Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More thoughts on PR

The Commission on Legislative Democracy recommended in 2005 that we move to a variety of proportional representation (PR) styled New Brunswick Mixed-Member Proportional (NB MMP). The system would have had 56 MLAs, 36 of which would be elected from traditional single-member first-past-the-post (FPTP) districts and 20, of which would be selected for 4 five-member districts using the additional member method (compared to 55 MLAs presently, all elected to single member ridings).

The multi-member district seats would not be selected based on the share of the votes the party received in those areas, but to compensate for the non-proportionality of the results therein. (Explained in the addtional member article linked above)

For example: Each region would have 9 ridings, each electing one member. Thereafter, the region would have 5 more members selected to represent the whole region. If Party A won 8 of 9 ridings with only 55% of the vote (i.e. they barely won each of eight, and barely lost one) and Party B had received only one seat on 45% of the vote, then Party B would receive all 5 of the regional members to compensate for having won only one traditional seat on 45% of the votes.

In order to presuppose the structure of the ridings, we'll have to overlay the existing 55 ridings into each of the regions suggested by the commission. That means 14 single member ridings will have to be transposed onto 3 of the regions and 13 will have to go into a final region. We'll place the Moncton-area districts into the 13 seat region, because those districts are the most overpopulated in the province.

The Commission recommended the following regions: North, Central, Southwest, Southeast. I will assign our current electoral districts to these regions as follows:
Grand Falls-Drummond-St. André, Restigouche-La-Vallée, Edmundston-Saint-Basile, Madawaska-Les-Lacs, Campbellton-Restigouche Centre, Dalhousie-Restigouche East, Nigadoo-Chaleur, Bathurst, Nepisiguit, Caraquet, Lamèque-Shippagan-Miscou, Centre-Péninsule-Saint-Sauveur, Tracadie-Sheila, Miramichi Bay-Neguac

Victoria-Tobique, Carleton, Woodstock, York North, Fredericton-Nashwaaksis, Fredericton-Fort Nashwaak, Fredericton-Lincoln, Fredericton-Silverwood, New Maryland-Sunbury West, Oromocto, Grand Lake-Gagetown, Southwest Miramichi, Miramichi Centre, Miramichi-Bay du Vin

York, Charlotte-Campobello, Charlotte-The Isles, Fundy-River Valley, Quispamsis, Rothesay, Saint John East, Saint John Harbour, Saint John Portland, Saint John Lancaster, Saint John-Fundy, Hampton-Kings, Kings East, Albert

Petitcodiac, Dieppe Centre-Lewisville, Moncton East, Moncton West, Moncton North, Moncton Crescent, Riverview, Memramcook-Lakeville-Dieppe, Tantramar, Shediac-Cap-Pelé, Kent South, Kent, Rogersville-Kouchibouguac
A lot of these regions are less than ideal but this is the unfortunate result that can happen when you have to carve the province up into four equal-sized regions. Presumably when boundaries for ridings would have been redrawn, some would have been combined and others split in a fashion that would try to avoid this.

So now let's try to re-run the 2006 election under NB MMP. In each region, we'll take the actual results from 2006 in terms of seats, then scale that down to 9 ridings, then apply the NB MMP method to each set of regional seats.

2006 actual resultsProjected NB MMP seats
Seats% voteRidingRegionalTotal

I am not sure if this is the result that PR proponets would have been looking for. The right-of-centre party, which won a bare plurality of votes (47.5%) would win a majority government, while left-of-centre parties who received 52.2% of the votes would be in the minority. The NDP, despite winning 5.1% of the vote would remain unrepresented in the legislature. The Liberals, despite winning a plurarilty of the vote in 3 of 4 regions, will have split the seats evenly in each of those regions, which seems somewhat unfair.

As I said in a comment to the last post on this, "the problem with the electoral reform debate in Canada (is that e)veryone seems to see it as black and white, when in fact there are countless models to choose from."

Using the model that was proposed by the Commission on Legislative Democracy would not have improved, in my view, the results of the last election. Regions with an odd number of members would likely have worked better, or perhaps the top up could have been done on a province-wide scale which would have allowed the NDP to get seats. Or we could have moved wholly to multi-member ridings (which our province used from pre-confederation to 1974 anyway) using the single transferable vote. Or we could have gone to countless other varieties of options.

As I said, that is the problem with the PR debate. When it is the status quo vs. the nearly infinite number of alternatives, change is quite popular. But when it is the status quo vs. one particular PR model, then these tend to fail (as votes in BC, Ontario and PEI have shown).

I suspect that most members of the NDP support PR in principle. I doubt many would favour the NB MMP model if they knew it would have meant they would still have been shut out of the legislature, and that a conservative government would have been re-elected with a larger majority in the last election.

This is why I've always prefered a gradual electoral reform. Canada was born out of evolution as opposed to revolution and it has served us well. We should do the same with any changes to our electoral system. A move from FPTP to a the preferential vote would be a relatively simple change that wouldn't turn our system on its head, and wouldn't confuse voters, but would answer many of the legitimate grievances of electoral reform proponents. Thereafter, if our objectives haven't been met, we could move further down the road.

Doesn't this seem more reasonable than totally replacing a system that, though imperfect, has served this country for well over a hundred years?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The drawbacks of proportional representation

Many Canadians have become frustrated, according to polls, with the fact that we had a federal election in 2004, 2006 and 2008 and could well have another in 2009 or 2010. At the same time, many have expressed dismay at the fact that the Green Party got 6.8% of the vote and won zero seats, while the Bloc Québécois got 10% of the vote and 16% of the seats.

Unfortunately, these two frustrations are largely incompatible. Though we might see the Greens win a seat or two with instant runoff voting (a model I support), it would not result in proportionality between votes and seats.

The reason we have had all of these elections is because of minority governments. With a system of proportional representation, the last time we would have seen a majority government at the federal level in Canada would have been 1984 when Brian Mulroney won 50.03% of the vote and before that 1958 when John Diefenbaker won 53.66%. Not even Pierre Trudeau's big sweep of 1968 won a majority of votes - he scored 45.37%.

The situation in Israel today is not dissimilar to that which we saw in Germany in 2005. The votes are spread so widely and the two "major" parties are so small and close to each other in size that the only option for government is a grand coalition of the major parties, which are forced to govern with a narrow set of objectives based on the few policy areas where those parties can agree to compromise.

This is no way to govern a country. We must have either majority governments, coalitions of like-minded parties or minority governments with a commitment from other parties to keep them in office for some time to have stable, effective government. If you ever think we could make all of our problems go away by bringing in PR, I would direct you to look at those countries who already "enjoy" that system of election. Based on the reaction of Canadians to the coalition proposal that came forward late last year, I would think that a system of PR would lead to a massive case of buyers remorse immediately following its first election.