Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My dream for a fairer electoral system

As the results from yesterday's election show, Canada's electoral system is antiquated and unfair. Not only that, but its main defense, that it produces consistent majority governments, is now moot, given our production of 3 successive minority governments. So if we are going to elect minority governments anyways, why do we not elect them in such a way that represents voters intentions?

Look at Alberta for example. We elected all but one Conservative, but only 64.6% of the population wanted a Conservative MP. The results show that 448 997 Albertans voted for nothing but a measly $1.25 to the party they supported. That's 35% of all those who voted. Talk about disenfranchisement.

One way you can quantify the distortion of electoral results created by our current system is to determine how many votes it took to elect 1 MP for each party nationally:

BQ: 27590 votes per MP
Conservatives: 36400 votes per MP
Liberals: 47763 votes per MP
NDP: 68029 votes per MP

You want to see distortion? In Alberta, only 30 402 votes were needed to elect each Conservative MP. The NDPers in Alberta had to amass 161 409 votes just to win 1 seat.

Shouldn't all votes count equally? And don't think I'm upset merely because I support the little guys. Harper lost because of the system too. In Quebec, 78 456 votes were needed to elect each Conservative MP, but each Bloq MP only required 27 590 votes. In Newfoundland he was completely shut out despite receiving almost 17% of the vote.

So why not use a mixed-member proportional system like in New Zealand, where each voter gets two choices on the ballot: one for a local MP and one for the party they like? I envision it as follows:

1. Canada would still have 308 seats in the House of Commons. However, 180 would be electorate seats (where we would directly elect the MP) and 128 would be list seats. Party votes on each ballot would be used to calculate the percentage of popular vote for each party. Using a calculation method like the Saint-Lague method used in New Zealand to avoid rounding, it would be calculated how many seats each party deserves based on their popular vote. All local races would be tallied and the number of directly-elected MPs for each party would be subtracted from their total seat total. Any directly elected MPs would be removed from the party list, and the remaining candidates would be placed in enough list seats to give the party the number of seats they deserve. Say 10% of the population voted for Party A. Based on that, Party A is entitled to 3 seats in the House. But they only directly elected 1 MP. So the top 2 candidates from their list would then be given the remaining 2 seats in the House for that party.

2. Party lists would be published before the election day and widely available to the public, including a fully transparent process explaining how the list was constructed. Parties would have to provide regional lists, and seats would be apportioned for popular vote by region, in order to respect the great regional differences in Canada and to assure that list MPs were appointed to serve the province in which their support existed. This would avoid the loss of local representation that would come from losing numerous electorate seats.

3. Both electorate MPs and list MPs appointed within each region would have to meet regularly during Parliament to discuss local issues.

4. For every 3 electorate MPs, there would be 2 regional list MPs originating from the region composed of the combined electoral boundaries of all 3 constituencies. In smaller provinces, this would differ, but the idea would remain the same.

I see the seat breakdown as occurring in the following fashion:

Ontario: 62 electorate seats, 44 list seats
Quebec: 44 electorate seats, 31 list seats
BC: 21 electorate, 15 list
AB: 16 electorate, 12 list
SK: 8 electorate, 6 list
MB: 8 electorate, 6 list
NB: 6 electorate, 4 list
NS: 7 electorate, 4 list
PEI: 3 electorate, 1 list
NL: 4 electorate, 3 list
Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut would all maintain 1 electorate MP each.

The beauty about this system is that, unlike New Zealand which is a small nation, the mathematical method used to allocate seats proportionately would be applied in each province, and not nationally, to avoid national distortions that do not reflect regional differences. In this system, no party without 5% or more of the popular vote would be calculated into the system to prevent the emergence of one-issue parties and the fragmentation of parliament.

How would last nights results translate into this system? I'll just list the total seats in each province for each party, not breaking them down by MPs versus list MPs. It's hard to proportionalize it to this systems actual results. In brackets will be the real results.

Nunavut: CON 1 (1)
NWT: NDP 1 (1)
Yukon: LIB 1 (1)

Conservatives: 42 (51)
Liberals: 36 (38)
NDP: 19 (17)
Green: 9 (0)

BQ: 30 (50)
LIB: 18 (13)
CON: 17 (10)
NDP: 9 (1)
IND: 1

British Columbia:
CON: 16 (22)
NDP: 10 (9)
LIB: 7 (5)
Green: 3 (0)

CON: 18 (27)
NDP: 4 (1)
LIB: 3 (0)
Green: 3 (0)

CON: 7 (13)
NDP: 4 (0)
LIB: 2 (1)
Green: 1 (0)

CON: 7 (9)
NDP: 3 (4)
LIB: 3 (1)
Green: 1 (0)

Nova Scotia:
IND: 1 (1)
LIB: 3 (5)
NDP: 3 (2)
CON: 3 (3)
Green: 1 (0)

New Brunswick:
CON: 4 (6)
LIB: 3 (3)
NDP: 2 (1)
Green: 1 (0)

Newfoundland and Labrador:
LIB: 3 (6)
NDP: 3 (1)
CON: 1 (0)

LIB: 2 (3)
CON: 2 (1)

So, after all that number crunching, where does that leave us nationally?

CON: 118 (143)
LIB: 81 (76)
NDP: 58 (37)
BQ: 30 (50)
Green: 19 (0)
IND: 2 (2)

I think this is a much more reasonable Parliament that would reflect the will of Canadians. If you compare the percentage of seats to percentage of popular vote now, it is much more in line. In fact, it almost exactly lines up, with some rounding due to voting that occurred in small amounts for other parties like the Libertarian Party, etc.

Not only is this system simple, but it ensures better representation, it produces governments that reflect the will of the people, and most of all, I think it will improve voter turnout. Let us hope we never have to implement a law like in Australia, where voting is enforced by law.

As well, because minority governments would almost be guaranteed, politicians could stop working toward majority governments as their sole focus, and just accept that they are in a minority situation in which compromise and civility will have to rule the day, not antagonism and disrespect.

I do not know if anyone that can make such decisions will ever read this, but I do think it's a system that would work well in Canada. And you can bet the day I run for office (some time in the distant future) I will be proud to put it forth as a policy plank.

What do you think of it? Are you currently scratching your head at how someone can be this much of a nerd? I know I am. Off to bed with me.

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