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.


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