Monday, March 24, 2014

How would proportional representation work for Quebec's National Assembly?

More Choice

The main improvement proportional representation would make in Quebec politics is to give voters more choice.

No longer would the winner-take-all system tend to force voters into a bi-polar choice between one federalist party and one sovereignist party. Almost every vote would count equally to elect someone.

How it would work on the votes cast in 2014.

How would it work on the votes cast in 2012?

But most people ask “how would it work?” Here’s an easy way to see that. Let’s see how the votes cast in the 2012 election would have a different result, even though the real change would be to let voters vote differently.

With proportional representation, the number of Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) elected matches the share of the votes cast by supporters of each party.

Accountable MNAs

But can we still keep MNAs accountable to our community or region? Yes. With the mixed compensatory system described by Quebec’s Director-General of Elections (DGE), we still elect local MNAs. Voters unrepresented by the local results top them up by electing regional MNAs. The total MNAs match the vote share.

Local MNAs and Regional MNAs

On Montreal Island, instead of 28 local MNAs, voters would elect 17 local MNAs (from larger ridings) and eleven regional MNAs.

On the votes cast in 2012, they would have been 13 Liberals, seven Parti Quebecois (PQ), five Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), and three Quebec Solidaire (QS). Let’s compare that with the actual results under the winner-take-all system: 20 Liberals, six PQ, and two QS.

In Laval, voters would have elected two Liberals, two PQ, and two CAQ, rather than four Liberals, two PQ and no CAQ.

The 189,354 CAQ voters in Montreal Island and Laval, silenced by winner-take-all, would be fairly represented. Also, PQ and QS voters were slightly cheated, while the Liberals got a bonus of nine MNAs.

But outside Montreal Island and Laval, it was the PQ that got the winner-take-all bonus. Across Quebec, the total results under proportional representation would have been 41 PQ MNAs rather than 54, 40 Liberal MNAs rather than 50, 36 CAQ rather than 19, and eight QS rather than only two.

How would Montreal voters be represented? The 17 larger local ridings would be about the same size as the federal ridings. Similarly, across Quebec you would see 75 local ridings and 50 regional MNAs.

In Montreal Island, assume 12 ridings elected Liberals, the PQ got four, and QS one. Then the eleven regional MNAs are five CAQ, three PQ, two QS, and one Liberal. These compensate for the disproportional local results. They top up the number of MNAs from Montreal Island to make 13 Liberals, seven PQ, five CAQ, and three QS, so every vote counts equally. In Laval, you would have two local Liberal MNAs, two local PQ MNAs, and two regional CAQ MNAs.

Who would those eleven regional MNAs from Montreal Island be?

Open lists, closed lists, flexible lists

The DGE discussed the options in a report in December 2007:

  1. closed lists: the top candidates as ranked in the party’s regional nominations;
  2. open lists: you vote for your party’s regional candidate you prefer; 
  3. flexible lists: you can vote for the regional slate or one name on it.
Closed lists let parties nominate a slate with whatever gender balance and minority representation their members choose. Open lists give voters maximum choice.

The DGE concluded that the objective of flexible lists is “to reach a balance between voter choice and better representation of women and minorities.” That’s also why the Law Commission of Canada recommended it.

So the five CAQ MNAs, for example, would be the top five as ranked by the regional nominations and re-ranked by the voters. Every MNA has faced the voters.

Regional results

In the other seven regions described by the DGE, the results under proportional representation would be:

Montérégie: eight PQ, seven CAQ, six Liberals, and one QS, rather than 12 PQ, seven Liberals and three CAQ. (That’s seven local PQ MNAs and one regional, two local CAQ and five regional, four local Liberals and two regional, and one regional QS.)

Laurentides—Lanaudière: six PQ, six CAQ, two Liberals, and one QS, rather than the actual result which shut out 94,003 Liberal voters, electing 11 PQ MNAs and four CAQ. (That’s six local PQ, three local CAQ and three regional, two regional Liberals and one regional QS.)

The west and north (Outaouais, Abitibi and North): three Liberals, three PQ, two CAQ and one QS, rather than five Liberals and four PQ. (That’s three local Liberal MNAs, two local PQ and one regional PQ, two regional CAQ, and one regional QS.)

Estrie—Centre-du-Québec: remarkably, this region would see no change, thee MNAs from each major party.

Capitale-Nationale—Mauricie: six CAQ, five Liberals, four PQ, and one QS, close to the six CAQ, six Liberals and four PQ elected in 2012.

Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean—Côte-Nord: rather than the PQ sweeping all seven seats, silencing 47,567 Liberal voters, they would have elected two MNAs, the CAQ one, and the PQ only four. (That’s four local PQ MNAs, two regional Liberals and one regional CAQ.)

Eastern Quebec (Chaudière-Appalaches, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine): four Liberals, four CAQ, four PQ, one QS, rather than five Liberals, five PQ, and three CAQ.

So across Quebec, the PQ caucus would include 32 local MNAs and nine regional MNAs. The Liberal caucus would include 30 local MNAs and ten regional MNAs. The CAQ caucus would include 12 local MNAs and 24 regional MNAs. The Quebec Solidaire caucus would include a local MNA and seven regional MNAs.

And these totals match province-wide proportionality almost exactly. (Due to rounding differences using nine regions, the province-wide calculation would give the Liberals one more MNA and the CAQ one fewer.)

More political diversity

Instead of the CAQ caucus holding the balance of power but having no representative from Montreal Island and Laval, it would have had seven MNAs there: maybe Dominique Anglade (CAQ Party President), Guy Boutin, Maud Cohen, Mario Bentrovato, Richard Campeau, Paola Hawa and George Manolikakis?

Instead of the 263,111 Quebec Solidaire voters electing only two MNAs, and none from outside the island of Montreal, they would have elected six more. Maybe Andrés Fontecilla or Manon Massé in Montreal, Manon Blanchard in Montérégie, Flavie Trudel in Laurentides—Lanaudière, Benoit Renaud in the west and north (Outaouais, Abitibi and North), Serge Roy in Capitale-Nationale—Mauricie, and Patricia Chartier in the East of Quebec (Chaudière-Appalaches, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine).

Instead of the 94,003 Liberal voters in Laurentides—Lanaudière being shut out, they would have elected two MNAs: maybe Lise Proulx and Linda Lapointe. Instead of the 47,567 Liberal voters in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean—Côte-Nord being silenced, they would have elected two MNAs: maybe Serge Simard and Lise Pelletier.

I have shown no one elected from Option Nationale or any other party, because they did not get enough votes to win even one regional seat. Furthermore, many people would prefer a threshold of 4% or 5% before a party can win a regional seat.

This projection assumes voters voted as they did in 2012. In fact, more would have voted. 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?

The Mixed Compensatory system in a nutshell

Each voter has two votes.

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

The regional vote or party vote is used to elect several regional MNAs 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 MNAs 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 region. You can vote for the regional candidate you prefer: it’s personal and proportional. The party’s regional candidates with the most votes win those seats.

Personalized proportional representation

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

Once every vote counts, voters will be free to vote for their real first choice, and more voters will find it worthwhile to vote. Turnout is 5 to 6 points higher in countries where the electoral system is proportional, says research published by Elections Canada.

With two votes, you can vote for the party you want in government. And you can also vote for the local candidate you like best regardless of party, without hurting your party, since it's the second ballot that determines the party make-up of the legislature. About 35% of voters split their ballots this way in New Zealand with a similar system.

Locally anchored MNAs

The models rejected in Ontario and PEI had closed province-wide lists for the additional “top-up” MPPs.

This failure was no surprise to the UK’s Jenkins Commission, which recommended the same system described above. Jenkins said top-up MPs 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.” See how this works in Scotland.

PQ Bonus

One of the weirdest things about winner-take-all voting is the bonus it gives the PQ in Quebec elections.

The PQ has traditionally enjoyed a much higher vote efficiency than the Liberals, due to their lead among francophone voters. The classic example is the 1998 election, where the Liberals actually won more votes while the PQ formed a majority government.

In 1998 the PQ won 61% of the seats on 42.9% of the vote, while the Liberals won 38% of the seats on 43.6% of the vote. That’s not because the ridings the PQ won had smaller populations. It’s because the PQ had the majority of francophone votes across the majority of ridings, while the Liberals piled up wasted big majorities in federalist ridings. Result: it took 36,914 votes to elect a Liberal MNA, while it took only 22,951 votes to elect a PQ MNA, 38% fewer. That’s the PQ’s 38% bonus.

But not just in 1998.

In the 1995 referendum, sovereignists lost when they won only 49.4% of the vote. Yet, if the referendum has been on a riding-by-riding winner-take-all basis, the Yes would have won when it carried the day in 65% of the ridings.

In 1994 it took 36,972 votes to elect a Liberal MNA, while it took 22,746 votes to elect a PQ MNA: 38% fewer. Again, the PQ had a 38% bonus.

In 2003 and 2008, when the Liberals won, their false-majority bonus exceeded the underlying built-in PQ bonus. But the basic issue continued. That’s why Jean Charest tried to introduce proportional representation in 2004-5. (Sadly, his caucus diluted the model until it was no longer acceptable to the public.)

In Quebec in 2012 it took 27,219 votes to elect a Liberal MNA, while it took only 25,809 votes to elect a PQ MNA, 5.2% fewer. That’s the PQ’s 5.2% bonus.

In 1970, René Lévesque was cheated by winner-take-all, when the PQ came second with 23% of the vote, but stood fourth in the assembly with only seven seats. In 1973, again Lévesque was cheated when the PQ vote rose to 30% but it won only six seats. So when he finally won, after losing the 1980 referendum he turned his mind to proportional representation.

But his caucus balked in 1981-4, just as Charest's caucus did later. And just as Pierre Trudeau's caucus would not even let him implement his 1980 Throne Speech commitment. In 1980 Pierre Trudeau's problem with western under-representation 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 its 1980 Speech from the Throne, Trudeau’s newly reelected Liberal government promised to appoint a committee to study the electoral system. One of the very few promises he could not keep. (Although 70% of Canadians support PR, this seldom includes government backbenchers.)

Even today, when the Liberals, the CAQ and Quebec Solidaire need proportional representation, the PQ still respects Lévesque’s legacy – but just not this year.

Technical note

The rounding method used in this calculation is “highest remainder,” because it's the simplest. Germany used to use this too, on the premise that it offset the risk to proportionality of the 5% threshold. 

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