Thursday, September 30, 2010

A New Brunswick proportional legislature

What would the New Brunswick legislature look like under a fair voting system?

We don't have to invent one. It's been professionally done by New Brunswick's Commission on Legislative Democracy, appointed by the Progressive Conservative government of Bernard Lord in 2003.

It is clear to the Commission that the current single member plurality electoral system is not meeting the democratic values and needs of New Brunswickers. Fairness and equality of the vote, which are central to democratic satisfaction, must be given more weight when votes are translated into seats. Fortunately, it is not necessary to discard the values of effectiveness and accountability - key benefits of our current system - when making a change. The Commission’s made-in-New Brunswick, regional mixedmember proportional representation system would continue to produce effective single party majority governments while maintaining the direct link between voters and their riding MLA - a link that helps keep them accountable to voters.

Why change?

Simply put, it is not equitable that 60 per cent of the voters in 1987 elected 100 per cent of the MLAs. The votes cast by the other 40 per cent of New Brunswickers had absolutely no effect on the election results. The outcome would have been identical had these 161,814 New Brunswickers simply stayed home. And while this result is somewhat extreme, the three elections that followed illustrate that it is not anomalous. In each of these three elections, about half of the voters elected 80 per cent of the MLAs while the other half elected just 20 per cent. . . There are often too few opposition members to effectively hold the government accountable - a key function of the Legislative Assembly.

Bernard Lord said he supported proportional representation, and if he had been re-elected in 2006 he would hold a referendum on the new system, with 50% of voters required to pass it, not the 60% threshold used in BC and Ontario. Ironically, although Lord's PCs got more votes than the Liberals, it was a "wrong-winner" election, and Lord was out of office.

In the 2010 election it has taken 4,328 New Brunswickers to elect one Progressive Conservative member; 9,854 to elect one Liberal; and 38,737 to elect not a single candidate from the New Democratic Party despite those voters' explicit desire to do so.

Commission's model

The Commission recommended MLAs elected from local ridings and from four regions. Each region would have nine local MLAs, elected as today, and five regional MLAs. To "top-up" the disproportional local results we know all too well, the voters for an under-represented party elect some regional MLAs.

See MMP Made Easy.

Power to the voters

An exciting prospect: voters have new power to elect who they like. You can vote for what you want, not against what you don't want. New voices from new forces in the legislature. No party rolls the dice and wins an artificial majority. Cooperation will have a higher value than vitriolic rhetoric. One-party dominance by the Premier’s office will, at last, be out of fashion. Governments will have to listen to MLAs, and MLAs will have to really listen to the people. MLAs can begin to act as the public servants they are.

Competing MLAs

Every voter has competing MLAs. Instead of having only a local MLA -- whom you quite likely didn’t vote for -- you can go to your local MLA or one of your diverse regional MLAs, as you choose.

Each voter has two votes. Your local vote is used to elect an MLA to represent your riding, as today, but you don't need to vote for the local candidate of your party. You can vote for who you prefer, since the party make-up of the legislature is determined by your second vote.

Your second vote -- your regional vote or party vote -- is used to elect several regional MLAs from your region. The regional votes are counted to give the level of support for each party in the region.

What would the legislature look like?

For an example, let’s see what the New Brunswick legislature would have looked like under this model if voters voted as they did in 2010.

This projection assumes voters voted as they did in 2010. In fact, if voters knew every vote would count, more would have voted -- typically at least 6% more. And some would have voted differently -- no more strategic voting. We would likely have seen different candidates -- more women, and more diversity of all kinds. We could have seen different parties. Who knows who might have won real democratic elections?

But on the votes as cast in 2010 for 55 MLAs, the overall result is 28 Progressive Conservatives, 18 Liberals, 6 New Democrats, and 3 Greens.

New Brunswick's Liberal government shelved the Commission’s report in 2006, yet their voters in the Saint John and Fredericton regions are the ones who got shafted worst in this year’s election. A lesson for Liberals everywhere?

Liberals:

Liberal voters in South West and Central New Brunswick are badly under-represented today. South West Region voters would have elected 13 MLAs (8 local, 5 regional), including three more Liberal MLAs: maybe Mary Schryer, new candidates Dan Joyce and Kevin McCarville, or Ed Doherty or Abel LeBlanc or new candidate Victoria Clarke? Central region voters would have elected 14 MLAs (9 local, 5 regional) including three more Liberal MLAs: maybe Greg Byrne, T. J. Burke and Kelly Lamrock or Larry Kennedy or new candidate Kit Hickey?

New Democrats

New Democrat voters would be fairly represented. From the Northern region they would have elected two MLAs: no doubt leader Roger Duguay, and maybe Ray Godin or Claudia Julien or Maureen Michaud. From the South East they would have elected two MLAs: maybe Susan Levi-Peters and Bill Evans or Leta Both or Cyprien Okana or Agathe Lapointe? From the South West they would have elected one MLA such as Wayne Dryer, Sandy Harding, Julie Drummond or Jesse Travis. From the Central region they would have elected one MLA such as Tony Myatt, Sharon Scott-Levesque or Jason Purdy.

Greens

Green Party voters would be fairly represented. From the Central region they would have elected one MLA: their leader Jack MacDougall or Jim Wolstenholme? From the South East they would have elected one MLA such as Margaret Tusz-King, Bethany Thorne-Dykstra, Mike Milligan or Paul LeBreton. From the South West they would have elected one MLA such as Janice Harvey or Sharon Murphy-Flatt.

The Law Commission of Canada Report

The Law Commission of Canada recommended a similar system for Canada in 2004: a mixed member proportional system, like Scotland's and Germany's, with the majority of MPs elected locally, and additional MPs to represent under-represented voters and "top-up" the local results. Unlike the models which failed to win support in referendums in Ontario and P.E.I, it had open lists, not closed lists, so every MP faced the voters.

What would a proportional House of Commons look like?

While Stephen Harper once favoured proportional representation (as did the PC Party in 2002 just before they decided to merge instead), Ottawa’s present Conservatives (other than Senator Hugh Segal, Rick Anderson and Walter Robinson) seem have lost interest. Conservatives once courted the young, bilingual Bernard Lord for federal leader, and he’s still only 45. Might he yet play a role in the evolution of Canadian democracy?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why Liberals needed the Law Commission of Canada’s recommended electoral reform, in 2010.

As Chantal Hebert wrote on May 28, 2010: “If the Liberals are serious about restoring their status as a national institution, it is time for them to abandon their faith in short-term electoral short cuts and rethink their approach to a more proportional voting system.”

Across Canada, people ask “why do three-quarters of Western voters vote Conservative?”

But they don’t. In 2011 54.7% voters in the four western provinces voted Conservative, but they elected 78% of their MPs. In 2008, 52.5% of them voted Conservative, but they elected 77% of their MPs. In 2006 only 48.6% of them voted Conservative, yet they elected 71% of their MPs.

And they used to ask “why do the majority of Quebecois keep voting for the Bloc?”

But they didn’t. In six elections from 1993 to 2008 the Bloc never won the majority of votes in Quebec, yet they always elected the majority of Quebec MPs.

Proportional representation cannot be left to the NDP and the Green Party.

Liberal voters have practical reasons to need it. And Canadian unity requires it.

The answer was authoritatively recommended in 2004 by the Law Commission of Canada: Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada.

In 2006 the Harper government disbanded the Law Commission of Canada, one of the country’s most respected and productive federal commissions.

Launched in 1971 by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau as the Law Reform Commission of Canada, and resurrected by Prime Minister Jean Chretien in 1997 as the Law Commission of Canada, this independent body conducted research, facilitated dialogue and produced innovative policy recommendations on a wide range of issues related to the role of law in society.

In 2002, under the leadership of President Nathalie Des Rosiers (currently General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association) and Vice President (later Liberal MP) Stephen Owen, the Law Commission of Canada launched a comprehensive review of Canada’s electoral system. In 2004, the Commission recommended to Parliament the adoption of a mixed member proportional voting system.

1. Update on the Law Commission’s 2004 report.

Events since early 2004 make this report more relevant than ever.

First, the Commission’s approach to designing an MMP system differed from the MMP models presented to voters in the Ontario and PEI referendums. Its model has been proven correct. Voters did not accept closed province-wide lists where voters would be forced to accept a party slate of at-large candidates, as presented, rather have the option to vote for individual candidates on those lists. In the last B.C. referendum voters did not accept the Irish STV system.

Second, after Quebec’s first draft model was not well received in 2006, Quebec’s Chief Electoral Officer described a model like the Law Commission’s.

Third, polls continue to show strong support for adopting a more proportional voting system. On April 15, 2010, the Council of Canadians released a major poll conducted by Environics showing that 62 per cent of Canadians support "moving towards a system of proportional representation (PR) in Canadian elections."

Fourth, the elections of 2004, 2006 and 2008 repeated the pattern of the previous three elections in Quebec, but with even worse under-representation of federalist voters. And even worse under-representation of Western Liberal voters.

The model: two-thirds of MPs from local ridings, one-third from open regional lists

The Law Commission recommended “Adding an element of proportionality to Canada’s electoral system, as inspired by the systems currently used in Scotland and Wales, would be the most appropriate model for adoption.”

It recommended “a flexible list system that provides voters with the option of either endorsing the party “slate” or “ticket,” or of indicating a preference for a candidate within the list.” This open list method means every MP has faced the voters and been personally elected.

Voters have TWO votes: one local, for a constituency representative, and one regional.

Scotland and Wales have 16-MP regions (9 local MPs, 7 regional MPs) and 12-MP regions (8 local MPs, 4 regional MPs). In Canada, with 2/3 local MPs, a 14-MP region would have 9 local MPs and 5 regional MPs. This would mean eight regions in Ontario, five or six in Quebec, two in BC, and two in Alberta.

This method was also recommended by the Jenkins Commission in the UK. Their colourful explanation accurately predicted 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.”

Similarly, the latest Quebec model described by their Chief Electoral Officer in December 2007 has a typical MNA elected from a 15-MNA region, with nine local MNAs, and six regional MNAs elected by the flexible open list model, which it said would balance voter choice with better representation of women and minorities.

See "Why the Liberal Party of Canada should lead on electoral reform."

Bloc Québécois Bonus

In 2004 Bloc Québécois voters cast 48.9% of the votes in Québec, so they deserved 37 MPs. But they got 54, a bonus of 46%.

In 2006 they cast 42.1% of the votes in Québec, so they deserved 31 of the 74 MPs won by parties. But they got 51, a bonus of 65%.

In 2008 they cast only 38.1% of the votes in Québec, so they deserved only 28 of the 74 MPs won by parties. But they got 49, a bonus of 75%.

In 2008 it took 86,203 federalist voters to elect one Quebec MP, but only 28,163 Bloc voters.

To quote Lord Jenkins’ Commission about this effect of first-past-the-post systems on regionalism “This is perverse, for a party's breadth of appeal is surely a favourable factor from the point of view of national cohesion, and its discouragement a count against an electoral system which heavily under-rewards it.”

2. A long-standing need

Liberals have known the problem for decades.

The Law Commission noted that first-past-the-post has been criticized as:

• "Disregarding a large number of votes in that voters who do not vote for the winning candidate have no connection to the elected representative, nor to the eventual make-up of the House of Commons." About half the votes cast elect no one. Many voters live in safe ridings dominated by one party and have no hope of electing an MP.

• "Being overly generous to the party that wins a plurality of the vote, rewarding it with a legislative majority disproportionate to its share of the vote." The partisan beneficiaries and victims may change from time to time, but skewed results are routine.

• "Promoting parties formed along regional lines, thus exacerbating Canada’s regional divisions.

• Leaving large areas of the country without adequate representatives in the governing party caucus."

• "Allowing the governing party, with its artificially swollen legislative majority, to dominate the political agenda." A party with far less than majority support can gain majority control of Parliament and introduce programs and laws that most Canadians oppose.

• "Contributing to the under-representation of women, minority groups, and Aboriginal peoples.

• Preventing a diversity of ideas from entering the House of Commons.

• Favouring an adversarial style of politics."

When most votes have no effect, incentive to vote is reduced. Voter turnout is declining, with turnout in 2008 dropping to 59%, an historic low. Lord Roy Jenkins, who chaired the U.K.’s Jenkins commission on electoral reform, had this to say about safe seats and ineffective votes in his 1998 report: “many voters pass their entire adult lives without any realistic hope of influencing a result. In these circumstances it is perhaps remarkable that general election turnouts remain at a respectable level.” When he wrote that, turnout in the prior election had been 71%. In the subsequent election turnout dropped to 59%.

In 1979, first-past-the-post produced a "wrong-winner" election. Pierre Trudeau's Liberals won 40.1% of the vote, but only 114 seats. Joe Clark's Progressive Conservatives received only 35.9% of the vote, but elected 136 MPs and formed the government with support from six Créditiste MPs.

Trudeau’s big problem was the West. Liberal voters in BC deserved to elect six MPs, but got only one. In Alberta, Liberal voters deserved to elect five MPs but got none. In Saskatchewan they deserved three, but got none; even Ralph Goodale lost his seat.

In 1980 Trudeau's problem with western underrepresentation in his government was extreme: he had only two MPs from the four western provinces, both from Manitoba. Trudeau would have had sixteen more western MPs with proportional representation. In the 1980 Speech from the Throne, the newly re-elected Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau promised to appoint a committee to study the electoral system.

3. No more Bloc blockage, no more Conservative bonus

With this Law Commission model, if voters voted as they did in 2008, they would have elected 118 Conservative MPs and only 32 Bloc MPs.

4. Would the Alternative Vote be better for Liberals?

In the UK, the Liberal Democrats have postponed their claim for proportional representation, settling for the Alternative Vote (AV) which they thought would help them somewhat in the UK. Since no one really wanted it, it was no surpriose when AV was rejected by UK voters.

They don’t have our problem of exaggerated regional differences. AV would do nothing for Alberta Liberal voters, or most other western Liberal voters.

Would AV have helped Quebec federalists? In three-way or four-way races, who can say? To quote Lord Jenkins and his Commissioners, “its effects are disturbingly unpredictable.” It depends who voters want to vote against on voting day.

5. Unheard Liberal voices

A study released in 2006 by Fair Vote Canada showed that in the seven federal elections between 1980 and 2004 an average of 43.3% of Liberal voters cast ineffective votes, electing no one.

In the 2008 election, the percentage of Liberal voters electing no one was stunning in a number of provinces: Alberta (100%), Manitoba (82%), Saskatchewan (73%), British Columbia (72%), and Quebec (69%). In 2011 it was even worse.

In summary, many Liberal voters live in areas where they will seldom, if ever, elect a Liberal MP. The elected Liberal caucus simply does not represent the breadth of Liberal support across the country.

With the Law Commission’s model, Liberal voters in 2011 would have elected 25 more MPs from regions where they are unrepresented or underrepresented, minus four where they were over-represented. For example, in the GTA Liberal voters deserved to elect at least 13 MPs in 2011, but elected only seven.

Prime Minister Paul Martin spoke frequently and eloquently about the urgent need to address Canada’s democratic deficit, but was unable to take corrective action during his tenure. The solution is overdue and new Liberal voices are needed to carry the torch. Stéphane Dion has now done so.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

“Limited MMP” (Canada’s electoral Plan B)

The Liberal Party, like the British Labour Party, is more likely to accept a “more proportional system” than a fully proportional system. That’s what Lord Jenkins’ Commission in the UK aimed at, to balance broad proportionality with the need for stable Government: “limited MMP.”

As a compromise, it’s not as bad as I thought.

The essence of the MMP system, as Lord Jenkins wrote, is that the voter has the opportunity to cast two votes, the first for his or her choice of local riding MP, and the second for an additional or Top-up MP who would be elected for the purpose of correcting the disproportionality left by the riding outcomes.

See MMP Made Easy.

“Limited MMP” in Canada would have only 20% “top-up” MPs. A group of five present ridings would become four larger ridings. We could have small “top-up” regions averaging only ten each. The regional “top-up” MPs would be personally elected and be very accountable.

Jenkins proposed an open list system in small regions, in the interests of local accountability and providing the regional MPs with a broad constituency link. As Jenkins said, additional members locally anchored to small areas 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.” He wanted regions ranging from six to 12 MPs.

Take New Brunswick. On the 2008 votes, if the eight local ridings elected four Conservatives, three Liberals and one New Democrat, the two provincial MPs would be one New Democrat and one Green, making the overall result proportional to the votes cast. Who fills those two seats? The voter has two votes: one for local MP, one for their favourite of their party's provincial candidates. The top vote getter is elected to that provincial seat. All MPs are personally accountable. Maybe Rob Muir or Alice Finnamore would be the provincial NDP MP, and Mary Lou Babineau or Alison Ménard the Green. In larger provinces, the additional MPs are accountable at a regional level.

Germans call this "personalized proportional representation." Every voter has competing MPs: you can go to your local MP or one of your regional MPs.

Lord Jenkins’ model needs some tweaking for Canada. He had no region with more than two regional MPs, but that’s punitive to smaller parties. “Limited MMP” could have small regions but ranging from four MPs to 16, averaging 10. The number of regional MPs from each region would be one, two or three. My simulation has only eight regions large enough for three regional MPs, seven with only one regional MP, and 15 with two regional MPs each.

Lord Jenkins called for 15% or 20% of regional “top-up” MPs, but at least 35% is needed for full proportionality. That’s the intent: more chance of stable government. Still, every point below 20% distorts the result still more.

“Limited MMP” would work rather fairly in Ontario and BC, so long as the calculation method is “highest remainder.” However, in the extreme strongholds -- Saskatchewan, Alberta and Quebec -- it would have a more limited effect. On the votes cast in 2008, the Bloc would keep almost half of its Quebec bonus. Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC Conservative voters would have seven more MPs than they deserve. Green Party voters would elect 14 MPs, not 18 or 21. Most importantly, due to under-representation of Green and NDP voters, the Liberal-NDP-Green majority of voters would elect only 146 MPs rather than 157 or 160 as a full MMP model would. But that’s what you get with a compromise model. Although “Limited MMP” doesn’t give the Liberals any national bonus seats on the 2008 votes, it would if they were the largest party; and meanwhile it gives them five more MPs in the GTA than full MMP would.

To use Limited MMP in Canada our 305 MPs in the provinces might be in 30 regions, with 61 regional MPs, 244 local MPs. That’s what I used for my spreadsheet projections. (I left the three territories unchanged.)

The result Canada-wide would have been 123 Conservatives, 81 Liberals, 51 NDP, 37 Bloc, 14 Greens, and two Independents.

Note: this is only if people voted as they did on October 14, 2008. In fact, if voters knew every vote would count, more would have voted -- typically 6% or so more -- and some would have voted differently. We would have had different candidates - more women, and more diversity of all kinds. We could have different parties.

The benefit of this system is to voters who are now unrepresented, and the 7 benefits listed below. However, to repeat, incumbent MPs would find it a moderate and acceptable model: every group of five ridings becomes four larger ridings, but a candidate can also run for one of the regional MP positions, with two regional MPs in each ten-riding region.

The Liberal caucus would not be just the GTA plus the Montreal area and the Atlantic Provinces. Currently only 15 of the 77 Liberal MPs are outside those regions. Liberal voters would have elected 15 more MPs from regions where they are now unrepresented or under-represented: six more from the West, six more from Ontario outside the GTA, and three more from Quebec outside Montreal. With the open-list system, those regional MPs would be the regional candidates who get the most votes on the regional ballot.

Today, 71 of the west's 92 MPs are Conservatives, 21 others. With “Limited MMP” that would be 56 Conservatives, 36 others (15 more than today).

Today, 49 of Quebec’s MPs are Bloc members, and only 26 are federalists (14 Liberals, 10 Conservatives, 1 NDP, and 1 independent). (It took 86,203 federalist voters to elect one Quebec MP last year, but only 28,163 Bloc voters.) With “Limited MMP” that would be 12 more federalists: 37 Bloc MPs and 38 federalists (16 Liberals, 13 Conservatives, 8 NDP, 1 independent.)

Today, 27% of the voters in South Central Ontario (Hamilton-Niagara-Brant) voted Liberal but elected no one. Limited MMP would let those voters elect two Liberal MPs.

Why would Liberals want electoral reform? Let’s look at the points made by Lord Jenkins in a similar context in the UK:

“Under-representation of a relatively strong minority party is very much a function of that party's appeal across geographical areas and occupational groups. When a party has a narrow but more intense beam“ (like the Bloc in Canada) “its representation, although by no means perfect under the present system, approximates more to its strength. This is perverse, for a party's breadth of appeal is surely a favourable factor from the point of view of national cohesion, and its discouragement a count against an electoral system which heavily under-rewards it.”

1. Canadian Liberals want a system that favours Canadian unity, not one which gives a big bonus to sovereignists.

“The same properties of FPTP tend to make it geographically divisive between the two leading parties, even though each of them can from time to time be rewarded by it with a vast jackpot.”

2. Canadian Liberals want a system that gives them a foothold in their regions of weakness like Alberta and eastern Quebec.

“There is also not merely the regular divergence from a majority but occasionally from a plurality in the country as a whole. . . Systemic bias . . .essentially arises when a given number of votes translates into significantly more seats for one party than for the other.”

3. Many Liberals remember that Joe Clark won more seats than Pierre Trudeau in 1979 with fewer votes, just as the PQ won the Quebec election in 1998 with fewer votes than the Liberals. This was largely a consequence of Liberals piling up large unneeded majorities in their heartland seats.

“The semi-corollary of a high proportion of the constituencies being in 'safe-seat' territory is not merely that many voters pass their entire adult lives without ever voting for a winning candidate but that they also do so without any realistic hope of influencing a result. In these circumstances it is perhaps remarkable that general election turnouts remain at a respectable level.”

4. Voter turnouts in Canada have fallen well below a respectable level. Liberals see the danger in this.

“The next criticism of FPTP is that it narrows the terrain over which the political battle is fought, and also, in an associated although not an identical point, excludes many voters from ever helping to elect a winning candidate. The essential contest between the two main parties is fought over about a hundred or at most 150 (out of 659) swingable constituencies. Outside the chosen arena voters were deprived of (or spared from) the visits of party leaders, saw few canvassers, and were generally treated (by both sides) as either irrevocably damned or sufficiently saved as to qualify for being taken for granted.”

5. Liberals in weak areas are tired of being written off. Liberals in strongholds are tired of being taken for granted.

“One thing that FPTP assuredly does not do is to allow the elector to exercise a free choice in both the selection of a constituency representative and the determination of the government of the country. It forces the voter to give priority to one or the other, and the evidence is that in the great majority of cases he or she deems it more important who is Prime Minister than who is member for their local constituency. As a result the choice of which individual is MP effectively rests not with the electorate but with the selecting body of whichever party is dominant in the area. Unless the electorate is grossly and rarely affronted, individual popularity in any broad sense hardly enters into the process at all. This is not an inbred deficiency in all voting systems. Both the Additional Member System (as in Germany) with its two votes, and the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member constituencies (as practised in the Republic of Ireland) allow the voter to combine influencing the choice of government and expressing a preference between individuals as local representative.”

6. Liberals have often wanted to be elected on their own merits, whether or not their party has run into bad times.

“A party which has the will to increase female or minority representation might find it easier to do so under a system involving lists or slates of candidates than it would with a system which makes use exclusively of single-member constituencies.”

7. Liberals do wish to elect more women and minority MPs.

What would the House of Commons look like?

On the 2008 votes, Liberal voters would have elected 15 more MPs, starting with six more from the West:

In the Vancouver region one more: maybe Raymond Chan or Don Bell?
One in the BC Interior: maybe Diana Cabott from Kelowna?
One in Calgary and Southern Alberta: maybe Jennifer Pollock?
One in Edmonton and Northern Alberta: maybe Jim Wachowich, Donna Lynn Smith or Indira Saroya?
In Manitoba three MPs, not just one. Maybe Raymond Simard and John Loewen or Tina Keeper or Bob Friesen?
In South Central Ontario (Hamilton-Niagara-Brant) two MPs, not none. Maybe Paddy Torsney and Lloyd St. Amand or Larry Di Ianni or Arlene MacFarlaneVanderBeek or Joyce Morocco?
In Central Ontario one MP, not none. Maybe Jamie McGarvey from Parry Sound?
In Southwestern Ontario (London - Windsor) two MPs, not just one. Maybe Susan Whelan?
In the Ottawa region three MPs, not just two. Maybe Marc Godbout or Dan Boudria or Penny Collenette?
In Northern Ontario two MPs, not just one. Maybe Ken Boshcoff from Thunder Bay or Louise Portelance or Diane Marleau from Sudbury?
In the Quebec City region one MP, not none. Maybe Jean Beaupré or Pauline Côté?
In Eastern Quebec one MP, not none: Nancy Charest from Matane?
In Estrie--Centre-du-Québec--Mauricie one MP, not none. Maybe Denis Paradis from Brome--Missisquoi or Nathalie Goguen from Sherbrooke?

On the other hand, Liberal voters would have elected 11 fewer MPs from regions where they are now over-represented: seven from the GTA, one from Montreal, one from Nova Scotia, one from Newfoundland and Labrador, and one from PEI. So they would have a net gain of only four MPs, but their caucus would be far more representative.

Conservative voters would have elected 11 more MPs from regions where they were unrepresented or under-represented, starting with five from Quebec:
From the Montreal region two MPs, not none. Maybe Michael Fortier and Hubert Pichet or Andrea Paine or Rafael Tzoubari?
From Laval--Laurentides--Lanaudière two MPs, not none. Maybe Claude Carignan from Saint-Eustache and Jean-Pierre Bélisle from Laval or Sylvie Lavallée from Joliette?
In Montérégie one MP, not none. Maybe René Vincelette or Marie-Josée Mercier?
From East Toronto two MPs, not none. Maybe John Carmichael and Dr. Benson Lau or Roxanne James?
From West Toronto one MP, not none. Maybe Joe Oliver or Rochelle Wilner or Axel Kuhn or Patrick Boyer?
From Northern Ontario two MPs, not just one. Maybe Gerry Labelle from Sudbury, Cameron Ross from Sault Ste. Marie, or Dianne Musgrove from Manitoulin?
From Newfoundland and Labrador one MP, not none. Maybe Fabian Manning?
From PEI two MPs, not just one. Maybe Mary Crane?

However, Conservative voters would have elected 31 fewer MPs from regions where they are now over-represented: three from Edmonton and Northern Alberta, three from Calgary and Southern Alberta, three from Saskatchewan, two from the BC Lower Mainland, two from the BC Interior, two from Manitoba, two from the Ottawa region, two from York-Durham, two from Central West Ontario (Kitchener-Grey-Bruce), two from Southwest Ontario, one from South Central Ontario, one from Central Ontario, one from Lake Ontario (Kingston--Peterborough), two from the Quebec City region, two from New Brunswick, and one from Nova Scotia. So they would have a net loss of 20 MPs, yet their caucus would be more representative of the whole country.

New Democrat voters would have elected 19 more MPs from regions where those voters are unrepresented or under-represented.
In Saskatchewan two MPs, not none. Maybe Nettie Wiebe and Don Mitchell or Valerie Mushinski or Janice Bernier?
In Edmonton and Northern Alberta two MPs, not just one. Maybe Ray Martin or Mark Voyageur or Adele Boucher Rymhs?
In Calgary and South Alberta one MP, not none. Maybe John Chan?
In Surrey--Fraser Valley one MP, not none. Maybe Rachid Arab?
In Montreal two MPs, not just one. Maybe Alexandre Boulerice or Anne Lagacé Dowson?
In Laval--Laurentides--Lanaudière one MP, not none. Maybe Réjean Bellemare?
In Montérégie one MP, not none. Maybe Richard Marois or Sonia Jurado?
In Outaouais--Abitibi--Nord-du-Quebec one MP, not none. Françoise Boivin?
In Estrie--Centre-du-Québec--Mauricie one MP, not none. Maybe Annick Corriveau from Drummond, or their young star Geneviève Boivin from Trois-Rivières, or TV host Yves Mondoux from Sherbrooke?
In the Quebec City region one MP, not none. Maybe Anne-Marie Day or Raymond Côté?
In Eastern Quebec one MP, not none. Maybe Guy Caron from Rimouski?
In Ontario in York-Durham one MP, not none. Maybe Mike Shields from Oshawa?
From West Toronto one MP, not none. Maybe Peggy Nash?
From Peel--Halton one MP, not none. Maybe Jagtar Shergill or Jash Puniya?
From Central West Ontario (Waterloo-Guelph-Grey-Bruce) one MP, not none. Maybe Tom King or Cindy Jacobsen or Max Lombardi or Kerry McManus?
In Lake Ontario region (Kingston-Peterborough) one MP, not none. Rick Downes from Kingston?
From Nova Scotia three MPs, not just two. Maybe Gordon Earle or Tamara Lorincz?
In New Brunswick two MPs, not just one. Maybe Rob Moir or Alice Finnamore?

However, New Democrat voters would have elected five fewer MPs from regions where they are now over-represented: two from Northern Ontario, one from Central South Ontario, one from Manitoba, and one from Vancouver region. So they would have a net gain of 14 MPs.

Green voters would have elected 14 MPs from regions where those voters are unrepresented:
One from Nova Scotia: no doubt Elizabeth May.
One from the Vancouver region: maybe Adriane Carr?
One from the BC Interior: maybe Huguette Allen from North Okanagan or Angela Reid from Kelowna?
One from Edmonton and Northern Alberta: maybe Will Munsey from Vegreville-Wainwright or Monika Schaefer from Yellowhead or Les Parsons from Wetaskiwin?
One from Calgary and South Alberta: maybe Eric Donovan or Lisa Fox or Natalie Odd?
One from Saskatchewan: maybe young star Amber Jones, or Tobi-Dawne Smith?
One from Manitoba: maybe Kate Storey from Dauphin or Dave Barnes from Brandon?
One from East Toronto: maybe Sharon Howarth or Stephen LaFrenie?
One from York-Durham: maybe John Dewar from Keswick or Glenn Hubbers from Newmarket?
One from Ottawa region: maybe Jen Hunter or Lori Gadzala from Ottawa?
One from Central West Ontario: maybe Mike Nagy from Guelph, Dick Hibma from Owen Sound, or Cathy MacLellan from Kitchener-Waterloo?
One from Peel-Halton: maybe Ard Van Leeuwen from Dufferin-Caledon, or Dr. Blake Poland from Oakville?
One from Southwestern Ontario: maybe Mary Ann Hodge from London?
One from New Brunswick: maybe Mary Lou Babineau from Fredericton or Alison Ménard from Moncton?

In summary, the Liberal caucus today would be 65 local MPs and 16 regional MPs. The Conservative caucus would be 112 local MPs and 11 regional MPs (five in Quebec, three in Toronto, one in Northern Ontario, one in Newfoundland, and one in PEI.) The NDP caucus would be 31 local MPs and 20 regional MPs. The Bloc caucus would be 37 local MPs. The Green Party caucus would be 14 regional MPs.

Caveat: any MMP-lite model is vulnerable to the "decoy list" trick invented by Silvio Berlusconi to sabotage Italy's voting systenm. In that trick, a party would run only regional candidates, while running its local candidates under another name, so that the MMP system works like the parallel system. It is also vulnerable to a softer version where a small party runs no local candidates, but appeals to a large party's supporters whose second vote will likely not be needed to "give us your second vote" for its regional candidate. Two counter-measures would be advisable. First, give the Chief Electoral Officer power and broad discretion to deem two associated parties to be a single party. Second, prevent a party running a regional candidate unless it runs local candidates in at least half the seats in the region.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The practical case against the Instant Run-off Vote (the Alternative Vote)

Fair Vote Canada has produced a carefully documented explanation of why the Alternative Vote, used in Australian lower house elections, is no solution for Canada’s democratic deficit.

I won’t attempt to summarize it, since its four pages are concise already.

But I’ll sound a practical note on why IRV, or AV, doesn’t suit our situation. Three points.

One: Fair Vote Canada asks:

“Would AV fix the problem of single party domination in particular regions?

“No. Under the current system, large parties and parties with support concentrated in particular regions of the country win many more seats than their popular support warrants while supporters of other parties gain little or no representation. For example, Liberals in the West and Conservatives in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are almost always underrepresented in Parliament.

These distortions in representation exacerbate regional tensions in Canada, but AV could make them even worse. A study looking at the possible effects of a wide variety of voting systems on federal election results in 1980 and 2000 found “for almost all parties regional imbalances would have been worsened if we adopted AV even (though slightly) more than under SMP [single-member plurality, or first-past-the-post].”

In the 2008 election, 144,646 Alberta Liberal voters got no representation in Parliament. They deserved three or four of those 28 MPs.

IRV would have done nothing for those voters. Conservative voters would still have elected 27 of those MPs, when they deserved only 18 or 19.

Similarly, in the BC Interior, the Conservatives would still have elected seven of the nine MPs when they deserved five, unless perhaps the “anyone but Conservative“ vote elected an NDP member in Kamloops. Moreover, I doubt the Conservative bonus of seven MPs in Saskatchewan and Manitoba would have been dented much, if at all.

And in the 32 Quebec ridings east of Greater Montreal, IRV might have elected a couple of Liberal MPs if they were lucky, but not the five or six those voters deserved. Actually, predicting how IRV would work in four-party races in Quebec is a roll of the dice. As the Jenkins Commission in the UK concluded "its effects are disturbingly unpredictable." See the discussion at the end of this blog post: the Bloc would pick up more than another 11% of the vote on second choices, putting them just over 50%.

Two: Fair Vote Canada also asks:

“Would AV help small parties get established and win seats?

“Not at all. AV would make it easy for voters to give smaller parties their first choice vote and their second choice to a larger party with a better chance of winning a seat. It is formalized strategic voting. But actual AV election results show that supporters of small parties are no more likely to gain representation with AV than with the current system. AV exaggerates the tendency of the current system to direct all voters into a choice between two big-tent political parties.

The Jenkins Commission, a blue ribbon panel on electoral reform in the UK, set up by the Labour government in 1997, concluded that AV outcomes would be even less proportional than first-past-the-post.”

Why should Liberals care about this? Because Liberals need to get NDP and Green voters to vote “anyone but Conservative” in swing ridings. But you can’t attract those votes by promising a phoney voting reform that does nothing for them.

In fact, there are enough Blue Liberal voters in Ontario and elsewhere that half a dozen NDP seats would have gone Conservative under IRV. (Maybe more. In strong NDP seats, centre-left Liberal voters will often be voting NDP already. The remaining diehard Liberals don't like the NDP, and would mostly give their second choice to the Conservatives.)

Three: Fair Vote Canada notes:

“Neither the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, nor any of the recent federal and provincial commissions examining voting system alternatives in Canada, have recommended AV for parliamentary elections.”

Now, that Ontario case is interesting.

In 2001 Dalton McGuinty put forward a Democratic Charter promising “A referendum on how we vote.“ He said “There is a lot of discontent with our first-past-the-post system. It often elects people to the Legislature, even though more than half the people in that riding wanted someone else. It gives one party all of the power, when that party failed to capture a majority of the votes.”

He noted “the two alternatives that would be on the table would be on the table would be preferential balloting, which requires only modest changes to the system that we have in place, and proportional representation, which has various forms found throughout the world.” One suspects he preferred the first option, IRV.

However, when the newly elected government set up the Democratic Renewal Secretariat, they said “Many have lost faith in a system that, for too long, has been cynically manipulated to promote the interests of the government in power.” The Liberals were experts in elections. They knew that, in 2003, IRV would likely have meant the Liberals were everyone’s second choice. The result would likely have been both the NDP and PCs electing so few MPPs as to lose official party status.

They must have been tempted to stack the Citizens’ Assembly’s staff with IRV advocates. However, that would have been “cynical manipulation to promote the interests of the government in power.” They didn’t do it.

After an honest process, the result was clear: of 103 Citizens’ Assembly members, only three made IRV their first choice.

Honest Liberals will still think twice before promoting a partisan-advantage system. Electoral reform will never succeed if it's a partisan project.

Instead of IRV, let's consider what Liberals really need.

With a proportional voting system, the Liberal caucus would not be just the GTA plus the Montreal area and the Atlantic Provinces. Currently only 15 of the 77 Liberal MPs are outside those regions. On the votes cast in 2008, Liberal voters would have elected 26 more MPs from regions where they are now unrepresented or under-represented: nine more from the West, ten more from Ontario outside the GTA, and seven more from Quebec outside Montreal.

Pierre Trudeau decided this in 1980. With proportional representation, he would have had sixteen more western MPs.

Alberta was the worst. Trudeau's Alberta problem actually began back in 1972, when Alberta Liberal voters deserved to elect five MPs but got none. Even in his 1974 comeback, Alberta Liberal voters again deserved five MPs but got none.

The 1979 election was a "wrong-winner" election. Pierre Trudeau's Liberals got 40.1% of the vote, but only 114 MPs. Joe Clark's PCs got only 35.9% of the vote, yet elected 136 MPs and formed the government with support from six Créditiste MPs, giving them a one-seat majority. As in 1980, Trudeau’s big problem was the West.

Liberal voters in Alberta in 1979 again deserved to elect five MPs but got none. In 1980 Liberal voters in Alberta again deserved five and got none.

In its 1980 Speech from the Throne, Trudeau’s newly re-elected government promised to appoint a committee to study the electoral system; you can see why. And in every election since, large numbers of Albertans again voted Liberal but only a handful of Liberals were elected. Which IRV would not help.

As detailed here, the Law Commission proposed a regional open list system for MMP. You have two votes. With your local vote, you elect a local MP as today. With your regional vote, you also choose one specific candidate from the regional candidates on the list nominated in a medium-sized region. That vote would count for the party first. If a party's voters were not fairly represented by the local MPs, those voters would then elect the top vote getting regional candidates for each party as regional "top-up" MPs. Result: each party would receive a proportional share of the seats in the region. See MMP made easy.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

MMP Made Easy

Scottish, Welsh, German and New Zealand Parliamentary elections use a type of Proportional Representation called the Mixed Member Proportional system (MMP).

The ten-second definition of MMP is this:

We still elect local MPs. Voters unrepresented by the local results top them up by electing regional MPs. The total MPs match the vote share.

MMP is a voting system which mixes our winner-take-all system with an element of proportional representation, so that the number of MPs elected to Parliament from each province matches the share of the overall votes cast by supporters of each party in that province.

Different places use different MMP models. This is a description of an MMP model with “open lists.”

Each voter has two votes.

The local vote is used to elect an MP to represent your riding, as today.

The regional vote or party vote is used to elect several regional MPs from your region.

The local vote can be cast by marking your ballot with an X for any candidate standing in your riding, as we do today. The candidate chosen by the largest number of voters in a riding wins the seat on a winner-take-all basis.

The regional vote can be cast by marking your ballot with an X for any regional candidate standing on the regional ballot.

If that candidate is a party candidate, this vote counts as a vote for your party. The parties' regional votes are then counted to give the level of support for each party in the region.

If a party’s voters have managed to elect only a few local MPs in that region, or none at all, that party gets additional “top-up” seats to make their final total more in line with their vote share in the "top-up" region.

The party’s regional candidates with the most votes win those seats. That’s why it’s called “open list.”

Every voter has competing MPs: you can go to your local MP or one of your diverse regional MPs. Germans call this "personalized proportional representation."

Your ballot will look like this ballot that PEI voters chose in their referendum.

Here are further details on this model as designed by the Law Commission of Canada.

What would the 2011 election results have been under this model?

(The number of regional MPs you have depends on the size of your "top-up" region: if they are medium-sized regions it might be five, maybe as many as eight or more. In smaller provinces, the "top-up region" would be the whole province.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What would the British Columbia legislature look like under a fair voting system?

What would the British Columbia legislature look like under a fair voting system?

There are two likely options for a fair voting system for BC provincial elections. The British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform designed two systems in 2004.

BC-STV

They decided BC-STV was the best for BC, so that was the system that went before voters in a referendum, in 2005 and again in 2009. In 2005 voters were asked “Should British Columbia change to the BC-STV electoral system as recommended by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform?” They voted 58% yes, but the government had set a 60% threshold for success. In 2009 voters were asked “Which electoral system should British Columbia use to elect members to the provincial Legislative Assembly? ▪ The existing electoral system (First-Past-the-Post) ▪ The single transferable vote electoral system (BC-STV) proposed by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform." This time they voted only 39% for BC-STV.

However, a poll after the referendum showed that 44.3% of those who voted for first-past-the-post in the referendum responded they are in “favour of replacing first-past-the-post with a voting system in which the percentage of seats a party gets in the legislature is more in line with their percentage of the popular vote.” That makes 66% of BC voters in favour of some proportional system.

Why not STV?

STV has been used in Ireland since 1922. It’s the only thing Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic agree on; Northern Ireland has used it since 1973. And it has now spread across the sea to be used in Scotland’s local elections. To those familiar with STV, it’s an excellent system if the district magnitudes are large enough for decent proportionality, like Northern Ireland’s six-MLA districts, and the population per district is low enough, like Northern Ireland’s 98,000 people per district. Unfortunately BC voters are not familiar with STV. If the British Liberal Democrats had succeeded in moving the UK towards STV, this might have changed; but even they gave up.

Furthermore, the BC-STV model designed by the Electoral Boundaries Commission was not very proportional. With each district having, on average, only 4.25 MLAs, Green Party voters, who deserved to elect seven MLAs on the votes cast in 2009, would have been lucky to elect even three MLAs. Yet many BC voters complained that the proposed 20 districts, with an average population of about 222,000, were already unmanageably-large. This is not a trivial point. In a country with as much geography as Canada, fitting our geography into the voting system is the major design issue.

Open-list MMP

The Citizens’ Assembly (CA) designed, before they chose STV instead, an excellent Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. The majority (60%) of MLAs are elected in local districts like today’s. The others are "top-up" regional MLAs: to compensate for the disproportional local results we know all too well, the party’s voters elect personally some regional MLAs.

See MMP Made Easy.

This is the system invented by British political scientists in 1946 in the British Zone of West Germany. It took the old German proportional representation system and grafted British personal MPs into it. “Personalized proportional representation” the Germans called it. “The best of both worlds” said political scientists.

With the CA’s regional "Open list" version, voters can vote for whomever they like out of the regional candidates nominated by the party's regional nomination process. The elected Regional MLAs are the party's regional candidates who get the highest vote on the regional ballot. You have two votes: one for local MLA, one for regional MLA which counts as a vote for your party. The German province of Bavaria does this too.

If the CA had chosen the “flexible list” variant, where you can vote for the list or for an individual on it, the ballot would have looked like the one recommended by the British Independent Commission on the Voting System (the Jenkins Commission). The voter casts one vote for local MLA, and one for their party and (if they wish) for their favourite of their party's regional candidates. This same model was recommended for Scotland by the Arbuthnott Commission as an improvement on their MMP system; but no action yet. The result is much the same with any open-list model: all MLAs have faced the voters, and no one has a safe seat. (But I'd bet the CA would have chosen straight open-list, the Bavarian model.)

Power to the voters

An exciting prospect: voters have new power to elect who they like. New voices from new forces in the legislature. No party rolls the dice and wins an artificial majority. Cooperation will have a higher value than vitriolic rhetoric. One-party dominance by the Premier’s office will, at last, be out of fashion. Governments will have to listen to MLAs, and MLAs will have to really listen to the people. MLAs can begin to act as the public servants they are.

Based on the Ontario and BC experience, many reformers now think open-list MMP with regional lists is the only system likely to be acceptable to Canadians.

Local districts and regions

The 51 local BC districts would each have about 87,000 people (smaller in the North, no doubt). The CA ran out of time before settling details like the number of regions, which might have been four, five or six; I’m using six, electing a total of 34 regional MLAs.

What would the legislature look like?

For an example, let’s see what the BC legislature would have looked like under this model if voters voted as they did in 2009.

This projection assumes voters voted as they did in 2009. In fact, if voters knew every vote would count, more would have voted -- typically at least 6% more. And some would have voted differently -- no more strategic voting. We would likely have seen different candidates -- more women, and more diversity of all kinds. We could have seen different parties. Who knows who might have won real democratic elections?

But on the votes as cast in 2009, the overall result is 41 Liberals, 37 New Democrats, 6 Greens, and independent Vicky Huntington.

Competing MLAs

Instead of having only a local MLA -- whom you quite likely didn’t vote for -- you can also go to one of your regional MLAs. On this projection, all six regions will have at least one regional MLA from each of the three parties. Even Northern voters, assuming they elected three local Liberals and two local New Democrats, would have elected one regional MLA from each party. Even Interior voters, where I expect Liberal voters would have elected seven of the ten local MLAs, would also have elected one regional Liberal MLA. Even Vancouver Island voters, where I expect NDP voters would have elected seven of the nine local MLAs, would also have elected one regional NDP MLA. That’s because the CA wisely chose a model with 40% regional MLAs.

NDP:

Many NDP voters are under-represented. Voters in the Interior would have elected 16 MLAs (10 local, 6 regional), including two more NDP MLAs: maybe Doug Brown and Tish Lakes or Charlie Wyse or new candidate Lakhvinder Jhaj or Troy Sebastian?

Surrey-Delta-Langley-Fraser Valley voters would elect 17 MLAs (10 local, 7 regional), including two more NDP MLAs: maybe new candidates Debbie Lawrance and Pat Zanon or Bonnie Rai or Gwen O’Mahony or Lynn Perrin?

Vancouver-Richmond voters would elect 14 MLAs (8 local, 6 regional), including another NDP MLA: maybe Gabriel Yiu or Jenn McGinn or Helesia Luke?

Liberals:

Liberal voters on Vancouver Island are under-represented. Vancouver Island voters would elect 15 MLAs (9 local, 6 regional), including two more Liberal MLAs: maybe new candidates Marion Wright and Dawn Miller or Dianne St. Jacques or Cathy Basskin?

Green Party voters would have elected six MLAs.

Green Party voters in Vancouver Island would have elected a regional MLA, no doubt the leader Jane Sterk.

Vancouver-Richmond Green Party voters would have elected a regional MLA: maybe Damian Kettlewell or Vanessa Violini or John Boychuk or Jodie Emery?

Burnaby-Tri-Cities-North Shore-Maple Ridge voters would have elected 15 MLAs (9 local, 6 regional) including a Green Party regional MLA: maybe young Michelle Corcos or Helen Chang or Jim Stephenson?

Voters in the North would have elected 8 MLAs (5 local, 3 regional), including a Green Party regional MLA: maybe Liz Logan or Lisa Girbav?

In the Interior, Green Party voters would have elected a regional MLA: maybe Julius Bloomfield or Hughette Allen?

Surrey-Fraser Valley-Delta-Langley Green Party voters would have elected a regional MLA: maybe Bill Walsh or Kevin Purton or Bernadette Keenan?

Regional independents

The CA never had time to decide whether independent candidates should be able to run for regional seats. I‘d bet they would have said yes. Scotland uses regional MMP to elect the Scottish Parliament. Two independent candidates have won regional seats there, and two more in local seats. STV fans like the way independents can win any STV seat. But they can win any seat in Scotland too, with regional MMP.

More choices

Maybe independent Arthur Hadland would have won a regional seat in the North. Maybe independent David Marley would have won a regional seat.

The CA’s MMP model had a 3% threshold. The Conservative Party fell below that threshold in 2009, yet they got enough votes for a regional MLA in the Interior. In a real MMP election they would have been sure to exceed the 3% threshold and elect an Interior regional MLA -- their leader Wilf Hanni or Joe Cardoso or Beryl Ludwig -- and quite likely regional MLAs in other regions.

Trade-off from a province-wide model

The Green Party would have won seven seats, not six, under a perfectly proportional system with province-wide lists. Losing one seat, to get every MLA democratically accountable in a model that voters will accept, is a good trade-off.

Higher turnout

If voters knew every vote would count, more would have voted, and some would have voted differently. The Greens, for example, were so close to winning two seats on Vancouver Island and two in the Interior that in a real MMP election they would have been sure to win at least eight seats.

More women, minorities and younger candidates

With a choice of your party’s candidates on the regional ballot, we would elect more women. Polls show 94% of women voters want to see more women elected, but so do 86% of male voters.

And when parties nominate a group of candidates, not just one, they nominate more women. What regional convention, nominating five candidates, would nominate only one woman, or no minorities, or no young people?

The BC Green Party, for example, was very white in 2009: they had no Chinese-origin candidates in Vancouver-Richmond region, which is 33% Chinese, and only one token South Asian candidate in Surrey-Fraser Valley-Delta-Langley region, which is 17% South Asian.

Who would have been the government?

Contrary to what some Canadian newspaper headline-writers think, you cannot say the largest party will form the government. “Conservatives win!” say Canadian headline-writers even when Harper loses his bid for a majority. Compare the Times of London headline last May 7: “Britain wakes up to a hung Parliament.” No instant winner. Remember also 1985 in Ontario when Frank Miller lost his bid to win a majority. Who won? We found out only 26 days later when the Liberal-NDP Accord was signed. In most countries with more than two parties, coalitions are normal.

No “bed-sheet” ballots

Since local candidates can also be on the regional half of the ballot, voters might have had as many as ten of their party’s regional candidates to choose from, but not the “bed-sheet ballot“ found in some countries. So voters would have a real choice among a manageable number of competing candidates from the party they support.

In a 15-MLA region, suppose Party A’s voters cast 53% of the votes in the region, but elect only seven of the nine local MLAs. They also elect one regional MLA. But if that MLA dies or resigns during the legislature term, the regional candidate with the next highest votes moves into that seat. A party must run a spare. But if the seven local winners were also on the regional ballot, the party needed at least nine regional candidates, one elected, and one spare. To be safe I can see them nominating ten regional candidates.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Ontario mixed member model the Citizens’ Assembly almost chose.

When Fair Vote Canada members first met Kingston’s cabinet minister John Gerretsen back in 2004, we didn’t have to explain the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system to him. He explained “the German system,” as he called it, to us. We later found he had been pushing for it since he was first elected in 1995 (and even since 1986 when he was President of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario). When the Liberals finally won in 2003, they had spent 60 years in the political wilderness minus only the five years from 1985-90 -- and in 47 of those years they were facing a government with a fake majority supported by a minority of voters. They remembered for a few years why they needed PR.

In “the German system” you have two votes, and more choice. We still elect majority of MPPs locally. Voters unrepresented by the local results top them up by electing regional MPPs. The total MPPs 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 the right-hand part of this ballot.

See MMP Made Easy.

To compensate for the disproportional local results we know all too well, the party’s voters elect personally some regional MPPs. They are the party's regional candidates who get the highest vote on the regional ballot. So the voter casts one vote for local MPP, and one for their party and (if they wish) for their favourite of their party's regional candidates. An exciting prospect: new voices from new forces in the legislature, and the voters have new power to elect who they like.

John Gerretsen was quite specific. The top-up MPPs should be elected regionally, and the regions should not be too large. Kingston should not be lumped in with Ottawa, he said. Those who know Eastern Ontario know that the mid-eastern and Lake Ontario regions and the Ottawa region have many divergent interests, so we were not surprised when Gerretsen mentioned one or two of them.

However, the model put to voters in the October 2007 referendum, designed by the 103 members of the Ontario Citizens Assembly (CA), had province-wide closed lists, not the mid-sized regions John Gerretsen had told us he wanted, and that Ontario NDP policy had favoured since 2002. Ontario voters rejected closed province-wide lists in the 2007 referendum.

What would the 2011 election results would have been under the model John Gerretsen wanted? And the 2014 results?

Not enough time

The original schedule prepared by the Democratic Renewal Secretariat called for the process to begin one year earlier. The legislation was to be passed in the spring of 2005. Due to an end-of-session legislative logjam, the PCs were able to demand a Select Committee be inserted in the process. Although it produced an excellent report, the resulting delay was fatal.

In May 2008 the CA’s Chair, George Thomson, spoke to the Annual General Meeting of Fair Vote Canada. He said that, if those 103 Citizens had had another six or eight weeks to deliberate, he felt some elements might have been different, like regional lists and open lists. (He thought the basic model would have stayed the same: 129 MPPs, 90 local, 39 top-up.) Those additional weekends were not possible due to the tight schedule.

Those candidates on province-wide lists were to be nominated democratically by parties, but in the few months between May and the referendum, no major party -- not even the NDP -- had enough time to design a nomination system. The model’s opponents -- even, ironically, an appointed Senator -- said it sounded like parties would appoint those 39 MPPs.

The public had not enough time to understand the CA’s recommendation, even if it had been publicized properly. Adding injury to injury, the Ontario government surprised the Citizens Assembly by refusing to distribute their Report, unlike the BC process which they had otherwise been following. Clearly the majority of cabinet had lost interest in their democratic reform effort.

Nine mid-sized regions

What would their model have looked like, with those mid-sized regions?

The North would have been a separate region. It could have had a special feature: it could have kept unchanged the ten present ridings north of the French River, and added only two regional MPPs.

The City of Toronto could have gone from 22 local MPPs to 25, 17 local and 8 regional.

The other seven regions would have had 12 to 14 MPPs each, such as 9 local, 4 regional.

How would regional MPPs serve constituents? Here's how it works in Scotland.

Open list

Since local candidates can also be on the regional half of the ballot, voters might have had ten or so of their party’s regional candidates to choose from, but not the “bed-sheet ballot“ found in some countries. So voters would have a real choice among a manageable number of competing candidates from the party they support. And they could also choose to vote just for their party, leaving the candidates ranked as their party’s nomination process had done. That's the variation of "open-list" recommended by the Law Commission of Canada, known as "flexible list."

The flexible open list method was also recommended by the Jenkins Commission in the UK. Their colourful explanation accurately predicted 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.”

The most recent official Quebec study on the topic also looked favourably at regional open list MMP.

More women and minorities

With a choice of your party’s candidates on the regional ballot, we would elect more women. Polls show 94% of women voters want to see more women elected, but so do 86% of male voters.

And when parties nominate a group of candidates, not just one, they nominate more women. What regional convention, nominating five candidates, would nominate only one woman, or no minorities?

90 local ridings

Local ridings would be slightly bigger than today, but not so you’d notice. Often, ten present ridings would become nine. (But the North could have kept unchanged the ten present ridings.)

Closed province-wide lists?

So why did those 103 Citizens choose province-wide closed lists?

George Thomson’s comments in May 2008 show the process the 103 Citizens went through. Their big design problem was Ontario’s geography, and the fact that our local ridings are already too large. Until Mike Harris shrank the House in 1999 we had 130 MPPs, compared with 101 MPs at that time. Many members of the CA wanted to keep the present 107 ridings and add at least 36 “top-up.” Others wanted to keep 107 MPPs but have only 80 larger local ridings and 27 top-up. Others wanted a higher ratio of top-up. Their big achievement was consensus on 90 plus 39.

They had decided on province-wide lists early in the process, before they agreed on the numbers. Back at that point, many members wanted to use all the most proportional options in order to leave them free to have less proportional numbers of MPPs. For example, on those 2007 votes, because the Citizens’ model had only 30% “top-up” MPPs, it would have resulted in more than 55 Liberal MPPs. And then, making the lists regional rather than provincial added a further four more Liberal MPPs.

Still, once they had 39 top-up MPPs, regional lists became possible, and open list became possible. Four Liberal MPPs too many, in our 2007 example, would have been a modest price to pay for a more accountable and democratic model. But by the time they made that decision for 39 top-up MPPs, it was too late to go back and redesign.

This is no one’s fault. The Democratic Renewal Secretariat had planned for the whole process to start a year earlier. The legislature’s Select Committee got inserted into the process, and did a wonderful job, but that left both the CA and the public debate short of vital time.

Regional candidates

Why do I say voters would have at least five of their party’s regional candidates to choose from, maybe ten or so, when most regions elect only four regional MPPs?

Take a region with 13 MPPs, nine local, four regional. Suppose Party C’s voters cast 30% of the votes in the region, but elect no local MPPs, and suppose no other party’s voters earn a regional MPP. Party C’s voters elect all four regional MPPs. But if one of them dies or resigns during the legislature term, the regional candidate with the next highest votes moves into that seat. A party must run at least five, to have a spare.

This matters to women and minorities. A regional convention, nominating five candidates, would almost certainly nominate at least two women, and at least one cultural minority member.

On the other hand, suppose Party A’s voters cast 61% of the votes in the region, but elect only seven of the nine local MPPs. They also elect one regional MPP. But if the seven local winners were also on the regional ballot, the party needed at least nine regional candidates, one elected, and again one spare. To get good balance I can see them nominating ten regional candidates.

What would the legislature have looked like in 2007?

For another example, let’s see what the Ontario legislature would have looked like under this model if voters voted as they did in 2007.

This projection assumes voters voted as they did in 2007. In fact, if voters knew every vote would count, more would have voted -- typically at least 6% more. And some would have voted 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?

But on the votes as cast, we would have seen 61 Liberals, 39 PCs, 20 New Democrats, and 9 Greens.

Since the Liberals got only 42% of the vote, they would not have had an outright majority of the 129 seats. But as John Gerretsen said “Nobody is ever 100-per-cent right and nobody is ever 100-per-cent wrong. Governing is the art of compromise. There’s nothing wrong with having the governing party take into account smaller parties.”

Because the Citizens’ model had only 30% “top-up” MPPs, this 2007 projection is not perfectly proportional. That would have meant 55 Liberals, 41 PCs, 22 NDP and 11 Green. But it’s close enough: the potential coalitions are the same either way.

Progressive Conservative voters would have elected 13 more MPPs.

Toronto PC voters would have elected five MPPs, not none. No doubt leader John Tory and councillor David Shiner, and maybe school trustee Angela Kennedy or Bernie Tanz or Pamela Taylor or Igor Toutchinski or Lillyann Goldstein or Andy Pringle or Gary Grant?

Peel-Oakville PC voters would have elected three MPPs, not just one. Maybe Rick Byers and Pam Hundal or Tim Peterson or Nina Tangri?

Ottawa Valley PC voters would have elected five MPPs, not just three. Maybe Chris Savard from Cornwall, and Graham Fox or Trina Morissette. (However, Central East Region PC voters would have elected one fewer MPP.)

Hamilton area PC voters would have elected five MPPs from Hamilton, Niagara, Brant and Burlington, not just three. Maybe Chris Corrigan and Bart Maves or Tara Crugnale.

Southwestern PC voters would have elected three MPPs, not just two from the London-Windsor area. Maybe Monte McNaughton or Allison Graham.

Northern PC voters would have elected two MPPs, not none. Maybe Bill Vrebosch and Rebecca Johnson or Ron Swain.

NDP voters would have elected nine more MPPs.

Central East region NDP voters would have elected two MPPs, not none. Maybe Kingston’s Rick Downes and Belleville’s Jodie Jenkins or Peterborough’s Dave Nickle or Muskoka's Sara Hall.

Southwestern NDP voters would have elected two MPPs, not none. Maybe London’s Stephen Maynard and Sarnia’s Barb Millitt or Windsor’s Mariano Klimowicz?

Central West NDP voters would have elected one MPP from the area from Waterloo to Owen Sound, not none. Maybe Rick Moffitt or Catherine Fife or Paul Klopp?

Peel-Oakville NDP voters would have elected one MPP, not none. Maybe Glenn Crowe or Shaila Kibria or Mani Singh or Gail McCabe?

Ottawa Valley NDP voters would have elected one MPP, not none. Maybe Will Murray or Edelweiss D'Andrea?

York-Durham region NDP voters would have elected two MPPs, not none. Maybe Oshawa’s Sid Ryan and York Region's Nancy Morrison or Rick Morelli?

Toronto NDP voters would have elected five MPPs, not just four. Maybe Paul Ferreira or Sheila White or Peter Ferreira or Sandra Gonzalez?

Green Party voters would have elected nine MPPs.

Toronto Green voters would have elected two MPPs: maybe leader Frank de Jong, and Caroline Law or Dan King?

York-Durham Green voters would have elected one: maybe June Davies of Uxbridge or Liz Couture of Richmond Hill?

Central East Region Green voters would have elected one: maybe Judy Smith Torrie of Northumberland, or Matt Richter of Muskoka, or Simcoe's Peter Ellis or Erich Jacoby-Hawkins, or Kingston's Bridget Doherty?

Peel-Oakville Green voters would have elected one: maybe Deputy Leader Dr. Sanjeev Goel, or Rob Strang or Marion Frances Schaffer or Paul Simas?

Central West Green voters would have elected one: maybe Shane Jolley of Owen Sound or Ben Polley of Guelph or Victoria Serda from Huron-Bruce or Judy Greenwood-Speers of Kitchener-Waterloo?

Ottawa Region Green voters would have elected one: maybe Greg Laxton or Elaine Kennedy?

Hamilton area Green voters would have elected one: maybe Melanie Mullen from Niagara or Peter Ormond from Hamilton or Ted Shelegy from Brant.

Southwest Region Green voters would have elected one: maybe Brett McKenzie or Jessica Fracassi?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Liberals have needed proportional representation since 1979.

The Liberal Party has needed proportional representation for a long time, and its leaders have known it.

The 1979 election was a "wrong-winner" election. Pierre Trudeau's Liberals got 40.1% of the vote, but only 114 MPs. Joe Clark's PCs got only 35.9% of the vote, yet elected 136 MPs and formed the government with support from six Créditiste MPs, giving them a one-seat majority. Trudeau was short-changed only three Ontario seats by the voting system, and only two in Nova Scotia; his big problem was the West. Liberal voters in BC deserved to elect six MPs, but got only one. In Alberta, Liberal voters deserved to elect five MPs but got none. In Saskatchewan they deserved three, but got none; even Ralph Goodale lost his seat. In Manitoba three, not just two.

In November 1979 Pierre Trudeau said he was convinced Canada needs a system of proportional representation if the federal government is going to be able to identify itself with the whole country. He said one of the major problems governing Canada is that each of the three parties' support is not accurately reflected by the seats they hold in Parliament. He noted the Liberals then held only 3 seats west of Ontario even though they regularly won 20 to 30 percent of the votes in that region. And the Conservatives had only three seats in Quebec, even though they took about 20 percent of the votes there in the last election. He said in the future "it will be even more difficult for the federal government to speak in the name of the nation and form national policy" unless this were changed. 

Pierre Trudeau's problem with western underrepresentation in 1980 was extreme: he had only two MPs from the four western provinces, both from Manitoba. In 1980 Liberal voters in BC had deserved six MPs, but elected none. In Alberta, they again deserved five and got none. In Saskatchewan, they again deserved three and got none. In Manitoba, four rather than only two. Trudeau would have had sixteen more western MPs with proportional representation.

In its 1980 Speech from the Throne, the newly reelected Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau promised to appoint a committee to study the electoral system; however, none was ever struck because opposition to even modest reforms among Liberal Members of Parliament was intense. (Ironically, René Lévesque had the identical problem as Quebec premier at the same time: after being re-elected in 1980, Lévesque started to implement proportional representation for Quebec, and got part-way down the road when his caucus veto'd it.)

Someone has written that Trudeau said in 1980 that he would introduce legislation for proportional representation if the NDP would co-sponsor it. What he actually offered, if anything, is not known.

Ed Broadbent has written "Shortly following the election Pierre Trudeau asked me to meet with him. The subject of our subsequent discussion was his proposal that I join the cabinet. . . I said to him that I would of course need other members of the NDP to be included. I said, “We will need five or six and a couple of major portfolios.” He looked at me and said, “You’ve got them.”

"Trudeau explained that he planned to introduce in the coming session of Parliament what turned out to be two of the most important and divisive measures in recent political history: the National Energy Program and the repatriation of the constitution combined with a charter of rights. . . he wanted us in the cabinet because . . . we had 26 MPs in the four provinces.

"The failure of the Liberals to obtain seats in Western Canada anywhere proportional to their vote was by no means an isolated incident. I recently looked at the data for the four federal elections that took place since I left politics in 1989 (1993, 1997, 2000, 2004). There is a persistent failure of Western Canadians to get the Liberals they voted for elected. In each of the three provinces (Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C.), in virtually every election, large numbers voted Liberal but only a handful of Liberals were elected. . . the absence of equitable representation in caucus and cabinet plays a significant role in producing an imbalance in the substance of policy as well as weakness in persuading the public to accept it."

"My point is all regions deserve an electoral system that will ensure impact in Ottawa is equitably distributed. All caucuses deserve a system that ensures representation from all regions proportional to votes cast."

Even Jean Chrétien had some of the same problems in 1993. Liberal voters in BC deserved 10 MPs, not just six. In Alberta seven, not just four. In 1997 Liberal voters in BC again deserved 10 MPs, not just six. In Alberta six, but they got only two. In Saskatchewan four, but they got only one. In 2000 Liberal voters in BC deserved 10 MPs, not just five. In Alberta five, but they got only two. In Saskatchewan three, not just two.

Trudeau's western problem had actually began back in 1972, when BC Liberal voters deserved seven MPs not just four, in Alberta five but got none, in Saskatchewan three but got only one, and in Manitoba four not just two. Even in his 1974 comeback Alberta Liberal voters again deserved five MPs but got none, Saskatchewan four not just three, and Manitoba four not just two.

So for 31 or 38 years Western Liberal voters have needed PR, yet "opposition to even modest reforms among Liberal Members of Parliament" -- elected from Liberal strongholds -- "was intense." Understandable, since those who needed PR (such as Ralph Goodale) were not elected in 1980. But outside their strongholds, why don't more Liberals speak up?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Law Commission of Canada Report

The Law Commission of Canada recommended a proportional representation system for Canada in 2004: a mixed member proportional system, like Scotland's and Germany's. We still elect local MPs. Voters unrepresented by the local results top them up by electing regional MPs. The total MPs match the vote share in the region. The majority of MPs are elected locally, and additional MPs are elected to represent under-represented voters and "top-up" the local results.

See MMP Made Easy.

It's a made-in-Canada model. To represent unrepresented voters the Law Commission, unlike the German model, did not recommend 50% "top-up" MPs. It had only 33% "top-up" MPs added to the local MPs, so local ridings don't have to double in size. Unlike the models which failed to win support in referendums in Ontario and P.E.I, it had open lists, not closed lists, so every MP faced the voters. In Ontario it did not have the province-wide lists which Ontario voters did not support in the referendum, but instead, the "top-up" MPs were to be elected regionally. Since the number of MPs from each province would not change, no constitutional amendment is required.

The full Report, all 209 pages, is on-line here. It has an eight-page executive summary. Here are the highlights:
. . . the Commission’s goal was to balance the benefits of introducing some element of proportionality into the existing system with the capacity to maintain accountable government, most notably as a direct link between elected politicians and their constituents. The Report, therefore, examines alternative systems from the premise that constituencies should stay small enough to maintain the Member of Parliament–constituent relationship. The Report also accepted the premise that there is little appetite for substantially increasing the size of the House of Commons to accommodate a new electoral system. Finally, the report is based on the premise that changes to the electoral system should be made without a process of constitutional amendment.
The conclusion of this survey is that adding an element of proportionality to Canada’s electoral system, as inspired by the system currently used in Scotland, would be the most appropriate model for adoption. Its potential benefits include:
• reducing the discrepancy between a party’s share of the seats in the House of Commons and its share of the votes;
• including in the House of Commons new and previously under-represented voices, such as smaller political parties;
• electing a greater number of minority group and women candidates;
• encouraging inter-party cooperation through coalition governments;
• reducing the huge disparities in the value of votes that currently exist, in which a vote for the winning party is often three to four times more “valuable” than a vote for any of the other parties;
• reducing the number of disregarded votes, thus increasing the number of “sincere,” as opposed to strategic, votes; and
• producing more regionally balanced party caucuses.

The Commission, therefore, recommends adding an element of proportionality to Canada’s electoral system, and that Canada adopt a mixed member proportional electoral system.
. . . democracy is more than just voting in a municipal, provincial, or federal election. Democracy is also about what happens between elections, how politicians and the electorate relate to each other, and the role that citizens play in their system of democratic governance.

How might the process of reform unfold? Drawing on the results of its consultation process, and the experiences of other Canadian jurisdictions, as well as the experiences of other countries, the Report concludes that it is crucial that citizens be included in an ongoing dialogue about electoral reform, and that the process of reform include a citizens’ engagement strategy. Many Canadians are eager to participate in democratic governance, and they need and want information. This strategy should have diverse and broad representation, including representation from women, youth, minority groups, and all regions. It should seek the views of political parties (minority parties as well as mainstream parties), Parliamentarians, and citizens’ groups. Any reform process should also include provision for formal review after implementing changes.
Highlights of their recommended model are:
Adding an element of proportionality to Canada’s electoral system, as inspired by the systems currently used in Scotland and Wales, would be the most appropriate model for adoption.

A mixed member proportional system should be based on giving voters TWO votes: one for a constituency representative and one for a party list. The party vote should determine who is to be elected from provincial and territorial lists as drawn up by the parties before the election.

Two-thirds of the members of the House of Commons should be elected in constituency races using the first-past-the-post method, and the remaining one-third should be elected from provincial or territorial party lists.

Within the context of a mixed member proportional system, Parliament should adopt a flexible list system that provides voters with the option of either endorsing the party “slate” or “ticket,” or of indicating a preference for a candidate within the list.

The federal government should prepare draft legislation on a mixed member proportional electoral system as proposed in this Report. After drafting the legislation, a Parliamentary committee should initiate a public consultation process on the proposed new electoral system.

An ad hoc Parliamentary committee should review the new electoral system after three general elections have been conducted under the new electoral rules.
"Recent Canadian research contends that turnout is 5 to 6 points higher in countries where the electoral system is proportional or mixed compensatory" says the Report. To quote the Jenkins Commission in the UK on “safe seats,” ”many voters pass their entire adult lives without any realistic hope of influencing a result. In these circumstances it is perhaps remarkable that general election turnouts remain at a respectable level.” In Canada, they have dropped well below a respectable level.

The Report says it is inspired by the systems currently used in Scotland and Wales, which have 16-MP regions (9 local MPs, 7 regional MPs) or 12-MP regions (8 local MPs, 4 regional MPs). In Canada, with 2/3 local MPs, a 14-MP region would have 9 local MPs and 5 regional MPs. With the present 308 MPs, this would mean seven regions in Ontario, five or six in Quebec, two in BC, and two in Alberta. (With more MPs in 2015, BC and Alberta might well have three regions each.) The report also includes a sample "demonstration model" with larger regions, because they make it easier to show the smallest parties winning seats. But the point is, this "demonstration model" is NOT part of their recomendation.

The flexible open list method was also recommended by the Jenkins Commission in the UK. Their colourful explanation accurately predicted 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.”

The process used by the Law Commission to prepare this Report included issuing a Discussion Paper and holding 15 public hearings, mounting an internet questionnaire, and holding more than 30 other meetings.

Should independent candidates be able to run for regional MP? The Commission 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. 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.

On a related point, some democrats strongly believe that, if an MP is elected as a party candidate (even as a local MP), he or she should resign if they wish to cross the floor, and seek re-election as an independent or for their new party in a by-election. The Commission is silent about that. So this is a separate issue, not part of the design of an MMP system.

What would the House of Commons look like under such a system?

Why Liberals need the Law Commission of Canada’s recommended electoral reform.