Thursday, August 17, 2023

Does Canada need a new Centre Party?

 Two prominent “Blue Liberals” wrote June 30 “Where is the Purple Party?

John Manley is a former deputy prime minister. Martha Hall Findlay is a former MP who ran for the Liberal leadership. They wrote “As former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole pointed out in his final speech in the House of Commons: “Canada has been slowing down at a time when the world is asking us to speed up.” Former Liberal finance minister Bill Morneau stressed this same concern about Canada dramatically falling behind and not achieving its potential in his recent book, Where To From Here. “. . . many Canadians might now be responsive to a more centrist approach, perhaps a “radical centre.” “What is needed is openness to ideas unconstrained by the labels of “right” and “left,” working instead on moving forward. We and a good number of other Canadians have, over the years, joked in asking, “Where is the Purple Party?” Not in the middle, but taking the best from the “red,” and the best from the “blue.”

Of course, the winner-take-all First Past The Post system discourages any third parties.

However, making every vote count with proportional representation has allowed centrist governments in Europe. Germany has six parties: the governing centre-left coalition excludes the Left Party and the two conservative parties, but includes the centrist liberal Free Democrats.

In the 16 German states, ten have centrist coalition governments. The national three-party left-centre coalition is in power in Rhineland-Palatinate, while a three-party Grand Coalition (Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Free Democrats) governs Saxony-Anhalt. In seven states the centrist coalition is a Grand Coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats and/or Greens. In Bavaria the centrist Free Voters are in the governing coalition That leaves two states with a Social Democrat-Green coalition, one state with a Social Democrat one-party government, and three states where the Left Party is part of the governing coalition; but nowhere is the hard-right AfD in cabinet.      

It's not just Germany. After last year’s election in Denmark, the governing Social Democrats decided to form a centrist coalition of the three largest parties, the other two being the centre-right liberals and the centrist Moderates. Austria has a conservative-Green coalition government.

By contrast, look at the one country where a new centrist party tried to beat the odds by taking power in a winner-take-all system: Macron’s party in France. By a fluke, he did, once.

The 2012 election for the French National Assembly, using a winner-take-all two-round system, followed the victory of Socialist Party candidate François Hollande as President, defeating incumbent conservative Nicolas Sarkozy. The Socialist Party and allies won 58% of the seats, while the conservatives won 40%. Rightist Marine Le Pen’s National Front won 14% in the first round but few of its candidates advanced to the second round and only two won seats. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Left Front got only 7% in the first round and won only 10 seats. Both Le Pen and Mélenchon were defeated.

Centrist François Bayrou had run third for President with 19% in 2007, but ran fifth in 2012 with only 9%, and in the National Assembly election his party got less than 2% and only 2 seats. A total two-party environment.

But in 2016 Emmanuel Macron, a minister in Hollande’s Socialist government, resigned to launch his own new centrist movement to support his presidential campaign. Centrist François Bayrou announced support for Macron.

Luckily for Macron, incumbent François Hollande had become so unpopular that he did not seek re-election in 2017. Hollande’s candidate Manuel Valls was defeated for nomination as the Socialist Party candidate by his left-wing rival Benoit Hamon, but Mélenchon out-shone him. Also boosting Macron’s campaign was the scandal of the moderate conservative (Republican) candidate François Fillon, who won his party’s primary but the national financial prosecutor then placed him under formal investigation for misuse of public funds and fraud, for putting his wife and children on the payroll. Marine Le Pen became the strongest conservative candidate, and the vote for the first round was Macron 24%, Le Pen 21%, Fillon 20%, Mélenchon 19.6%, and Hamon only 6.4%. For the second round, to stop Le Pen both Fillon and Hamon supported Macron who got 66% of the vote.

But Macron’s project had no roots. In 2021 in the 12 Regional Council elections the winning traditional parties in 2015 all retained control in 2021: moderate conservatives in seven regions, Socialists and their allies in five regions. Macron’s centrists got only 11% overall, ranging from 11.1% to 16.6% of the votes in 8 regions, while in 3 they were under 10%. In those 11 regions they were shut out of positions in the cabinets of the regional government. In only one region were they part of a grand coalition with moderate conservatives against Le Pen.

And Macron’s project failed to show enough staying power. in the 2022 election Macron lost his majority, getting only 245 seats. The new Left Alliance got 153 seats, Le Pen 89, moderate conservatives 64, others 26. 

Saturday, March 25, 2023

A first incremental step to proportionality in 2025, along with a Citizens Assembly.

Will the Liberals accept the NDP motion for a Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform? Well, for two weeks they filibustered the NDP motion for Katie Telford to be questioned. But when Jagmeet stood his ground “very firmly” the Liberals blinked, showing the Liberal-NDP confidence and supply agreement was solid. The Liberal MPs on the PROC Committee already voted for a Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform. They should be expected to do so again. 

Now that the CASA agreement seems on track to continue to 2025, the next election will likely be under the new Boundaries, which apply to any election called after April 2024, more or less. 

A Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform will be no help in a 2025 election. Could the Liberals accept an additional element: a small first step? The NDP and Greens already offered this option in their Supplementary Opinion to the ERRE Report: “The government could decide to take an incremental approach by adding regional compensatory MPs in groups of 30-45 over the next three or four elections.” 

The Liberals don’t want to risk the Conservatives getting unbridled power without a majority of votes. The Conservatives similarly don’t want the Liberals to have unbridled power without a majority of votes. An incremental step would give Parliament more diverse voices, give voters more choices, reduce toxic partisanship, and reflect the democratic value of making every vote count, to a limited extent. 

The new Boundaries are for 343 Electoral Districts, an increase of only 5 from the current 338. However, the population of Canada increased by 10.501% from 2011 to 2021. That could easily justify adding 35 seats, not just 5. Therefore, the first step could be adding 30 regional compensatory seats. 

The 30 additional seats would be layered over the 340 Districts in the 10 provinces (plus 3 in the Territories), established by the current Boundaries Commissions (see list below). The additional MPs would go to the most unrepresented voters in each region. The ballot would not change.

What would that look like?

A real PR system would likely have a 5% threshold. An incremental step is aimed at major parties, so it would want to use a higher threshold. I am using 8%. Compared to 5%, this costs the PPC four seats. (Bloc Québecois voters are represented in each Quebec region now.) 

We do not yet know the transposed results on the new 343 districts, so I’ll have to start with the 2021 results. I allocate the 30 additional seats by the Swedish method: an “adjustment seat” to the most unrepresented party in the region. Each party has a quotient in each region, which is its number of votes in the region divided by (2n+1), where n is the number of MPs elected. If a party has no MP in the region, its quotient simply is the number of votes it received. In a region, the party with the highest quotient is awarded an additional seat, and a new quotient is then calculated for that region before the next seat is distributed. A region can thus receive more than one additional seat. 


My simulation gives the 30 additional MPs to three parties: the NDP 20 in eight provinces, the underrepresented Conservatives 6 (2 Montreal, 2 Vancouver, 1 GTA and 1 PEI), and the underrepresented Liberals 4 (2 BC outside Vancouver, 1 Alberta, and 1 Eastern Quebec). Adding those 30 MPs to the 2021 results, we get 163 Liberals, 125 Conservatives, 45 NDP, 33 Bloc, and 2 Greens. A majority of the 368 seats is 185. The risk of any one party getting 185 is reduced. 

With only 30 additional MPs, I assume they would be the “best runners-up” in each region, the defeated candidates with the highest % of support.  All three parties would have a more representative caucus. I make the additional 30 MPs 18 women and 3 indigenous. 

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." 

For the Liberals that would be one from Alberta like Ben Henderson, Edmonton City Councillor since 2007, who ran in Amarjeet Sohi’s old seat. One from the BC Interior like 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, giving a voice in caucus (and cabinet?) to the BC Interior where the Liberals were shut out. Another from BC like Dr. Nikki Macdonald, University of Victoria Professor and environment leader. And one from Eastern Quebec like 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. 

The Conservatives would not have lost two of their Vancouver incumbents: Alice Wong and Tamara Jensen, and their Richmond Hill incumbent Leona Alleslev. They would have gained their star Montreal candidate, Frank Cavallaro, a household name across Montreal as a radio journalist and the main weather presenter at CFCF-CTV Montreal for 17 years, and another Montreal candidate Terry Roberts, along with former banker Jody Sanderson in PEI. 

The NDP would have elected Edmonton Métis union labour relations officer Charmaine St. Germain and former Edmonton school trustee Heather MacKenzie, Executive Director of Solar Alberta. Saskatoon’s Robert Doucette, former president of the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan. From Winnipeg, community development worker Melissa Chung-Mowat, a second generation Chinese Canadian and a Métis woman. Sudbury’s Nadia Verrelli, university professor. In Toronto, Alejandra Bravo (now a city councillor); school trustee Norm Di Pasquale; and former FoodShare Director Paul Taylor, with origins in Saint Kitts. London engineer Dirka Prout, with origins in Trinidad. CUPE economist Angella MacEwen. Former Queen’s professor, Guyanese-born Vic Sahai. Former MPs Tracey Ramsey and Malcolm Allen. Montreal star candidate Nimâ Machouf; lawyer and former Montreal MP Ève Péclet; former Quebec MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau; and Tommy Bureau in Quebec City. Moncton’s Serge Landry, Canadian Labour Congress Representative. Former MLA Lisa Roberts in Halifax. Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. 

The provincial breakdown would be:

British Columbia 43+4 (in 2 regions)

Alberta 37+3

Saskatchewan 14+1

Manitoba 14+1

Ontario 122+10 (in 4 regions)

Quebec 78+7 (in 3 regions)

New Brunswick 10+1

PEI 4+1

Nova Scotia 11+1

Nfld & Lab.  7+1


Before the 2021 election, I described another variation of a compromise model: 

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.