Monday, March 25, 2019

What would the electoral reform broken promise have meant this year?

What would the results of this year’s election be, with proportional representation?

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 them were serious. Leading Liberal MP Dominic Leblanc (from New Brunswick where an independent Commission had recommended the Mixed Member Proportional system) told Fair Vote Canada “I support reforms to add elements of proportional representation that also ensure that Members of Parliament remain directly accountable to their constituents first and foremost.” My own MP Kim Rudd signed a pledge to support PR. Dozens more future Liberal MPs told FVC they supported PR. Some (including Jody Wilson-Raybould) even said so on their campaign websites. In December 2014 half the Liberal MPs had voted in favour of proportional representation in the House of Commons, while the other half (including Justin) were opposed.

Even the day before the 2015 election they were expecting a minority government, and we could have had PR. But then the Liberals won an accidental majority, with the very same 39.5% of the vote that gave Harper an accidental majority in 2011. That’s the reason so many voters wanted PR in 2015. But over the next 15 months Justin Trudeau decided he could get away with imposing his own veto on PR. "It was my choice to make," he said.

When he 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.

Justin's reply to PR is "that would mean extremist voices, and activist voices that don’t get to sit within a party that figures out the best path for the whole future of the country, like the existing three big parties do." I don't know whether the Green Party is supposed to be "extremist" or just "activist" (when did that become a bad word)?

We stopped the bait-and-switch

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.

This leaves the path clear for parties and candidates who want to campaign in 2019 to make every vote count through proportional representation. 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.”

What would the results of this year’s election be, with proportional representation?

Let’s look the result with the votes cast in 2015, 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 in my regional simulation is Liberals 141, Conservatives 106, NDP 69, Bloc 16, Green 6. That’s what Canadians voted for.

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.”

One thing is certain: the 2015 results under winner-take-all left Liberal voters in Alberta and Saskatchewan under-represented in the Liberal caucus, short seven MPs.

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. The majority of MPs will be elected by local ridings as we do today, preserving the traditional link between voter and MP. The other 39% 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.

Never again

The first effect of using proportional representation would have been to end strategic voting.

The polling swings of the six months before the election clearly showed that Canadian voters want more than two choices, if they can vote for what they want. This left a vast number of voters, frustrated at having to vote against something on October 19, saying “never again -- next time I want to vote for my first choice.” 

Polls taken the day before the election correctly predicted the outcome, but until that Sunday, polls had shown a Liberal minority government. Some newly elected Liberal MPs had been encouraging NDP supporters to help elect a minority Liberal government. They were apologetic: “Sorry, I was expecting a minority government.” Many people echoed a Globe and Mail columnist who wrote “What have we done?” A voter’s anguished letter to Justin Trudeau went viral: “I did not vote for you. I voted against the alternative . . .  Change the electoral system.”

Did your vote count?

The 68% turnout in 2015 was the highest in seven elections. But last year 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 MPPs, five regional MPPs 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.

How would regional MPs serve residents?

Big-city rule?

Some people fear proportional representation would mean big-city rule. Not so: the list below includes 24 regional MPs from outside metropolitan areas.

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." I’m using 208 local MPs and 130 regional MPs in 30 regions, no additional MPs.

Ontario’s diverse voters would have been fully represented

In West Central Ontario’s 14 ridings, Liberal voters cast 42% of the ballots, while Conservative voters cast only 41%. Yet the region’s 14 MPs are nine Conservatives and only five Liberals, all but one men. A proportional system, with eight local MPs and six regional MPs, would have let voters in that region elect another Liberal MP like Orillia’s Liz Riley, Muskoka’s Trisha Cowie, or Owen Sound’s Kimberley Love, one New Democrat regional MP like Kitchener’s Susan Cadell, one Green like Guelph’s Gord Miller, and six local Conservatives.

In Southwestern Ontario’s 13 ridings, the 34% who voted Liberal elected only two MPs although NDP voters elected four MPs with 25% of the vote. A proportional system would have let voters in that region elect two more Liberal MPs like Chatham’s Katie Omstead and Lori Baldwin-Sands from St. Thomas.

In Hamilton-Niagara’s 12 ridings, NDP voters would have re-elected Malcolm Allen of the Town of Pelham.

In York—Durham’s 15 ridings, NDP voters would have elected someone like Oshawa’s Mary Fowler, while Conservative voters would have elected two more MPs like Costas Menegakis in Richmond Hill and Julian Fantino in Vaughan.

In Central East Ontario’s nine ridings, NDP voters would have elected someone like Peterborough’s Dave Nickle.

In Northern Ontario, NDP voters would have re-elected Claude Gravelle from the francophone town of Chelmsford, while Conservative voters would have re-elected Sault Ste. Marie’s Bryan Hayes and North Bay’s Jay Aspin.

In Peel—Halton Region’s 14 ridings, NDP voters would have elected 2 MPs like Harbaljit Singh Kahlon from Brampton and Dianne Douglas from Mississauga, while Conservative voters would have elected four more MPs from Oakville or Mississauga like Stella Ambler, Effie Triantafilopoulos, Terence Young and Brad Butt.

In North York—Etobicoke’s 12 ridings, NDP voters would have re-elected Peggy Nash and Mike Sullivan, while Conservative voters would have elected three MPs like Joe Oliver, Mark Adler and Maureen Harquail. In Central Toronto—Scarborough’s 13 ridings, NDP voters would have re-elected three MPs like Craig Scott, Andrew Cash and Mathew Kellway, while Conservative voters would have elected three MPs like Bin Chang, Roxanne James and Marnie MacDougall

In the Ottawa Valley’s 10 ridings, NDP voters would have elected 2 MPs like Ottawa’s Paul Dewar and Emilie Taman, while Conservative voters would have elected another MP like Ottawa’s Royal Galipeau.

The West wants in

In Alberta (divided into 3 regions), the 25% of the voters who voted Liberal elected only four, all men. A proportional system would have let them elect five more Liberal MPs such as Kyle Harrietha from Fort McMurray, Mike Pyne from Lethbridge, Kerry Cundal and Nirmala Naidoo from Calgary, and Karen Leibovici from Edmonton. Alberta voters would also have elected three more NDP MPs such as Cheryl Meheden from Lethbridge, Janis Irwin from Edmonton and Laura Weston from Calgary.

In Saskatchewan, the 24% of voters who voted Liberal deserved to elect three of its 14 MPs, yet elected only Ralph Goodale. A proportional system would have let voters in Saskatchewan elect two more Liberal MPs like aboriginal leader Lawrence Joseph from Prince Albert and Tracy Muggli from Saskatoon, and another NDP MP like Claire Card from Saskatoon.

In Manitoba, Green voters would have elected an MP like David Neufeld from Brandon.

In the BC Interior and North’s nine ridings, Liberal voters cast 30% of the votes, but elected only Stephen Fuhr, while the Conservatives elected five MPs. A proportional system would have let voters in that region elect two more Liberal MPs like Tracy Calogheros from Prince George and Karley Scott from West Kelowna.

In Vancouver Island’s seven ridings, Liberal voters cast 21% of the votes, but elected no one, while NDP voters cast 33% of the ballots yet elected six of the seven MPs. A proportional system would have let Liberal voters on Vancouver Island elect at least one MP such as David Merner from Victoria, Green voters elect a second MP like Victoria’s Jo-Ann Roberts, and Conservative voters elect an MP like Courtenay’s John Duncan.

In Vancouver—Burnaby—North Shore—Maple Ridge Green voters would have elected someone like Whistler’s former mayor Ken Melamed, and Conservative voters (shut out in this region) would have elected three Vancouver MPs like Wai Young, Douglas Horne and Andrew Saxton.

In Surrey—Richmond—Fraser Valley—Langley NDP voters would have elected two MPs like Surrey’s Jinny Sims and Jasbir Sandhu, while Green voters would have elected someone like Hope’s Arthur Green.

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

In Nova Scotia, Conservative voters would have re-elected Scott Armstrong from Colchester County and elected another MP like Arnold LeBlanc from the francophone District of Clare, while NDP voters would have re-elected two Halifax MPs like Megan Leslie and Peter Stoffer.

In New Brunswick, NDP voters would have elected two MPs like Jason Godin in Bathurst and Jennifer McKenzie in Saint John, and re-elected two Conservative MPs like John Williamson in Saint Andrews and Rob Moore in Quispamsis.

In Newfoundland & Labrador Conservative voters would have elected an MP like Gander’s Kevin O’Brien, while NDP voters would have re-elected an MP like Jack Harris in St. John’s.

In PEI Conservative voters would have re-elected Gail Shea from Tignish and NDP voters would have elected an MP like Joe Byrne from Charlottetown.

Quebec’s pluralism would be respected 

In Chaudière-Appalaches—Bas-Saint-Laurent—Gaspésie’s 8 ridings, NDP voters would have re-elected another MP like Gaspésie’s Philip Toone, while Bloc voters would have elected an MP like Kédina Fleury-Samson from Mont-Joli.

In Quebec City—Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean—Côte-Nord’s 11 ridings, NDP voters would have elected two more MPs like Annick Papillon and Raymond Côté from Quebec City, while Bloc voters would have elected an MP like Jean-Francois Caron from Jonquière.

In Estrie—Mauricie—Centre-du-Québec’s 10 ridings, Conservative voters would have elected another MP like Dominic Therrien in Trois-Rivières, and Bloc voters would have elected another MP like Diane Bourgeois in Drummond.

In Laurentides—Lanaudière—Outaouais—Abitibi-Témiscamingue—Nord’s 15 ridings, NDP voters would have elected two more MPs like Nycole Turmel or Françoise Boivin in Gatineau and Pierre Dionne Labelle in Saint-Jérôme, and Conservative voters would have elected two more MPs like Michel Surprenant in Terrebonne and Sylvain Charron in Sainte-Anne-des-Lacs.

In Montérégie’s 12 ridings, Conservative voters would have elected two more MPs like Qais Hamidi in Brossard and Yves Perras in Saint-Constant, and Bloc voters would have elected two more MPs like Claude DeBellefeuille from Le Haut-Saint-Laurent and Catherine Fournier from Sainte-Julie.

In Montreal East—Laval’s 14 ridings, Conservative voters would have elected an MP like Guy Croteau, while Bloc voters would have elected two more like Gilles Duceppe and Simon Marchand.

In Montreal-West’s 8 ridings, NDP voters would have re-elected Hélène LeBlanc, Conservative voters would have elected an MP like Robert Libman, and Bloc voters would have elected an MP like Gilbert Paquette.  

“Small and Rural”:

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, 24 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 39% of the total. That’s the trade-off in the system design, to keep local ridings from being almost double their present size.

The Constitution Act gives each province specified numbers of MPs. This simulation assumes the threshold is 2.5% in all provinces, comparable to 5% if votes for the smaller party doubled under PR. Perfect province-wide proportionality would have resulted in 138 Liberal MPs, 109 Conservatives, 67 New Democrats, 16 Bloc Québecois, and 8 Greens.

Overhangs happened in 2015 with the never-before-seen Liberal sweep of New Brunswick, and with the sweep of Toronto. This results in a bonus of two MPs for the Liberals. With a real MMP election where voters have more choice and do not need to cast negative votes, such sweeps will not normally happen. Also, the small vote for the Greens leaves them with only six MPs, not the eight which perfect proportionality would give them. This gives the NDP a bonus also, and random regional rounding differences make slight changes. My total simulation shows Liberals 141, Conservatives 106, NDP 69, Bloc 16, Green 6.

More Greens

The 2015 Green vote dropped to only 3.5% across Canada, while in 2008 it was 6.8%. So no regional PR model will give most 2015 Green voters full representation. If the Greens doubled their vote with PR as they would surely have done, they would have elected about 23 MPs across Canada, getting official party status and overtaking the Bloc.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Why did Germany adopt MMP?

Why did Germany adopt the Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system?

British occupation authorities in postwar Germany created MMP in February 1946. The new Federal Republic of West Germany adopted it in mid-1948, under the name “Personalized Proportional Representation.”

Only local governments survived the German defeat in 1945. Occupation authorities had to set up district and provincial governments, by appointing officials until democratic elections could be held. Former Nazis were banned from running.

The problems with the Weimar system

From 1919 to 1933 the “Weimar Republic” of Germany had used proportional representation with no threshold. In the 1928 election 15 parties won seats, including a party which won only 0.4% of the vote. Hitler’s Nazi Party won 12 of the 491 seats with 2.6% of the vote.

“This fragmentation made it hard for parties to build and sustain governing coalitions. Contemporary and later observers concluded that this hyper-representative electoral system itself bore significant responsibility for undermining Weimar democracy.” Germans and occupation authorities had to design a better system. “Most participants in the electoral system debates concurred that . . .depersonalized voting had not done enough to foster links between citizens and their governors.” “The big question was how to devise a system that could avoid hyper-representativeness, and could combine personal links between voters and legislators.” (Political Science Professor Susan Scarrow, in “Mixed-Member Electoral Systems: The Best of Both Worlds?”)

Fixing the problems

In the American Zone they simply asked local German officials to arrange for elections based on pre-1933 practices. In the British zone this was considered dangerous and unwise. The appointed officials were mostly from the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the leading anti-Hitler party in 1933 and after the war ended. When the British first tried to persuade them to use the British voting system, they resisted.

In February 1946 a new compromise was agreed for the British zone, which combined the form of the British system – electors voting for an individual in their constituency – with the substance of the former German proportional representation system. Results of individual ballots were supplemented by the election of additional candidates from a party list, to increase the total elected to reflect the proportion of votes cast for each party: the basic principle of MMP.

Austen Albu invented MMP at a meeting Feb. 16, 1946. (Winning The Peace: the British in occupied Germany, 1945-1948.) Albu was an engineer and active Labour Party member who, at age 42, was appointed by the British Labour government’s Minister responsible for Germany to be head of the ‘German Political Department’ in the Political Division of the British Control Commission for Germany, and became Deputy Chairman of the Governmental Sub-Commission. (Albu’s great-grandparents had come from Poland to England around 1840. In Germany in 1946 he helped Social Democrat Kurt Schumacher fight off Soviet Zone attempts to fuse the SPD with the Communist Party. Albu went on to win a UK by-election in 1948, and as a Labour MP became the Minister of State for Economic Affairs 1965 to 1967.)

Elections were held in October 1946 to select representatives for city, district and provincial councils, and in April or October 1947 for provincial governments. A variety of MMP formulas was used in the four provinces in the British zone. Some British authorities were pushing for a high proportion of local seats, while local German leaders wanted it strongly proportional. The list seat proportions ranged from 24% (Hamburg), and 25% (North Rhine-Westphalia) to 36.5% (Lower Saxony) and 40% (Schleswig-Holstein). However, North Rhine-Westphalia allowed overhang seats, giving it 31% list MPs, enough to make those results almost fully proportional, while the other three did not. Also, Schleswig-Holstein’s top-up calculation was an unusual one, and gave list seats only to parties that won a local seat.

By January, 1947 the Provinces in the American Zone had reached the stage of popularly elected parliaments, mostly using the old German list PR system.

How did MMP catch on throughout West Germany? Provincial delegates in mid-1948 designed the first federal elections for the new state of West Germany. They recognized that depersonalized voting with no local links, in the Weimar Republic, had not made government democratic enough. The SPD liked MMP, but some SPD leaders wanted a 5% threshold to prevent the splintering of parties that plagued the Weimar Republic. The SPD wanted 50% list MPs, but the final design was 40% list MPs, with a 5% threshold.

Why MMP worked

Personalizing PR has worked. Professor Matthew Shugart finds “The presence of the [local MPs] induces list members to act as though they had smaller geographic constituencies.” (In “Mixed-Member Electoral Systems: The Best of Both Worlds?”)

Professor Massicotte reports this too: “There is practically no difference — once elected — in the status or behaviour of constituency candidates and list candidates. . . . The voters do not perceive the difference at all.” “Typically, a list member starts out by running unsuccessfully in a constituency. To run, he or she has to become familiar with the local issues. The person tries again in the next election. If his or her party comes to power, its number of list seats will decline noticeably and the only way to get elected will likely be by running in a constituency. For this reason, such a person will remain active in the constituency during his or her term of office and give such activities almost as much effort as a “directly” elected member.” (pp. 61 and 74, Working Document)

1949 and beyond: improving MMP

Until the new West Germany’s first federal election in 1949, democratic politics had developed in the various provinces, with some local parties. Therefore, the threshold was applied at the provincial level rather than nation-wide. This let ten parties win seats in 1949, counting the new centre-right Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian wing the Christian Social Union as one party. Four of these parties fell below the threshold nationally but won more than 5% in at least one province. The “German Party,” rooted in Lower Saxony where it won 17.8%, won only 4.0% but elected 17 MPs. The Bavaria Party won only 4.2% but won 20.9% in Bavaria. The Centre Party won only 3.1% but won 8.9% in North Rhine-Westphalia. The DKP-DRP won only 1.8% but won 8.1% in Lower Saxony.

In 1949 the voter had only one vote, for a party and its local candidate. If voters wanted to “stop the SPD” or “stop the CDU” they might vote strategically, hurting smaller parties. Despite strategic voting, the outcome with provincial thresholds did not look much less fragmented than the Weimar elections.

SPD leader Kurt Schumacher was expected to be the first Chancellor of West Germany. A heroic figure, at age 19 he had lost an arm in the First World War, and had been imprisoned for 12 years during Hitler’s regime. In the 1949 election the SPD was expected to be the largest party, followed by the CDU/CSU. A Grand Coalition of the SPD and CDU existed in many provinces. In the British Zone, the four provinces had two SPD governments, one SPD-led Grand Coalition, and one CDU-led Grand Coalition. Many CDU leaders, including its “Christian Socialist” wing, wanted similar unity for the new West Germany, as did most small parties. However, CDU leader Konrad Adenauer assembled instead a narrow coalition: the CDU/CSU, their right-liberal FDP allies, and the regional 17-seat “German Party,” which together had 208 seats. After sIx dissenters, the vote to make Adenauer Chancellor was 202 of the 401 MPs, his famous one-seat majority.

In 1953 the big improvement started: the two-vote system, making the system still more personal. You could vote for the local candidate you wanted, without hurting the party you preferred. Still, the party system simplified to six parties, two of which were below 5% but had local strongholds and won some local seats, an exception to the 5% threshold. Finally, for the 1957 election the 5% threshold was nation-wide (as it has remained), leaving only four parties in Parliament. In 16 elections after 1957, no party has won a one-party majority, yet the 16 coalition governments have been stable.