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.

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