Tuesday, September 15, 2015

How would proportional representation work in Central East Ontario?

Note: for an alternative configuation, see How would proportional representation work in Eastern Ontario?

My introductory comments at an all-candidates meeting in Port Hope Sept.14, 2015.

This meeting has been called by our local Chapter of Fair Vote Canada, to discuss electoral reform and get the stand of local candidates.

Fair Vote Canada is a multi-partisan movement. As of this morning we have 60,500 supporters, from all walks of life and all points on the spectrum. Proportional representation is not a partisan issue. For example, Conservative Hugh Segal is still a very vocal supporter of proportional representation.

Proportional representation means every vote will count equally. When every vote counts, voters won’t have to worry about splitting the vote, or casting a strategic vote. More young voters will find it worthwhile voting.

For the past several elections, at least 50% of all ballots cast across Canada did not count toward electing a representative. In 2011, 39.6% of votes somehow elected a government with a false majority, with 100% of power concentrated in the Prime Minister and his Office.

Opinion polls have shown at least 70% of Canadians support proportional representation.

We will start by seeing Prof. Dennis Pilon's six-minute video on the Law Commission of Canada's recommended mixed-member model of proportional representation.

(This video uses the example of a 16-MP region from Ottawa to Belleville, which would now elect 10 local MPs and six regional MPs.)

Of course, proportional representation would mean a lot for Canada. We would not likely have a one-party one-man government. Parliament would reflect our diverse voters in each province.

But it would also help a county like Northumberland. We would have competing MPs. Fair Vote Canada says rural and urban voters in every region should have fair representation in both government and opposition.

Prof. Pilon’s video showed a region with 16 MPs. That’s a good teaching example. The Law Commission said their model was inspired by the models used in Scotland and Wales. Scotland has regions of 16 MPs. Wales has regions of 12 MPs.

Both the NDP and the Liberals propose 12 months of public consultations to come up with the best model for Canada. For example, regions with 12 MPs mean the regional MPs are a bit more locally accountable, more anchored to real communities.

Ontario has 121 MPs. If Ontario was organized in ten regions with an average of 12 MPs each, that would still be proportional enough that Green Party voters would, on the votes cast in 2011, have elected four MPs, just as they deserved. The size of the regions is a key design feature for public consultations.

East of the GTA we elect 19 MPs. That’s too big for a single region. Our county doesn’t want to elect a regional MP from Ottawa. Some regions will have fewer than 12 MPs, such as Northern Ontario with nine MPs. I can see the Ottawa Valley, including Cornwall, with 11 MPs, making a good region. That’s the bilingual district, 20% French mother tongue. That leaves eight MPs elected in our Kingston—Peterborough region, from Lindsay to Brockville.

Locally, in the last election, in our Peterborough—Kingston region which elects eight MPs this year, 219,615 Conservative voters elected six MPs, 87,388 Liberal voters elected one MP from Kingston, 89,947 NDP voters elected no one, and 18,151 Green voters elected no one. If every vote counted equally, with eight MPs those same ballots would elect four local Conservative MPs, one local Liberal MP, one regional Liberal MP, and two regional NDP MPs.
 
But as Prof. Pilon just told us, when you change the voting system, you also change the incentives that affect the kinds of decisions that voters might make. For instance, we know that, when every vote counts, voters won't have to worry about splitting the vote, or casting a strategic vote. Thus, we should expect that support for different parties might change." 

 
And when every vote counts, turnout will be higher -- perhaps 7% higher. So, when voters have more choice, the results will be far more representative of our diverse population and their diverse views. Who can say what would be the result of real democratic elections?

One thing we know for sure: it is extremely unlikely that our region’s voters would vote exactly as they did in 2011. For example, if the Greens doubled their vote, an extra 16,000 new Green voters would have elected a Green MP.

Tomorrow FVC launches our “Where They Stand” website. More than 50 Liberal candidates have stated their support for proportional representation. Plus one lonely Conservative MP from British Columbia.

Many other Liberal candidates are still undecided.

A few Liberals oppose PR, and prefer instead another winner-take-all system: the preferential ballot in single-member ridings.

A study on the last UK election showed that the preferential ballot would have given the Conservatives an even bigger false majority than the one they got, even more skewed than first past the post. But a few Liberals, to be blunt, dream of being everyone’s second choice. They think a preferential ballot would give them a partisan advantage. Luckily, I believe the majority of Liberal activists realize that electoral reform cannot succeed as a partisan project.

As Stephane Dion keeps saying I do not see why we should maintain a voting system that makes our major parties appear less national and our regions more politically opposed than they really are. . . . Preferential voting does nothing to correct the distortion between votes and seats and the under-representation of national parties compared to regional ones.

For example, metropolitan Montreal elects 35 MPs, but not one Conservative. In 2011, its 208,931 Conservative voters elected no one. With proportional representation they would have elected four MPs. Canada’s second largest city would have been represented in cabinet. The four MPs would have been the four Conservative regional candidates who got the most support from regional Conservative voters.

Last Dec. 3rd in the House of Commons the NDP moved a motion:

“That, in the opinion of the House: (a) the next federal election should be the last conducted under the current first-past-the-post electoral system which has repeatedly delivered a majority of seats to parties supported by a minority of voters, or under any other winner-take-all electoral system; and (b) a form of mixed-member proportional representation would be the best electoral system for Canada.

Of 31 Liberal MPs present, 16 voted yes, 15 no. Six others voted for it: five MPs from the Greens, Bloc and the new Strength in Democracy party, plus even Brent Rathgeber, the independent former Conservative.

Some people assume PR would make MPs less independent. Toronto MP Craig Scott, NDP Democratic Reform Critic, loves to explain that it’s the opposite. 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 (regional) ballot that determines the party make-up of the House of Commons. About 32% of voters split their ballots this way in New Zealand with a similar system.

 
This makes it easier, says Craig Scott, for local MPs to get the support of people of all political stripes. They can earn support for their constituency-representation credentials, not just for their party. This boosts the kind of support MPs bring with them into the House of Commons, thus strengthening their independence.   

 
The turnout in the 2011 election was a pitiful 61.1% across Canada (63.7% locally) compared with 75.3% in 1988, and the turnouts around 80% typical of countries with normal proportional systems:
Sweden 86%
Denmark 86%
Brazil 81%
Norway 78%
Argentina 77%
New Zealand 77%
Netherlands 75%
Austria 75%

The panel of three candidates will discuss:

(1) Do you feel the number of MPs elected to Parliament from each party should be roughly proportional to the number of votes cast for that party's candidates?

(2) Can a model of Proportional Representation for Canada respect the need for all MPs to face the voters and be accountable to voters?

(3) If an all-party/citizen process recommends adding an element of proportionality to Canada's electoral system, would you vote in favour of implementing these recommendations in time for the following federal election?

(All three candidates present, NDP Liberal and Green, said yes to all three.)

Monday, September 7, 2015

How would proportional representation work in Northern Ontario?

How would proportional representation work in Northern Ontario, for federal elections?

I’m not talking about classic “list-PR” with candidates appointed by central parties, which no one proposes for Canada.

I’m talking about the model recommended by the Law Commission of Canada, where every Member of Parliament represents actual voters and real communities. Local ridings  will elect the majority of MPs as we do today. The others are elected as regional MPs, topping-up the numbers of MPs from your region so the total is proportional to the votes for each party. You can cast a personal vote for the regional candidate you prefer.

These regional MPs are elected from regions small enough that the regional MPs are accountable; maybe about 12 MPs per region.

Canadians support proportional representation
Polls show more than 70% of Canadians support proportional representation for Canadian elections. Canada’s Liberal Party has opened the door to start implementing PR in time for the next election. The NDP and Greens fully support PR. 

So this is no longer an academic discussion. This is a practical discussion: if Canada gets PR, how would it work in Northern Ontario?

Mixed Proportional
With the Mixed Proportional system, you have two votes. With one, you help elect a local MP as we do today. The majority of MPs would still be local MPs.

With the other vote, you can vote for the party you want to see in government, and for your favourite of your party’s regional candidates. So you help elect a few regional MPs, topping-up the local results to make them match the vote shares. Every vote counts: it’s proportional. You can vote for the regional candidate you prefer: it’s personal. There are no closed lists. Voters elect all the MPs.

Consultations
After the October 19 election, Canada will very likely see a 12-month public consultation process by a special all-party task force or parliamentary committee with a mandate to consult experts and ordinary Canadians, and bring recommendations to Parliament, likely including the best design for a mixed-member proportional system.

Competing MPs
Every voter will be served by competing MPs. You could choose to go to your local MP for service or representation, or you could go to 
one of your regional MPs, likely including someone you helped elect.

Accountable MPs
This open list method was recommended both by our Law Commission and by the Jenkins Commission in the UK. Jenkins’ colourful explanation accurately predicted why closed lists would be rejected in Canada as they were in the Ontario and PEI referendums: 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.”

Every vote counts. Fair Vote Canada says "A democratic voting system must encourage citizens to exercise positive choice by voting for the candidate or party they prefer."
 
Each province still has the same number of MPs it has today. No constitutional amendment is needed. 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.”

More people would vote, and vote differently
As Prof. Dennis Pilon says"Now keep in mind that, when you change the voting system, you also change the incentives that affect the kinds of decisions that voters might make. For instance, we know that, when every vote counts, voters won't have to worry about splitting the vote, or casting a strategic vote. Thus, we should expect that support for different parties might change."

And when every vote counts, turnout will be higher -- perhaps 7% higher. So, when voters have more choice, the results will be far more representative of our diverse population and their diverse views. Who can say what would be the result of real democratic elections?

One thing we know for sure: it is extremely unlikely that voters would vote exactly as they did in 2011. Meanwhile, I’ve done simulations on the votes cast in 2011.  

Northern Ontario’s nine MPs
In 2011 Northern Ontario voters (north of the French River) elected six NDP MPs and three Conservative MPs. Yet those voters cast only 44% of their votes for New Democrats, while 33% voted Conservative, 20% Liberal, and 3% Green. If every vote counted equally, on those votes NDP voters would elect four MPs, Conservative voters three MPs, and Liberal voters two. (For the calculation, see technical footnote below.)

Since I’m projecting from the 2011 votes, I’ll start with the 2011 candidates. Let’s suppose the six local MPs were (depending on local nominations in six larger ridings) New Democrats Charlie Angus, Claude Gravelle, Carol Hughes, and John Rafferty, and Conservatives Greg Rickford and Jay Aspin.

The regional MPs for each party would be the party’s regional candidates who ended up with the most support across the region. In this case, Liberal voters would elect two regional Liberal MPs. maybe Nipissing’s Anthony Rota (who got 15,477 votes in 2011) and Sault Ste. Marie’s Christian Provenzano (8,343) or Sudbury’s Carol Hartman (8,172) or Thunder Bay’s Ken Boshcoff (8,067).

Conservative voters would elect one regional MP. Many would have preferred Greg Rickford or Jay Aspin, but assuming they already won local seats, the regional seat would go to the next most popular. In other words, Conservative voters whose top preference was not Greg Rickford or Jay Aspin could, if they wish, elect the regional Conservative MP. Maybe they would have elected Sault Ste. Marie’s Bryan Hayes (who got 18,328 votes in 2011 and was actually elected that year by a slim margin) or their only female candidate, Sudbury’s Lynne Reynolds (she got 12,503 votes in 2011, but would get more from across the North.).

What would regional MPs do?
How would regional MPs operate? They would cover several ridings each. Just the way it’s done in Scotland. They could have several offices, just as MP Jay Aspin has offices in both North Bay and New Liskeard.  

Regional candidates
How would party members nominate and rank a group of regional candidates? It could be done on-line, and with live conventions. Likely party members in each region would decide to nominate the same candidates already nominated in the local ridings, and some additional regional candidates.

In Nova Scotia in 2011, in all 11 ridings the Liberals nominated only men. Additional provincial candidates would surely have included some women. Since polls show 90% of Canadians want to see more women elected, we’ll elect women when given the chance.  

But voters will have the final say, since they can vote for their party’s regional candidate they prefer. Or they can vote for the list as ranked by the party’s nomination process.

How many local MPs?
In my 2011 simulation, I made each top-up region have at least 57.5% of its MPs as local MPs. On average across Canada, 62.7% of the MPs will be local MPs. The 335 MPs from the ten provinces will be 210 local MPs and 125 regional or provincial MPs. 

More choice
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 (regional) ballot that determines the party make-up of the House of Commons. About 32% of voters split their ballots this way in New Zealand with a similar system.

Local MPs become more independent
This makes it easier for local MPs to get the support of people of all political stripes. They can earn support for their constituency-representation credentials, not just for their party. This boosts the kind of support MPs bring with them into the House of Commons, thus strengthening their independence.

The rural voice
Will proportional representation swamp the rural voice? No, as shown here. 

Canadian diversity
As St├ęphane Dion says "I no longer want a voting system that gives the impression that certain parties have given up on Quebec, or on the West. On the contrary, the whole spectrum of parties, from Greens to Conservatives, must embrace all the regions of Canada. In each region, they must covet and be able to obtain seats proportionate to their actual support. This is the main reason why I recommend replacing our voting system."

This is not a partisan scheme. Unrepresented Conservative voters would have elected eight more Quebec MPs than in 2011, one more in Newfoundland, one more in PEI, and one more on Vancouver Island.

Of course, proportional representation would mean a lot for Canada. We would not likely have a one-man one-party government whose PMO holds all the power. (The last Prime Minister to get more than 50% of the votes was Brian Mulroney in 1984.) Parliament would reflect the diverse voters of every province.

Power to the voters
An exciting prospect: voters have new power to elect who they like. New voices from new forces in Parliament. No party rolls the dice and wins an artificial majority. Cooperation will have a higher value than vitriolic rhetoric. Instead of having only a local MP -- whom you quite likely didn’t vote for -- you can also go to one of your diverse regional MPs, all of whom had to face the voters. Governments will have to listen to MPs, and MPs will have to really listen to the people. MPs can begin to act as the public servants they are. And all party caucuses will be more diverse.

“When you empower people, it’s incredible what can be achieved”
As Tom Mulcair has written “In a study that looked at 36 countries with proportional representation, countries that reformed their systems saw increased voter turnout, more women and minorities elected and an overall higher satisfaction with democracy. Furthermore, countries with proportional representation also score higher on indicators of health, education and standards of living. They are more likely to enjoy fiscal surpluses and have healthier environmental policies, economic growth and decreased income inequality. 

“It may seem shocking that a change in electoral system can fuel such dramatic changes, but when you empower people, it’s incredible what can be achieved. By responding to and reflecting a broader pool of interests and people, proportional elections lead to governments that are not based on one single partisan worldview or a narrow segment of society. Proportional governments represent a broader cross-section of society; as a result, the policies they pass tend to be more credible, stable and based on the common good.”

Winner-take-all results across Canada
On the votes cast in 2011, the winner-take-all results on the new 2015 boundaries for the 338 ridings would be 187 Conservative, 110 NDP, 36 Liberal, 4 Bloc, and 1 Green.

Simulated results across Canada
If every vote counted equally, using province-wide perfect proportionality for the 338 MPs (not counting Quebec Green votes which were below 3%), the results would have been: Conservative 140, NDP 104, Liberal 64, BQ 19, Green 11.

In my simulation, after adjustments due to 62.7% local seats, the results for 338 MPs are: Conservative 139, NDP 108, Liberal 64, BQ 17, Green 10. Close to perfect, while keeping all MPs accountable to real local and regional communities, and keeping 62.7% of the MPs as local MPs.

Poll results on proportional representation
Environics asked in 2013 “Some people favor bringing in a form of proportional representation. This means that the total number of seats held by each party in Parliament would be roughly equivalent to their percentage of the national popular vote. Would you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose moving towards a system of proportional representation in Canadian elections?”

Interviewing for this Environics National Telephone Survey was conducted between March 18th – 24th, 2013, among a national random sample of 1,004 adults. The margin of error for a sample of this size is +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.

Result: support 70%, oppose 18%, depends 6%, don’t know 6%.

The Environics poll showed 93% of Green voters support proportional representation while 4% oppose; 82% of NDP voters support it while 11% oppose; 77% of Liberal voters support it while 15% oppose; 62% of Conservative supporters support it while 28% oppose; and 55% of voters undecided as to party support PR while 19% oppose and 27% said “don’t know” or “depends.”

This is not new. Poll results have shown this for 13 years.

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

Technical Footnotes:
1.  How does the math work? In my Northern Ontario example, on the votes cast in 2011, NDP voters were entitled to 3.96 MPs, Conservative voters to 2.97 MPs, Liberals 1.79, and Greens 0.28. After the first six MPs are calculated, the next “highest remainder” is the Conservatives’ 0.97, so they get the seventh MP, the NDP the eighth, and the Liberals the ninth. If 17,800 more new voters had voted for the Green Party, they would have taken the ninth seat from the Liberals, electing an MP such as North Bay’s Dr. Scott Daley.

2. 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 their 5% threshold. Similarly it offsets smaller region sizes across Canada.


3.  With only 37.3% of the MPs as compensatory (“top-up”) MPs, there is no guarantee that the result will be perfectly proportional. In Quebec in 2011 the “Orange Wave” was so extreme that this model lets NDP voters elect 38 MPs rather than the 35 they deserve, at the cost of the Bloc (two MPs short) and the Conservatives (one). If one party swept all six local seats in Northern Ontario, the three regional MPs might not be enough for perfect proportionality. Adding regional MPs, while keeping the House the same size, means larger local ridings. It’s a trade-off: the higher the proportion of regional MPs, the larger are the local ridings. But the lower the proportion of regional MPs, the greater the risk that they are too few to compensate for the disproportional local results.

4.  Many design details must be decided, after public consultations. For example, smaller regions are intended to be “moderately” proportional, less likely to elect MPs from smaller parties like the Greens. But in return, they provide better geographic representation, and more accountable regional MPs.