Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Quebec’s 2014 election under proportional representation

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 choice between a federalist party and a sovereignist party, choosing the lesser of evils. Almost every vote would count equally to elect your first choice.

How would it work on the votes cast in 2014?

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 2014 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.

Across Quebec, the total results under proportional representation would have been 54 Liberal MNAs rather than 70, 32 Parti Quebecois (PQ) MNAs rather than 30, 29 Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) rather than 22, and ten Quebec Solidaire (QS) rather than only three. That’s using the nine-region mixed compensatory system described by Quebec’s Director-General of Elections (DGE).

On April 7, it took 107,708 votes to elect a QS MNA, 44,345 votes to elect a CAQ MNA, 35,803 votes to elect a PQ MNA, and only 25,101 votes to elect a Liberal MNA.

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, so that the total MNAs match the vote share. It’s ”compensatory.”

In each of nine regions, the majority of MNAs would still be elected in local districts (larger ones, a similar size to the federal election districts), but at least 40 percent of them would be elected as regional MNAs. Across Quebec you would see about 75 local ridings and 50 regional MNAs.

Local MNAs and Regional MNAs

On Montreal Island, instead of 28 local MNAs, voters would elect 18 local MNAs and ten regional MNAs.

On the votes cast in 2014, they would have been 17 Liberals, five PQ, three CAQ, and three QS. Let’s compare that with the actual results under the winner-take-all system: 21 Liberals, four PQ, and three QS.

In Laval, voters would have elected three Liberals, two PQ, and one CAQ, rather than all six Liberals.

The 128,116 CAQ voters in Montreal Island and Laval, silenced by winner-take-all, would be fairly represented. Also, PQ voters were slightly cheated, while the Liberals got a bonus of seven MNAs.

But in Laurentides—Lanaudière it was the PQ and CAQ that got the winner-take-all bonus: those voters deserved to elect five PQ, five CAQ, four Liberals, and one QS, rather than the actual result which elected seven PQ MNAs, seven CAQ, and one lonely Liberal in Argenteuil.

How would Montreal voters be represented?

In Montreal Island, assume those 18 larger ridings elected 13 Liberals, the PQ got three, and QS two. Then the ten regional MNAs are three CAQ, four Liberals, two PQ, and one QS. These compensate for the disproportional local results. They top up the number of MNAs from Montreal Island to make 17 Liberals, five PQ, three CAQ, and three QS, so every vote counts equally.

Who would those ten 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 three CAQ MNAs, for example, would be the top three as ranked by the regional nominations and personally re-ranked by the voters. Every MNA has faced the voters. It’s personal.

In Laval, you would have three local Liberal MNAs, two regional PQ MNAs, and one regional CAQ MNA.

In Laurentides—Lanaudière you would have four local PQ MNAs and one regional, four local CAQ and one regional, one local Liberal and three regional, and one regional QS.

Would those three regional Liberal MNAs be real MNAs, or would they just have safe seats? Not safe at all: in 2018 the Liberals might very well elect more local MNAs, and not be entitled to any regional compensatory MNAs in Laurentides—Lanaudière. So those three regional MNAs will certainly open local offices in their community, where they hope to win a local seat in 2018.

A coalition government?

Would the government be a coalition? Possibly. It is interesting that the Liberals could pass bills with the support of either the CAQ or QS or the PQ, so they might govern as a minority, or as a coalition, or as an "accord" -- common in New Zealand: a "confidence-and-supply" agreement, where the partner agrees to pass budgets and vote confidence in return for an agreed agenda, but remains free to move amendments to bills, and is not in cabinet. Ontario had an "Accord" government in 1985-87.

Regional results

Liberal voters were also under represented in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean—Côte-Nord. With proportional representation, this region elects three Liberal MNAs, three PQ, and one CAQ, rather than only two Liberals and five PQ. (That’s one local Liberal MNA and two regional, three local PQ, and one regional CAQ.)

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

Montérégie: eight Liberals, six PQ, six CAQ, and two QS, so QS gains two at the cost of the PQ. (That’s five local Liberal MNAs and three regional, five local PQ MLAs and one regional, three local CAQ and three regional, and two regional QS.)

Capitale-Nationale—Mauricie: six Liberals, four PQ, five CAQ, and one QS, rather than the 13 Liberals, one PQ, and two CAQ elected April 7. (That’s six local Liberal MNAs, one local PQ and three regional, two local CAQ and three regional, and one regional QS.)

The west and north (Outaouais, Abitibi and North): five Liberals, two PQ, one CAQ, and one QS, rather than the eight Liberals and one PQ elected April 7. (That’s five local Liberal MNAs, one local PQ and one regional PQ, one regional CAQ, and one regional QS.)

Estrie-Centre-du-Québec: three Liberals, two PQ, three CAQ, and one QS, rather than five Liberals and four CAQ. (That’s three local Liberal MNAs, two local CAQ and one regional, two regional PQ, and one regional QS.)

Eastern Quebec (Chaudière-Appalaches, Bas-Saint-Laurent, and Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine): five Liberals, three PQ, four CAQ, and one QS, rather than the six Liberals, four PQ, and three CAQ elected April 7. (That’s four local Liberal MNAs and one regional, two local PQ and one regional, two local CAQ and two regional, and one regional QS.)

So across Quebec, the Liberal caucus would include 41 local MNAs and 13 regional MNAs. The PQ caucus would include 19 local MNAs and 13 regional MNAs. The CAQ caucus would include 13 local MNAs and 16 regional MNAs. The Quebec Solidaire caucus would include two local MNAs and eight 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 CAQ one more MNA and the Liberals one fewer.)

More political diversity

Instead of the CAQ caucus holding having no representative from Montreal Island and Laval, it would have had four MNAs there: maybe Mathieu Binette, Sylvain Medza, Richard Campeau, and Domenico Cavaliere?

Instead of the 323,124 Quebec Solidaire voters electing only three MNAs, and none from outside the island of Montreal, they would have elected seven more. Maybe Manon Blanchard and Carl Lévesque in Montérégie, Vincent Lemay-Thivierge in Laurentides—Lanaudière, Marie-Ève Duchesne in Capitale-Nationale—Mauricie, Benoit Renaud in the west and north (Outaouais, Abitibi and North), Hélène Pigot in Estrie-Centre-du-Québec, and Marie-Neige Besner in the East of Quebec (Chaudière-Appalaches, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine)?

Instead of the 130,827 Liberal voters in Laurentides—Lanaudière being almost silenced, they would have elected three regional MNAs as well as Yves St-Denis. Maybe Vicki Emard, Marie-Claude Collin, and Isabelle Leblond?

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 2014. 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 MPs: you can go to your local MP or one of your diverse regional MPs. 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.”

Will the Liberal caucus still remember why they wanted proportional representation in 2005-2006?

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 in 2006. 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 re-elected 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.)

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.