Saturday, March 2, 2024

Brian Mulroney`s Legacy was crippled by First-Past-The-Post

The late Brian Mulroney`s legacy was crippled by Canada`s disastrous 1993 election, when his 1988 majority collapsed to 2 seats under Kim Campbell, who deserved better.

But wait a minute. In 1993 the Bloc Quebecois got only 13.5% of the vote, standing in fourth place, yet formed the Official Opposition with 54 seats. At the same time Kim Campbell`s PCs got 16.0% worth only 2 seats, while Reform got 18.7% of the votes but its 52 seats left it short of the Bloc. Was this election rigged?

Yes, by First Past The Post. A few years later, beginning in 2001 the Law Commission of Canada under Prof. Nathalie Des Rosiers took a look at that result. In their 2004 Report ``Voting Counts`` they noted Prof. Henry Milner`s conclusion: after the 1997 federal election “the results of Canada’s last two federal elections are becoming political science textbook cases of the distortions under [first-past-the-post].” “The first-past-the-post electoral system, with its two dominant parties, appeared unable to accommodate the pressures of regionalism.” Our winner-take-all voting system exaggerates Canada’s regional differences.

So what would the results have been under proportional representation on the votes cast in 1993, calculated province-by-province, with a 5% threshold in each province, and three extra MPs for the Territories? Liberals 131, Reform 58, PCs 51, Bloc 39, NDP 19, total 298. The Liberals would have had no artificial majority, needing NDP support. The Leader of the Opposition would have been Preston Manning, not Lucien Bouchard.

The Law Commission in 2004 recommended Canada adopt a Mixed Member Proportional system, as used in Germany, Scotland and New Zealand but with open regional lists. “Two-thirds of the members of the House of Commons should be elected in constituency races using first-past-the-post (in larger ridings, three ridings becoming two), and the remaining one-third should be elected from regional party lists” to top-up the results by a flexible list system that provides voters with the option of either endorsing the party list or of voting for a candidate within the list. In addition, one top-up seat each should be allotted to Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon.

As for the 1993 PCs, instead of Jean Charest being one of only two MPs, he and Kim Campbell would have had company, under no pressure to merge with Reform. These names will bring back memories of the end of the Mulroney era:

18 MPs from Ontario (maybe Ministers Perrin Beatty, Rob Nicholson, Tom Hockin, Doug Lewis, Garth Turner, Paul Dick, and Pauline Browes, maybe former Speaker John Bosley, and maybe David MacDonald, Barbara Greene, Patrick Boyer, Bill Attewell and Alan Redway);

9 more MPs from Quebec (maybe Ministers Gilles Loiselle, Pierre Blais, Gerry Weiner, Monique Landry, Jean Corbeil, and Pierre Vincent, and maybe Deputy Speaker Andrée Champagne and Jean-Pierre Blackburn);

5 MPs from BC (Kim Campbell, and maybe Ministers Tom Siddon and Mary Collins);

4 MPs from Alberta (maybe Ministers Jim Edwards and Bobbie Sparrow, and Lee Richardson and Jim Hawkes);

3 MPs from Nova Scotia (Maybe Minister Peter McCreath, and maybe Bill Casey);

2 more MPs from New Brunswick (maybe Minister Bernard Valcourt)

2 MPs from Manitoba (maybe Minister Charles Mayer, and maybe Dorothy Dobbie);

2 MPs from Saskatchewan (maybe Minister Larry Schneider);

2 MPs from Newfoundland and Labrador (maybe Minister Ross Reid); and 1 MP from PEI, and 1 MP from Nunavut.

How would regional MPs serve residents? See how it worked in Scotland in 2013. 

The MMP 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.

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

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

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.” 

Of course, 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." NDP voters would not have switched to the Liberals to stop Reform.

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