Thursday, November 4, 2021

A negotiated element of proportionality

Ideally, a minority government would move forward with electoral reform by holding a Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform and agreeing to act on its recommendations in time for an election in 2024.

There is an alternative compromise that would let the Liberals know what they had agreed to: a negotiated compromise to introduce an element of proportionality.

In 1979 the Pépin-Roberts Commission (the “Task Force on Canadian Unity”) proposed electing an additional 60 MPs to the House of Commons to top-up the results from each province, keeping the present ridings. That Commission was multi-partisan, co-chaired by former Ontario Conservative Premier John Robarts. The Liberal government received that report Jan. 25, 1979, but did not endorse it right away, nor did Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives who took power four months later.

However, after Pierre Trudeau announced his resignation as Liberal leader (Nov. 21, 1979), three days later speaking at the University of Montreal he 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.”

Sound familiar?

When Joe Clark then lost a confidence vote, Pierre Trudeau withdrew his resignation and was re-elected Prime Minister Feb. 18, 1980. But earlier that February he told CBC he still supported the Pépin-Robarts recommendation. You can listen to him here:

And the 1980 Speech from the Throne pledged “You will be asked to appoint a committee of Parliament to examine the electoral system in order to ensure that the highest degree of representativeness and responsibility is achieved and that the confidence of Canadians in parliamentary institutions is strengthened.”

With the House of Commons larger now, the Pépin-Robarts recommendation could be for 72 more MPs. But, okay, even Pierre Trudeau couldn’t get reform past his nervous backbenchers.

So let’s consider a modest 34 top-up MPs, a 10% solution. What would that look like?

I have done a simulation in 16 regions (4 in Ontario, 3 in Quebec, 2 in BC, and the other 7 provinces are 1 region each). No doubt the additional top-up MPs would be the local candidates who were their parties' best runners-up in the region, with the highest vote percent.

On the votes cast this year, by my simulation the 34 top-up MPs elected provincially (or regionally in Ontario, Quebec and BC) to help represent voters currently unrepresented would be 6 more Liberals (1 in Saskatchewan, 1 in Alberta, 2 in the BC Interior and Vancouver Island, 1 in Manitoba, and 1 in Eastern Quebec), 5 more Conservatives (3 in Quebec and 2 in the GTA), 22 more New Democrats (10 in Ontario, 4 in Quebec, 3 in Atlantic Canada, 2 in Alberta, 1 in Saskatchewan, 1 in Manitoba, and 1 in the BC Lower Mainland) and another Green in BC. No more Bloc, currently over-represented. And I assume moderate thresholds would keep out the PPC.

Many pundits are saying the Liberals have proven they cannot win a majority, so they do not have much to lose, but they also will not fear a Conservative majority. With 187 seats needed for a majority, the above result (166 Liberals, 124 Conservatives, 47 New Democrats, 32 Bloc, and 3 Greens) can provide stable government.

Adding more seats will prevent Quebec or any other province losing seats. And if the regular redistribution is complete by the next election, the 34 top-up seats can overlay the new boundaries just as they would today. 

Would the additional 6 Liberals be worthwhile? Start with Saskatchewan: their best runner-up was Sean McEachern, even though he got only 27% of the vote in Ralph Goodale’s old riding of Regina—Wascana. McEachern was a special assistant to Goodale from 2003-6 when he was the federal finance minister, then worked for the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association for 12 years becoming Policy Director, and then Chair of the Regina Airport Authority, well-groomed to be Saskatchewan’s cabinet Minister, Goodale’s successor. Then Eastern Quebec, where their best runner-up was their new star candidate, well-known unionist Ann Gingras, long-time President of the CSN’s regional council, previously a critic of the Liberals but recruited this time by Justin Trudeau himself. In Manitoba, Doug Eyolfson, MP from 2015-2019 who chaired the Manitoba Liberal caucus, a doctor who helped draft a committee report recommending a National Pharmacare Plan. In Alberta: Ben Henderson, Edmonton City Councillor since 2007, who ran in Amarjeet Sohi’s old seat. In BC: Dr. Nikki Macdonald, Professor and Executive Director at the University of Victoria, environment leader. And also: Kelowna’s Tim Krupa, who went from Kelowna to an MBA at Oxford, worked in the PMO for three years, and on to Harvard and the CPP, who would give a voice in caucus (and cabinet?) to the BC Interior where the Liberals were shut out. All stars. 

And the 22 New Democrats would be no surprise: most were already in target ridings.

A 10% solution is more modest than the dormant proposal of French President Emmanuel Macron for a “dose of proportionality” for France: a 20% “proportional share" for Parliamentary elections. And it is more modest than the 15% to 20% share of top-up MPs recommended for the UK by the Jenkins Commission.

I previously described another variation of a compromise model:

and here:

For further reference on models with regional top-up MPs see MMP for Canada.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

2021 Canadian election results under moderate MMP.

Our voting system keeps tempting governments to roll the dice and try for an accidental majority government with only 39% voter support. Why should Canada put up with this system?

A system that rewards toxic partisanship? Where at least 30% of voters are voting to stop another party winning? Which fails to encourage minority governments to see working with other parties, or Confidence and Support Agreements, or Coalitions as normal?

That leaves more than 350,000 Liberal voters in Alberta and Saskatchewan represented by only two MPs when they deserve seven? That leaves more than 500,000 Conservative voters in the City of Toronto and the Peel and Halton regions represented by no one but Liberal MPs when they deserved to elect 11 MPs? That lets 1.3 million Bloc Quebecois voters elect 32 MPs while more than three million NDP voters elect only 25 MPs?

But wouldn’t proportional representation encourage extremists? Would it give Maxime Bernier’s People Party 17 seats in the House of Commons? Would it put MPs in the House who are not accountable to real communities?

No, no, and no. Not if Canada uses the Mixed Member Proportional system recommended by the Law Commission of Canada in 2004. And I’m using a threshold of 5% (like Germany and New Zealand), applied at the provincial level (as Germany did at first, and as Canada must if we don’t want Quebec’s election affected by votes cast in Alberta).

And I’m using a moderate level of proportionality, where the regional MPs elected to top-up seats are elected in 42 small regions across Canada, with an average size of only 8 MPs. This would elect only eight Peoples Party MPs, not 17. (Its enemies would say, at least it keeps eight of them off the streets.)

Why should Canada keep using an outdated voting system where 14 of those 42 regions would be one-party kingdoms, swept by a single party?

With MMP, 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 2021 simulation, voters for every major party would have elected someone in almost all of these 42 regions, except five (no NDP in two regions of Quebec or in PEI, no Northern Alberta Liberal, and no Bloc in West Montreal).

The West’s unrepresented voters would have helped elect diverse MPs from regions outside their strongholds, including 12 more New Democrats, nine more Liberals, and four PPC (who got over 5% in the three Prairie provinces).

Ontario’s unrepresented voters would have helped elect diverse MPs from regions outside their strongholds, including 18 more New Democrats, 16 urban Conservatives, four Liberals outside the GTA, and three MPs from the Peoples Party (they got 5.5% of the Ontario vote).

Quebec’s unrepresented voters would have helped elect diverse MPs from regions outside their strongholds, including eight more New Democrats, eight more Conservatives, four more Bloc and three more Liberals.

Atlantic Canada’s unrepresented voters would have helped elect diverse MPs from regions outside their strongholds, including five New Democrats, two more Conservatives, two Greens, and one PPC.

(Detailed breakdown below) 

The open-list or no-list MMP systems: Every MP represents actual voters and real communities

We’re not talking about a model like Israel’s with no local MPs, and candidates appointed by national 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. More than half of MPs will be elected by local ridings as we do today, preserving the traditional link between voter and MP. The others are elected as regional MPs for top-up seats, 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. With open-list MMP you cast a personal vote for a candidate within the regional 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. No closed lists. Or with the no-list MMP system, the regional MPs for top-up seats are the defeated local candidates who came closest to winning: best runners-up. Result: after the election, everyone has a local MP, plus a few regional MPs.

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, until the PMO told them to bite their tongues. Some are still speaking up, like Wayne Long from New Brunswick and Nate Erskine-Smith in Toronto, and the Liberal MPs on the House of Commons standing Committee who voted June 22 to study establishing a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform to make recommendations about how Canadians elect Members of Parliament and how the make up of Parliament reflects the votes cast by Canadians. 

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 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.”

Competing MPs:

You have a local MP who will champion your community, and four or five competing regional MPs, normally including someone you helped elect 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 House of Commons. 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.

See how it has worked in Scotland.

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." However, on the votes cast in 2021, my simulation results in 120 Liberal MPs, 115 Conservatives, 65 New Democrats, 26 Bloc, eight PPC, and four Greens, due to the 5% threshold and small regions (with perfect province-wide proportionality it would have been 116 Conservatives, 115 Liberals, 62 NDP, 27 BQ, 13 PPC, and 5 Greens.)

Regional Breakdown

The West

In BC, the nine MPs from the Interior would have included two Liberals like Kelowna’s Tim Krupa and Merrit’s Sarah Eves, and another New Democrat like Wayne Stetski or Bill Sundhu.

The nine MPs from Surrey--Fraser Valley woold have included two New Democrats like Surrey’s Sonia Andhi and Fraser Valley’s Danielle (D J) Pohl.

The nine MPs from Vancouver-Richmond-Delta would have included two Conservatives like Alice Wong and Kenny Chiu, and another New Democrat like Vancouver’s Anjali Appadurai, and

The eight MPs from Burnaby-Maple Ridge-North Shore would have included a second Conservative MP like Nelly Shin.

The seven MPs from Vancouver Island would have included a Liberal like Nikki Macdonald and two Conservatives like Port McNeill’s Shelley Downey and Mary Lee from Comox.

In Alberta, the 10 MPs from Calgary would include a second Liberal like Sabrina Grover and two New Democrats like Kathleen Johnson and Gurmit Bhachu or Raj Jessel.

The 10 MPs from the Edmonton area would include a second Liberal like Ben Henderson, a third New Democrat like Charmaine St. Germain, and a People’s Party candidate like Murray MacKinnon.

The eight MPs from South & Central Alberta, rather than all Conservatives, would include an NDP candidate like Leduc's Hugo Charles or Elaine Perez from Lethbridge, a Liberal like Devon Hargreaves from Lethbridge, and a PPC candidate like Red Deer’s Megan Lim.

The six MPs from Northern Alberta, rather than all Conservatives, would include an NDP candidate like Gail Ungstad from Slave Lake and a PPC candidate like High Prairie's Darryl Boisson.

Saskatchewan’s MPs would not be all Conservatives. The six MPs from Regina and Southern Saskatchewan would include a Liberal MP like Sean McEachern and an NDP MP like Tria Donaldson. The eight MPs from Saskatoon and Northern Saskatchewan would include two NDP MPs like Robert Doucette and Clare Card, and a Liberal MP like Buckley Belanger.

In Manitoba, the six MPs outside Winnipeg would now include a Liberal MP like Shirley Robinson of Cross Lake First Nation, and a Peoples’ Party of Canada MP like Solomon Wiebe in the Pembina Valley, while the eight Winnipeg MPs would now include a Conservative like Melanie Maher.


In Ottawa-Cornwall’s 10 ridings, NDP voters would have elected two MPs like Ottawa’s Angella MacEwen and Lyse-Pascale Inamuco, while Conservative voters would have elected a third MP like Ottawa’s Jennifer McAndrew.

In Central East Ontario’s nine ridings, Liberal voters would have re-elected two more MPs like  Maryam Monsef and Neil Ellis, while NDP voters would have elected two MPs like Kingston’s Vic Sahai and Deep River’s Jodie Primeau or Peterborough’s Joy Lachica.

In Durham-Rouge Park’s six ridings, NDP voters would have elected an MP like Oshawa’s Shailene Panylo.

In Scarborough--Don Valley’s eight ridings, rather than all Liberals, Conservative voters would have elected two MPs like Yvonne Robertson and Sabrina Zuniga, and an NDP MP like Guled Arale.

In Toronto and East York’s eight ridings, rather than all Liberals, NDP voters would have elected three MPs like Alejandra Bravo, Paul Taylor and Clare Hacksel or Norm Di Pasquale, Conservative voters would have elected an MP like Stephanie Osadchuk or Steven Taylor.

In the eight ridings of Etobicoke-York-Willowdale, rather than all Liberals, Conservative voters would have elected three MPs like Joel Yakov Etienne, Geoffrey Turner and Geoff Pollock, while NDP voters would have elected an MP like Hawa Mire or Matias de Dovitiis. 

The 10 MPs from York Region would have included a New Democrat like Benjamin Jenkins or Yvonne Kelly, and another Conservative like re-elected Leona Alleslev.

The six MPs from Central Ontario (Barrie-Owen Sound), rather than all Conservatives, would have included two Liberals like Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux of Chippewa of Georgina Island First Nation, and Barrie’s Lisa-Marie Wilson; and a New Democrat like Gravenhurst’s Heather Hay or Barrie’s Sarah Lochhead.

The seven MPs from Brampton—Mississauga North, rather than all Liberals, would have included two Conservatives like Jasveen Rattan and Jagdeep Singh, and a New Democrat like Jim McDowell or Gail Bannister-Clarke.

The eight MPs from Mississauga—Halton, rather than all Liberals, would have included three Conservatives like Kerry Colborne, Michael Ras and Hanan Rizkalla, and a New Democrat like Lenaee Dupuis or Tom Takacs.

In Hamilton-Niagara-Brant’s 11 ridings, NDP voters would have elected a second MP like former MP Malcolm Allen, and the Peoples Party would have elected an MP like Norfolk’s Ken Gilpin.

The eight MPs from Waterloo-Wellington-Dufferin would (assuming Green MP Mike Morrice was elected in his riding) have included an NDP MP like Guelph’s Aisha Jahangir, and a third Conservative MP like Waterloo Region’s Carlene Hawley.

The seven MPs from London--Oxford--Perth—Huron would have included a second NDP MP like London’s Dirka Prout.

The six MPs from the Windsor-Sarnia region would have included a second NDP MP like Tracey Ramsay from suburban Windsor and a People’s Party MP like Chatham’s Liz Vallee.

In Northern Ontario, Conservative voters would have elected two more MPs like Sault Ste. Marie’s Sonny Spina and North Bay’s Steven Trahan, while the PPC would have elected an MP like Englehart’s Stephen MacLeod.


The eight MPs from East Montreal would have included another New Democrat like Nimâ Machouf, a Conservative like Steve Shanahan, and another Bloc MP like Simon Marchand.

The six MPs from West Montreal, rather than all Liberals, would have included a Conservative like Frank Cavallaro and a New Democrat like Emma Elbourne-Weinstock.

The eight MPs from Montreal-Nord—Laval, rather than all Liberals, would have included a Conservative like Spyridonas Pettas, a New Democrat like Ghada Chaabi or Ali Faour, and two Bloc MPs like Manon Lacharité and Isabel Dion.

The nine MPs from Laurentides—Lanaudière, rather than all Bloc, would have included two Liberals like former MP and MNA Linda Lapointe and former MP Ramez Ayoub, a Conservative like Catherine Lefebvre of Deux-Montagnes, and a New Democrat like Benoit Bourassa of Deux-Montagnes.

The ten MPs from Longueuil-Suroit would have included a Conservative like Karen Cox or Brossard’s Marcos Alves, and a New Democrat like Niklas Brake or Marc Audet.

The six MPs from Montérégie-est—Estrie would have included a Conservative MP like Pierre Tremblay (Sherbrooke municipal councillor) and an NDP MP like Marika Lalime.

The six MPs from Outaouais--Abitibi—Nord would have included a Conservative MP like Michel Gauthier (former Editor of Le Droit).

The six MPs from Centre-du-Québec—Mauricie would have included a New Democrat like former MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau and a second Conservative like former Trois-Rivières mayor Yves Lévesque.

The 11 MPs from Quebec City--Saguenay--Côte-Nord would have included a New Democrat like Tommy Bureau or Camille Esther Garon.

The eight MPs from Chaudière-Appalaches—Gaspésie would have included a second Liberal MP like Léonie Lajoie, and a third Bloc MP like Guy Bernatchez.

Atlantic Canada

The ten New Brunswick MPs would have included an NDP MP like Serge Landry, a PPC MP like Jack Minor, and a Green MP like Nicole O'Byrne.

The four PEI MPs would have included, rather than all Liberals, a Conservative like Jody Sanderson or Doug Currie, and a Green MP like Anna Keenan.

The eleven Nova Scotia MPs would have included three New Democrats like Lisa Roberts, Kevin Payne and Jenna Chisholm.

The seven MPs from Newfoundland and Labrador would have included a second Conservative like Sharon Vokey and a New Democrat like Mary Shortall.