-wide proportionality would have resulted in Liberals 116, Conservatives 118, NDP 56, Bloc 26, Greens 21. My simulation happens to show Liberals 120, Conservatives 115, NDP 54, Bloc 26, Green 22, a bonus of four Liberals and one Green, three from the Conservatives, two from the NDP.

Provincial recap:
FPTP: Liberals 79, Conservatives 36, NDP 6  
PR: Liberals 54, Conservatives 39, NDP 20, Greens 8
FPTP Liberals 35, BQ 32, Conservatives 10, NDP 1
PR: Liberals 28, BQ 26, Conservatives 12, NDP 8, Greens 4
FPTP: Liberals 11, Conservatives 17, NDP 11, Greens 2, Jody W-R 1
PR: Liberals 10, Conservatives 15, NDP 10, Green 5, Jody W-R 1
FPTP: Liberals 0, Conservatives 33, NDP 1
PR: Liberals 5, Conservatives 25, NDP 4, Green 0
FPTP: Liberals 0, Conservatives 14, NDP 0
PR: Liberals 2, Conservatives 9, NDP 3, Green 0
FPTP: Liberals 4, Conservatives 7, NDP 3
PR: Liberals 4, Conservatives 6, NDP 3, Green 1
Nova Scotia:
FPTP: Liberals 10, Conservatives 1, NDP 0
PR: Liberals 5, Conservatives 3, NDP 2, Green 1
New Brunswick:
FPTP: Liberals 6, Conservatives 3, Green 1, NDP 0
PR: Liberals 4, Conservatives 3, Green 2, NDP 1
Newfoundland & Labrador:
FPTP: Liberals 6, Conservatives 0, NDP 1
PR: Liberals 3, Conservatives 2, NDP 2
Prince Edward Island:
FPTP: Liberals 4, Conservatives 0, Green 0, NDP 0
PR: Liberals 2, Conservatives 1, Green 1.

Technical Notes:

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.

For the three Territories, I would actually prefer to give them each a second MP, but for simplicity, in this simulation I left them unchanged.

Monday, September 2, 2019

What would a quick, simple “no-list” version of the Mixed Member Proportional system look like?

This year’s Canadian election is likely to produce a minority government. A new book says Trudeau was convinced by his caucus in 2015 to “leave the door open at least a crack for proportional representation” because he thought that he might be “willing to be convinced that (he was) wrong.” The Liberals will realize they made a mistake by letting Trudeau’s PMO break their promise to fix our broken voting system.

Let’s say they set up a Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform to design a fair voting system that will make every vote count effectively in every region across Canada, leaving no voice unheard.

Suppose Citizens Assembly members say “a normal Mixed Member Proportional system, like the one recommended by the Electoral Reform Committee (ERRE), will need a new round of hearings by the Electoral Boundaries Commissions. Voters will need to understand how their two votes work (one for a local MP, one for a regional MP for top-up seats that counts as a vote for their party). Parties will have to adopt new systems to nominate regional candidates democratically. Hard to get all this done before the next election. Can we design a simple MMP model that uses the present boundaries, and the present ballot, one vote for your local MP?

Sure. No-list MMP.

It’s not my favourite model. But it makes every vote matter. It ends “strategic voting.” It’s perfectly proportional within reasonable limits, like a 5% threshold for parties to win seats in a province. It preserves the traditional link between voter and MP. And it’s practical, since the German province of Baden-Württemberg has used it for more than 60 years to elect their provincial parliament in Stuttgart.


MMP model design is about trade-offs: do you want larger ridings and close to perfect proportionality, or smaller ridings with more risk of a party getting a “winner’s bonus” in its stronghold.

My ideal MMP model would look like the regional open-list model for which the ERRE found consensus. (No, not the MPs -- they didn’t write the whole 245 pages, that was the staff seconded from the Library of Parliament who worked from the testimony of the 196 expert witnesses). That model would have 60% or 65% of MPs elected from local ridings. It needs new boundaries, though.

“No-list” MMP model

The “no-list” Stuttgart model has voters elect half of the MPs from local ridings. The other half, for top-up seats for parties under-represented by the local results, are simply the best runner-up candidates in a local region -- the defeated candidates of that party who got the highest % of the vote in that region. Ridings are twice the present size, so just pair up our present ones. In return, voters also elect regional MPs as ranked by voters in that region.

For example, take the region of Hamilton—Niagara—Waterloo—Halton, with 22 MPs. Now it will have 11 local MPs. Take Hamilton Mountain-West—Ancaster—Dundas (HMWAD). On the votes cast in 2015, HMWAD would have elected current Liberal MP Filomena Tassi. But the runner-up, current NDP MP Scott Duvall, would have been one of the three additional NDP MPs elected across the region, topping up the results so every vote counts equally.

Conservative voters in HMWAD would have helped elect Conservative MP Lisa Raitt, the runner-up next door in Milton—Burlington. Green voters in HMWAD would have helped elect Gord Miller, the Green candidate in Guelph—Wellington—Halton Hills, the top Green in the region.

Voters in this region voted 41% Liberal, 37% Conservative, 17% NDP and 3% Green. So Liberal voters elect 9 MPs, Conservative voters 8, NDP voters 4, and Green voters 1. (For this simulation I used only a 2% threshold, so as not to exclude the Greens. In a real election, once every vote counts the Greens would, even in 2015, surely have gotten over 5% almost everywhere.)

Results across Canada

On the votes cast in 2015, with this model (giving the Territories 2 MPs each) voters would have elected 341 MPs: 139 Liberals, 108 Conservatives, 70 NDP, 14 Bloc, and 10 Greens. That’s almost perfectly proportional. (When you divide Ontario into seven regions, rounding anomalies give the NDP an extra seat at the cost of the Conservatives. Making Alberta two regions gives the Liberals a seat at the cost of the Conservatives. And my Quebec four regions give the Liberals a seat at the cost of the Bloc. The Greens get their fair number.)

Voters get what they voted for. Most democratic countries don’t have one-party governments, nor one-man governments run by the PMO. Canada has seen ten coalition governments.

Now keep in mind that this is only a simulation. As Prof. Dennis Pilon says: "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."

Pros and Cons of “no-list” MMP

With my favourite regional open-list model, voters like me in Northumberland County would have an accountable local Liberal MP, and I would have voted for the regional NDP candidate I preferred in a small 9-MP region, so I would have an accountable regional NDP MP I helped elect.

With the no-list model, I am not limited to a 9-MP region, since a 20-MP region will not mean a large “bed-sheet ballot.” So I will now be able to point to more than one NDP MPs I helped elect: Dave Nickle in Peterborough—Northumberland and Mary Fowler in Oshawa—Whitby. My Green neighbour can point to Glen Hodgson in Simcoe North—Parry Sound—Muskoka. Local Liberals and Conservative will each have an MP they helped elect in Peterborough—Northumberland.

This “no-list MMP” is a quick and simple model. The majority of ridings across Canada will manage fine even doubled in size. It gives my Green neighbour an MP. No one has to worry about how parties nominate their regional list: no list.

But no-list MMP will miss some advantages. My county will no longer have an MP accountable mainly to us. And unlike normal MMP, I will not vote for a specific regional candidate and hold them accountable. Normal MMP gives voters the best of both worlds. Voters are guaranteed two things which equal better local representation:
1.         A local MP who will champion their area.
2.         An MP whose views best reflect their values, someone they helped elect in their local riding or local region.

The normal two-vote MMP model lets you vote for the local candidate you prefer without hurting your party, since your second vote determines the party outcome. About 30% of New Zealand voters split their ballots this way. The “no-list” model loses this advantage.

The normal two-vote MMP model also lets you vote for the regional candidate you prefer, so regional MPs are very attached to voters in all parts of the region. No-list MMP, however, means only voters in their local riding rank them. A good candidate who would have gotten strong support across the region will lose if she is running in a weak riding for her party. I can’t vote for a good MP from my region to be re-elected if I don’t live in her local riding.

Normal MMP with regional lists lets parties nominate “zippered” lists, alternating women and men. No-list MMP loses that advantage.  

However, no-list MMP has nice regions. The four large provinces have regions in my simulation averaging 18 MPs each, big enough to make almost every vote count. Still, no one outside Toronto will complain that Toronto voters helped elect their MP. Northern Ontario voters will see Northern votes elect Northern MPs. Francophone voters in the bilingual Ottawa—Cornwall region will see their votes stay in the region. The four medium-small provinces average 12 MPs each, not too dissimilar levels of proportionality.

The regional MPs are the “best runners-up;” the defeated candidates of the under-represented party who got the highest % of the vote in that region. The majority of the twinned local ridings will see two of their local candidates elected as either local MPs or regional MPs. This does not always happen, since the defeated candidates are ranked by local voters across the region. So in my simulation I find 34 local ridings where none of the defeated candidates are elected as regional MPs, while in another 32 ridings two defeated candidates win regional seats, and one lucky riding sees three defeated candidates elected as regional MPs. (Suburban Pierre-Boucher—Verchères—Beloeil—Chambly elects a local Liberal MP, while candidates from the NDP, Bloc and Green Parties are elected as regional MPs.) The Stuttgart model in Germany works just like this too.

How many indigenous MPs would have been elected? That would depend on whether parties who nominated an indigenous candidate in one of the present ridings in 2015 would have nominated that candidate in the larger twinned riding. Since indigenous people are under-represented in Parliament, I expect most would. I project 17 indigenous MPs, compared to the ten actually elected.

Even 50% regional MPs is not always quite enough. Both Southern Alberta and Northern Alberta would see every paired riding elect, on the 2015 votes, a local Conservative MP, and with 56% or 63% of the votes, they would also deserve a regional MP. They will need a regional party “standby” list after all, just in case they run out of local candidates. Similarly, Nova Scotia Liberal voters would elect all the local MPs and one more, as would Liberal voters in Newfoundland and Labrador. And my simulation from 2015 shows every local Liberal candidate being elected to either a local or regional seat in Toronto, and in York—Peel, in New Brunswick, and in Northern Ontario. Same for every local Conservative candidate in Saskatchewan. And the Quebec region of Montérégie—Estrie—Centre-du-Québec shows, despite having 20 MPs, such a Liberal sweep that they get an “overhang” (bonus) of one MP.

Large urban areas will manage ridings twice the present size. A few rural ridings will look difficult, notably the Pacific Coast riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley—North Island—Powell River and the Northern Ontario riding of Nipissing—Timiskaming—Timmins—James Bay.

Here’s one more disadvantage: with only one local Liberal candidate for each pair of present ridings, 68 current Liberal MPs would find themselves squeezed out, with nothing but the very faint hope of being elected from a provincial “standby” list. So would 34 current Conservative MPs, 9 NDP, and 1 Bloc. As I said, this is a model a Citizens Assembly might design, not one current MPs would like. If MPs want a normal MMP model with smaller ridings and new boundaries hearings, they had better move fast in setting up that Citizens Assembly.

Since three provinces have uneven numbers of MPs, my simulation assumes Kenora, Labrador, and South Shore—St. Margaret's remain exceptional single-MP ridings. My seven Ontario regions are: Toronto (26 MPs including Thornhill); York—Peel (20), Central East (Kingston—Durham Region—Simcoe, 20), South Central (Hamilton—Niagara—Halton—Waterloo, 22), Southwestern (London—Windsor—Owen Sound, 14), Ottawa—Cornwall (10), Northern (9). 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

France: after three tries at using proportional representation, will it now see a "dose of proportionality"?

French President Emmanuel Macron proposes a semi-proportional system for France: a 20% “proportional share" for Parliamentary elections. (Also, the number of parliamentarians will be reduced by 25% to 30%.) He made this announcement April 25, after a “great national debate” that began January 14, 2019. He had stated “The system of representation is the bedrock of our Republic, but it must be improved because many do not feel represented after the votes. What is the right level of proportional representation in parliamentary elections for a fairer say to be given to all political perspectives?”

In his presidential campaign he had promised "a dose of proportionality." This share of 20% had been debated for the past year: would it be the 15% proposed last summer, 20%, or 25%?

Based on last summer’s discussions, it seems this “dose of proportionality” (PR-lite) is non-compensatory, based on national vote shares, with no threshold.

The history of proportional representation in France

France had always, before the First World War, used either a block vote system, with several deputies for each “department,” or the two-round system in single-member districts. During 1907-1914 support for PR built up, and a bill was passed in 1912 but vetoed by the Senate. PR became an election issue in the 1914 election, and a majority of the newly elected deputies had promised PR. The War started three months later.

Based on the electoral mandate, the Senate yielded in June 1919. France’s first PR election was in 1919, and again in 1924.

The 1919 election was moderately proportional in the 89 “Departments” for the 613 seats, an average of 7 seats per district, with a minimum of 3. It was an open-list system, but you have as many votes as deputies to be elected. Any candidate winning over 50% of the voters was elected, and then PR by list was used. Parties ran altogether 324 lists, 3 or 4 per department: one socialist, and 2 or 3 or 4 others of various groups of the centre and right; the right won a majority.

The 1924 election for 581 seats was won by the centre-left and left. It had the same system except that departments with more than 6 deputies were split, and the Socialists and Communists had separate lists. However, in July 1926 a financial crisis brought the right and centre-right to power, and they changed the voting system in 1927. For the 1928 election France reverted to their previous two-round system in single-member districts.

The Fourth Republic used PR for the 1945 Consultative Assembly and from 1946 to 1951 for the National Assembly. In 1945 it had closed lists. In 1946 the lists were closed unless at least half the votes for the list were personal votes, in which case the list order was applied as well as the personal votes. Districts ranged from three to nine seats in 1945, three to eleven MPs in 1946. The 1946 districts in France had an average of 5.3 MPs, 553 seats in 105 districts. The calculation was highest average.

From 1951 to 1958 this continued, except for a mechanism to favour parties other than the two biggest (Gaullists and Communists). This allowed the coalition called “Third Force,” centrists and centre-left originally led by the Socialist Party, the government since 1947, to remain in power until 1958. The lists had the opportunity to ally with each other in each district through an "apparentement". If the sum of the votes obtained by the “apparented” lists corresponds to at least half of the votes cast, these lists take all the seats allocated in the district. Also, in two districts the rule of the largest remainder was used, a gerrymander against the Communists in those two districts. Again, the lists were closed unless personal votes are at least half the votes for the list, but now in that case the list order was not applied, ranking was by only the personal votes. 

In 1951, even with the “apparentement,” the three “Third Force” parties won only 47% of the seats, squeezed between the Gaullists 19% and the Communists 16%, leaving them increasingly dependent on the other 15% won by the centre-right alliance. As these same leaders shuffled and reshuffled their alliances for five years, this left French politics as a shifting series of coalitions.

In the 1956 election the Communists became the largest party with 25% of the seats. Some apparentements continued between some centre-left, centre and centre-right lists, but accomplished little except to limit the number of seats won by the new right-wing Poujadists. With the six parties of the centre-left and centre-right badly divided over Algerian policy, governments foundered until the 1958 military coup in Algeria led to the return of Charles de Gaulle. By then, proportional representation had few defenders and was abolished. De Gaulle brought back the winner-take-all system in two rounds.   

For the 1985 election the Socialist President François Mitterand brought back PR, the system of proportional representation by district. There was a 5% threshold, and closed lists. It had 570 MPs from France, in 100 districts, an average of 5.7 MPs per district. The calculation was again by highest average. In 1986 the conservatives reversed it.

Note: with only about 6 MPs per district, this was a moderate form of PR, as indeed France has always used. Opponents were not concerned about small extremist parties. They wanted to get centrists and rightists into a big centre-right tent.

However, France understands PR very well. Municipal governments and regional assemblies used proportional or semi-proportional systems from 1947 to 1959, and again since 1982. European Parliament elections, starting in 1989, are by PR.