Monday, November 30, 2020

When Pierre Trudeau supported Proportional Representation

Many people don’t know Pierre Trudeau supported Proportional Representation in 1980. You can listen to him here:

Hearing Pierre Trudeau explain why he supported proportional representation, his reasons sound totally familiar 40 years later.

The Pépin-Robarts solution (now the Bélanger solution)

In the 1979 election, Liberals in Alberta cast 22% of the votes but elected zero members – in fact they had only one Liberal MP west of Winnipeg. The Liberals had no Saskatchewan MP after their young star Ralph Goodale lost his seat. And conversely, Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservative Party got 13% of the Quebec vote and only two members, and much the same for the NDP.

Pierre Trudeau said “I think we have to move in this direction because the national parties, even though they have many voters in all parts of Canada, don’t have sitting in Ottawa members of Parliament from that particular region on the government side. In the case of Mr. Clark’s government, he doesn’t have a lot of members and ministers in the house who could speak for Quebec, and in the case of our government we didn’t have a lot of members or ministers who could speak for Alberta. You are aware, of course, that the Pépin-Robarts Committee also recommended something along those lines.” 

The Pépin-Robarts Commission

“To move in the direction of proportional representation” was the solution recommended by the Pépin-Roberts Commission Jan. 25, 1979. That Commission (the “Task Force on Canadian Unity”) was multi-partisan, co-chaired by former Ontario Conservative Premier John Robarts. They proposed electing an additional 60 MPs to the House of Commons to top-up the results from each province, keeping the present ridings.

Trudeau did not endorse it right away. The 1979 election was held May 22. Pierre Trudeau’s government lost its majority, even though they actually got more votes than the PCs. Even the Liberals and NDP combined were 2 seats short of a majority. Trudeau resigned as PM June 3 and announced his resignation as Liberal leader Nov. 21. Three days later, speaking at the University of Montreal, he endorsed the Pépin-Robarts recommendation to give each province fair representation from voters for each party. When Joe Clark then lost a confidence vote, Pierre Trudeau withdrew his resignation and was re-elected Prime Minister Feb. 18, 1980. Earlier that February he told CBC he still supported the Pépin-Robarts recommendation.

Those additional 60 MPs would (in 1979) have included 23 Liberal MPs, 17 from the West: 3 from Alberta, 3 from Saskatchewan, 6 more from BC where they had only 1, 3 from the Territories,.and 2 more from Manitoba, plus 4 more from Ontario, I more from Nova Scotia, and 1 from PEI. PC voters would have elected 7 more MPs from Quebec. NDP voters would have elected MPs from Quebec, New Brunswick and Alberta, and more from other provinces.

The actual 1979 election result was PCs 136, Liberals 114, NDP 26, Creditistes 6. With the additional 60 provincial MPs, the results would have been 137 Liberals, 143 PCs, 51 New Democrats, and 11 Creditistes. With 172 seats needed for a majority, the Liberals would have had to work with the NDP as they did from 1972 to 1974, or even form a coalition government. A perfectly proportional result with 342 MPs would have been 140 Liberals, 125 PCs, 62 New Democrats, and 15 Creditistes, but the governmental outcome would have been the same either way. 

Pierre’s same reasons apply today

Today, 40 years later, the Prime Minister should make his father’s argument, since the Liberals once again have no MPs from Alberta and Saskatchewan, after their Saskatchewan veteran Ralph Goodale once again lost his seat.

With the House of Commons larger now, the Pépin-Roberts recommendation could be for 72 more MPs. But even 60 more MPs, or even a modest 42 MPs, is worth looking at.

It’s a semi-proportional solution: keep the present riding boundaries, and add some additional MPs to top-up the results from each province or region. These extra MPs will give all parties MPs from each region. They will make every vote count to some extent, and will also make accidental majority governments far less likely.

It could be permanent. Or it could be 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?

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 again, 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 Bélanger Solution

A modest 42 additional MPs 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." 

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.

More about the Belanger solution here.


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

What would the 2020 BC election result have been under proportional representation?

The MMP system preferred by the majority of PR supporters in the 2018 referendum had a threshold of 5% for voters for a party to elect top-up MLAs. So I’ll start with the three parties which got more than that threshold.

The NDP got 49.4% of the three-party vote, almost enough for a majority, but my projection shows them with 43 of the 87 seats, one short of a majority. However, NDP voters would have been better represented in the Interior and North.

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."

Better regional representation

In the 14 seats of the Interior (including Kamloops—Thompson but not Cariboo), NDP voters would have elected six MLAs rather than four. That might have included Sadie Hunter from Kamloops and Aaron Sumexheltza from Fraser—Nicola (the Lower Nicola Indian Band), or maybe Toni Boot from Penticton or Nicole Cherlet from Revelstoke. The winners would be the regional NDP candidates who got the most votes (other than those who had won local seats), so my examples are those who had gotten the highest percent of the vote.

The Interior would have elected eight local MPs from larger ridings, and six regional MLAs for top-up seats: six Liberals, six New Democrats, and two Greens. Green voters might have elected Nicole Charlwood from Nelson and Amanda Poon from Kelowna, or Andrew Duncan from Rossland or Dan Hines from Kamloops. I have used the “largest remainder” calculation, which Germany used until recently, because it is the simplest and most transparent. If Party A gets 6.4 seats and Party B gets 5.6 seats, who gets the 12th seat? Party B.

In the ten Northern seats NDP voters would have elected four MLAs, not just two. That might have included Nicole Halbauer from Terrace and Kitsumkalum First Nation (Skeena) and Scott Elliott from Quesnel (Cariboo North), or Anne Marie Sam from Nechako Lakes and Nak’azdli Band, or Joan Atkinson, Mayor of Mackenzie District (Prince George—Mackenzie). Green voters would have elected someone like MacKenzie Kerr from Prince George. The North would still have ten MLAs (six local, four regional MLAs for top-up seats).

Liberal voters would have elected 31 MLAs, only 3 more than the 2020 result, but they would have elected 17 MLAs from the Lower Mainland instead of only 10, and they would have elected 3 MLAs from Vancouver Island instead of none at all.

Green voters would have elected 13 MLAs. Three from the 16 ridings of Vancouver-North Shore, such as Jeremy Valeriote from Whistler, Bridget Burns from East Vancouver, and Kelly Tatham from Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, or Kim Darwin from Sechelt, or Ian Goldman from Vancouver-Fairview. One from Burnaby-Tri-Cities-Maple Ridge such as Cyrus Sy from New Westminster. One from Surrey-Delta-Richmond like Peter van der Velden from Delta or Beverly (Pixie) Hobby from Surrey, a former NDP candidate. One from the eight ridings of Fraser Valley-Langley such as Abbotsford’s Aird Flavelle or Langley’s Cheryl Wiens. Two more from Vancouver Island like Victoria school trustee Nicole Duncan, Annemieke Holthuis or Jenn Neilson in Victoria, or Chris Istace from North Cowichan, two from the Interior (see above) and one from the North (see above). 

Why do the Greens get only 13 MLAs? Province-wide, they might deserve 13.59, while the Liberals deserve 30.43. But the Liberals do better in the North which is over-represented to give sparsely populated areas and indigenous minorities fair representation, while the Greens ran only four candidates in those ten ridings, giving a slight edge to the Liberals. This MMP model has 52 local MLAs, and 35 regional MLAs for top-up seats.

Who would be the government?

The projected result is 43 NDP, 31 Liberals, 13 Greens. With the NDP one short of a majority, I assume the NDP would have continued to govern with a confidence and support agreement with the Greens, as they did since 2017.  A coalition government might be even better, but many Green MLAs say they will not be bound to vote along party lines, making it difficult for them to be part of a government whose measures have to be sustained by a majority of MLAs for four years. (They did vote confidence in the NDP government from 2017 to 2020, but that's not quite the same thing.) A Liberal-Green coalition government would not likely be workable. 

What about the BC Conservatives?

The BC Conservative Party ran only 19 candidates in the 87 ridings, so they got only 1.9% of the vote, but at that rate a full slate would have gotten 8.7%. Furthermore, to repeat, when every vote counts, voters won't have to worry about splitting the vote, or casting a strategic vote. So the BC Conservatives would have cast enough votes to elect some MLAs. Even with the few votes cast for those 19, if you ignore the threshold they got enough votes to elect their leader Trevor Bolin in the North, one in the Interior like party Vice-President Darryl Seres in Osoyoos or Kyle Delfing in Vernon, and one in Fraser Valley-Langley like former Liberal Diane Janzen in Chiliwack or party past-President Ryan Warawa in Langley.

Why think about proportional representation in BC after the referendum outcome?

Polling evidence is clear: A simple pro-rep question could have won. 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.” The survey shows that large majorities of British Columbians support basic PR concepts. More details here.