Friday, April 17, 2015

Federal Proportional Representation in Canada - is it likely?

Elections in Canada with the first past the post system means that MPs can be elected with less than a third of the vote and a party can form a majority government with only the support of around 40% of the voters.    The system is not doing a very good job of translating the will of the public into representation in parliament.   One of the answers is to adopt some form of proportional representation the question is which one.   I believe that Mix Member Proportional is not political possible in Canada whereas Single Transferable Vote might be.

In Canada there are two forms of proportional representation that have been either used or considered:

  • Single Transferable Vote, used in the prairie provinces from the 1920s to 1950s and proposed for BC and voted on in 2005 and 2009.   STV works very well in delivering a result that is a good approximation of the public will.  It is especially good at rewarding hard working representatives and eliminating the concept of a safe seat.  The problem is that STV, while be an elegant and sophisticated electoral system, the electoral system is not intuitive.   In STV it is almost impossible to useful game the system and no benefit to strategic voting.
  • Mixed Member Proportional - formally proposed in some form in the last decade or so in Ontario, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island.  As well often being suggested as a form to use for the Federal Parliament.  MMP was created after World War 2 to be less proportional than the electoral system used in the Weimar republic as a response to the fractured parliaments that happened.   Outwardly as a system the concept of how it works is easy but the system often has to have complex mechanisms to achieve the results and the math that goes into who get elected and who does not is very complex.   It is one of the most complex electoral systems in use in the world.   There are several ways voters and political parties can game the system and it encourages strategic voting at the local level

Right now the popular support in Canada is definitely much more in support of MMP than STV, though when provinces have held referendums on electoral reform the results for STV were the best in the country.

The federally the NDP is very much advocating for MMP and there is a moderate chance they could form a minority government which means we could see it being proposed in the next parliament.  It is an electoral system that appeals to the strongly partisan, such as core leadership of political parties, and looks fair to the public.   The question then becomes could MMP be made to work in Canada?

The problem with introducing MMP in Canada is that the number of voters in each riding is not consistent at all.    PEI has four seats for a population roughly the same single seat in Calgary.  Implementation would either mean fewer local MPs especially for BC, Alberta and Ontario or 85 to 225 more party list MPs in the House of Commons.  Either approach would have serious political opposition.

The ratio in most MMP systems is roughly 30% to 40% of the representatives coming from party lists.   To achieve something similar in Canada there would have to be 144 to 225 party list MPs as well as the current 338.  Even with only 20% being list MPs, this would entail another 85 members in the House of Commons.     Adding this number of new MPs would not be very popular with the public based on reactions to the idea of more MPs.   The party list MPs are most likely to end up being roughly proportional to provincial populations which would mean the six smallest population provinces would see their relative representation in Ottawa would be reduced.  

Party lists would be most likely balanced in such a way to get the most support for the party and this means not overloading it with people from Atlantic provinces.    With 85 list members it is likely that only six to eight of them would come from the the four Atlantic provinces.  Yes, a party could over load their list with Atlantic members but that is very likely to play badly in the four largest provinces.  As it stands, few people in BC or Alberta think it is fair that PEI gets four MPs.

The other direction would be to stay at 338 MPs and make some of the list MPs, but without a constitutional amendment only 56 could be party list MPs     The constitution mandates the minimum number of MPs per province and six of the provinces are at their minimum already.  The lost local MPs would all come from BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.  Quebec would have the smallest loss with only 3 being removed but Ontario would lose 26, BC 14 and Alberta 13     My own island would lose two of our seven MPs and Vancouver Island would have half the MPs for New Brunswick but a larger population.   I can not see any significant support in the four largest province for this approach.

If the constitution were amended to remove the restrictions on MPs per province the split could be 270 local MPs and 68 list MPs though in this would entail the six smallest population provinces losing seats.  Manitoba would drop five seats, Saskatchewan six, PEI three, Newfoundland three, New Brunswick four and Nova Scotia either four or five.   These six provinces would have to agree to losing MPs and I do not see that happening.

In my opinion MMP is not politically achievable in Canada unless the public can accept the addition of 85 or more party list to the House of Commons and Atlantic Canadian political leaders accept reduced influence in Ottawa.

STV could be introduced without changing the number of MPs and thereby removing all the oppostiion from the province .   The problem with STV is that is a system not favourable to centralized political parties and as a system feels to different for most people.

In my opinion STV could be acceptable to the general public with education but it is not going to be proposed by the NDP, Liberals or Conservatives.
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