Monday, March 13, 2023

If Saskatchewan had a democratic voting system in 2020 . . .

After the 2020 election, communities in all of Saskatchewan outside Regina, Saskatoon and the two northern ridings have no voice in the opposition. They have no local voice to question any government action or inaction. Their regions face one-party rule.

With a regional open-list Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system such as the Law Commission of Canada recommended, if Saskatchewan voters voted as they did in 2020 (and assuming the Green vote doubled with PR, as one can normally assume), they would have elected 38 Saskatchewan Party MLAs, 20 New Democrats, and three Greens.

With MMP, we still elect the majority of MLAs locally. Voters unrepresented by the local results top them up by electing regional MLAs. The total MLAs match the vote share. With the regional "Open list" version, voters can vote for whomever they like out of the regional candidates nominated by the party's regional nomination process. Like this ballot that won the 2016 referendum in PEI.  

See MMP Made Easy.

I’m using a model with almost 40% of the MLAs elected regionally, in five regions. Eleven local ridings would generally become seven larger ones. My simulation has 39 local MLAs and 22 elected regionally. 

Assumption about Green Party

I am not a Green Party supporter, but it is well-known that pre-election polls generally show Green Party support at double the level of Green votes cast on election day. Half of Green Party supporters vote “strategically” for another party, or stay home. When every vote counts, the Green Party vote will generally double. In the 2020 election, 2.25% of votes went to the Green Party, so my projection assumes this will become 4.5%. Most proportional voting system have a threshold of 5% or 4% of the votes for a party to win representation. With only 61 MLAs, the right threshold for Saskatchewan would be 4%. In 2020, the new Buffalo Party got 2.54%, but I have no reason to project their vote under PR to go above 4%, so my projection does not include Buffalo Party MLAs. 

Five regions

Problems with your Area Clinic in Weyburn, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Rosetown, North Battleford, Prince Albert, Tisdale, or Yorkton? Who're ya gonna call?

The 1
2 MLAs from the southwest (Moose Jaw-Swift Current-Weyburn-Kindersley) are all from the Saskatchewan Party. Although 20% of those voters voted NDP, they have no voice in the opposition. Instead of a SP sweep, my spreadsheet projects two New Democrats, once NDP votes count equally with SP voters, and a Green. That would be the two regional NDP candidates who got the most votes across the region. Maybe NDP voters would have elected Melissa Patterson from Moose Jaw and Stefan Rumpel from Swift Current, and Green voters Kimberly Soo Goodtrack from Wood Mountain Lakota First Nation. (Stefan Rumpel told voters he wants proportional representation because it can increase diversity in government.)

The 12 MLAs in that region would become eight local, four regional. The SP would no doubt have won all eight local seats, so those SP voters would even elect one of the regional MLAs.

Voters in the 13 Regina-region districts (including Indian Head - Milestone) would have elected six NDP MLAs, not just five. Perhaps Bhajan Brar? And they would have elected Green Party leader Naomi Hunter.

For the 10 MLAs from Yorkton-Melfort-Humboldt, instead of the SP winning them all, we'd see two New Democrats. That would be the two regional NDP candidates who got the most votes across the region (maybe Thera Nordal from Southey, east of Last Mountain Lake, and Stacey Strykowski from Preeceville near Yorkton). The 10 MLAs in that region would be six local, four regional, so those SP voters would even elect two of the regional MLAs. 

The 15 ridings of the Saskatoon-region (including Martensville-Warman) were less skewed. We’d still see six NDP, and along with eight SP we'd see a Green Party MLA: perhaps Delanie Passer? 

For the 11 MLAS from Prince Albert, Lloydminster & North, the NDP would have elected two more: maybe incumbent Prince Albert MLA Nicole Rancourt, and Amber Stewart from The Battlefords.

Of course, this projection simplistically assumes voters would have cast the same ballots they did in 20
20. The reality would be different. When every vote counts, we typically see around 8% higher turnout. And one recent study suggested 18% of voters might vote differently. No more strategic voting. We would likely have had different candidates -- more women, and more diversity of all kinds. Who knows who might have won real democratic elections?

Different candidates: when the SP members from Moose Jaw-Swift Current-Weyburn-Kindersley
met in a regional nominating convention, they would have not only voted to put the eight local nominees on the regional ballot, but also would have added several regional candidates. With only one woman from the eight local ridings, when they nominated several additional regional candidates, they would have naturally wanted to nominate a diverse group: more women. In 2020 Saskatchewan elected 17 women and 44 men. But 90% of Canadian voters say that, if parties would nominate more women, they'd vote for them.

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,

The open-list Mixed-Member Proportional system: 

Every MLA 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, where every MLA represents actual voters and real communities. The majority of MLAs will be elected by local ridings as we do today, preserving the traditional link between voter and MLA. The other 36% are elected as regional MLAs, topping-up the numbers of MLAs from your local region so the total is proportional to the votes for each party. 

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

Competing MPPs:

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

How would regional MLAs serve residents?

See how it works in Scotland. 

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. The open-regional-list mixed-member model is used in the German province of Bavaria, and was recommended by Canada's Law Commission and by Scotland's Arbuthnott Commission.

However, when Quebec’s Chief Electoral Officer reported In December 2007 on a compensatory mixed system, he reviewed several options for the design of a mixed proportional model for Quebec. He leaned towards an open list system with a party option: giving voters the choice of using their second ballot to vote for a party or one of its regional candidates. This would help parties that choose to present a “zippered” list, alternative women and men. 

The Jenkins Commission in the UK had a colourful explanation accurately predicting why closed lists would be rejected in Canada: additional members locally anchored are “more easily assimilable into the political culture and indeed the Parliamentary system than would be a flock of unattached birds clouding the sky and wheeling under central party directions.”

Technical Notes:

1.    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.

2. 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.


Thursday, February 9, 2023

In New Brunswick's 2020 election, voters lost

New Brunswick voters lost in its 2020 election. With only 39.3% of the vote, Blaine Higgs’ PCs won 27 of the 49 seats, an artificial majority. 

The Liberals with 34.4% of the votes won only 17 seats. The potential Conservative ally, the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick, won two seats and then joined the government. The Greens held their three seats. 

Fair Province-wide result: 17 Liberals, 20 PCs, 8 Greens, 4 People’s Alliance

But a fair and proportional voting system would have let every vote count. With 49 MLAs in New Brunswick, those Liberal voters deserved to elect 17 MLAs against only 20 PCs. Voters for the Greens deserved eight MLAs. This would have allowed the Liberals and Greens to form a government together. The People’s Alliance would have won four seats, just short of being able to form a majority with the PCs.

Worse, New Brunswick appears more divided into linguistic groups than it really is.

New Brunswick’s Commission on Legislative Democracy proposed four regions

The New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy proposed in 2004 a proportional voting system with four regions, so that voters in each region would be fairly represented in both government and opposition. Their Mixed Member Proportional model was similar to the model PEI voters chose in their plebiscite in November 2016. The party’s leading candidates in each region would have been elected to regional top-up seats to match the popular vote in that region.

In the 12 ridings of the South West region, heavily English-speaking, the PCs won all 12. But the Liberals’ 16.1% of the vote would have elected two regional MLAs from Saint John, likely Sharon Teare and Tim Jones or Phil Comeau. The Greens 11.8% would also have given them two regional MLAs, likely Brent Harris and Kim Reeder. The People’s Alliance with 11.1% would have elected a regional MLA such as Rod Cumberland.

In the 13 ridings of the Central region (Fredericton to Miramichi), the PCs won 9 of them. The Liberals elected only incumbent Lisa Harris, but they won 20.2% of the vote in that region, so they would also have elected two regional MLAs, such as Andrew Harvey (incumbent MLA in Carleton-Victoria), leader Kevin Vickers, or incumbent Fredericton MLA Stephen Horsman. With 16.5% of the vote, Green leader David Coons would have had company, a regional MLA like Luke Randall or Melissa Fraser.

In the 11 ridings of Northern New Brunswick, heavily francophone, the Liberals won all eleven. However, those voters cast 20% of their votes for the PCs, and 12.8% for the Greens. They would have elected regional MLAs like PCs Anne Bard-Lavigne and Marie-Eve Castonguay, and Greens Marie Larivière and Charles Thériault.

In the South East’s 13 ridings, every vote would have counted, even for the People’s Alliance who would have had a regional MLA like Sharon Buchanan.  

I’m not talking about a closed-list system. The open-regional-list Mixed Member Proportional system means every MLA has faced the voters. That’s the system PEI voters chose in November 2016, with a workable ballot as you can see here. It’s also the model on which the federal Electoral Reform Committee found consensus: a local and personalized proportional representation model.

You have two votes

You have two votes: one for your local MLA, and one for a regional MLA from your local region. You cast your second vote for a party’s regional candidate you prefer, which counts as a vote for that party. This is the same practical model used in Scotland, with one vital improvement: Canadian voters would like to vote for a specific regional candidate and hold them accountable. New Brunswick would have had 29 local MLAs and 20 regional MLAs. Local ridings are bigger than today, but in return you have competing MLAs: a local MLA, and about five regional MLAs from your local region. 

The best of both worlds

Would proportional representation hurt small communities? Just the opposite: voters are guaranteed two things which equal better local representation:

1.         A local MLA who will champion their area.

2.         An MLA whose views best reflect their values, someone they helped elect in their local district or local region.

No longer does one person claim to speak for everyone in the district. No longer does one party claim unbridled power with only 40% support.

Parties will work together

Parties will, unless one party had outright majority support, have to work together - to earn our trust where others have broken it, and to show that a new kind of governance is possible. Research clearly shows that proportionately-elected governments and cooperative decision-making produce better policy outcomes and sustainable progress on major issues over the long term.

Some fear-mongers claim proportional representation favours extremists. However, as a former conservative MLA in British Columbia, Nick Loenen, said a few years ago “The best guarantee against abuse of government power is to share that power among the many, rather than the few." 

Regional nominations

Typically, party members will nominate local candidates first, then hold a regional nomination process. Often the regional candidates will include the local candidates, plus a few regional-only candidates who will add diversity and balance to the regional slate. In order to ensure democratic nominations, it would be useful to deny taxpayer subsidy to any party not nominating democratically.  The meeting would decide what rank order each would have on the regional ballot. But then voters in the region would have the final choice.


In 2006 New Brunswick saw a sad irony: Bernard's Lord's PCs had planned a referendum on the Commission on Legislative Democracy's recommended PR system, which Lord supported. When a resignation forced an early election, he won the most votes but the Liberals won the most seats, and shelved the Commission on Legislative Democracy's recommendation.

Technical note: the New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy proposed four regions which mostly had 14 MLAs each, nine local and five regional. At that time New Brunswick had 55 MLAs. Today that has shrunk to 49, so the four regions have 11, 12 or 13 MLAs.