Sunday, March 6, 2022

Can anything be done before the next federal election?

Public opinion favours making every vote count: 76% of voters support moving to proportional representation in Canada. And 80% support the idea of a national citizens’ assembly to make recommendation for a made-in-Canada Proportional Representation system. Yet today we face a roadblock in Ottawa.

The current inaction is unstable. Something will trigger action. We need to be ready.

Suppose the Liberals decide not to risk a Poilièvre-led Conservative Party getting a false majority. Can anything be done before the next election? How about a “dose of proportionality?” A temporary step towards proportional representation. Like the recommendation of the Pépin-Roberts Commission in 1979 (the “Task Force on Canadian Unity”) which proposed electing an additional 60 MPs to top-up the results from each province, keeping the present ridings. Pierre Trudeau endorsed that in 1980, but couldn’t get it past his nervous backbenchers.

Suppose a national Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform recommended in 2024, after at least a year’s hearings and deliberations, a new voting system for Canada. We are now about to start public hearings to set up new electoral districts. Whatever model is chosen by the Citizens Assembly will require new electoral boundaries, another round of hearings, which need to wrap up seven months before a 2025 election, if the election can even wait that long. Not enough time.

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."

These extra MPs will give all parties MPs from almost every region, if that party got over 5% in the province. Not full proportional representation, but “PR-lite,” a “dose” of PR. This will make every vote count to some extent, and will also make accidental majority governments far less likely.

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, 11 New Democrats, 4 Greens, 5 Bloc, and 5 Conservatives (from Atlantic Canada and Quebec). Harper would have had 171 MPs out of 350, four short of half.

The 2021 election left many Liberal voters from Alberta and Saskatchewan unrepresented, along with many Conservative voters in Quebec, the GTA, BC and PEI. My simulation takes a group of, typically, about 17 present ridings, and gives them two additional MPs. Voters for the most unrepresented party in that region elect an additional MP. The winning candidate is the candidate of that party in that region who got the highest level of support without being elected locally (“best runner-up.”) The Atlantic Provinces get only one additional MP each, while the four larger provinces are divided into regions.

If we had elected an additional 42 MPs last year, on the votes cast then in 22 regions across Canada, look at the variety they would have added: Sure, almost half are from the NDP, but 22 others are from other parties.

Four more Liberals. One from Alberta like Edmonton councillor Ben Henderson. One from Saskatchewan like Sean McEachern (Ralph Goodale’s successor). One from the BC Interior like Tim Krupa. One from Eastern Quebec like star labour candidate Ann Gingras.

Ten more Conservatives. Five from Quebec. Two from the GTA, one from the BC Lower Mainland like Alice Wong, one from Vancouver Island like town councillor Shelley Downey, and one from PEI. A more balanced caucus.

One more Green, from the BC Lower Mainland, where their strongest candidate was Dr. Cheryl Matthew, indigenous policy expert, of the Simpcw First Nation.

Seven of the Peoples Party of Canada: four in Ontario, one in Manitoba (the man who came second to Candice Bergen), and two in Alberta.

And 20 New Democrats: two from Toronto, two more from Montreal and two more from the rest of Quebec, seven from other Ontario regions, one more from Alberta, one from the BC Lower Mainland, one from Saskatchewan, one more from Manitoba, and one from each of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.

But Fair Vote Canada’s rural and small-urban caucus says 40 percent of Canadians live in population centres below 100,000 people, share common concerns and value having local representation to champion our area. So we note that those 20 additional NDP MPs would be 12 from the big cities, plus Elaine Perez from Lethbridge, Janine Seymour from Kenora, Aisha Jahangir from Guelph, Shailene Panylo from Oshawa, Vic Sahai from Kingston, Ruth Ellen Brosseau from Berthier—Maskinongé, Serge Landry from Moncton, and Mary Shortall from Newfoundland.

And the 12 from the big cities would be 8 diverse women and 4 men: climate-change activist Anjali Appadurai in Vancouver, Métis candidate Robert Doucette in Saskatoon, Métis candidate Melissa Chung-Mowat in Winnipeg, Unifor Women’s Director and former MP Tracey Ramsey in Windsor, former MP Malcolm Allen in Hamilton, Broadbent Institute Director Alejandra Bravo and FoodShare Director Paul Taylor in Toronto, CUPE Economist Angella MacEwen in Ottawa, Iranian-born international health specialist Nimâ Machouf and lawyer (former MP) Ève Péclet in Montreal, CSN union staffer Tommy Bureau in Quebec City, and former MLA Lisa Roberts in Halifax.

An accidental false majority government is far less likely.  

Seven from the Peoples Party? That’s a good thing, but only half the 14 they would have elected under full PR (with 380 MPs) from the five provinces where they got over 5%. “The far-right has not taken power in Europe. What has been presented as a weakness of proportional representation is its strength. It does allow for far-right parties to win seats in parliaments, but that comes with consequences. These parties are then out in the open, no cover of silence, and exposed to the scrutiny of the public, media and other political parties. And we can learn without agreeing to the party intents, why some people support or join these kind of groups. Without knowing why, you can never address the circumstances why people do.” In Germany, the AfD party has seats in the federal parliament and 16 state legislatures. That’s 17 governing coalitions, and all 17 excluded the AfD.

(Note: this post was revised April 12, 2022.)

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