Friday, June 3, 2022

What would Ontario's 2022 election look like if we used proportional representation?

The people of Ontario just reminded all of us very powerfully of why we need PR! So did the Toronto Star editorial supporting it, a first.

If every vote in Ontario had counted in 2022, what would that look like?

No one man would have a one-party government elected by only 40.8% of the votes.

On the votes cast in 2022, with proportional representation our Ontario legislature should have 53 PC MPPs, 31 New Democrats, 31 Liberals, and 8 Greens.

Rural and urban voters in every region of Ontario would have effective votes and fair representation in both government and opposition. That’s a basic principle of proportional representation.

For example, let’s see what would happen using the mixed-member proportional system (used in Germany, New Zealand and Scotland). Using eight regions, the regions would have an average of 15 MPPs each (nine local MPPs, six regional MPPs elected to top-up seats).

Did your vote count?

In 2022, 54% of Ontario votes were not effective to help elect an MPP, as the First-Past-The-Post system threw them in the trash.

And who can say what a real democratic voting system would have given Ontario? This year’s 43.03% turnout was the lowest since Confederation. But in New Zealand, where every vote counts, in 2020 they saw an 82% turnout elect a new government with two-party support. 

The open-list or no-list Mixed-Member Proportional systems: Every MPP represents actual voters and real communities

We’re not talking about a model with candidates appointed by central parties. We’re talking about the mixed member system designed by the Law Commission of Canada and endorsed by the Ontario NDP Convention in 2014, where every MPP represents actual voters and real communities. The majority of MPPs will be elected by local ridings as we do today, preserving the traditional link between voter and MPP. The other 39% are elected as regional MPPs, topping-up the numbers of MPPs from your local region so the total is proportional to the votes for each party.

You have two votes. One is for your local MPP. The second helps elect regional MPPs for the top-up seats. All MPPs have faced the voters. No one is guaranteed a seat. The region is small enough that the regional MPPs are accountable.


With open-list, the ballot would look like this ballot that PEI voters chose in their 2016 plebiscite. Unlike the closed-list MMP model Ontario voters did not support in 2007, you can cast a personal vote for a candidate within the regional list. This is commonly called “open list.”


With no-list, instead of voting for a candidate on a regional list, your second vote helps elect as regional MPPs those local candidates who got the most local support without winning the local seat. Call them “best runners-up.”   

How would regional MPPs serve residents?

See how it works in Scotland.

Ontario’s Rural-Urban Divide

Our winner-take-all voting system exaggerates Ontario’s regional differences, especially the rural-urban divide.

Ontario’s suburban, small-town and rural voters somehow combined to make Doug Ford an all-powerful premier. But his majority in this year’s Ontario election came from our winner-take all voting system, not from voters. It came from the 30-MPP bonus for the PCs that our skewed system foisted on those voters by throwing 54% of their ballots in the trash.

Liberal voters would be fairly represented, with 31 MPPs holding the balance of power, as would Green voters with eight MPPs. See details below.

Competing MPPs:

You have a local MPP who will champion your community, and about five competing regional MPPs, normally including one whose views best reflect your values, someone you helped elect in your local district or local region.

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."

In these local simulations, for the names of regional MPPs I use the local candidates who got the highest percent in the region without winning the local seat. They would be the most likely winners under open-list MMP, and would certainly be the winners under no-list MMP. 

Toronto and York 

PC voters cast only 38.2% of the votes in Toronto and York Region, yet elected 22 of the 35 MPPs. With MMP, instead of electing only four Liberal members, these voters would have also elected seven Liberal regional MPPs (maybe Steven Del Duca, Soo Wong, Arlena Hebert, Lee Fairclough, Jonathan Tsao, Paul Saguil and Sandra Tam), and two Green regional MPPs (such as Dianne Saxe and Abhijeet Manay), along with 14 PCs and eight New Democrats. 


Voters electing 12 MPPs from Peel Region would, instead of electing only PCs, have elected three or four Regional Liberal MPPs (maybe Dipika Damerla, Imran Mian and Elizabeth Mendes), and two New Democrats (maybe incumbent MPPs Gurratan Singh and Sara Singh), along with about seven Progressive Conservatives. 

East Central Ontario (Kingston—Durham Region)

Voters electing 13 MPPs from Mid-East Ontario would, instead of electing only one New Democrat, one Liberal and 11 PCs, have elected two Liberal regional MPPs (such as Amber Bowen from Ajax and Peterborough’s Greg Dempsey), along with two New Democrats (maybe Kingston’s Mary Rita Holland and Whitby’s Sara Labelle or Peterborough’s Jen Deck),  one Green (Haliburton’s Tom Regina or Frontenac’s Dr. Marlene Spruyt) and seven local PC MPPs. 

Eastern Ontario (Ottawa—Cornwall)

Voters electing 11 MPPs from Eastern Ontario would, instead of electing only two New Democrats, have elected a regional NDP MPP (maybe Ottawa’s Melissa Coenraad or Lyra Evans) and a Green such as Christian Proulx, along with three Liberals and four PCs. 

Central West (Waterloo—Bruce—Simcoe)

Voters electing 14 MPPs from Central West Ontario would, instead of electing only two New Democrats and a Green but no Liberals, have elected another New Democrat MPP such as Elmira’s Karen Meissner or Barrie’s Pekka Reinio, and three Liberals such as Jeff Lehman, Ted Crysler, and Selwyn Hicks or Surekha Shenoy, along with Green leader Mike Schreiner and a second Green MPP (Matt Richter), and six local PC MPPs. 

Central South (Hamilton—Halton—Niagara—Brantford

Voters electing 15 MPPs from Central South Ontario would, instead of electing no Liberal or Green MPP, have elected three regional Liberal MPPs (such as Oakville’s Alison Gohel, Milton’s Sameera Ali and Kaniz Mouli) and a Green regional MPP like Sandy Crawley, along with four New Democrat MPPs, six PCs, and independent Bobbi Ann Brady. 

Southwest (London—Windsor)

Voters electing 12 MPPs from Southwest Ontario would, instead of electing no Liberal MPP, have elected two regional Liberal MPPs (maybe London’s Kate Graham and former St. Thomas Mayor Heather Jackson or Windsor councillor Gary Kaschak), along with four New Democrats and six PCs. 

Northern Ontario

Voters electing 12 MPPs from Northern Ontario would, instead of electing only no Liberal MPP, have elected two regional Liberal MPPs such as Shelby Ch’ng (or Rob Barrett) and David Farrow, along with five New Democrat MPPs and five PCs.

What sort of government would Ontario have had?

Cooperation between parties representing a majority can get a lot of good things done. This is the norm in most western democracies.

The Ontario government might have been:

1. A minority PC government with a supply-and-confidence agreement (like the Accord in Ontario in 1985) with the Liberals, ensuring a stable government for four years (giving the Liberals time to rebuild). Possible but unlikely, the Liberals had promised not to do this.

2. A minority NDP government with a supply-and-confidence agreement (like the Accord in Ontario in 1985) with the Liberals, ensuring a stable government for four years (giving the Liberals time to rebuild). More likely than option 1.

3. A coalition government between the NDP and the Liberals. Less likely in today’s climate, more likely under PR when the public is more used to cooperation between parties representing a majority.

4. A coalition government between the PCs and the Liberals. Possible but even less likely.

5. A minority government with no agreement or Accord, relying on support from one or more other parties issue by issue. Possible but less stable (although Bill Davis made it work for four years from 1977 to 1981). Today, it would be very unstable because the minority government would be looking for an excuse to roll the dice and try for an accidental majority. Under PR, when an accidental false majority would not be possible, everyone might want to make it work (as happened in Scotland for four years from 2007 to 2011).

How big will the Legislature be? Yes, that's only 75 local MPPs. So the local ridings are larger, unless we have a larger Legislature. That's the only downside of the mixed-member proportional system. The 2007 Ontario Citizens Assembly decided to add 22 MPPs. Local ridings would still have to be larger, but a bit less so. Politicians hate to suggest adding more politicians. A Citizens Assembly will find it easier. 

Technical Notes:

1.    Because of rounding errors when Ontario is divided into eight regions, the simulation above happens to give the PCs a bonus of one seat and the NDP a bonus of one, one from the Liberals, one from the Greens. The overall results are still very close to proportionality.

2. This simulation assumes there is a threshold of 3%, 4% or 5% for a party to elect a regional MPP for a top-up seat. The New Blue Party got only 2.7%. (However, if we impose no threshold, the New Blues got enough votes in Central West that they could have elected a MPP, either leader Jim Karahalios or his wife Belinda.)

3.    The calculation for any PR system has to choose a rounding method, to round fractions up and down. I have used the “largest remainder” calculation, which Germany used until recently, because it is the simplest and most transparent. In a 10-MPP region, if Party A deserves 3.4 MPPs, Party B deserves 3.1, Party C deserves 2.3, and Party D deserves 1.2, which party gets the tenth seat? Party A has a remainder of 0.4, the largest remainder. In a region where one party wins a bonus (“overhang”), I allocate the remaining seats among the remaining parties by the same calculation.

4. The purpose of the compensatory regional seats is to correct disproportional local results, not to provide a parallel system of getting elected. The Law Commission of Canada recommended that the right to nominate candidates for regional top-up seats should be limited to those parties which have candidates standing for election in at least one-third of the ridings within the top-up region. The UK’s Jenkins Commission recommended 50%. This prevents a possible distortion of the system by parties pretending to split into twin decoy parties for the regional seats, the trick which Berlusconi invented to sabotage Italy’s voting system.

Ontario NDP Policy (Convention)

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Ontario NDP reaffirms its endorsement of a system of proportional representation for Ontario.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the proposed system of voting incorporate the following characteristics:

a) preservation of the traditional link between voter and MPP by keeping constituency seats;

b) two votes: one for a local constituency candidate and one for a Party's list of candidates;

c) Party lists to be developed and applied at a regional rather than provincial level;

d) restoration and enhancement of democracy through the provision of additional seats in the Legislature;

e) additional seats to be filled from Party Lists so as to offset disproportionality between the constituency elections and the popular Party vote.

f) voters to have the option of either endorsing the party’s regional list, or casting a personal vote for a candidate within the regional list. 

Updated: An Ontario NDP government will convene a Citizen's Assembly (an independent group of citizens) that will be mandated to develop a made-in-Ontario model of MMP. The group will be supported in its work by a panel of experts and representatives of Ontario's major parties. The CA will also be mandated to make recommendations to the government on timelines, implementation and ratification for the change to an MMP voting system.

(This Post updated Nov. 10, 2022.)