Monday, January 11, 2016

Accountable MPs and Open Lists: the key to a Canadian proportional representation model


A made-in-Canada model of proportional representation will never feature closed lists of candidates for MP. All MPs must be personally accountable to voters, not to just to those who nominated them as candidates.

Canadians don’t want a Parliament like the Netherlands, with 11 parties under their “pure proportional” model, nor like Israel’s. “Pure-list-PR” with candidates appointed by central parties, and no local MPs, will never work for Canada.

Even a mixed member model like Scotland’s with additional regional MPs elected from regional closed lists would not be fully accepted in Canada.

So we’re looking at mixed member models where you can vote for candidates both in a local riding and in a local region, like the one in this six-minute video designed by the Law Commission of Canada.

Pour information en français, voir la page 5: La Commission du droit du Canada recommande un système mixte.

The majority of MPs are still local MPs. Regional MPs are elected by those voters whose votes did not elect a local MP. Every vote counts to help elect an MP, as far as reasonably possible. (Maybe, in metropolitan areas, local districts might even elect several MPs, not just one?)

Open lists are practical

A much better precedent exists in the German province of Bavaria. Open lists have worked well in their mixed member model since 1949. Unlike our Law Commission model, Bavaria has no option to vote for the party list. You vote only for a local candidate in your local riding and for a regional candidate in your local region.

The Law Commission of Canada

As the Law Commission of Canada concluded back in 2004, "Based on the feedback received during our consultation process, many Canadian voters would also most likely desire the flexibility of open lists in a mixed member proportional system. In essence, allowing voters to choose a candidate from the list provides voters with the ability to select a specific individual and hold them accountable for their actions should they be elected."

That also means the regional MPs must be elected from regions small enough that the MPs will be accountable to a real local region.

How will regional MPs work for constituents? Here's how they do it in Scotland

Ontario’s 2007 model was not the answer

Across Ontario in the 2007 referendum, 63.1% voted against MMP. About 31% were simply against proportional representation. Many more were voters who wanted all MPPs to be personally elected, not on closed lists. Many more were voters who wanted all MPPs to be anchored in their own local region, not on province-wide lists. And 7.5% were voters outside Toronto who disliked province-wide lists even more than Toronto voters did. As Prof. Henry Milner wrote just after the referendum "opponents hammered away on the claim that there would be 39 MPPs beholden to party headquarters instead of voters. . . . in a short campaign, this image of unrepresentative party hacks from Toronto getting in through the back door was fatal.”

Designing a made-in-Canada system

Many Canadians who voted Liberal want assurance that never again will a divisive political leader win 100% of the power with 39% of the votes. And never again will voters have to vote against something, or vote for a less-preferred candidate to block the election of one even less preferred. So we don’t want a model where only half the votes count.

Groups like Fair Vote Canada have been saying “Make every vote count” for years. The new government of Canada was elected on a platform that said “We will make every vote count.” They pledged an all-party Parliamentary committee that will deliver its recommendations to Parliament, and legislation to enact electoral reform introduced within 18 months of forming government, following varied and robust consultations with Canadians, and serious, responsible study with expert assistance.

That process is about to begin.

Fair Vote Canada’s campaign says a model of Proportional Representation for Canada must respect the need for all MPs to face the voters and be accountable to voters.

For example, Bavaria’s seven regions are too large to make regional MPs accountable to a local region. Do we want a model with regions averaging only eight or nine MPs each? The regional MPs would be more accountable, but the model would be a little less proportional. Or do we want one with regions averaging 12 or 14 MPs? And do we want the local MPs to be 60% of the total? Or 65%, making the new ridings a little smaller, but the model would be a little less proportional?

These details will matter to the MPs who will face getting re-elected under the new model.

The principle

But details will not matter as much as the principle: make every vote count to help elect an MP, and make all MPs personally accountable to voters.

The implementation of truly representative government in Canada, via an element of proportional representation, will in future be seen as every bit as much an advance for the nation as old age pensions or medicare.

Democratic nominations

Candidates in federal elections getting 10% of the vote receive public subsidy (rebates) of 60% of election expenses up to the approved limit.

Today, we hear of parties appointing candidates. Why should an undemocratic process be rewarded?
 
We should change Canada's electoral finance system to require registered federal parties that wish to receive a candidate's election expense subsidy to nominate that candidate democratically, that is, by vote of all their members (or their elected delegates) living in the electoral district or region with valid memberships as of a specified cut-off date.

Canada needs democratically-nominated candidates


Candidates in federal elections getting 10% of the vote receive public subsidy (rebates) of 60% of election expenses up to the approved limit.

Today, we hear of parties appointing candidates. Why should an undemocratic process be rewarded?

Fair Vote Canada says we should change Canada's electoral finance system "to require registered federal parties that wish to receive a candidate's election expense subsidy to nominate that candidate democratically, that is, by vote of all their members (or their delegates) living in the electoral district or region with valid memberships as of a specified cut-off date.”

Appointed candidates?

Any public discussion of Proportional Representation with any multi-member riding component quickly leads to comments on “candidates appointed by the party.” This happens whether, for example, it’s in a seven-MP STV district, or in a 12-MP MMP district with five regional MPs and eight or ten regional candidates (such as the seven local ones and a few regional-only ones) nominated and ranked by each party. This is unfair, since parties already appoint local candidates when they choose to.


Democracy is the core
Proportional representation means fair and unrestricted competition among political parties presenting democratically-nominated candidates. Democracy is at its core, not more power to party elites.

Parties can nominate several candidates at once democratically, in the same way they nominate single candidates: by vote of the membership in the district or region. Depending on local geography, it might be entirely an in-person meeting, or might include online voting.
 
If a major party finds it necessary in a very rare case to appoint, why should they not be encouraged to follow the German example: if a nomination meeting faced serious problems, call another meeting rather than appoint?   Michael Chong’s Reform Act aimed at preventing party leaders from holding the appointment power. Why should parties qualify for election expense rebates for a candidate not democratically nominated?

New parties may need to appoint candidates in ridings where they have no membership, but those will be token candidates spending nothing, and not getting the 10% of the vote required to qualify for rebates of 60% of election expense.

At one time some parties needed to appoint candidates in order to nominate more women, but this is no longer necessary.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Open-list mixed member proportional models: The Bavarian example

Canadians can consider several models of proportional representation, including Bavaria's.

Scotland’s regional mixed-member model

Scotland’s regional mixed-member elections are simple and practical: you elect a local MP plus regional MPs.

Every vote counts. If your vote didn’t count to elect a local MP, it will help elect a regional MP from your local region, to top-up the local results.

You have two votes, a local vote for a local MP, and a regional vote. Your local region has nine local MPs and seven regional MPs.

To elect an MP in a 16-MP region, your party will need about 5% of the regional votes. This is unlike the “pure proportional representation” system of the Netherlands, where they have no local MPs, and no threshold to win seats. In their last election they got 11 parties in Parliament. Voters for an Animal Rights party cast 1.9% of the votes and elected two MPs, while four other parties got fewer than 5% of the votes.

In Scotland you can vote for a local candidate of a different party than the party you want to see in government. New Zealand has a similar two-vote system, where about 32% of voters split their ballots that way. 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.

Improved Scottish model

But Canadians would want one big improvement on the Scottish model: no closed lists. You can vote for the regional candidate of your party that you like best.

The Law Commission of Canada recommended a model that, like Sweden’s, gives voters a choice: you can vote for a regional candidate personally, or for the party’s regional list. Watch this six-minute video.

No one knows how many voters would use the list option: with a similar choice in Brazil only about 10% do.
Yet many PR-sceptics will scream “backroom-dominated party list.” And they will ask a valid question: how many personal votes does it take to move a candidate up the list? The Law Commission left the “personal threshold” detail to be decided.

Bavaria’s model

German federal elections use a mixed member system like Scotland’s. But since 1949 the German province of Bavaria has used an open-list variation, with no party-list option at all. You vote for a local candidate in your riding, and for a regional candidate in your region. (They have seven regions.)

Even simpler than the Law Commission model: no personal threshold. The ranking is done entirely by the voters. As usual, you have two votes: one for a local MP, one for a regional MP. The list order has no legal weight.

Does this process result in the list order prevailing anyway? In 2003, preferences led to the defeat of 25 advantageously positioned regional candidates, to the benefit of 25 others who were less so, out of a total of 88 elected regional members. Just look at the 1998 charts for Munich on pages 55 and 56 of Prof. Massicotte’s working document.

Note the spectacular fall of Minister Ursula Männle from the 3rd place assigned by her party to the 42nd decided by the voters’ individual preferences. This ensured her defeat.

Prof. Massicotte concludes “As a result of preferences, electoral rivalry between parties has a new level of competition between candidates of the same party within each region. . . . The Bavarian experience shows that voters take the possibility offered them very seriously . . . and that the preference system has a major impact on which list candidates get elected.”

Although every local candidate is also a regional candidate, some regional candidates are “regional-only.” This is necessary in case a party sweeps a region so massively that it elects some regional MPs on top of all the local MPs.

This also let the party members nominate a slate better balanced by gender and minorities, creating more voter choice. The Law Commission of Canada wanted to “support voters who decide to trust a political party’s choice of list candidates by allowing them to vote for the party slate . . . to promote successful election of women.” But Bavaria’s model also does this. And the position of women in Canada’s Parliament has improved since the 2004 Law Commission Report.

How does the Bavarian model work?

Is the regional ranking done only by a small group of voters who didn’t vote for the star candidate? No risk of that in Bavaria. The ranking is by the total number of votes cast for a candidate in the local race, added to the total number of regional votes cast for that candidate in all the other seats in the region (but not in the seat where he or she ran locally -- that would give double weight to those voters, so the regional list in a riding excludes the local candidates). Note that every local candidate is also a regional candidate.

The party vote is also a total of the two votes. Unlike most MMP models, Bavaria counts your local vote as a vote for a party, just as it counts your regional vote. This reduces the scope for the “Berlusconi trick” that ruined Italy’s system (running local candidates under a different party name than the regional candidates, twin parties, one a clone of the other).

Some people like the “best-runners-up” model used in the German province of Baden-Wurttemberg: no regional candidates at all, no lists. The regional MPs elected to top up the local results are the local candidates who, in that region, got the most votes without winning the local seat.

The effect of the Bavarian model is a hybrid with the best-runner-up model. You have regional candidates, but those who did well locally without winning the local seat have an advantage for the regional seat.

In the 2013 Bavarian election, of the 90 regional deputies, 13 were regional-only candidates who won election from regional votes alone, despite not receiving any local votes. Four regional candidates standing at the head of the regional list were not ranked first in the final count. (The regional candidates included all 977 local candidates -- an average of 11 in each riding -- plus 785 regional-only candidates, an average of  10 candidates from each party in each region.) 

Bavaria’s 5% threshold rule applies to parties and “organized groups” such as the “Free Voters” movement which denies it is a party, but has met the 5% threshold in the last two elections. In 2008 it became the third party, with more seats than the Greens, repeated in 2013.

The trend to having two votes, now universal in Germany, began in Bavaria in 1949. They wanted to let voters not only elect a local MP, but also express a preference for one of the regional candidates of the party they were voting for.

One reason Bavaria likes this system is that it tends to be as much of a one-party province as Alberta used to be, so it needs competition within its conservative party. The CSU governed in a liberal-conservative coalition in 2008-2013, but otherwise has governed alone since 1962.

How big are the regions?

Bavaria’s stable model has used seven regions since 1950, with an average of 23 MPs each. Some are as small as 17 MPPs (9 local, 8 regional), while the largest region (Munich) has 58 MPPs.

“I support reforms to add elements of proportional representation that also ensure that Members of Parliament remain directly accountable to their constituents” said Dominic LeBlanc. “Do we want to keep that bond between a specific MP and a specific group of Canadians?" asked Justin Trudeau.  “Canadians voted for real change, for a government that puts their needs ahead of the party's. A government that celebrates our diversity, and not takes a divisive approach” said Minister Maryam Monsef.

The regions have to be small and local enough to make that true, while still large enough to be at least moderately proportional.
 
Polls show over 70% of Canadians support proportional representation.

The mixed member proportional system used in Scotland and Wales, and recommended for Canada by the Law Commission of Canada, has all MPs tied to ridings or local regions; MPs would be elected in each riding but they'd be augmented by regional MPs elected from candidates in a local region. Justin Trudeau has never ruled that out at all, as long as the regions aren't too large.

Is Bavaria’s regional ballot too large and complex? In 2003 the number of spoiled or rejected votes was 1.2% for the local vote, 1.9% for the regional vote. Munich, with 58 MPPs, had a ballot with 469 names. No wonder some were rejected.

I suggest no regions larger than 18 MPs, preferably about 12 MPs on average.

More details of Bavaria’s model

Bavaria used to use the Scottish "highest average" (D'Hondt quota) but in 1990 this was declared unconstitutional, so they switched to "largest remainder" (Hare). Wouldn't it be lovely to live in a country where lack of full proportionality is unconstitutional?

Although they use a 5% threshold for representation, they give state funding to any party that reaches 1% of the regional votes.

Bavaria has almost half their MPs elected from the regions. Canada would use a higher ratio of local MPs.

Bavaria originally imposed a 10% threshold at the regional level, but in 1973 opted for a 5% threshold applicable to the whole province.

Bavaria’s 5% threshold rule has an unusual feature: a party needs to pass the 5% threshold province-wide to win even a local seat; no independents. Canada would never copy that feature.

Unlike German federal elections, the ballot had no circle for the voter to mark after the party name. If voters nevertheless marked the party name alone on the regional ballot, it was counted as a valid vote for the party, but had no effect on the ranking of the regional candidates. Only 1% of voters did this in 2013. 


Canadian adaptations

As well as allowing independents, Canada could need other changes to the Bavarian model.

We would need smaller regions than they use.
 
They use a 5% threshold province-wide for a party’s voters to elect a Regional MP. The effective threshold for smaller regions would already be at least 5%. But we might want some guarantee that a regional micro-party might not run in some region of Ontario or Quebec and elect a single regional MP with only 1% of the vote in the province, if the public expects this would not happen. A threshold of 4% or 5% applied province-by-province would prevent this. In Europe, the threshold is generally 4% or 5%, and New Zealand has been debating which of these numbers to use.
 
Take the Green Party in Quebec. With PR, assume their vote doubles, to 4.4%. If Montérégie is a 12-MP region (excluding a couple of ridings in Montérégie-est), and the Green vote doubled, Green voters there would have cast enough votes to elect their star Quebec candidate JiCi Lauzon. The same in 12-MP Montréal-est (deputy leader Daniel Green), in 11-MP Estrie—Mauricie—Centre-du-Q—Montérégie-est (Corina Bastiani?) and someone in 13-MP Laval—Laurentides—Lanaudière. Four MPs, just as they would deserve. A threshold of 4% lets them be elected, 5% does not.