Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Will proportional representation swamp the rural voice?

Many people fear that proportional representation “will dilute the power of rural Canada. Since the proportional composition of the House is based on the total number of votes, and urban Canada has far more people than rural Canada, the urban voice will swamp the rural voice. Further, with far more votes to be won in cities, parties may pay less attention to rural concerns. The disproportionately represented rural areas will lose out.
What do we say when someone argues this?
(It’s not even true that many rural areas are disproportionately represented, but I’ll get to that later.)
All communities keep a local MP

First, a Mixed Member model as recommended by the Law Commission of Canada will keep local MPs from both urban and rural areas. You get both a local MP and some diverse regional MPs.

So we’re not talking about classic “list-PR” with candidates appointed by central parties.

As Liberal Democratic Reform critic Scott Simms, an MP from Newfoundland, told a FVC webinar recently, he doesn’t want to “lose that local aspect. If there is one thing Liberals do believe in, it’s that direct representatives are a true function of our democracy. . . And one of the best selling items of MMP is, you have a ballot where you can vote for a candidate and a party. I agree with that. It’s actually a selling point.”
Almost half of Canadians need their local MP

When many people say “urban,” they mean “large urban.” Stats Can classifies “large urban population centres” as “larger than 100,000.”

So it’s not just rural areas that fear their community will lose their MP accountable to no one else. Small and medium population centres, and even ten population centres over 100,000 like Guelph and Moncton, have only one MP representing them.

We’re talking about 44% of the population of Canada.
Both rural and urban voters will have fair representation

Second, MMP will not change the urban/rural balance at all.

Fair Vote Canada's principles includeWe must give rural and urban voters in every province, territory and regional community effective votes and fair representation in both government and opposition.”

The numbers of MPs from each province stay the same. Within each larger province, the number of MPs from each region stays the same (Northern Ontario will still have nine MPs north of the French River.)

Within each region, three present ridings become two larger ones, or five present ridings become three larger ones. That doesn’t change the urban/rural balance.

The Greater Toronto Area, Montreal, and Metro Vancouver will have their own regions. Likely Calgary and Edmonton will too.

But in other regions, if about 37% of the MPs are elected by regions, won’t they all be from the largest city in the region?

No. On the regional ballot will be a group of candidates from across the whole region, often the same candidates who are running in the local ridings. Voters in the region’s biggest city will tend to vote for one leading candidate, the urban star. That will tend to leave the second regional spot open for a candidate from a smaller community. Furthermore, that leading urban star will quite likely win his or her local riding, dropping off the regional list. That will tend to leave the top regional spot open for a candidate from a smaller community.

How will regional MPs do their work? See how it works in Scotland.
An urban myth: rural areas are not over-represented

Third, where exactly are those “disproportionately represented rural areas?”

People sometimes think of rural areas within the larger provinces, which become over-represented by the end of the ten-year cycle, due to urban growth. But of course the new boundaries taking effect this year, based on the 2011 census, correct that problem. The only systematic over-representation within a province is Northern Ontario’s two extra seats. But 66% of Northern Ontario’s people are urban; no problem of disproportionately represented rural seats there.

Often, people are really talking about smaller provinces like PEI.

If the smaller provinces were represented exactly by population, Manitoba would have 12 MPs not 14, Saskatchewan would have 10 not 14, Nova Scotia would have 9 not 11, New Brunswick would have 7 not 10, Newfoundland & Labrador would have 5 not 7, and PEI would have 2 not 4. Those 2,357,325 people have 60 MPs, rather than 45: that’s 15 extra MPs.

First, only 4.4% of the 338 MPs are those 15 extra MPs for the smaller provinces.

But look at the 5,835,270 Conservative voters. They would, on the votes cast in 2011, elect 188 of those 338 MPs, rather than the 141 they deserve. That’s 47 extra MPs by party, compared with 15 extra MPs by province.

Voting system disproportionalities are much bigger than provincial disproportionalities.

Secondly, are those 15 extra MPs really more rural than MPs from the larger provinces?

Manitoba’s 14 MPs are eight from Winnipeg, and one from Brandon—Souris which is more than half urban. Saskatchewan’s 14 MPs are six from Saskatoon or Regina, and a seventh from Prince Albert which is more than half urban. (And the suburban Saskatoon riding is 45% urban too.) Total urban: 16 of 28.

In Atlantic Canada, four of Nova Scotia’s ridings are in Halifax, and Sydney-Victoria is largely urban. In New Brunswick Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, Saint John—Rothesay and Fredericton are urban. In Newfoundland & Labrador, both St. John’s ridings are urban, along with 54% of Avalon. In PEI, Charlottetown is urban.

So 28 of those 60 MPs are urban: 47%. Therefore, those 15 extra MPs are seven urban, eight rural. Are rural areas disproportionately represented? Hardly.

Conclusion: the “disproportionately represented rural seats” are an urban myth, a distraction.

A Rural-Urban model
Go here to find out about the new Rural-Urban proportional model.