Monday, March 2, 2020

Making every vote count: the Bélanger solution

The Bélanger solution

Looking at the Canadian scene today, what Liberal can tolerate thinking of an accidental majority Conservative government elected by 40% of voters? 

Anyone who forgets Stephen Harper in 2011 cannot forget that Doug Ford did so in 2018.

Liberal Convention delegates in 2014 voted overwhelmingly for Resolution 31 from the federal caucus for electoral reform: a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation. The preferential ballot is off the table: As Justin Trudeau wisely said Feb. 10, 2017, ”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.” And anyway, it would never pass the present House, no other party would support it.

Can an accidental Conservative majority be prevented quickly and simply? Without a completely new system with new riding boundaries? A fast solution while the discussion continues about whether to adopt full proportional representation, how a PR model for Canada would work, and whether a Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform is a better way to settle these questions than holding a referendum?

How about a semi-proportional solution: keep the present ridings, and add 42 regional MPs to top-up the results from each region? These 42 extra MPs will not only make accidental majority governments far less likely, they would also make every vote count to some extent, and give all parties MPs from each region.

This 42 is the number of additional MPs the late Mauril Bélanger liked. He was MP for Ottawa-Vanier for 21 years, one of the Liberal MP supporters of proportional representation, and the man whose bill changed "in all thy sons command" to "in all of us command." :

It’s a moderate number: 60 additional MPs were recommended by "A Future Together," the report of the Pepin-Robarts Commission (Task Force on Canadian Unity) in 1979. Pierre Trudeau called this “an excellent idea.

A “national conversation?”

That isn’t just a partisan fix. How can we have a "national conversation" in Parliament when more than half our voices are shut out? When some voices get a megaphone - such as Conservatives occupying every seat in Saskatchewan and Liberals occupying every seat in Toronto - while others are silenced? In 2019, this model would have let voters for every major party elect MPs from each province except PEI, and Greens elect MPs from five provinces.

Does the Bélanger solution work?

Is 42 extra MPs really enough? Would it have prevented a Harper false majority in 2011? Checking the 2011 results, those 42 MPs would have been 17 Liberals, 12 New Democrats, 3 Greens, 5 Bloc, and 5 Conservatives (from Atlantic Canada and Quebec). Harper would have had 171 MPs out of 350, four short of half.

I’m assuming the 42 MPs are divided among the provinces in proportion to their present numbers of MPs. My 2011 simulation generates two Liberal regional MPs from the BC Lower Mainland, one from the rest of BC, one from Northern Alberta, one from Southern Alberta, one from Manitoba, two from Southwest Ontario, two from South Central Ontario, one from Peel-Halton, two from Toronto, two from Northern and Central Ontario, one from Central and Western Quebec, and one from Eastern Quebec.

Can an expansion of the House be justified? In fact, it is inevitable. After the next census, the smaller provinces will have their present seats protected, while the growing large provinces will be entitled to more MPs. This resulted in 30 more MPs in 2015. The next census will have a similar result, maybe even more.

The same ballot, with best runners-up? or open-list?

With 20 regions, they each have an average of 17 local MPs and 2 regional MPs. One alternative, keeping our present ballot, is to elect the one or two local candidates of the under-represented party who got the highest vote percent without winning. That’s the “best runners-up” model used by the German province of Baden-Wurttemberg and by Sweden. Or, like a normal Mixed Member Proportional system, we could elect the regional MPs from open regional lists. With the two-vote ballot you vote for your local MP, and you also vote for your favourite regional candidate of the party you want to see in government. This option makes regional MPs almost as accountable as under the 30 regions possible with normal MMP.

An immediate solution

There must be many Liberal MPs who will like this. Not because of how it would have worked in 2019 (six more Liberal MPs from the West: Ralph Goodale, Randy Boissonnault, Amarjeet Sohi, Nirmala Naidoo (Calgary) or Kent Hehr, Stephen Fuhr, and Nikki Macdonald or Mary Ann Murphy), but because it would provide a good chance that no accidental majority government will result from the next election.

(Note: revised Nov. 30, 2020)