Friday, June 13, 2014

Ontario’s winner-take-all election: the parade of strongholds continues

The parade of strongholds continues, in Ontario’s winner-take-all 2014 election.

Winner-take-all voting
Winner-take-all voting systems notoriously favour party strongholds. Voters living in them have an MPP in their party’s caucus. Others have no one at Queen’s Park to call.

Voters for parties with geographic strongholds elect governments with false majorities, thanks to the seat bonus from their strongholds. Voters for parties with no strongholds, like the Greens, elect no one.

In Ontario’s 2014 election, Toronto Liberal voters cast 49% of the Toronto votes, but elected 91% of Toronto’s MPPs, 20 of the 22.

In Peel and Halton regions Liberal voters cast 45% of those votes, but elected ten of those 12 MPPs, 83%.  In York and Durham Regions, Liberal voters cast 43% of those votes, but elected eight of those 12 MPPs, 67%.

A manufactured majority
While the PC vote share crashed from 35.4% to 31.3% between 2011 and 2014, the NDP vote share rose from 22.7% to 23.7%, the Liberal vote share rose from 37.7% to 38.6%, and the Green vote share rose from 2.9% to 4.8%.

From the voters’ point of view, this election was all about their rejection of Tim Hudak’s platform.  In the process, they elected a government supported by less than 39% of voters, with a manufactured majority of MPPs. For the next four years, it has no legislative accountability to representatives of the majority of voters.   

Overall, a fair voting system would have let voters elect 42 Liberals, 34 PCs, 26 NDP and five Greens.

Invisible Liberal voters
Ontario’s surprise majority government looks dominated by the GTA. Two-thirds of Liberal MPPs are from the GTA, 38 of 58.

But to elect a Liberal MPP in the GTA took only 25,689 votes, while it took 44,332 outside the GTA. That’s because our winner-take-all system left many invisible Liberal voters outside the GTA unrepresented in the government caucus. Like all those Alberta Liberals whose votes don’t count in Ottawa.

Southwestern Ontario Liberal voters in the 11 ridings of the London to Windsor region cast 23% of those votes, but those silenced voters elected only one MPP. If our voting system made all votes equal and effective, they would have elected the three Liberal MPPs their region deserved.

Northern Ontario Liberal voters cast 35% of Northern votes but elected only three of the ten MPPs, not the four Liberal MPPs their region deserved.

Unrepresented conservative voters
Meanwhile, the official opposition has a mirror image of the same problem. Their caucus has no representative of the 205,996 Toronto Progressive Conservative voters, and only four from the rest of the GTA. Yet, in Central and Mid-east Ontario, where only 39% of voters voted PC, they elected seven of those 11 MPPs.  In Waterloo—Bruce region, where only 35% of voters voted PC, they elected five of those nine MPPs. In Southwestern Ontario, where only 32% of voters voted PC, they elected five of those 11 MPPs.

To reject Tim Hudak’s platform, voters elected five more Liberal MPPs than in 2011.

NDP strongholds
Yet when NDP voters elected seven more MPPs than in 2011 (while also losing three), all but two of the seven gains were from their Southwestern Ontario stronghold (three), and their Hamilton—Niagara and Northern strongholds (one each). In Central and Mid-East Ontario NDP voters cast 18% of the votes but elected no one.  In the Ottawa-Cornwall region NDP voters cast 14% of the votes but elected no one.

In Toronto NDP voters cast 22% of the votes but elected only two MPPs. In Waterloo--Bruce region NDP voters cast 22% of the votes but elected only one MPP. In Peel and Halton NDP voters cast 18% of the votes but elected only one MPP. In York and Durham Regions NDP voters cast 17% of the votes but elected only one MPP, when Jennifer French took Oshawa from the PCs with 47% of the vote.

The MPPs missing from Queen’s Park
If all Liberal voters had equal and effective votes, they would have elected MPPs like Teresa Piruzza in Windsor, Terry Johnson in Chatham, and Andrew Olivier in Sudbury or Dr. Catherine Whiting in North Bay.

If all NDP voters had equal and effective votes, they would have elected MPPs like Kingston’s Mary Rita Holland and Peterborough’s Sheila Wood, Ottawa’s Jennifer McKenzie or Cornwall’s Elaine MacDonald, Toronto’s Michael Prue and Jonah Schein or Rosario Marchese and Tom Rakocevic or Paul Ferreira, York Region lawyer Laura Bowman, Brampton’s Gurpreet Dhillon or Gugni Gill Panaich, and Jan Johnstone from Bruce County.

Green voters cast 7.6% of the votes in Waterloo—Bruce region, and deserved to elect their leader Mike Schreiner who got 19% of the votes in Guelph. They cast 6.8% of the votes in Central and Mid-East Ontario, and deserved to elect Matt Richter who got 19% of the votes in Parry Sound-Muskoka. They cast 4.5% of the votes in Peel and Halton, and deserved to elect Karren Wallace who got 17% of the votes in Dufferin-Caledon. They cast 3.9% of the votes in Toronto, and deserved to elect someone like Tim Grant or Rachel Power. They cast 5.3% of the votes in Ottawa—Cornwall region, and deserved to elect someone like Dave Bagler or Kevin O’Donnell.

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?

Mixed Member System
This simulation assumes Ontario should use the mixed member system recommended by The Law Commission of Canada. We still elect local MPs. Voters unrepresented by the local results elect regional MPs, in ten regions. This tops up the local results so the total MPs match the vote share. Fair Vote Canada says “The supporters of all candidates and political parties must be fairly represented in our legislatures in proportion to votes cast.”

Personal MMP
Back in 2007, Ontario voters did not support a proposal for the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system modelled on the one used in Germany and New Zealand, with closed lists. But this recommendation is for a Personal MMP model.

The Law Commission recommended that your second vote should let you choose either a party or one of the regional candidates nominated by parties. This is commonly called “open list” rather than “closed list.” The result is that all MPs have faced the voters, and no one is guaranteed a seat.

You have two votes
You have two votes. With one, you help elect a local MP as we do today. With the other, you also help elect a few regional MPs to top-up the local results so that every vote counts: it’s proportional. You can vote for the regional candidate you prefer: it’s personal.

Competing MPs
Fair Vote Canada says “We must give rural and urban voters in every province, territory and regional community effective votes and fair representation in both government and opposition.” The Law Commission model would give citizens competing MPs: a local MP, and a few regional MPs from a “top-up region” based in their area. Scotland uses regions of 16 MPs, Wales 12. I’m assuming a typical region would have 11 MPPs: seven local, four regional “top-up.” Generally, three of today’s ridings become two larger local ridings.

There's more. 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.

Fair Vote Canada says“A democratic voting system must encourage citizens to exercise positive choice by voting for the candidate or party they prefer.”
Accountable MPPs
With the same 107 MPPs we have today, I’m assuming 65 MPPs would still be elected from larger local ridings, and 42 MPPs would be elected regionally. These regions are large enough that voters for every major party would be represented in every region.

Regional MPPs
Who would those regional MPPs be? First, each party would hold regional nomination meetings and/or vote online to nominate their regional candidates. These would often be the same people nominated locally, plus a few additional regional candidates. The meeting would decide what rank order each would have on the regional ballot. But then voters in the region would have the final choice.

With top-up regions of about 11 MPPs each, the results are very close to perfect proportionality. Green Party voters elect the five MPPs they deserve.

Power to the voters
An exciting prospect: voters have new power to elect who they like. New voices from new forces in the legislature, more voter choice. No one 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 MPPs, and MPPs will have to really listen to the people. MPPs can act as the public servants they are supposed to be.

Ten different Commissions, Assemblies and Reports in the past eleven years in Canada have unanimously recommended proportional representation.

No central party direction
The models in Ontario and PEI which failed referendums had closed province-wide lists for the additional “top-up” MPPs. This failure was no surprise to the Jenkins Commission. 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.”

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

Clearly this would allow fair representation of Ontario’s political diversity in each region.

Would this model also help reflect in the Legislature the diversity of society, removing barriers to the nomination and election of candidates from groups now underrepresented including women, cultural minorities and Aboriginals? Polls show that 90% of Canadian voters would like to see more women elected. If they can choose from several of their party's regional candidates, they'll almost certainly elect more women. And as long as a party is nominating at least five regional candidates, you can expect them to nominate a diverse group. With four regional MPs from a region, and seven local MPs, a major party would want more than five regional candidates, since any candidates who win local seats are removed from contention for regional seats.

Technical notes

This model was described in more detail by Prof. Henry Milner at an electoral reform conference Feb. 21, 2009, where he recommended 14-MP regions. A similar "open-list" model is used in the German province of Bavaria and was proposed by Scotland's Arbuthnott Commission in 2006.

The rounding method used in the simulation is highest remainder, for the same reason the Ontario Citizens Assembly chose it: it's the simplest. Germany used to use this too, on the premise that it offset the risk to proportionality of the 5% threshold. Similarly it offsets any small region sizes.

The Law 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.