Monday, October 24, 2011

Will redrawing Commons map resolve under-representation?

New legislation changing the way the seats in the House of Commons are allocated could be introduced this week. The reported result of the changes would be more seats for Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec in order to correct the under-representation these provinces currently have in the House of Commons – or would have without the new legislation. 

However, voters in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia will continue to be worth less than their counterparts on the Prairies and in Atlantic Canada.

You can read the rest of the article on The Globe and Mail website here.

Our system is based on the principle of representation by population - but really it is only partly based on that principle. MPs represent communities, and the first-past-the-post system is really about communities electing representatives. Representation by population is supposed to give each community its due representation based on how large it is, but Canada being a federation and our system being what it is, I think there is some argument for maintaining some community representation, as the Supreme Court has argued.

For example, representation by population would strip the territories of two seats as the combined population of the three territories is less than many ridings in Ontario. But do the issues of the residents of Whitehorse have much in common with those of Resolute? Is there good reason to clump rural regions with urban regions when the two have very different needs? I'd say the answers are quite obvious.

And as Canada is a federation of provinces and not a centralized state, maintaining some over-representation for smaller provinces like those in Atlantic Canada and on the Prairies makes some sense as well. Think about the American system - its Senate gives two seats to every state, whether it be gigantic California or tiny Rhode Island. And Canadian provinces play a greater role in the lives of individuals than state governments do in the USA. Maintaining provincial harmony is an important consideration.

But no one wants to be under-represented or valued less than others, so it is a complicated issue. I wonder if some middle-road could be found that could incorporate a little proportional representation as well. Imagine a 300-seat House of Commons, with 200 of its members elected by the FPTP system. The remaining 100 would be elected via proportional representation, with each province receiving the number of seats elected in this fashion that its population warrants. And to avoid "party lists", those 100 seats could be filled by the top performing defeated candidates in each province.

It is a complicated issue and not as cut-and-dry as it might seem. If you could reform the system, what would you propose?


  1. I was thinking about that myself. Some people won or lost in a riding by a few 1000 or even a few 100. Under FPTP, by this particular logic, you could have complete control over a riding even if you only barely won it. It certainly isn't a very democratic system that we have, but nobody does anything about it. We've had the chance to change the system, but nobody wants it. Even though people complain about it, it has never been changed.

  2. I'm quite a fan of a mixture of seats elected via proportional and riding-level elections. Though FPTP is a lousy way of adjudicating the riding-level elections - something more like Bucklin or range voting or even STV would be better (in order of preference).

    Ultimately, we want communities to be electing their representatives, but what do we mean by communities? There are geographical communities, which is what we get currently, but there are also communities of common interest who may be geographically dispersed (for example, people who would vote for the Green party in the current environment, or people who care about technology policy, etc.), and are therefore severely under-represented by population. Maybe you could arrange for voters to choose which community they want to belong to for voting purposes, a geographical community or an "at large" community of common interest that could be registered? And if one riding-full (population wise) of people register as part of a given at large community, it becomes a valid riding for that election? There are probably practical difficulties, but it's an interesting idea.

  3. My idea for electoral reform would be to keep the FPTP in the House intact as is while getting an elected Senate.

    The composition of the Senate I have in mind is similar to yours for the House: 60 elected Senators to represent the provinces (six for each of them) and 40 elected nationally via PR. I would even have Senate elections occur on fixed dates every three years or so, where half of the Senate's seats going up for grabs.

  4. @hitfan, you are definitely on the right track. If we had a EEE Senate, fewer would be talking about PR for the Commons.

    +STV is dangerous in that it promotes strategic voting instead of clearly voting for a single candidate.
    +PR in general is mostly promoted by smaller and single-issue parties as a way to 'get a foot in the door' where parties should try and represent the majority of issues facing the country. With that, the system can then see a myriad of these parties being elected to the Commons, causing more unstable coalition governments, and more frequent elections, power struggles, and less progress.

    + 6 Senators per province, 1-2 per territory.
    + Each province divided into 6 Senatorial districts (similar to what Ontario and Quebec actually currently have).
    + District borders are determined by each provincial legislature/assembly and wouldn't necessarily represent populations, but economic/ecological regions.
    + Senate terms 12 years (to overlap the government party in the Commons)
    + 1/3 of the Senators elected every 4 years.

    + Reduce number of MPs to 220 so each represents about 150k people. A U.S. rep covers 780k.

  5. I'd point out that your "highest loser" suggestion would massively over-represent "swing ridings" where two or more parties are competitive, and do nothing to fix the problem of the Liberals have no MPs in Alberta, the NDP having none in Saskatchewan, and the Conservatives massively under-represented in Quebec.

    Personally I greatly prefer a system like the one described here ( where you use an open-list system within manageable regional constituencies. For the Senate, I don't see any reason not to use STV as they do in Australia, with half the Senate coming up for election at every general election.

  6. I wouldn't change a thing. For all the reasons you describe, our system works quite well.

    I especially like how our Senate works, lacking democratic legitimacy and thus usually only acting under extreme circumstances.

    The current political system in Canada is terrific. It doesn't need tweaking.

  7. Ryan,

    No, I think you've misunderstood. The PR seats would be distributed by total votes in each province, while the people who would occupy those seats would be determined by the best defeated candidates for each party.

    For example, Alberta has about 10% of Canada's population. So, it would have 10 PR seats. The Liberals took 9.3% of the vote in Alberta, meaning they would get one of those 10 Alberta PR seats.

    But what flesh-and-blood person occupies that seat? In this case, it would be Cam Stewart, who at 28% had the highest vote share of any Liberal candidate in the province.

    So, it doesn't award swing seats, except perhaps the individual candidates in swing seats. In the example of Quebec, the Tories would still get 4 of the 23 PR seats Quebec would have in this scenario, in addition to those one by FPTP. The four defeated Conservative candidates with the highest vote shares in the province would occupy those seats as representatives of the province as a whole.

  8. "in addition to those one by FPTP"

    Should be "won by FPTP".

  9. House - FPTP
    1. 1 seat per 100,000 people (rounded). If a province/territory has less than 100k - still 1 seat.

    2. Withing provinces - the seats should be accroded to the census divisons proportionally to avoid over-representation of rural areas. If census divisions have less than 100k - combine 2+ into one riding.


    1. Elect with PR.

    2. Each Census division has 1 seat per 100k people. The seats are allocated to parties/independents based on percentage of vote (rounded down) in the FPTP ridings. Leftover seats are directly elected to be contested by independents only.


    Toronto will get 25 house and 25 senate seats. Suppose the results are 8 CPC, 8 LPC, 8 NDP, 1 GPC than thats how it will work in the house.

    Suppose if you combine all the popular vote in the ridings and you have 40% LPC, 30% CPC, 20% NDP, 10% GPC; the senate will have 10 LPC, 7 CPC, 5 NDP, 2 GPC, and 1 IND.

    The same rules should apply to provinces but 1 MPP/MLA/MHA/MNA = 10000 people


  10. @Eric,

    If it's on a provincial level that helps, but it still unduly regionalizes the results. The highest defeated candidate would be found in the most competitive ridings.

    Take the Liberals in BC in the previous election. There your "highest defeated" Liberals would be Ujjal Dosanjh and Sukh Dhaliwal - both politicians who I must say I am a huge fan of. The trouble is that both of them are from Greater Vancouver, an area where the Liberals are already electing (2) seats just fine. Raising that number from 2 to 4 doesn't do anything to help the people on Vancouver Island and rural BC who voted Liberal and don't get any representation, and who collectively cast more votes for the Liberals than the ridings of Vancouver South and Newton-North Delta did individually.

    The NDP's two "highest losers" are both on Vancouver Island - a region where the NDP already took 3/6 seats. I think if you look country-wide you'd find a similar pattern - that each party's "highest losers" will tend to be in areas where that party is already represented and strong.

  11. Sure, but not always. And in any case that might not be such a bad thing, with party lists that had individuals from various regions, you wouldn't have, for example, a Liberal MP from rural Alberta representing a tiny amount of voters when, with my system, you'd at least have a representative from a region with a lot of supporters.

    The PR MPs would be provincial representatives in this system, so Dosanjh and Dhaliwal in your example would be responsible for representing Liberals from BC, while the FPTP MPs from BC would represent their riding constituents.

    Hey, I realize it isn't perfect. With any of these proposed systems, its really a pro vs. con thing.

  12. Everyone has good ideas. Of course, it would be impossible to implement electoral reform without it upsetting Quebec nationalist parties who would use the issue to create antagonism with their voter base (ie: "Canada is trying to screw us again!")

    I think that PR concepts are so difficult to explain to the average person. PR mostly helps small parties. A classic example was when the National Party of South Africa was dismantling apartheid, they implemented PR so that the white vote could get representation.

    Has the PR movement ever tried to use talks of Senate reform in Canada to push PR through those channels?

    Another Senate suggestion I had in mind was to just have 100 Senators elected from a pure party list. 1% of the national vote = 1 seat, or if half the Senators are elected at a time, then it's 2% threshold for representation for 1 Senator. No finagling about how many Senators each province or territory will get. So the greater turnout a region of the country gets, the greater it's influence in the Senate it will get. A pure national body.

    The Senate supposedly has a tradition for representing minorities. What better way for small parties to get representation by getting 1%-2% of the vote nationally?

  13. I say this as someone who initially supportive of this sort of a system btw. I just can't justify it now that I'm more familiar with open list systems.


    It seems like you have a few misconceptions about STV and PR. All voting systems are subject to some level of strategic voting [] - however, STV (and particularly the more sophisticated methods of STV) is much more resistant to it [].

    Your concern about the instability of governments in PR systems is only really valid for the most asinine of PR systems (ie Israel's electoral system). Since independence, Ireland's government has been slightly more stable than Canada's []. Germany's government has actually been considerably more stable than Canada's.

  14. @Eric

    Under what I'm going for (and if we're using a whole Province as a region), it'd actually Liberals from the rural BC, not rural Alberta. Ujjal Dosanjh received 15,604 votes in 2011. If there was an open list across the province for the PR seats, then you'd have hundreds of thousands of Liberal voters deciding who represents them. If their job is to represent all of BC, shouldn't all of BC get to vote for them?

    Personally though I'd favour the smaller regions that Democracy Space had though.

  15. But if you go that route, you're just doing a version of the FPTP system. Unless you create a lot of PR seats, you'll just have the same thing happening as does in FPTP. The provinces seem to be a good place to start, and stop.

  16. Oh I think I see the disconnect here. You're talking about a supplementary member system here, while I'm talking about mixed member proportional.

    IE if you have 8 FPTP seats and 4 PR seats, and you get 50% Conservatives (and 5/7 FPTP seats), 25% Liberals (and 0/7 FPTP seats) and 25% NDP (and 2/7 FPTP seats) in supplementary member you'd with 5 FPTP + 2 PR seats for the Conservatives, 0 FPTP + 1 PR seat for the Liberals and 2 FPTP + 1 PR seats for the NDP. (IE the PR seats are allocate in proportion to the party's vote %)

    In mixed member proportional you'd have 5 FPTP + 1 PR seat for the Conservatives, 0 FPTP + 3 PR seats for the Liberals and 2 FPTP + 1 PR seat for the NDP. (IE the PR seats are allocated so that the total seats are in proportion to the party's vote %)

  17. Goaltender Interference24 October, 2011 16:41

    Right now, the House of Commons has two roles: a government/opposition debate chamber(which it does reasonably well) and riding representation (which usually takes a back seat, due to party discipline). Why not separate these two roles into two houses, which would also allow us to have both FPTP ridings and at least some form of PR?

    One house would be where the cabinet and opposition sits. It would have 100 seats. The party that wins the most votes would win 51 seats, and those people would become the cabinet ministers, secretaries of state, and secretaries. The other 49 seats could be divided up proportionately among the other parties. This house would have question period and debate government bills.

    The other house would be basically the existing House of Commmons, elected in the 334 or so ridings. It would ratify or amend government bills, pass private members bills, and study legislation in committee.

    The advantages:
    (1) voters would know who the cabinet would be before voting.
    (2) MPs would be more effective represetnatives for their riding because they would not be eligible for cabinet positions.
    (3) Cabinet ministers, who already spend 90 hours/week in their ministerial roles, would no longer have riding representation roles, which they currently do poorly.
    (4) the Cabinet would always be formed by the party that gets the most votes.
    (5) smaller parties could be represented in Ottawa without destabilizing Parliament.

    And, of course, abolish the Senate, which is superfluous.

  18. I'd favour an elected Senate based on STV, if we can change the constitution to creat either a Senate with an equal number of senators per province, or with some formula that gave some extra weight to larger provinces. At the moment, the number of senators per province is quite random, so that NB gets 10 senators, and BC 6, although BC has approximately six times New Brunswick's population. How about something like this:
    ON, QC: 24 Senators, like now
    AB, BC: 12 Senators (up from 6 now)
    most other provinces: 6 senators (no change for MB/SK/NL, reduction from 10 each for NB/NS)
    PEI: 4 Senators (no change)
    Territories: 1 each

    Then the House of Commons could be adjusted to reflect rep by pop honestly. The US is an instructive example here -- sure, they have a Senate with 2 members per state, but the House of Representatives is very precisely proportional to population. I'd elect the HoC with something like MMP, ideally, but you'd probably have to award the proportional MPs by province, not nationwide.
    The current rules for awarding seats in the HoC are pretty ridiculous, even among the over-represented small provinces -- MB and SK have the same number of MPs, even though MB's population is 20% larger, for example, just because their populations happened to be roughly equivalent in 1976.

  19. Two options :-
    1) US-style two real Houses with same powers where Senate elects senators by region and Commons elections MPPs by population. That way small provinces will have a much higher voice in the Senate and populated areas will have a higher voice in Commons.

    2) Understand that smaller regions need representation too, so divide provinces / territories in three categories :- small (need to have smaller ridings, on average); midsize (larger ridings) and large (largest ridings). It's insane to expect same representation in PEI as in Ontario but there's no reason why an average riding in Quebec is smaller than an average riding in Ontario.

    I used to be a huge fan of PR (any combination of PR) but since I got involed in politics myself, I hate it. The problem with PR is that it encourages fringe single-issue parties. I can come up with any insane issue and find some support (strip all Muslims of citizenship and deport them ... or ... bring Sharia law in Canada). So in this system instead of larger parties moving to the centre to appeal to masses, many smaller parties will move to fringes to appeal to try to get 3-4% of votes to get a few seats. I know that's not the system you proposed but I like our FPTP system just fine, the only problem is that electoral districts are not fairly balanced. We do not need to overhaul the entire system to solve that problem, we only need to draw maps fairly to make sure that two similar provinces get similar representation.

  20. A couple of thoughts.

    First, Ryan is right that your proposed method could create highly regionalized results. Granted, that might not be the case. But to the extent there are regions that are consistently more competitive than others, that would be the result.

    Second, I don't think it's reasonable to expect that a "PR MP" would represent the interests of the broader province. At least with an open list or a party list system, there is some incentive for the MP to care about the broader interest of the province (since, in one, everyone can vote for him, in the other the party leader presumably has some interest in making sure that the party does well in the province as a whole). In this system, if the MP's objective is to be re-elected, the only mechanism for doing that (either as PR MP or a FPTP MP) is to look out for the interests of the riding in which he ran (and intends to run again). If Ujal Dosanhj does great things for Salmon Arm, that isn't going to help him one bit in the lower mainland.

    Moreover, in provinces which tend to be politically polarizes (think PEI, NFLD or Alberta) it can lead to even stranger results. In Ontario, say, the PR MPs will be candidates who just missed getting elected, but who still managed to get 40+% of the vote in a close race. In Alberta, the PR MPs will be candidates who lost to the Tories by 30-40% and who managed to get a good 18% of the vote (I exagerate, but not by much). If we have a problem with MPs' being elected to parliament with a slim plurality (and I don't, but I'm content with the status quo), I'm not sure how this is much better

  21. hifan,

    I think the problem with PR is not that it's complicated (indeed, the fact that it is favoured by emerging democracies is a testament to its simplicity), but that people don't like it. People like the idea of having "their" MP, i.e., someone whose office they can call to complain to. That just isn't feasible for most PR systems (it is with an STV system, but that is complicated to explain to people).

    Moreover, I think Canadians do generally like the majority governments that result from our system. It's true, they may not always like the specific government (and I say this as a Tory who lived through the Rae and Chretien years), but I suspect they like the fact that FPTP works both ways (the Rae and Chretien years ended). It means that the "bad" party (whichever it is) can form the government with 40% of the vote (or less), but it also means that the "good" party can form the government with 40% of the vote (or less). It also means that, when governments are defeated, they are well and truly washed away (think Mulroney, Rae, Eves, and Martin), whereas in a PR system, you often see the same players hanging around for decades because the difference between an electoral "win" and a "defeat" is the strength of your bargaining position with the other side (indeed, part of the problem with places like Italy and Israel is not the PR system per se, but the fact that they just can't clean house politically they way that parties in a FPTP system do).

    And I think the real problem for advocates of PR in Canada is that they never quite explain what it is about the existing system that's problematic. I mean, I understand their technical complaints, but you step back and say, "gee, we've had peace, order and [more or less] good government for the better part of 150 years, why are we tinkering with this?" and you never get a particularly compelling answer.

    With respect to your proposed Senate reform, I think it's safe to say that its a non-starter. The Senate will be abolished before the provinces agree to get rid of provincial representation.

  22. Also, I think it's worth considering whether we really want an elected Senate. Heresy, I know, but worth tinking about. Two of the things the Senate does well is (i) the protection of the "political minority" and (ii) institutional competence.

    Admitedly, the former role is not a significant as it once was, what with the advent of the Charter and the increased importance of the SCC, but you still see, every now and again, the Senate take advantage of its isolation from electoral pressures to do the right thing.

    And in the latter role, the Senate is quite important (and often unappreciated). Because Senators are typically older and more experienced than their colleagues in the House, and because they don't need to spend their time worrying about keeping their constituents happy (and doing the rubber chicken circuit), they often do very good work that just doesn't get done in the house. In particular, Senate Committees typically produce reports which are orders of magnitude better than the drech that comes out of common commitees, or Royal commissions (the contrast between the Kirby report on health care, and the Romanow report is an interesting example). Moreover, they often do a better job of identifying (and correcting) technical errors in legislation that comes out of the house (where, by their own admission, MPs vote for bills they haven't read).

    That isn't to say the current Senate is ideal or that every Senator is a testament to the platonic ideal of a politician. But before we replace the current Senate, it's worth asking whether a new senate will actually be more productive than the old one (and whether less radical reform might be able to keep what's good about the senate, while getting rid of what's bad).

  23. Carl

    Quite bluntly the Senate is a waste of time and money.

    Abolish it as the provinces want !!

  24. Peter, as usual you have your facts skewed... 4 provinces doesn't make for a blanket "the provinces want it gone". On top of the BC, one of the 4 says, while they want it gone, until conditions where we can open the constitutions exist, they will go along with Harpers reforms. In June this year they committed to legislation for a process of electing BC's senators to be appointed.

    Well reasoned Carl.

    I think that we have been well served by the FPTP system. We have had large peace order and good government throughout our history as has been said.

    It does seem odd to me that several here are arguing for a move from our system to mmp,... and then simultaneously suggesting that we use the STV system we have now in the senate instead. I don't understand why we would re-implement it somewhere else if they don't like it as it is now.

    As far as MMP and PR go. I think that one of the biggest disasters coming from that would be a party list. Think cronyism is a problem now?? wait til you have parties controlling who gets elected before who.

    And that is the one problem I have with the current system. The party nomination system. Get a Pankiw, a Dosanjh, a Jaffer, A McCallum, a Martin, a Brosseau.... etc

    You can't get rid of them or any other poor MP except to flood a nomination (like Redford)
    or vote for a party you wouldn't normally to punish them for a bad candidate.

    I would love to see a system where a party puts 3 candidates forward. Have them compete for votes. Mark and x for the party of your choice, and then the same for one of that parties candidates. In theroy, it would send better MP's to Parliament more often.

  25. My MP is another good example of someone who should be defeated, but voting against him would mean electing someone people don't agree with.

    David Anderson won with 69% of the vote. Provincially, (and it will be higher this time out) none of the Saskparty candidates scored as low as Anderson (Elhard broke 75. He is a social conservative that went to ottawa on 2 issues, CWB and abortion. 12 years later he might actually accomplish 1/2 of what he set out to do... though no action of his own. Given his views, and his propensity for pontificating on them without thinking... he will never be anywhere near power, nor does he do much for us that is seen beyond writing his newspaper updates.

    I would love to see a few other candidates under each party banner that we could choose from. Because at this point he will never be defeated (perennial conservative riding.... and no 2nd place candidate has scored over 22% since the riding came into existence)

  26. @Peter

    I think it serves a useful purpose in countries like Ireland and India, which have far fairer appointment mechanisms (Ireland it's appointed proportionally to the party standings in the lower house, India it's appointed proportionally to the party standings in the state legislatures).


    I think your point about the same old players hanging around for decades is particularly apt. If you look at the "successful" examples of countries with proportional representation, they all give voters a say in which candidates make up a party's caucus, not just in how big that caucus is. The fact that Michael Ignatieff (who I actually like a lot, God help me) can be defeated while still leaving behind a caucus of 34 MPs is a good thing both for our democracy and for the Liberals themselves. It forces the Liberals to retool and find a new leader and not just hold on to a failed election platform for decades.

  27. Peter: "Quite bluntly the Senate is a waste of time and money."

    That's a common sentiment. It's also a sentiment that I used to share until I spend a fair bit of time studying the activities of the Senate when I was in law school. True there are some Senators who, to be charitable, are worthless, but there is also a large body of Senators (of all political stripes) who do good and important work on a range of issues.

    I think part of the reason for the perception that the senate is useless is that it doesn't get a great deal of publicity for what it does, because some of its best work is of a non-partisan nature (and therefore, not of much interest to journalists).

    I'll give you a good recent example. In the late 1990's/early 2000's the Department of Finance came out with a series of changes to the Income Tax Act intended to attack certain tax avoidance schemes. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that the proposed rules were (i) technically complex (i.e., even experienced tax lawyers couldn't tell you what they meant), (ii) overly broad (in that they could apply to Canadians who weren't avoiding taxes, or even pension plans or RRSPs who weren't taxable), and (iii) of questionable worth (it wasn't clear that they were better than the existing anti-avoidance rules). While these points were repeatedly make to Finance (under both the Liberals and the Tories), they were for the most part ignored or dismissed by the mandarins at Finance.

    When the proposed legislation was brought to Parliament it was part of a 500 page technical bill which most MPs didn't bother to read (and some quite candidly admitted as much), and which few (if any) could be expected to understand (because, hey, it was complicated). In committee hearings at the Senate, however, Senators received presentations from tax lawyers to the effect that the proposed rules were unworkable. And the Senate grilled Finance as to why they hadn't addressed these concerns. The end result was that Finance was told, in no uncertain terms, that the legislation would not be enacted in its current form unless the many problems with it were addressed, and it was strongly suggested that they work with some of the people who had made submissions to the Senate (i.e., leading members of the tax bar) to get them right.

    The end result was that Finance went back to the drawing board, scrapped one set of new rules that were generally seen to be of no or limited value (and instead revised the existing anti-avoidance rules), and substantially modified the other set of rules so that they would have more limited application. As a result, instead of getting technically complex and overly broad legislation of limited value, we got somewhat simpler, narrower and more targeted legislation that still achieve's Finance's aims.

    Now, unless you're an avid reader of Senate Hansard (or a tax lawyer), you wouldn't know about this, because, let's face it, no news organization devotes much time to covering the status of technical tax legislation. Moreover, these aren't "political" issues, in that no political party runs on a platform of technical changes to the Tax Act, these originated from the mandarins at Finance (which is why they didn't change when the government did), and so they aren't likely to be issues that our elected politicians are going to make a stink about. And yet, if you have a pension, an RRSP, or generally invest in overseas investments, those changes were potentially important for you. And because the Senate is filled with people who are more experienced (and in some respects more technically competent) than the Commons (and because it isn't a confidence house) the Senators could take the time to appreciate the submissions they received and to hold the Department of Finance to account.

  28. I feel like you completely ignored the fact we have a Senate in your post...

    Personally, I like the system the Australians use. I think we should have members elected using the preferential system for the House of Commons, but I would also be open to using MMP, possibly with the 200/100 split you mentioned above. Then, I would have the Senate elected with PR and have each province given the same number of seats, and one or two to each territory.

    Unlike the NDP, I think the Senate is important to our federal system, as the House of Commons should be representation by population and the Senate representation by province, instead of trying to weigh both in the lower house.

  29. Barcs as usual you only see the merest idea.

    OK 4 provinces?? How much of the population do they represent??

    Why do we think going from an appointed Senate to an elected one is such a good idea ?? Oh, of course, it makes us more like the USA and that's good??

    I'd say the farther we can distance ourselves from the US model the better.

  30. PR doesn't fly in a world where party insiders are not trusted.

    Personally I'd prefer a system where MP's were required to get 50% of the first choices of a ballot, or then 50% of the first choices plus second choices, or then 50% of the first ballot plus second plus third choices.

    That way people would have to think a little bit beyond their own team. And both left and right parties would not throw bones out to their radical base all the time.

  31. Goaltender Interference25 October, 2011 15:20


    That the people of Canada haven't experienced a crisis big enough to force institutional change doesn't seem to me to be a strong argument in favour of keeping the current system. Our current system allowed one party to dominate federal politics from from 1921 to 1984, overrepresented Quebec separatists from 1976 to 2011, and allowed characters like Daniel Johnson Sr., Lucien Bouchard, and Glenn Clark to win majorities despite losing the popular vote. Our system hurts Canada, whether or not citizens spend time worrying about it.

    FPTP doesn't really offer stability; the string of shaky confidence votes from 2005 to 2011 testifies to that. FPTP doesn't really allow for clean slates -- Jean Chretien was around for 40 years because he only needed to win in Saint-Maurice riding, not the entire Canadian populace.

    What would bring stability and the possibility of a clean slate while actually ensuring that the winner of the most votes wins the election, is a nationwide, presidential-style election of the executive.

    Also, I agree that there are good and bad eggs in the Senate, as there are in any organization. The U.S. had lots of earnest Agents doing good work in the Bureau of Prohibition -- not a good argument for keeping the Bureau around. An unelected house made up mostly of patronage appointments, the purpose of which was never made clear even in 1867, has no place in a modern, democratic government. If we want good review and reports on legislation, then let's abolish the Senate and use some of the savings to fund a decent Law Reform Commission.

  32. It would be possible to get fair representation by adding some amount of seats for proportionality while retaining FPTP constituency voting. Use one ballot and base "party choice" on this ballot, OR two ballots, one for local preferred MP, one for preferred party to form government. Allocate remainder of MPs on regional basis to ensure best proportionality. Use gross vote numbers to determine which MPs sit from pool of party candidates that don't "win" via FPTP. This way, electors choose all MPs (not party "lists"), and this also ensures that every vote counts and none is wasted.

    Note that I think you could get fairly good proportionality with as little as 20% or 25% of seats determined by filling the democratic deficit created by skewing from FPTP in individual constituencies.

    The worst idea is to elect senators which is highly anti-democratic and unrepresentative. The Harper Senate reforms are the fast track to complete governmental meltdown. I'd prefer abolition of the senate or a neutral non-partisan method for selecting senators to replace our existing hyper-partisan method.

    I know that a lot of Conservatives oppose PR because they get "false majorities" for their "conservative coalition party" with even less than 40% of the total vote. However, I think most Canadians would prefer to see a government that actually reflects the majority, rather than a simple plurality.

  33. Some have suggested that the people of BC support election of senators. In fact, we have never been asked except for the Charlottetown referendum where we rejected the proposal for an elected senate where BC would have the same number of senators as PEI. Most BCers are not even aware that we currently have only 6 senators for 4 million people while New Brunswick has 10 senators for 750 thousand people. I have yet to hear a single BC Conservative MP stand up for BC's interests and demand that we get fair representation in the senate BEFORE we further marginalize BC by electing our senate "nominees" in these farce elections. If BC holds senate elections I will certainly boycott them and I will quite possibly boycott all federal elections until BC gets fair representation. The Christy Clark government has been incompetant in their response to the Harper government pseudo "senate reforms" suggesting that she supported abolition but would also support senate elections if the government simply did not fill senate vacancies for other provinces to ensure that BC got a fair share of representation in the senate. She is dreaming in technicolor if she thinks that is going to happen.

  34. The only path to electoral reform is through ranked voting. You rank each candidate, if no one gets 50%+1 you eliminate the last contender on the list and add up until someone gets 50%+1. A nice option too would be to have the ability to void the ranking section of your ballot if you do not wish to rank anyone, and only want your vote to count for one and only one person. Pretty simple to understand and implement. This also does not endanger the concept of community based representation and eliminates the vote-split losers made winners in most ridings (sometimes with less then 30%).

    As for drawing up new ridings, I expect the Conservatives to put an emphasis on eliminating community based representation, especially in the Greater Toronto Area. There are a lot of ridings in the Brampton, Mississauga and Oakville corridor I can see them trying to split up. Leaving a mark, however questionable or illegal (non-issue for them) there anyway they can, with the majority they have could possibly "lock-in" on Government long term, majority or minority.

    There always has been a great disparity between the popular vote and the actual results under First Past the Post. For that matter there has always been an issue with the Canadian Senate being a wasteful institution and a disgusting form of patronage and cronyism. For both not to be addressed by the Conservatives now is extremely hypocritical for all the years they sat on the other side complaining about it. Whoever wins in 2015 will not be able to allow these issues to go without attention.

  35. @Not that Jack: That's actually the "variant of Bucklin" that I was talking about. :-)= Although you need to have a sophisticated way of dealing with ties, because they end up being more common than in a lot of other voting systems (I can give a gory detailed description of one reasonable way of doing it, but there are others).

  36. "That the people of Canada haven't experienced a crisis big enough to force institutional change doesn't seem to me to be a strong argument in favour of keeping the current system."

    Maybe not, but the onus on pursuading Canadians to change our political system rests with those proposing to make the change. And while the absence of a crisis might not be a compelling reason for keeping the status quo, it does tend to undermine arguments in favour of change? I.e., if it ain't broken, why fix it?

    "Our system hurts Canada, whether or not citizens spend time worrying about it."

    Well, can you give concrete examples of how FPTP hurts Canada - the fact that Canadians don't spend time worrying about suggest that they disagree with you.

    Moreover, it's a curious argument to suggest that FPTP doesn't promote stability because for one 5 year stretch over the past century and a half (which included a number of stable and productive minority governments) we had an unstable minority government. Certainly, if that's an argument against the FPTP system, it's an even more damning criticism of any form of PR government, where such minorities would be the norm, rather than the exception.

  37. An unelected house made up mostly of patronage appointments, the purpose of which was never made clear even in 1867, has no place in a modern, democratic government. If we want good review and reports on legislation, then let's abolish the Senate and use some of the savings to fund a decent Law Reform Commission.

    So an unelected body with the power to override decisions of the House of commons has not place in a modern, democractic, government? Would you propose, then, to abolish the Supreme Court of Canada? I didn't think so. Certainly, no one suggests that an appointed court with the power to override or strike down laws is inconsistent with modern democratic government (and I note that most modern democracies possess such an institution).

    Now, the Senate isn't the SCC, but it plays a similar oversight role. Moreover, it's a role that can't be played by something like a strengthened law reform commision because, as you know, institutions like the law reform commision, or royal commission, or what have have no power to introduce or amend legislation, and as a consequence, their recomendations usually end up in the bottom of a shelf somewhere. Furthermore, unlike the Senate, their existence and authority is derived from the government of the day, making them a lousy check on that government.

    In any event, the question of an elected house misses the point. Ultimately, the significance of elections is that they are a way of imparting legitimacy on our government (indirectly, in our case, because the goverment is typically drawn from the ranks of our elected representatives, and is accountable to those representatives in the commons). But they aren't the only means for imparting legitimacy - the SCC derives its legitimacy from the perceived competence of its members.

    If Senators were appointed in the same manor as SCC justices (based on objectively reasonable assessments of merit), rather than at the perceived whims of the PM (and, in fairness to patronage appointments, party activists often make excellent senators for the same reason they make excellent party activists, namely they care deeply about good governance, at least as they see it, and have lengthy experience in or around government - some of the best, and hardest working, Senators are former, or current, bagmen) I suspect that few would mind the fact that it is appointed rather than elected.

  38. "I know that a lot of Conservatives oppose PR because they get "false majorities" for their "conservative coalition party" with even less than 40% of the total vote."

    Gee, I don't recall a lot of conservatives advocating for PR when it was Jean Chretien or Bob Rae who were winning "false minorities" with less than 40% of the vote (and funny enough, I also don't recall a lot of the Liberals and Dippers who whine about the Tory "false minorities" doing much to amend our electoral system when they were in power).

    "However, I think most Canadians would prefer to see a government that actually reflects the majority, rather than a simple plurality."

    Well, who says it doesn't? In practice, governments (of all political stripes) don't simply pander to their core base, but try to appeal to most Canadians. It may be the case that a majority of Canadians didn't vote for a particular government, but it doesn't mean that their interests aren't reflected in the actions of the government. Indeed, there's truth to the old NDP barb "Liberal, Tory, same old story", it doesn't matter who gets elected, you have to govern from the center.

    In any event, we know how Canadians in Ontario and BC feel about dumping the FPTP system and replacing it with something else - since 60+% of them voted to keep the status quo in referendums in 2007 and 2009, respectively. I suspect opinion is no different in other provinces.


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