Thursday, May 21, 2015

A proposal for electoral reform

I remain unconvinced that our current 'first-past-the-post' electoral system is in dire need of reform or is the best of a list of bad options, just as I am unconvinced that proportional representation is the solution, if there is indeed a problem to be solved. But I've had an idea for a different electoral system rattling around in my head for awhile that, I think, would be a good compromise between the two systems.

There are a few good things about our current system. Regional representation is important in a diverse county like ours, and being able to have MPs that represent regions and communities is a positive feature of our electoral system. Being able to directly elect, or directly defeat, our representatives is another one. MPs are accountable to their constituents, not a party leader who can choose where to rank them on a party list.

At the same time, our system is woefully undemocratic in that it can give parties a majority government with far less than majority support. And because of the quirks of first-past-the-post, parties can received far more or far fewer seats than their popular support warrants. 

A recent example is the British election that just came to a close. UKIP won 13% of the vote, but just 0.2% of the seats (one). The Scottish National Party, meanwhile, won just 5% of the vote but 9% of the seats. It will be the third-largest party in the British House of Commons, despite taking far less of the vote than either UKIP or the Liberal Democrats.

Some might argue that the FPTP system gives us more stable governments, and that might be a compelling argument for some. But even if that was the goal, does it need to come at the price of these other perverse effects?

Proportional representation has no such oddities, and if voters want a stable majority government they can give a majority of their votes to one party (or group of parties). But a closed list with the names determined by the party is, in my opinion, a very significant flaw. We are supposed to elect people to represent us, not just any warm body that will vote according to party lines. Lists remove the ability for voters to directly elect or directly defeat individuals who deserve it. 

Yes, parties may suffer (or benefit) from having good or bad names on their list, and they can be held accountable in that way. But that is a very indirect form of accountability. It also means that individuals who are very good local representatives, but not important enough to warrant a high rank on a national list, can fall by the wayside. Or very bad local representatives with too low a profile to negatively effect a party's national chances may find themselves re-elected because they are useful in the legislature.

The ideal system, then, would seem to be one that retains proportionality and individual accountability.

There are a few electoral systems that try to bridge this gap. In my view, they all have problems.

Proportional representation with an open list can be terribly complicated, requiring voters to cast a ballot for multiple candidates, or just some candidates and then generally for the party, or variations of that. It's just too much. 

With single-transferable vote, voters rank their preferred candidates. The effect can sometimes be as bad as FPTP, at least in terms of proportionality, though there are some ways to re-jig things to avoid that. Still, being a second or third preference is different from being a first choice. Update: As some commenters have pointed out, I have simplified STV to the point of being misleading. STV systems can be (but not always are) quite proportional, though they can have the non-proportionality of FPTP when they take the form of instant run-off voting (which is a form of STV when it is applied to single-member ridings). PR-STV and IRV are two different systems, and I mistakenly equated them too much here.

Mixed-member proportional representation gives people two votes, which again complicates things. Voters cast a ballot for an individual, and a party. Proportionality is achieved by 'topping up' parties via a list. So, again, we're stuck with a list of candidates whose rank is determined by the party. Update: More clarifications prompted from the peanut gallery - some MMPR systems require only one vote instead of two, and in some systems the list of candidates is an open one, with various methods of determining who makes it on the list. To sum up - there are a few different electoral systems, but each of those have a multitude of variations.

My solution is very simple, retains many of the positive features of FPTP, such as individual accountability and regional representation, as well as proportionality. We wouldn't have to change the way we draw boundaries or the number of seats each province receives. 

(A cursory search did not find any system like this elsewhere in the world. If there is one, my apologies for trying to re-invent something that already exists!) Update: Another one! I have made the very grave error (unforgivable, even) of overlooking the good people of Baden-Württemburg, who use a system similar to, but not identical to, the one I propose below. 

How it works

This system, which for simplicity's sake I'll call '308PR', does not do away with ridings and does not change how people vote. Their ballot would look identical to the way it looks now, and they would mark it in the exact same way. Parties would nominate one candidate per riding, as they do now. But what voters are doing is not directly electing an individual representative, but rather creating each party's list.

308PR is proportional representation, divided up into Canada's 10 provinces and three territories. To keep things simple (and avoid constitutional negotiations), we'll award each province the number of seats they had in the last election. So, 106 for Ontario, 75 for Quebec, and so on. Each province is handled separately for the purposes of the calculation, so that each party receives the proportion of seats equal to the proportion of votes they received in each province.

The minimum threshold I've used for 308PR is 3% of the national vote. It could be any other number, but I think 3% is a reasonable threshold to use.

Every party that receives at least 3% of the national vote wins the proportion of seats in each province that their vote in each province warrants, rounding up or down as necessary. If, at the end of the distribution of seats to each of the parties, there are seats leftover, those seats are then distributed proportionately. If any province is awarded more seats than it should have, the lowest-hanging candidates are dropped.

Let's use, as an example, the 2011 election. With 308PR, the Conservatives would have been awarded 126 seats (123 via straight proportional representation, plus three top-ups), the New Democrats would have been awarded 95 seats (94 + 1), the Liberals would get 59 seats, the Bloc Québécois would get 18 seats, and the Greens would get 10.

Who gets to fill those seats? The voters get to decide.

Under this system, the Conservatives would have been awarded 12 seats in Quebec (75 seats x 16.5% = 12.4 seats, rounded down to 12). The list of 12 Conservatives would be formed by identifying the top 12 Conservative candidates in Quebec's 75 ridings, according to vote share. 

This process would be repeated for every party in every province. In other words, each party's provincial list is populated by the candidates that took the largest share of the vote in their respective ridings.

Provincial MPs with local responsibilities

What this does is allow voters to vote for (or against) individuals to be their representatives. The local connection is retained, and the party list is formed according to who voters wanted most. But it avoids having to ask voters to select, in effect, their top 12 Conservative candidates from a list of 75 in Quebec. Even with smaller districts, it would still require a lot of knowledge. With 308PR, voters don't have to know any more than they already do when entering the ballot box. If your local candidate gets enough votes, he'll be high enough on the party's list to be elected.

In Quebec, Maxime Bernier would have placed first on the Conservatives' Quebec list with the 50.7% of the vote he obtained in the riding of Beauce. But once he gets to the House of Commons, he would be considered just a Quebec MP, and not one particularly for the Beauce. He would be one of 75 Quebec MPs, coming from all five major parties.

But how Bernier would act as an MP would be up to him. While representing Conservative voters throughout Quebec, Bernier would still owe his re-election chances to the people in the Beauce riding. He'd probably still have his constituency office in the Beauce. He would be the local representative in practice, if not officially. 

Parties would be required to assign each of their MPs a 'region' of their province (a group of ridings, drawn up by the parties themselves) to act as its main representative, ensuring that every part of every province has a representative from each party. How the MPs fulfill their jobs would be up to them - and the incentives would be high to take their role seriously. Someone like Bernier might need to worry only about the Beauce, but an MP that took less of the vote will need to ensure that enough voters from their assigned region cast a ballot for their party in the next election in order for the list to get long enough to include them.

Resignations, small parties, and independents

There would be no by-elections in 308PR. When an MP resigns or passes away, the next person on the list from that MP's party takes their place immediately. If that person declines, the next name on the list is invited to take a seat in the House of Commons, and so on.

Independents or representatives of very small parties would still have a chance if local voters want them in the House of Commons. The system would award a seat to any candidate who wins a riding in the traditional FPTP way, if the party that candidate represents does not reach the 3% national threshold.

To avoid gaming the system, a party would not be able to win more seats in this fashion than a party that receives 3% of the vote. A party would be capped at 3% of the seats in the legislature if they don't hit 3% of the vote, or nine seats in the case of the 308-seat map. So, a party could not put all its resources in 20 seats and not run a single candidate anywhere else. If they did so, they could still win no more than nine seats.

And in 308PR, Elections Canada would be given powers to prevent colluding between candidates who, by officially registering as independents, hope to get around this rule. Independents would be forbidden from colluding or helping candidates of an official party or other independents in other ridings in any way.

Pros and cons

This system provides proportional representation as well as local accountability without any gimmicks or complicated voting methods. It's simple and easy to understand. If people are more interested in voting for a party than an individual, their vote does that. If they are more interested in voting for the local candidate than the party, their votes does that too. The only 'strategic vote' that comes into play would be if you are particularly fond of a local candidate that might come from a different party. That isn't a bad thing. Very few votes are 'wasted' - in the case of 2011, just 1%.

If there is one problem with this system, it is that a handful of ridings would elect more than one candidate. In theory, as MPs are elected to represent their province, this is not a problem. The ridings just populate the lists. 

While some ridings might get better served than others, this happens anyway with our system, which has ridings that can be taken for granted and others that are battlegrounds. And parties would be running a risk by focusing energy on these double-represented ridings - better to try to get votes where there is less competition in order to boost the party's overall numbers.

In any case, to me it makes more sense to have two candidates that had very wide support in the legislature than one that only won because of a divided vote. There are more than a few MPs in the House of Commons today who received far less of the vote share in their riding than some defeated party colleagues did elsewhere.

The 2011 election under 308PR

By now, I'm sure you've identified some holes in the system or some problems you have with it. I hope you'll post your thoughts in the comments section. But for now, let's look at who 308PR would have elected - and defeated - in 2011.

In the charts below, I've listed the MPs who would have been elected and the vote share they received in their ridings. Candidates with an asterisk are those who would be elected under 308PR, but were not under FPTP. You can click on the charts to magnify them.

The Conservatives would have won 126 seats, with 52 in the West and North, 48 in Ontario, 14 in Atlantic Canada, and 12 in Quebec.

Ed Fast would have topped the list in British Columbia. James Moore would have been elected with no trouble. But other notable candidates, like John Duncan, James Lunney, and Nina Grewal, would not have made it onto the list.

Stephen Harper would finish in the middle of the table in Alberta, along with Ted Menzies, Jason Kenney, Rona Ambrose, Deepak Obhrai, and James Rajotte. Rob Anders would have been the last name on the list. Not on the list would be Lee Richardson, Peter Goldring, Laurie Hawn, and Tim Uppal. Mike Lake, Devinder Shory, and Michelle Rempel would get added to the list with the resignations of Menzies, Brian Jean, and Rob Merrifield later on in the term.

Tom Lukiwski and Kelly Block would not make the list of eight MPs from Saskatchewan, though Gerry Ritz, Lynne Yelich, and Andrew Scheer would.

Candice Bergen and Vic Toews would top the list in Manitoba, but Joyce Bateman would not make it. Rod Bruinooge would replace Toews after his resignation, and Shelly Glover would stand in for Merv Tweed.

There would be a big list of names that would not make it among Ontario's 48 Conservatives. But topping the list would be Mike Chong. Peter Van Loan, Peter Kent, Jim Flaherty, Patrick Brown, Julian Fantino, Tony Clement, Lisa Raitt, Pierre Poilievre, Rob Nicholson, Paul Calandra, Diane Finley, Dean Del Mastro, and Kellie Leitch - they'd all make it, and Joe Oliver, among others, would come in later on in the term. There would be some big absences, though: John Baird, Chris Alexander, Bal Gosal, Roxanne James, and Eve Adams.

The Conservatives would get seven extra MPs from Quebec than they did with FPTP, including Josée Verner, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Lawrence Cannon, and Larry Smith. They are probably happy that Saulie Zajdel, though, did not make it.

Mike Allen would top the list in New Brunswick, but Keith Ashfield. Bernard Valcourt, and Robert Goguen would not be on it.

All of the Nova Scotia MPs elected in 2011 would be elected with 308PR, along with Cecil Clarke. In Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, Tim Ogilvie and Fabian Manning would join Gail Shea and Peter Penashue. 

And the Conservatives would win both of the single-district territories they did in 2011.

John Ottenheimer would replace Penashue after his resignation (though he resigned to run-again in actual fact, so who knows how this would have worked).

Most of the Conservatives' top bench makes it to the House of Commons, with some notable absences. The extra MPs from Quebec would have certainly come in handy, though. But the question is whether these Conservatives would have been on the governing or opposition benches, as the Tories would only hold a small plurality of seats.

The New Democrats would also lose seats with 308PR, being awarded 95 instead of 103, with 27 in the West and North, 28 in Ontario, 32 in Quebec, and eight in Atlantic Canada.

Outside of Quebec, Jinny Sims would be the only current NDP MP that would not have been elected under this system. In fact, Zeni Maartman would have replaced Denise Savoie after her departure rather than Sims. The rest of the list in B.C. is full of familiar names like Libby Davies, Nathan Cullen, Peter Julian, and Fin Donnelly.

Linda Duncan would have been joined by four other MPs in Alberta: former provincial leader Ray Martin, as well as Mark Sandilands, Lewis Cardinal, and Nadine Bailey.

Instead of being shutout in Saskatchewan, the NDP would have been awarded five MPs, led by Nettie Wiebe, Noah Evanchuk, and Lawrence Joseph.

In addition to Pat Martin and Niki Ashton, the NDP would elect Jim Maloway and Rebecca Blaikie in Manitoba.

Jack Layton would head the party list in Ontario, joined by other NDP luminaries like David Christopherson, Olivia Chow, Paul Dewar, Charlie Angus, and Peggy Nash. Joining the historically elected MPs would be a few other names that were not so lucky, including Taras Natyshak who won election as an NDP MPP in 2014.

The biggest difference for the NDP would be Quebec, where instead of winning 59 seats (or 79% of the seats) the party would take just 32 (or 43%). Thomas Mulcair, Françoise Boivin, and Nycole Turmel would all make it. But we would not have been introduced to Quebec New Democrats like Claude Patry, Pierre-Luc Dusseault, Lise St-Denis, and Ruth Ellen Brosseau.

In New Brunswick, Yvon Godin would be joined by Rob Moir and Shawna Gagné, while all the MPs historically elected in Nova Scotia and in Newfoundland and Labrador would win under 308PR. 

The NDP would have been awarded a seat in Prince Edward Island, but with two seats going to both the Liberals and Conservatives, the NDP had the lowest-hanging candidate and was bumped from the province.

Brian White, Trevor Haché, and Marc Laferriere would have been the replacement Ontario NDP MPs for Layton, Chow, and Glenn Thibeault.

Overall, the NDP ends up with a similarly-sized caucus as under FPTP. But their parliamentary group would be less artificially weighted towards Quebec than it is currently.

Along with the Bloc and the Greens, the Liberals would benefit most from this sort of system - at least in 2011. They were beneficiaries of FPTP in the past.

The Liberals would win 59 seats, with 11 in the West, 27 in Ontario, 11 in Quebec, and 10 in Atlantic Canada.

Joyce Murray and Hedy Fry would still win in B.C., but they would be joined by Ujjal Dosanjh, Sukh Dhaliwal, and Taleeb Noormohamed.

Three Liberals would have been elected in Alberta: Cam Stewart, Mary MacDonald, and Janice Kinch.

Ralph Goodale and Kevin Lamoureux would have still made it in the Prairies, along with Anita Neville.

Many of the Liberals' incumbents in Ontario would not have been defeated under this system. Along with those who were in fact elected would be Rob Oliphant, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, Martha Hall Findlay, Joe Volpe, Mark Holland, Navdeep Bains, and Michael Ignatieff, to name a few. Ignatieff would have just avoided not making it on to the list. But you can see that there were many defeated Liberals who took more of the vote in their own ridings than some victorious Liberals.

Not so in Quebec, where the top seven all come from actually-elected MPs. In addition to them, headed by Stéphane Dion, would be Marlene Jennings, Bernard Patry, Pablo Rodriguez, and Noushig Eloyan.

Jean-Claude D'Amours would join Dominic Leblanc as the Liberals' New Brunswick representation. 

In the rest of Atlantic Canada, Scott Andrews, Sean Casey, and Geoff Regan would all come up short. 

Alexandra Mendès would stand-in for Denis Coderre when he ran for mayor, while Yasmin Ratansi and Omar Alghabra would be the Ontario replacements.

With 18 MPs, the Bloc would have hardly been considered dead. In fact, the FPTP system exaggerated the Bloc's defeat in both senses. In 2008, the Bloc won 49 seats. But with 38.1% of the vote, they deserved just 29 of them. In 2011, the Bloc won four seats, but with 23.4% of the vote deserved 18 of them. The drop from 29 to 18 seats would not have been seen nearly as dramatically.

In addition, Gilles Duceppe would have avoided defeat. Other heavy-hitters for the Bloc, like Michel Guimond, Pierre Paquette, Bernard Bigras, and Daniel Paillé would have avoided defeat as well. More than enough of a nucleus to rebuild the party back to its former glory.

Finally the Greens, who would have won 10 seats under 308PR. That still penalizes them a little, but that is due to the low vote share they took in Atlantic Canada and in Saskatchewan - too low to warrant a seat. But the party would have won five in the West, three in Ontario, and two in Quebec.

Only Elizabeth May and Adriane Carr might be familiar to you. They were also the only Green candidates to take more than 15% of the vote in any riding outside of the Yukon.

But this would have been an interesting parliamentary group, include two Quebecers and one MP from Alberta.

Alternate history

Interestingly, these numbers do not make it so easy to figure out what kind of government would have been formed. The Conservatives would have had difficulty finding another dancing partner with just 126 seats, but theoretically could have come to terms with the Liberals to put together a majority.

If the Liberals teamed-up with the NDP instead, the two would together have had 154 seats. They'd probably need the Greens or a few floor-crossers to have a shot at a stable government.

And what would have come before then if a system like this was in place? A Paul Martin-Jack Layton government in 2006? A rainbow coalition with the NDP and Greens under Stéphane Dion in 2008? Jean Chrétien and the PCs in 1993 and 1997, or with the NDP in 2000? How about an anti-free trade John Turner-Ed Broadbent government in 1988, Pierre Trudeau-NDP coalitions throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, a John Diefenbaker-Social Credit coalition in the 1960s... An interesting counter-factual history. But will a future with the first-past-the-post system endure?


  1. the 1998 Quebec Provincial election was probably the most blatant about everything wrong with First Past the Post system

    1. I see nothing wrong with the result of the 1998 Quebec election. Or the 1921 Alberta election, for that matter.

    2. I would add this - with 60% support, Frank McKenna's Liberals won ALL 58 SEATS in New Brunswick's 1987 election.

    3. Which means he had broad support throughout the province. Every region and every community chose Frank McKenna's party to represent them.

    4. How about BC 1996? Cause that really sucked for us here. It even sucked for the NDP.

    5. @Ira. You you are okay with the party who lost the popular vote in 98 won a whopping majority of seats?

    6. Absolutely. Because popular vote DOES NOT MATTER in a FPTP system. It has NO RELEVANCE AT ALL.

      I don't understand why anyone even looks at it.

    7. Ira - because some of us believe in democracy where if you get the most votes you don't lose.

    8. If you get the most votes in FPTP, you win. District by district.

      There is no national race, so aggregating the votes nationally makes no sense.

  2. The problem is not what system to adopt, but how to achieve any measure of reform in light of intractable obstacles. There is no hope for any complicated new system that takes paragraphs to explain and a referendum to adopt. But there is no reason a few seats from party lists couldnt be carved out or added to achieve some measure or proportionality. It could be done by statute like any normal redistribution.

    1. Exactly. Each province still has the same number of MPs. Every group of three ridings becomes two larger ones, or five become three, and you have two votes: one for a local MP, and one that helps elect a few regional MPs from your region to represent voters unrepresented (or under-represented) by the local MPs in the region. You have competing MPs from your own region (Northern Ontario's nine MPs would certainly be a region, for example), at least one of whom you support or helped elect. No closed lists. Every MP has faced the voters. And every vote counts equally. As Stephane Dion says "I do not see why we should maintain a voting system that makes our major parties appear less national and our regions more politically opposed than they really are."

  3. You mention floor-crossers in your Alternate history section. Would MPs still be free to cross the floor, even though they were elected not directly, but through party support?

    This is probably the best PR system I've seen, and I think the parties would generally like it, as it would prevent them from being saddled with unpopular incumbents. Anyone who actually got elected would be in Parliament because people liked him, rather than just not disliking him as much as the others.

    I still think FPTP is the way to go, however. Your system, like every other PR system I've ever seen, would tend to produce minority governments, and I think we're poorly served by minorities. Perhaps combined with fixed election dates this could work (so the elected members know they have some years before the next election), but if these governments could still be defeated to trigger new elections then I really dislike the proposal.

    I want the government to have some sort of direction, and the freedom to pursue that direction. The need to constantly pander to voters prevents them from being able to do unpopular things without getting defeated right away. And politicians who will do unpopular things, knowing it will cause them to fall, are extremely rare.

    Just look how Stephen Harper abandoned his no-stimulus principles in 2008 when threatened with defeat by a coalition. Suddenly stimulus was good and necessary.

    The GST was a hugely unpopular tax. It never would have happened under your system. That's a bad thing.

    1. I'd allow floor-crossers, since we're still choosing individuals and the individuals will still be held accountable at the next vote.

      I understand the argument about minority/majority governments. But to me, it seems like the kind of thing we should leave up to voters, rather than have some sort of gimmick that produces majorities. It shouldn't be a goal of the system - one reasons I like FPTP is the direct representation and that the HoC is like an assembly of 308 regions.

      I'm not sure of my position on reform. If my system came up for a vote, I'd vote for it. But I prefer FPTP to PR with any kind of closed list.

      Fixed, unbreakable election dates (or, say, breakable with 75% support in the legislature) wouldn't be a bad thing. I think some countries have that sort of system. I wouldn't be opposed to it - this proposal is more about the voting/representation aspect than how it would function.

    2. It wouldn't create minority parliaments Ira - it would create coalition governments. If you look at countries like Germany, Denmark, Sweden or Ireland, their coalitions go the full term, and early elections are extremely rare. You get strong stable governments when you use a sensible PR system.

      For example, Canada has had 22 elections since 1945 - the same number as Sweden, though they're not due for their next one until 2018. Ireland has had 19. Germany has had 18, though obviously they had to wait 4 years after the war for their first. So if your concern is stability, sensible PR systems deliver it.

      A big determinant on is the size of your districts - really big districts mean less stability, but so do really small ones. The most stable range seems to be around 4-8 MPs per district.

    3. Also re: the GST Ira, if you look at other OECD countries, most other developed countries rely much more on value added taxes like the GST, and most other developed countries use some form of proportional representation. So maybe the GST would have happened, just in a different way. The seem to have found such away in the rest of the world after all.

    4. But how much of that time between elections is spent jockeying for support? Elected officials need to spend more time doing their jobs, and less time worrying about keeping them.

      Germany seems well run, but I wouldn't say the same about Ireland or Denmark. Sweden is more complicated.

      In Europe, I think Germany, Austria, and Finland all somehow manage to have good government. But I'm not confident that we'd get the same result using the same system. Many other European countries don't, so pointing to the success of a few amidst the failure of many isn't much of a selling point.

      What we need is data, not anecdotes.

  4. It seems to me that there's a real issue with selecting MPs from a province-wide list based on their vote share within a riding. I'll illustrate with an example:

    Suppose two candidates, A and B, split the vote 50-50 in their riding. Suppose in the next riding over two other candidates, there's a three-person race between C, D and E (each of which we will assume are equally competitive with A and B, so a A/C race would be 50-50 and a B/D race would be 50-50). Each of C, D and E get 33% of the vote. It's likely that A and B will get seats due to a lack of local competition, whereas C, D, and E will be much lower-ranked and may not get seats.

    You see similar results if A and B are both moderately-competitive candidates and C, D, and E are all highly-competitive (e.g. each of C, D, and E are party leaders or similar). Sure, in FPTP C, D, and E get compared to each other and only one gets to go to Parliament, but at least one of them gets elected. In 308PR, it's likely that none of these strong candidates will succeed, whereas A and B do just fine.

    In this way, independents or parties that don't run a whole-province slate can seriously throw off the representation of the house, and can lead to weaker candidates entering Parliament over stronger candidates. It also leads to ridings with highly-competitive candidates likely ending up without any local representation.

    It's conceivable that this compromise is still better, in total, than FPTP. After all, it is proportional, and the voting mechanism is very simple. But mixed-member proportional representation preserves the local representation of FPTP, and only adds a small amount of complexity to the voting system. Relative to MMPR, 308PR appears to be striking a compromise that allows ridings go unrepresented and lets some less-worthy candidates beat out more-worthy candidates, and the only observable benefit (as far as I can tell) is the there's one less box to tick on the ballot.

    But perhaps I am missing one of the virtues of 308PR that make it preferable to MMPR; I'd be happy to hear your views!

    1. You bring up an interesting example, but my response would be that the two candidates getting 50% of the vote each are more deserving than a candidate that could only get 33%, even if it is because of more competitive alternatives. But what you highlight would certainly be a disadvantage of the system - perhaps parties would try to avoid these situations.

      The issue with MMPR is that we're still talking about a closed list, or an open list with too many names on it. I think that gives voters a worse choice - if they support party X they might just vote for all of party X's candidates, even if they only know one or two of them. If it is a closed list, I think that is a fatal flaw. If it is open list, it depends on how complicated it is...

      I'd also argue that the ridings are there primarily to populate the list, not to provide representation. But, again, it is a disadvantage.

    2. "The issue with MMPR is that we're still talking about a closed list, or an open list with too many names on it."

      That's not how it works Eric. You put an X next to just one candidate, and we're only talking about ~6 or so names per party. You seem to have a false impression of how an open ballot works.

      You may be interested in looking at Baden-Wurttemberg's version of MMP though. They use something called a "best near winner" method to populate the list, which is essentially what you're getting at.

      The downside of that is that if you're a good candidate stuck in a tough riding you don't have much hope of getting in. And parties will continue to tightly control who gets access to those best seats, as they do now. You're still left without choice within parties, and you're still left without any increase in representation for women and minority groups.

    3. Vancouver's municipal elections are run with an open list, and I hated it. To make an informed decision, voters needed to have detailed information about a great many candidates. I was selecting something like 10 choices out of a list of 35. Knowing 35 candidates that well is an extremely tall order.

    4. It's true that most MMPR systems use a closed list for a minority of seats, but I'm not sure that this is worse than some of the perverse effects I've outlined above. I think that local representation is widely considered to be a fairly important part of FPTP, and it's something that is sacrificed (at least some of the time) under 308PR.

      In effect, under 308PR, voters in certain ridings will be told "none of the people on your ballot got elected, but your vote did go towards someone who happened to be successful in another riding". Under MMPR, the message is "a local candidate gets elected, and also the party you voted for might get some extra members drawn from this public list." At least in MMPR, I can choose not to vote for the party if I don't like their list.

      It's not clear to me that it's preferable that my vote goes to someone who happened to be successful in a different riding (and belongs to the same party as my preferred local candidate) vs. someone pulled from a list that I got to review.

      It's also not clear to me that someone who gets 50% of the vote in their riding is more worthy of a seat than someone who gets 45% of the vote in another riding. Those two candidates are competing in different races and are appealing to different electors. If A gets 50% of the vote but only has a 5% lead over the second-place candidate, and in the next riding over B gets 45% of the vote but has a 10% lead over the second-place candidate, can we really be so certain that A is more worthy than B?

      The issue that I'm trying to get at is that races in different ridings are not meaningfully comparable. I don't see why the odds of A and B in riding 1 of getting into Parliament should be contingent in whether an independent I is running against C and D in riding 2. Even if A and B are exact duplicates of C and D, they become much higher-ranked on the final list despite not being any different than C and D -- the only difference is that vote share in riding 2 is split between more people, so the math in that riding works out a little differently.

      There may be ways to compensate for this; perhaps in some ridings you can exclude from the calculation candidates from parties who have hit their seat cap based on other ridings. But at each step the complexity of the system increases, and I'm not sure that that would actually fix the underlying issues.

      On reflection, I think that a core different between 308PR and MMPR is that 308PR removes winning candidates from local ridings based on the proportional vote, whereas MMPR adds candidates outside of the local riding system. Adding members seems fundamentally more fair to me.

      It occurs to me that there is a compromise. If using closed vs. open lists is the fundamental problem with MMPR, why not mix it in with 308PR's locally-sourced list idea? Do MMPR, but when you need to draw from the party list, just use the best runners-up from local ridings -- that is, define the party list exactly as you do in 308PR, but remove the members who won in their local ridings. This retains some of the mathematical problems I've identified above, but on a much smaller scale (and perhaps there's a better way to define "best" anyways).

      Again, I'm not sure that I prefer that system to a typical closed-list MMPR system, but it seems preferable to the 308PR system described above. Thoughts?

    5. One *partial* fix might be to recalculate the riding-level proportion of votes a candidate got as a proportion of all votes given to candidates in that riding representing parties electing at least one member within the province (or those meeting some other reasonable criterion), rather than over all candidates in the riding, period.

      This would avoid penalizing candidates in ridings with a larger slate of candidates, where minor parties eat up 5-10% of the vote that would have gone to major parties in other ridings.

    6. Oh, I should note that your comment does help me see one of the virtues of 308PR over typical implementations of 308PR - avoidance of the closed list. Another one of my comments (which is pending review at the time I'm writing this) addresses ways to build that benefit into a version of MMPR, but I failed to expressly point out that your comment was very helpful in understanding where you are coming from.

    7. The Japanese employ a system known as Sekihairitsu to determine candidates that are elected from their party lists (as opposed to those elected in the FPTP seats). In that system, the candidates are ranked not according to their raw percentage of the vote, but their percentage relative to that of the winning candidate. Perhaps 308PR could use a form of that system.

      Here's an example to make the point clearer.

      Let's take your two seats and five candidates. A defeats B 51-49. C defeats D and E 40-30-30.

      The Sekihairitsu system ranks B, with 49/51= 96% of the winning vote ahead of D and E, who each have 30/40= 75% of the winning vote. C, with 40/30= 133% of the next highest vote, would rank ahead of A (51/49= 104%).

      This system would reward big winners, then narrow winners, and then narrow losers.

    8. To which I'd say that if voters don't like a party's list candidates, they should exercise their right to not necessarily vote for that party's list.

      After all, MMP would, to use Canadian terms, allow you to vote for your local Liberal MP, but for the NDP list.

    9. My understanding of MMPR in many cases is that you vote for an individual candidate, and either separately for a party or have that vote also count for a party. Seats are allocated to 'top-up' parties that didn't get enough individuals elected, or to fill the PR seats. In many cases, are not those seats filled by a party list? Not all jurisdictions use the same rules.

      And to me, six or so names per party is way too many, particularly if you're talking about four or five parties.

    10. The above comment was directed to Ryan.

    11. Christopher,

      It is true that some voters would not get the representative that they voted for in their riding, but they would have a representative from the party they voted for. Though they did not directly choose them, that representative is - at least - accountable to voters. This is why it is better than a closed list, as the candidate would be accountable to no one.

      You are right that some oddities would come out of this system based on the competitiveness of each race. My counter-point would be that these oddities are better than those from other systems.

      Your compromise system is an interesting one - but I fear it might be a little more complicated (part of the appeal of my system, to me, is that it is easy to explain and so easy to get people to support it). And if I understand your compromise correctly, we'd have 308 FPTP winners and then add in top-ups to get it to be proportional. At that point, we just have too many MPs. And we'd have two-tier MPs - those who won by FPTP and directly represent their voters, and MPs who represent a province as a whole. Where do they fit in?

    12. Ira - Vancouver uses block voting, not an open list, and I agree block voting sucks. In the US the Supreme Court has thrown it out in many jurisdictions even.


      "In many cases, are not those seats filled by a party list? Not all jurisdictions use the same rules."

      It depends on the jurisdiction. In New Zealand and Scotland, they just use a closed list.

      In some German states (Batten-Wurttenburg for example), they use basically the procedure you outlined in your post - the seats are filled by whichever candidates go the most votes in their own constituencies (without already winning their seat).

      In Bavaria, they use an open list (though in a somewhat complex way). So you vote for your local candidate like now, and then vote for which member from your party of choice you'd like to fill any top-up seats. This is what the Law Commission of Canada proposed for our own elections.

      Why are 6 names too many? If I can figure out which of 6 parties I like. Why can't I figure out which of 6 candidates I like from that party? You can have the number lower if you'd like but it doesn't seem all that challenging to me. I just have to figure out which 1 person I want to have win and then put an X next to their name.

      Personally, if I'm going to vote Liberal, I'd like a little choice about which Liberal I'm voting for. I'm sure a lot of Conservatives, NDPers, and others would agree too.

    13. I should probably mention that what the NDP is proposing is an open-list form of MMP too.

      And re: the top up seats, they propose making constituencies 50% larger, so you'd have ~205 single member constituencies and ~103 top up seats, allocated at a regional level.

    14. Ryan,

      It does seem like the B-W system is the closest to what I proposed. Some MMPR are certainly better than others, including potentially my own proposal. I claim no infallibility on this!

      If we're talking six names from six parties, we're talking 36 names! Yes, you may just focus on one party and then the six candidates from that party, but the ideal would be to consider all 36, would it not? That is quite a bit. At this point, though, we're getting very subjective. I think it is too much. Others can reasonably disagree.

    15. I truly thing we need a form of PR in Canada, but riding representation is an important aspect of our government and one that we need to keep. My choice is MMPR how ever I like Eric do not think that closed list are a good idea and I also don't like the idea multiple open list candidates from the same party.

      I think an good compromise between MMP and what Eric is suggesting is to keep our ridings but group them into districts of 10. People have their to two votes, divided up the districts as per PR and assign representatives to each riding via popular vote achieved on first come first severed bases. There would have to be a 4 or 5% threshold for parties to have representation which I guess would get filled in a similar manner.

      It's very hard to have regional representation and PR and not balloon the legislature.

    16. Eric, you're not talking about 36 names. You pick a party. You can stop there if you're lazy. If, like most voters, you want a say in which of my party's candidates I prefer, you have six (or maybe ten) names to choose from. How hard is that?

    17. What's the difference between block voting and an open list?

    18. Harder than the current system or the one I propose. Ideally, voters would consider all candidates from all parties. That should be the point. If many don't in practice, that's fine - many people don't consider any but one or two candidates when they vote currently. But the system should not be designed assuming that people will disregard, say, 40 of the 50 names on a ballot from the outset.

      Again, one of the points of my system is simplicity and ease of transition. What you propose requires major changes to how parties nominate candidates, how districts are designed, how the ballot looks, how votes are counted, and how people vote. My system requires no change at all, just an explanation of how the winners are identified. We could adopt this system tomorrow and Elections Canada wouldn't even need to change a single template.

  5. One concern I'd have is that some districts might not elect any representative. I prefer IRV but I'd take this (any almost every other serious proposal) over what we have now.

    1. My answer to that, which I fear I will be making many times, is that the districts are not designed to elect representatives, but to populate the party list.

    2. I don't elect a local MP to populate a list, I elect a local MP to represent my community. With MMP I also help elect a few regional MPs, so I have competing MPs, including at least one from the party I support. The best of both worlds. As long as it doesn't use closed lists.

  6. Haven't had a chance to go through all of this yet Eric, but I noticed a few errors off the bat:

    "Proportional representation with an open list is terribly complicated, requiring voters to cast a ballot for multiple candidates, or just some candidates and then generally for the party, or variations of that. It's just too much. "

    That's not usually the case. If

    "With single-transferable vote, voters rank their preferred candidates. The effect can sometimes be as bad as FPTP, at least in terms of proportionality, though there are some ways to re-jig things to avoid that. Still, being a second or third preference is different from being a first choice."

    You're getting the single transferable vote confused with instant run-off voting. Single transferable vote is as proportional as any other PR system with equal district magnitude.

    May want to revise your post accordingly. :3

    1. This is the intro to 'single transferable vote' from Wikipedia. Is it incorrect?

      "The single transferable vote (STV) is a voting system designed to achieve proportional representation through ranked voting in multi-seat constituencies (voting districts).[1] Under STV, an elector has a single vote that is initially allocated to their most preferred candidate and, as the count proceeds and candidates are either elected or eliminated, is transferred to other candidates according to the voter's stated preferences, in proportion to any surplus or discarded votes."

      Are you referring to PR-STV, as defined in that article?

    2. Yes. It's proportional. You claim it can be as bad as FPTP at times. It can't and isn't. Even with very small districts in Ireland, their elections are twice as proportional as ours, and more proportional than the MMP ones in Scotland and Wales even.

      If you use the same method in single member ridings only, then you have instant run-off voting, and then things can just as disproportional as FPTP.

      Also re being a second, third choice - if I vote Liberal, there's no guarantee that the Liberal that I actually elect is my first choice either under your system. Or under FPTP for that matter.

    3. Not to be a pedant, but is not IRV a form of STV? I was being simplistic in my description of STV, and yes I was thinking primarily of IRV, but I don't think I was inaccurate (my re-jigging comment was related to PR-STV).

    4. It's an big distinction. As you mention in your comment above, STV is in multi-seat constituencies. IRV is not. It makes a very big difference in practice. The seat totals in STV will look much closer to the results you outlined above than to the IRV results.

    5. Ryan,

      'Single Transferrable Vote' has been used to describe both the single-seat and multi-seat constituency voting system. STV in the single seat case is exactly equivalent to IRV.

      STV in the multi-seat case is only approximately proportional, although the approximation improves with the number of seats in each constituency.

      A simple example: N seats, two parties, one has slightly more than a N/(N+1) fraction of the vote in each constituency, the other has the remaining (slightly less than) 1/(N+1). Then the smaller party is shut out of the parliament, even though they had roughly a 1/(N+1) fraction of support.

      Note that you only achieve proportionality in the limit if all voters rank parties in blocks (ex. all Liberals >vall Conservatives > all NDP > all Greens). Otherwise you can have results that are far from PR.

    6. STV is as proportional as you want it to be. The more seats you bundle together, the more proportional it is. It's a trade-off between keeping the districts smaller on the one hand, or making the results more proportional on the other hand.

      STV was selected by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform in BC in part because it was the only system that allowed proportionality, but also tied every member to a geographic region (which means it treats rural areas better than MMP).

    7. Steven, MMP also ties every MP to a geographic region. The nine MPs from the BC Interior would become six local MPs and three Regional MPs.

    8. MMP doesn't do that by default. MMP can be modified to offer that. In many countries the "list" representatives represent the entire country. If they are designated to represent a smaller region, then that reduces the proportionality and is not usually how MMP is done, from what I understand

    9. In Canada, national lists are impossible. Provinces have fixed numbers of MPs. Province-wide lists would be possible, but most people are looking at regions similar in size to the numbers of MPs from the smaller provinces, so the degree of proportionality is similar across the country. Therefore, the region size will be in the range of 8 (the Atlantic average) to 14 (Manitoba and Saskatchewan).

  7. Criticisms of FPTP are usually based on the claim that it doesn't offer good democracy.

    Why is democracy our goal?

    1. You tell me. Why shouldn't democracy be the goal? Do you not like democracy?

    2. Our default position should be one of uncertainty. That is the only rational default position.

      If we are to like something, we should have a reason. Not liking something (indifference) requires none.

      The positive claim is the one that requires support.

    3. Exactly, Ira! Probably because some Greek dude said it was 2500 years ago. I supposed the other argument is that the government should reflect the wishes of the people even if the wishes of the people are sinister, bigoted, or just plain uninformed.

    4. I would counter by asserting that "the people" don't exist. There are merely lots of individual persons, which are incapable of acting collectively.

      All decision-making is done by a single person.

    5. "Why is democracy our goal?"

      You know, you are right. I never thought about that.

      Now that I think of it, my prefered system would be one where I am Supreme Leader.

      I'm a reasonable guy, so no worries there.

  8. Another question. When someone has an issue they feel the government should address, they're usually directed to write to their local representative.

    To whom would they write? If each party assigns their elected members from each province to represent that province, then each area will be served by as many members as there were parties elected in the province.

    Who is my representative?

    1. You have multiple representatives, and you can write to any or all of them.

    2. Who's responsible, though? As we all know, when multiple people are responsible, nobody actually is. There will need to be some way of making someone responsible for what happens in a district with nobody to represent it - maybe by forcing one of the MPs from a riding from which multiple MPs were elected to run in an "empty" riding in the next election? That would make that MP accountable to voters in that riding.

    3. Another problem that I foresee is that the parties will have even more control over local issues than they do now. I know many people in my riding who went directly to their MP with a problem, and had it solved without the Conservative party getting involved. God help us all if instead a local Conservative MP working with his constituents to result their complaints you then have some far away Conservative hacks appointed from the top with no local roots trying to solve these same issues. We need less influence from the Parties at the top, not more.

  9. I like MMPR. New Zealand has had since 1996 based on a referendum in the election before. It was in a referrendum recently to see if they still wanted it and it got heaps of support. They get 2 votes 1 for a local MP and a party vote. We would need to make some minor changes (ie) regional representation. We would also crash the senate and expand the house.

  10. Closed party lists are abhorrent, but keep in mind that MPs are currently still abjectly beholden to party leaders by a number of mechanisms (whips, nomination sheets, assignments within the party, etc.).

    This is a neat idea, though I still prefer a single transferable vote, probably because I am a voting systems geek and I just LOVE complicated ballots.

    I understand the aversion to complicated ballots, and the corresponding fear that a system that had one just would not gain the support it needs to get adopted. But I think a good compromise would be allowing voters to fill out a ballot in as much or as little detail as they choose. This means it only has to be as complicated as each voter makes it, depending on how expressive they care to be.

    A few examples:
    1) In any ranked ballot system that allows ties, consider unranked candidates tied, one rung below ranked candidates. This means if you want mark down a vote for just one candidate and ignore all others, as in FPTP, you can do it with the intended effect.
    2) In approval voting, you are free to vote for as many or as few candidates as you want (with equal weight). You can perfectly well vote for just one candidate, like you would in FPTP.

    Systems with party lists might be marginally improved by making the list a default that can be rearranged on individual ballots, though they'd still probably give too much power to the parties, since most voters would go with the default...

  11. > A cursory search did not find any system like this elsewhere in the world. If there is one, my apologies for trying to re-invent something that already exists!

    Got it in one.

    You've essentially described the electoral system of Baden-Württemberg, which uses a Mixed-Member Proportional system without party lists. Instead, the de-facto list is drawn in order of failed candidates who are the "nearest runner up" in their ridings.

    This will give substantially similar results as your system, but it retains the identity of individual seats. Your system has a hypothetical flaw where in some cases an absolute majority of voters in a riding may select a candidate who is not actually elected due to proportionality.

  12. I am always wary of the idea that a voting system is "too complicated". Germans and Kiwis seem to make sense of MMPR just fine, Australians manage STV just fine, and Austrians, Belgians, Cypriots, Danes, Estonians, Finns, Greeks, Icelanders, Latvians, Brazilians, Chileans, Colombians, Indonesians, Japanese, Italians, Dutch, Norwegians, Poles, Slovakians, Swedes and Swiss seem to understand open list-PR just fine. I don't think Canadians are any less intelligent than those nationalities. If they can handle a complex voting system, so can we.

    1. I don't think the point should be «if they can make it out of it, we sure can». Sure, Canadians are not dumber than citizen of the scores of democracies using some kind of PR.

      But, I believe that if we can achieve PR without changing our approach of the system, it's just win-win. With the 308PR proposition (I root for an analog plan on a provincial level since many years), voter got to choose the person they like the most in a given riding. It is exactly the same as now, minus the distorsion and the never-ending debate around strategic voting and anything-but campaign.

      I think additionnal seats populated with "nearest winners" stop undesirable behavior in a better way than the 3%-rule proposed in 308PR. You got in the redistribution if you pass the treshold. If you win local seat, you can keep them, but since they're around a third "ridingless" seats, it's not seriously skrewing up the resulting parliament. Of course, some riding will populate those seat in addition of their standard MP, but in the long run, I think it will nudge both parties and voter to stray away from stronghold ridings

  13. It's an interesting idea, but large numbers of independents or minor parties winning seats (especially if narrowly) destroys the proportionality of the result under 308PR.

    It is my view that any fair electoral system should produce a proportionally-representative Parliament (or as close as is feasible), regardless of the configuration of votes across the country.

  14. Another idea I like is adding some at-large representatives to each province and having them selected from defeated candidates who won the most votes. Fixes a couple issues without making the local choice any less meaningful, and doesn't require a bigger House if you expand the ridings a bit.

  15. Christopher Scott has already brought up a significant flaw with your system, but there is, in my opinion, a more severe issue that hasn't been discussed: a riding can be won by a single candidate who did not even get the most votes in his riding election!

    For a real world example, consider the results in Newfoundland & Labrador in the 2011 election. 308PR picks three liberals, two conservatives and two NDP winners. Six of these seven victors got the most votes in their own ridings. Assigning each of them to their own riding leaves only Fabian Manning to represent the riding of Avalon. But Manning came in second place in Avalon! Voters in Avalon had explicitly vote to reject him.

    You argued semantically above that MPs are now officially representing their province and not their home ridings, but, at the end of the day, only one candidate from Avalon would have made it into Parliament, and it was the candidate who finished in second place in that race. To me, that contradicts the stated goal of 308PR which is to satisfy proportional representation while allowing voters to choose their own representatives.

    With regard to the flaw Mr. Scott pointed out, an important question to ask is what kind of ridings are most likely to elect more than one candidate? Using your criteria, it is almost certainly those in which there is a competitive two way race. With the current political landscape, that means ridings where voters lean farther to the right, just by virtue of the fact that there is more vote splitting on the left of the political spectrum (the vote split candidates are farther down their parties' provincial lists). As a result, your system may yield results where more right wing Liberals/NDP candidates will win seats, and lead to party caucuses which are less representative than their voters would prefer.

    1. A couple of other voting paradoxes that can occur using this system:

      1) It is possible for supporters of one party to manipulate the party list of another party through false voting.

      2) It is possible for voters in one riding to manipulate party lists through false voting so they get more MPs from their riding elected.

      Again, a good example comes from looking at Newfoundland and Labrador. If Manning's supporters moved enough of their votes to Scott Andrews, both Fanning and Andrews would be elected (while Judy Foote would no longer be an MP). Thus, Fanning's supporters could manipulate the Liberal party list while also getting two MPs from their riding elected to parliament, instead of one.

  16. Eric,

    Awarding seats to Provinces the way you have almost assuredly requires a constitutional amendment and negotiations as per the Senate Reference Case SCOC, 2014. In that action the learned judges declared that amending senatorial terms and or selection requires the 7/50 formula to be enacted.

    All-in-all it is an interesting idea but, as we have seen any constitutional re-jigging is fraught with problems.

    1. It doesn't actually. The Law Commission of Canada looked at the issue. So long as you don't have MPs that represent multiple provinces simultaneously you're fine. Our constitution sets parameters for how many seats each province gets, but now how they are elected. We had multimember ridings before actually. If we can have 2 seat ridings, why not 14 for Saskatchewan?

    2. I really like Eric's proposal here. It has some potential flaws (see shma's first post), but far fewer than FPTP. However, as you've pointed out, it may not be legally easy to adopt.

      For that reason, I support ranked ballots (what Eric calls single-district STV), as this change will probably meet with fewer legal obstacles, even though it's not as representative as Eric's proposal. Still, it WILL cause a more representative result (larger parties will have to make their policies appeal to voters whose first choice is a smaller party), prevent a party disliked by the majority from winning first place, and cause far fewer "wasted votes" (even if only my second or third choice is counted, I would still be much happier than under the current system).

    3. Ryan,

      The SCOC was unanimous that major constitutional changes require negotiations as per the Reference on Senate Reform, 2014 and the Repatriation Reference case of 1982. Secondly, this system does alter the way we elect members and in doing so negates the long-held constitutional convention of representation-by-population (rep-by-pop) the basis of responsible government.

      Esn's proposal of ranked ballots would likely only require federal legislation.

  17. Éric, if you wanted to consult someone around this, I'd recommend Jonathan Rose at Queen's, who was the Research Director for the Ontario Citizen's Assembly on Electoral Reform. It was his job for a couple of years to know every possible variant voting procedure in existence - and be able to explain them to people who may have no background in the subject in the slightest.

    Your proposal strikes me as at least as good as any other that I've heard. While I'm unquestionably sympathetic to PR - and not at all to FPTP - I tend not to fuss too much about the details between the multitude of variants of PR. Frankly, most (or one hell of a lot of) Canadians seem to think that the whole country is a single riding, that they are voting for Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair, Justin Trudeau, or some fringe candidate, and that whichever one gets the most votes wins and gets to run the country. FPTP on a national basis, winner-take-all. That being the case, I think most discussions of the details of PR are entirely academic / inside-the-Beltway stuff.

    At the same time, I think it's worth keeping in mind that PR will not solve the most significant problem with our electoral system, namely, that it is an *electoral* system. Electoral systems produce politicians: it's a feature, not a bug. If we want to have government that is truly "of the people, by the people, for the people" - a government of citizens, not of politicians - then we need to get rid of our elections, however organized. Citizen's assemblies, sortition (random selection), rotation of office, juries - these are democratic mechanisms. Elections, as Aristotle said, are not.

    On which point, let me end by addressing Ira. Actually, I think your characterization of criticism of FPTP isn't really accurate. I think it would be more accurate to say that such criticisms are usually based on the claim that it doesn't do a good job of translating votes into seats - that it leads to the mass "wasting" of votes. Now, glossing that as "it doesn't offer good democracy" is not unreasonable. However, the follow-up question leads to different answers. Why is not wasting votes our goal? Because each and every person whose vote was wasted feels personally aggrieved by the result. Every partisan who gets screwed by FPTP (and just about every partisan gets screwed by it sooner or later) feels personally aggrieved by the result. They may or may not actually consider democracy to be their goal. But they want what's rightfully theirs - seats that reflect that votes they got.

    There are, of course, also those of us for whom democracy is our goal - and, for us, democracy is our goal because we are democrats. We hold that power should rest with the many, that decisions should be made by those who have to live with them, that only a substantive equality of real power amongst all people is truly justifiable and, however difficult to achieve, is the only worthwhile political goal. You, of course, are a conservative, an anti-democrat. You, perhaps, are only interested in democratic forms in so far as they don't get in the way of the oligarchy getting its way. And, FPTP is, of course, quite brilliant at producing that outcome. For you, that may be evidence that it produces good government. For those of us who are democrats, it is evidence that it cannot produce good government. Hence, the question of alternatives ...

    1. What an enlightening post. I agree that citizen's assemblies are much more preferable to the electoral system that we have now. By any chance have you read Bookchin?

    2. I think people who feel aggrieved at the results of a FPTP election don't understand how it works.

      FPTP isn't supposed to translate votes into "seats". FPTP translates votes into ONE seat, and it does an excellent job of that. The candidate with the most votes wins. What could be better?

      As for the value of democracy, I hold that the power unequivocally should not rest with the many. Power should rest with the individual. Anything that causes decisions to be made by groups is a bad thing. Because groups are either limited in scope, or they lack homogeneity. The idiosyncratic members of a group always get left out of the decisions. Always.

      So I don't want groups making decisions. And a PR system grants legitimacy to group decisions. That's a serious problem.

      My issue with citizen's assemblies is that ordinary people aren't typically that well informed. Now, that said, often politicians aren't either. I'd rather governance decisions be made by experts, which in large part they are (career bureaucrats). If the citizens overall make decisions, nothing unpopular will ever be done, and sometimes unpopular things are necessary.

    3. The issue with it is that elections aren't run on a riding per riding basis but on a national basis. I've never once encountered any candidates in any riding I've lived in, I've never heard about them having debates, I've never seen their stances on TV or on the radio or in local newspapers. They are absent. Of course, they do go from door to door and have debates, it's just very poorly advertised and they can't possibly knock on every door in their riding. But every day during an election, I hear party leaders talk about their position on social issues, I see them flash a smile at the camera while holding babies and I read about their party's economic positioning. The elections are national, not regional. FPTP made sense when their was no mass media to relay a party's position and when the candidate really did matter. Now, a lot of the candidates could be replaced by a golden fish and you wouldn't notice the difference since the leader decides where the party is going (you can look at the LPQ or the PQ for instance, that keeps changing on the left-right scale depending on the leader). In such a reality, PR (or some resemblance) makes more sense.

    4. Oh gods. I wrote a reply to Lukas and Ira and the bloody system logged me out when I hit Publish - losing the whole thing in the process. I'll try again in the morning.

    5. To @Ira: it's clear from your statement, "As for the value of democracy, I hold that the power unequivocally should not rest with the many. Power should rest with the individual. Anything that causes decisions to be made by groups is a bad thing...So I don't want groups making decisions..." that your belief system is leaning towards the extreme libertarian/anarchist bent. Fine. I'm fairly new to this blog, so for those who have been reading it for a long time, perhaps that's not news, but here is my critique of your position.

      Remember, as John Donne wrote, "no man is an island"... Human beings are social animals. [Many primate behaviour researchers will tell you that a major evolutionary driver of our big brains was the need to keep up with the complex web of social relationships in primate troops, and the end result of that process was us]. If we are going to live together, then, we need laws to govern our behaviour and our interpersonal relationships, and processes to make and enforce them. We can have more laws, or fewer, but we cannot live together without at least some laws. We also need to do some things together, such as build communities and care for each other. Making laws and enforcing them, and working together in communities, are why we have governments. There have been many forms of government in human history, and most have been some form of tyranny or other (and indeed, some have written that tyranny was the only real practical way to get the first large civilizations off the ground), but while we no longer have tyranny in Western societies, we still need governments.

      Long gone are the days when a community of a dozen or so adults and their children jointly shared a cave in Ice Age Europe; our society is much too big for the kinds of informal processes that must have predominated then. We need a form of delegated decision-making if we are going to work together as a society, since direct democracy is simply too unwieldy for a society as big as ours. What Mr Grenier here is discussing, then, is how that delegation of group decision-making will operate; how will we delegate our collective authority?

    6. Jerry, I would like to just clarify that the extreme individualist notion is not anarchist or libertarian, both terms being hijacked by neo-feudalists and classical liberals respectively. Anarchism is a left-wing ideology that believes in full democracy with the absence of a state. Ira and other "anarcho" capitalists believe in merely privatizing the state.

    7. John Donne was wrong. Every man is an island. Even the word "social" is meaningless, as it is defined as "of or relating to society", and there is no such thing as society. I'm a strict nominalist - I don't believe in the existence of groups.

      I'm an individualist because I fear the tyranny of the majority. I'm atypical. I'm never going to be part of the majority. So why should I want the majority to have the power?

    8. (1/2) There are a few different things I had intended to say here, but the main bit was to address this argument of Ira's about "individuals" and "groups". So ...

      Ira, what word do you use when more than one individual is present? What word or words do you use when more than one individual is involved in something? What word do you use to indicate all the individuals who are affected by some particular occurrence? Whenever I see someone arguing that x "does not exist", that "there is no such thing", I know I'm in the presence of a verbal disagreement - I'm happy to use whatever word you prefer, if you let me know what word that is. Though, I might ask if "group" is not at least one word that can be used to indicate "more than one individual".

      But, on the point, is it the case that every decision that occurs involves, affects and applies to one and only one individual? Is it ever the case that one individual wishes to do something that directly impacts (whether positively or negatively) another individual? Is it ever the case that more than one individual attempt to do something together? Is it ever the case that more than one individual find themselves faced with the same situation? And, especially, faced with the same situation where there is no action that can be taken by any one of them, singly, that would change that situation in a way that any one of them may desire, much less in a way that all of them would, individually, prefer?

      If by "group" we mean "more than one individual" and by a "group decision" we mean a decision that involves, implicates, affects and/or applies to more than one individual, there are an enormous number of situations where group decisions occur. What, then, is in question is who will *make* that decision. Will it be ALL members of that group - ALL of the individuals involved in or affected by it? WIll it be SOME of them? Will it be just ONE of them? Might it even be NONE of them - the decision will be taken by one or more individuals who are NOT involved in or affected by it?

      When it comes to decisions made by a government, they are all "group decisions" in the sense I have specified. Laws, regulations, policies, procedures, programs - none affect or apply only to one individual. They apply to every individual within the jurisdiction of that government. So, again, the question is whether it should be made by ALL, SOME or just ONE (or, maybe, NONE) of the individuals within its jurisdiction.

    9. (2/2) A democrat would say that it should be made by ALL of them or, if less than all for whatever pragmatic reasons, by the very largest "SOME" of them that can be attained - and it should be made on a basis that every single one of those individual's preferences and interests are weighted *equally* (since each of those individuals is every bit as much an individual as any other and none has priority). That is what is meant by "the rule of the many". It's about making sure that every single idiosyncratic, atypical, unique *individual* is part of the decisions that affect them - since no one has any business making those decisions *without* including them.

      An oligarch (or sycophant to the oligarchy) holds, OTOH, that decisions that will apply to groups should only ever be made by SOME of those individuals, preferably as small a number of them as possible - perhaps ideally, by just ONE of them. Indeed, they are entirely comfortable with the idea that decisions that apply to one group should be made by another group entirely, such that NONE of the first group have any say in the decision - since they are too ignorant, too immature, too unqualified, too coarse, not well enough informed, not civilized enough, whatever.

      You claim to be an individualist and concerned for the idiosyncratic and atypical. Yet, you also claim that experts should make decisions for people because they aren't capable of making those decisions themselves. Which is it? Should every individual be a part of decisions which will apply to them? Or should only some small subset make those decisions?

    10. I want the decisions to be made by smaller and smaller groups, and I want those groups to govern smaller and smaller groups.

      That's why I supported the Quebec referendum in 1995, and why I supported the Scottish referendum last year, and why I support UKIP. That's why I think the centralisation of the US government that happened during the Civil War was a bad thing.

      I don't want the national government to have democratic legitimacy because I want it making as few decisions as possible.

      To your language question, nominalists hold that groups exist "in name only". We might use labels to describe groups of individuals, but those groups exhibit no characteristics beyond those of the individuals they represent in the aggregate. But if we look to the group for information rather than to the individuals themselves, we lose a lot of detail in that information.

      Regarding experts, I don't think ordinary citizens have anywhere near a deep enough understanding of many complex issues to be entrusted with making decisions regarding them, except where they make decisions for themselves. I think you should absolutely be free to decide how to spend your money, but I don't trust that you have sufficient grasp of economics (or my interests) to decide how I should spend mine. Even if I assume that you're acting in good faith (which is foolish), I still don't trust you to make good decisions on my behalf. I want to make those decisions.

      I can't defend my preferences, just as you can't defend yours. Preferences are necessarily foundationless.

    11. You know what, Ira, I don't necessarily agree with you on everything you just said, but I also approve a lot of it. Seeing your position explained this way helped me understand your view and I appreciate that. We still probably won't vote the same way but I respect your point of view more now as it is explained in a way that makes sense. Cheers!

  18. Its an interesting proposal Eric... but its more or less MMP with lists, I don't really see what it accomplishes differently. Might as well just adopt the NZ model.

    Still, good work - you should look at some other proposals in the future as well, if you have the time. Helps give readers an objective site to look at when these issues come forward.

    1. I never claimed it was revolutionary! The problem I have with MMP is how the lists are populated. That is what I have tried to address.

  19. I have added some updates to address some of the omissions I originally made in my post.

  20. YES YES YES.

    basically MMP with lists decided by the electorate rather than the party.

    This is the system canada needs.

  21. I thought British Columbia had used a transferable vote system in the early 1950s.

    1. British Columbia had used "Alternative Vote" (AV) in the early '50s. This is what is referred to in the article by its less common name, "Instant Runoff Voting" ("IRV" for short which, from what I understand, is the American term for it). AV was used in British Columbia for a couple/few elections. The difference between AV and STV is that in AV only one person is to be elected, and it's not at all proportional. STV elects multiple people, so it is proportional (and the more people who are elected in a single district, the more closely it will accurately reflect the popular vote).

      List-based systems like MMP have the same limitation, if the people elected off the list represent the entire country/province/whatever, then it's very proportional; if the people elected off the list are broken down regionally, then it will be less proportional. No system is 100% proportional, due to rounding.

      It's worth noting that both AV and STV have been used in Canada in the early days, before being switched back to FPTP. In every time it was switched to FPTP because it was in the interest of the current government to do so, not the interest of good governance of fair elections. It was right up there with gerrymandering in its legitimacy, if you ask me. That was especially true in what happened in BC where the Liberals and Conservatives brought in AV presuming that most voters would select the other as their second choice, keeping the CCF (precursor of the NDP) out of power. But voters overwhelming chose Social Credit as their second choice. Once Social Credit had "united the right", they did away with AV for their personal power and gain, not for the sake of democracy.

  22. The key issue this proposal tries to address is handled by a proposal that has been around for a long time, which is often called the "nearest runner up" or "best loser" approach to generating the top-up list in an MMP system. It takes the losing local candidates with the most votes, much like this proposal does, and creates a "party list" using them. This seems like a simpler way of dealing with the issue 308PR seeks to address.

    The proposal itself has three problems.

    First, much like the proposal notes, it is possible for a riding to elect more than one MP. This is going to be more likely in a riding with a large population like Brampton West (pop 170,000).

    Second, when there are ridings with more than one MP there will be ridings without MPs, and this is going to be more likely to happen in geographically large ridings with small populations like Kenora (pop 64,000). It has often been argues by those who see the local representation as a key strength of FPTP that those geographically larger, lower population ridings are the ones where local representation is most important. For most supporters of electoral reform equality of votes is quite important, and this proposal takes away the over-weighting of votes from low population ridings but perversely replaces it with the over-weighting of high population ridings.

    Third, taking my first and second points together it is quite possible to have local ridings where the winner doesn't get a seat but the runner up does. Say Party A runs away with the election in highly populated Ontario ridings like Brampton West but doesn't do so well in rural and Northern areas. Party B has pretty even support in every riding in Ontario (in numbers of votes, not share) but it doesn't really have the density to come in first in most ridings. It just so happens that in Kenora, Party A has a really strong local candidate and squeezes out a narrow victory over Party B. Because Party A's candidate doesn't get a lot of votes in Kenora (absolute numbers) their candidate loses, whereas Party B's candidate wins in Kenora with a second place finish.

    For those who think local representation is very important, the first scenario is a concern, the second scenario is a problem and the third scenario is a big old slap in the face. The "nearest runner up" MMP system has a pretty similar outcome while eliminating the second and third possibilities (it kind of builds in the first).

    1. Geobey,

      The "nearest runner up" approach does seem like a good alternative, but I think it still gets a little complicated in that there would be a number of seats elected by FPTP and then a number topped-up by the NRU. A system could be worked out that would always have those two numbers be the same in any election, or it could be different in every election. If it is the latter, we are starting to get more complicated.

      One of the goals of my proposal is simplicity. It is as simple as it gets. What's more, it could be adopted tomorrow and nothing would have to change. No new riding boundaries, no new nomination processes, no new ballots, no new voting methods, no redesign of the House of Commons. The only thing that changes is how an MP is declared elected. A voter wouldn't even need to be told the system has changed, and his or her experience in the ballot box would be identical. With the NRU system, we would need to re-design the riding boundaries and figure out how to portion out those NRU seats.

      As to the problems you've identified. Your first two are based on a misunderstanding - the list is determined by vote share, not raw votes, so the size of the riding would have no impact.

      As to your third point, again the ridings are designed to populate the list, not provide local representation. In Kenora, for example, they could choose any number of MPs assigned to their riding as their local representative. If they didn't like the second-place finisher who was elected from Kenora, they can consider an MP for another party assigned to be Kenora's local representative as their local representative.

    2. And no Member elected by a coin toss as happened very recently in PEI !!

    3. Peter Meldrum,

      All voting methods which aren't biased towards certain candidates require a random element to break exact ties.

      For example, in 308PR, if a party was allocated 4 seats and the 4th and 5th place candidates on the party list both received the exact same vote share, a coin flip or other random element would be needed to determine who gets the last seat.

    4. Geobey's final point is excellent. If Candidate A wins the vote in Riding X, but Candidate A's party didn't do very well across the province, it's possible that Candidate A doesn't get a seat but Candidate B (who finished behind Candidate A) does (if Candidate B's party did better).

      The thing about local representation is that people choose their representative. 308PR takes that choice away from voters, instead handing it to the aggregate of voters province-wide.

      That's not local representation. That's proportional representation.

      AThe more I think about your proposal, the more it just looks like PR to me, and thus the less I like it.

      But then, I really like FPTP. I think FPTP produces good outcomes, and I see no meaningful deficiencies with it. It does all the things it is supposed to do.

    5. shma sure, I agree. In the PEI case two candidates for the Legislature from one seat had identical numbers. The PEI election code apparently dictates a coin toss in that situation. Personally a re-vote would have been fairer

    6. PR, under any MMP model (whether Baden-Wurttemberg's, the Scottish model, and Law Commission's, or any other, never sees a party "assign" an MP to represent a riding. Ridings elect their own MP. As well, voters in each riding help elect regional MPs who represent voters unrepresented by local winners. Complex? Watch this new six-minute video:

  23. CROP has the NDP at 42% in Quebec!
    We're seeing 2011-like numbers there.

    1. The 2011 numbers were, of course, short-lived. Just well-timed.

      We shall see (in the coming weeks) if these numbers are the same.

    2. With these numbers, in Québec, my model would give:

      59 NDP
      13 LPC
      6 CPC

      Only 3 less for the NDP, even if the LPC almost doubles its vote share. The biggest loser here, obviously, would be the BQ. And the CPC still can't seem to make a lasting impression in the Belle Province.

    3. Ira, how can you say the 2011 numbers were short lived? Even with the death of Layton, the bland (if satisfactory) interim leadership of Turmel, and the ascension of Trudeau, the NDP has either been competitive or led in Quebec since 2011.

    4. There was a big spike at election day. If that level of support has persisted since, it wouldn't be noteworthy that they were back at that level now.

  24. Fascinating concept - good ideas and good critiques as well.

    Very right that the way party lists are typically generated in PR seems to me a real demotivator to vote. Anonymous, unaccountable, incapable of independent action in the legislature.

    One (albeit only semi-democratic) way I've thought to get around that is through launching PR primaries - all party members get ballots listing the full slate of aspiring candidates in the district, and they select as many as they want (up to the total seats available in the district). The final party list for the district ends up ordered by the vote share (and all those in the list who fall lower than the number of seats in the district fall away completely).

    At general election, voters just vote for the party (not the candidate), though the candidates (in ranked order) will all be public knowledge, and will have been elected to the list in the first place.

    Perhaps not a meaningful improvement on PR, but at least opens up the list nomination process.

  25. I really fail to see how a proportional system is in any way complicated, and I would claim it is most representative of the actual votes. I also fail to see how it would not be suitable for a "nation with multitude of different regions". The amount of representatives should be in proportion to the population of a electoral area/district and people within that area elect from a local list. If a parties votes are divided between multiple candidates, the most popular ones still get elected based on total support for the party. Am I missing something?

  26. And what would be the effect of removing "Party" from the ballot ?? I mean allow no reference to party during the campaign ?? And of course removing all party funding !!

    1. I strongly agree with that. It flushes out a lot of "strategy game" from the politics.

  27. Eric, the problem with your model is not that a handful of ridings would elect more than one candidate. It's that some ridings would elect no one. In Baden-Wurttemberg, every riding elects an MLA (from larger ridings), and some ridings have an additional MLA to top-up the number of MLAs from their region (they use four regions) in order to make every vote count equally (subject to the usual German 5% threshold).

    1. The 5% threshold is a disaster. Look at the perverse incentives and results it created in the last German election: potential FDP voteers feared the FDP would miss the threshold, so they switched to the coalition partner CDU. As a result, the FDP fell just under the 5% threshold, disappeared from the legislature. As a result, the CDU didn't have a coalition partner to form a majority -- and the other three parties, despite having fewer votes, could have formed a majority coalition (if they didn't hate each other's guts). It put the CDU in the perverse position of wanting their own voters to switch votes to the FDP.

      I know that the threshold came out of a desire to avoid the chaotic legislatures of the Weimar Republic, but all it does in 21st century Germany is skew election results.

  28. This is a terrible idea, and I say this as someone from New Zealand who has live, studied, and supports, proportional systems.

    Under this proposal, you could have someone WIN their local riding, but not get elected to parliament. (And MANY ridings would end up with no local representative).

    This could happen if a party did very well in a few seats (say they win 6) in a province, but very poorly in the other seats in the province.

    On average, because of the large number of seats they didn't do well in, their vote in that province might only entitle them to 4 or 5 seats in that province.

    MMP is complex because it has to be to avoid exactly these sorts of unusual scenarios that are unlikely but still happen and would absolutely piss off the voting public.

    Still, very interesting discussion and I'd be happy to chat more in future on it. I'll tweet you!


    1. The only candidates who would officially 'win' their ridings are independents or candidates from small parties that don't reach the 3% national threshold. All the other candidates are just trying to amass as much of the vote in their local riding as possible. The only 'winners' are those that make it to the list, indicating that they were among the X most popular candidates from their party.

    2. That is a semantic argument, though. If only one candidate from a riding becomes an MP, they have effectively 'won' their riding. And sometimes that candidate is not the most preferred out of all candidates in the riding.

      In fact, it is possible that the only candidate elected from a riding is *least* preferred among the major parties. For example, see the results in Calgary Center-North, where Green candidate Heather MacIntosh becomes an MP (with only 12% of the vote), but the three other major party candidates do not. Note that the non-Green voters in this riding can't reduce the PR allocation of the Greens, so regardless of how they change their vote, MacIntosh still wins her seat. To me, that indicates a lack of local accountability.

  29. Personally, I support German style MMP. Back in 2004, the now defunct Law Commission of Canada advocated for a similar type of system with 33% of MPs coming from party lists.

    I think that could work. We could have 226 MPs that are directly elected and 113 MPs that come from party lists.

    I know party lists are a tough sell to people. I think abolishing the senate can help balance out having too many "unelected politicians". Not sure if other countries do this, but perhaps the candidates from the party lists will receive a lower salary then their directly elected counterparts.

    Of course, once we start talking electoral reform and abolishing the senate we will years of constitutional headaches. That's why I feel that there is no appetite for electoral reform in Canada. At least for another generation.

    I think ranked ballots at the municipal level in Ontario is a great pilot project for future provincial and federal reform.

    As for looking at alternative history. I feel that the Alliance and PCs only merged because of the realities of the FPTP system. If electoral reform is implemented in Canada, I believe the CPC will split into two parties - one representing Blue Tories and one representing Red Tories. I think we can also see a more high profile libertarian and social conservative movement on the right.

    Implementing voting reform will not result in a permanent center-left majority. But it will result in watered down conservatism.

    1. A real shame about the Law Commission. They did what the Senate is supposed to do but never does: give unpartisan, deliberate thought to making legislation that they believed in the best interests of the country, even if not necessarily popular.

    2. The CPC electoral reform or not will not split into red and blue camps, what wishful Liberal thinking (although I suppose a split on the right is about the only way for the Liberals to return to power)! However, PR or a variation thereof, does make it theoretically easier for smaller and new parties to get elected at least in the beginning.


      The Senate is not supposed to be nor ever was non-partisan, indeed, its very composition and make-up was designed to give it a Tory bent with the landowning and monied classes the only ones eligible to be summoned. The Senate does give deliberate thought to legislation and amends Bills in the best interests of the country and certainly does a lot of committee work to this end. The tragedy is that it is not reported by the media as much as it should. As for the Law commission I don't really have any qualms with their work but, to call them "unpartisan" (sic) is to negate the very purpose of its being-a lobby group for lawyers who are less accountable than the Senate!

  30. I always figured that compensation would be given from within defeated members from FPTP. You currently have 308 seats in the House of Commons, you would keep that number but change the ridings to have less, around 2/3 of now. So you'd have 215 ridings (5 in NFL, 3 in PEI, 8 seats in NS, 7 seats in NB, 52 in Québec, 73 in Ontario, 10 seats in Manitoba, 10 seats in Saskatchewan, 19 in Alberta, 25 in BC and 3 for the Territories) and 93 seats given for proportionality.

    For simplicity's sake, let's pretend the parties won the same share of seats in the 215 ridings than in the 308, meaning the CPC got 116, the NDP 72, the LPC 24, the BQ 2 and the GPC 1. With 39,6% of the votes, the CPC shoudl receive 122 seats, so they gain 6 from the compensation. With 30,6%, the NDP should receive 95 seats, and so receives 23 compensatory seats. The LPC, with 18,9%, should have 59 seats, and so receives 35 compensatory seats. The BQ and its 6% should have 19 seats, and then receive 17 in compensation. The GPC and its 3,9% of votes is entitled to 13 seats and receives 12 in compensation.

    These seats would be given to "closest to winning" for each party, ie smallest losing margin (not highest vote share received). Therefore, some ridings could have, say, 3 representatives, if all three candidates received 30%.

    I can't say where those seats would have come from in 2011, but the advantage here is that every region is represented correctly, only one vote is given, strong candidates, even in tight races, are rewarded and in the end, I'm pretty sure all the parties would have a fairly good representation in every region because of this. Ontario would probably have more seats than it currently has, but that is because its a battleground with many ideas being supported among its constituents and plurality is needed to do so.

    You only vote once, nothing is complicated, you have proportionality, no hidden list and strong candidates elected. I think its a god system.

  31. Although I would not be in favour of this system, I definitely encourage your efforts!

    While I'm not opposed to changing our system, I would insist on specific local representation. Your informal method would not satisfy me.

  32. Every true political nerd has his own voting reform system.

    Mine is: the party with the most votes overall gets to appoint an additional 50 seats (1 for every 10 seats that a province has (round up for provinces with less than 10 seats, plus one from each territory) from the list they announce at the beginning of the election. That list forms the cabinet and Ministers of State.

    That way: (a) voters can vet the potential cabinet of each party before voting; (b) the party that gets the most votes almost certainly gets the most seats, and (c) Cabinet members would no longer be constituency MPs, which cuts down conflicts of interest and frees up time for them to be more effective Ministers.

  33. I can't support the idea of moving away from having MPs represent their ridings and instead divvying up the province among the winning party. Getting re-elected should be on the basis of their track record representing their local constituents, not the people throughout the province who supported their party in the election. This seems to be a way to distract from the fact that there will be constituencies where the candidates with the second most votes in a close election becomes the winner because that person's party is under-represented and the candidate who got more votes is from a party that is over-represented. It's a bizarre outcome that may not be popular in that constituency, but it's better than getting rid of the whole concept of constituency representation.

  34. Defenders of FPTP make much of the importance of local representation, but I am doubtful how much of a reality it is under the current system.

    The instances of politicians crossing the party whips to represent their constituency over their party are rare, and often these outliers reflect personal opportunism as often as integrity.

    In today's system so much power is concentrated in the PMO and leaders offices already. Most PR systems such as this one would merely make plain this dynamic that is now obfuscated, while doing away with some of the negative impacts of disproportionality.

    1. Josh, local representation doesn't just happen in parliamentary votes. It also has to do with acting as a liason between the constituent and the relevant government bureaucracy, or raising issues in committee, or any number of other things.

      There's a lot more to being an MP than just voting in the House.

  35. Screw lists. Lets do this the easy way. Each ballot has two items to check off (I figure anyone with a 70 IQ should be able to handle that). One for local rep and one for party preference. The local is same as always (I'd prefer going to instant runoff for that), the national is a balancing thing.

    So once the HOC is set you'd have 338 seats plus any party that got 1/3 of 1% of the vote gets to have their leader sit in the HOC - no more leaders running for a riding as they represent a nation not a riding. when votes are done it would be as now plus each leader stands and declares their party votes for or against using their % of the vote for an extra 338 total votes. Simple, no worries about 'but I voted for a whatever how dare they cross' as now you are clearly voting local and national with the party vote being 100% party controlled and try to kill the whips for individual MP's.

  36. What about a modified FPTP system in which a candidate could not win a riding with less than 50% + 1 of the vote, and all ridings with only pluralities would have a second, runoff vote one week later between the top two candidates?

    1. That's effectively a STV system, just taking place over several days.

    2. It most certainly is not. It's the two round or second ballot system, long used in France for the presidency (and for deputies with a plurality threshold in the second round) and its former colonies (including Louisiana for congressional elections) and the system that was dominant in Western Europe until it was replaced by PR after WWI.

  37. I think that the main problem with our system are the parties themselves.

    Parties often make representatives vote against the ideas of the people they represent, reducing the impact a voter has and making them disinterested about politics.

    It seems to me that removing parties would force representative to better reflect their voters' ideas which would make much more valuable debates, encourage voters to take part and make it possible to end with better solutions.

    1. Why in fact not just vote for the party you want?? Of course no one would right now but why not in the future?? I mean who cares what wimp represents us when they have no ability to do other than vote the party line ??

    2. There are exceptions - Bruce Hyer left the NDP after he was told to vote party line or else. A few others have done that too. Sadly the big 3 will hold tight reigns on their MP's as long as they can. If Hyer gets re-elected it will loosen the grip a bit as it will show you can survive leaving a big 3. If he doesn't the grip will be tighter than ever.

    3. As you say John Hyer is an "Exception" !! And how many exceptions are there in the308 seats ?? Very, very few !!

  38. Many ridings and regions will hate this model, because they lose. Take Northern Ontario, which rejected the 2007 Ontario model because it had province-wide lists.They want Northern Ontario votes to elect the nine Northern Ontario MPs. Under this model, no Kenora candidate is elected. Worse, the Conservatives have no Northern Ontario MPs at all. By the votes shares in Northern Ontario, the fair result is four New Democrats, three Conservatives and two Liberals. In 2011, Liberal voters got cheated. Your model lets the Nipissing Liberal win, but no second one. And it chops the three Conservative MPs, adding to the NDP's northern bonus, bringing the NDP up to seven MPs. Yes, Ontario NDP voters were cheated in 2011, but not in Northern Ontario. The Baden-Wurttemberg model would have given the Liberals two Northern Ontario MPs, namely, the two defeated candidates who got the most support: Anthony Rota, and either Roger Valley (highest %) or Christian Provenzano (most votes). Whereas open list would have let Northern Liberals elect Carol Hartman.

  39. Geobey already raised this point, but a look at the 2011 results makes it concrete. Jared Giesbrecht came in 4th in Victoria with 11.6% of the vote. In the proposed system, he would have been an MP. Christopher Causton and Patrick Hunt, who had 14% and 23.6% of the vote, respectively, in the same riding, would not have been MPs. This seems perverse.

  40. DPR is another (new) system with minimal changes to the system. Local MPs are elected the same way. You also cast a party vote. The number of MPs stays the same.

    Proportionality is achieved by weighting parliamentary votes according to party vote share. For this parliament, each Conservative MP vote would have counted as .73, NDP as .92, Lib as 1.71, Bloc 4.62 and green as 12.01. That's the short version*.

    A Brit explanation is here:
    and a Canadian video is here:

    *The numbers above are if balanced federally, but legally, it might need to be balanced so it's provincially-weighted. This requires bigger calculators—but is still possible.

    1. I love the sounds of that. You keep local reps as is but proportionality is there too. What about parties who get no seats but 7% of the vote (ala the Greens in 2008)? I could see saying if you get 3% or more nationally you get the leader a seat to use those votes as an 'at large' MP.

    2. The obvious problem with this system is that it can provide small regions with gigantic power in national votes. If this system was used in Britain in 2015, the single UKIP MP would have power equivalent to 12.6% of the entire parliament. This means that the 67,000 voters he represents would have more than twice the parliamentary voting power than the entire population of scotland (pop. 5.2 million).

      The specifics on the website you linked to also allow for an interesting way of manipulating the vote. Because, under the DPR rules, a free vote would be an unweighted vote (the logic being that they are voting as MPs and through their party), a government with a majority of MPs but a minority of the popular vote could announce a 'free vote', but then whip their members into voting with the party position, allowing them to pass laws which would have otherwise been rejected by a PR (weighted) majority. In other words, if it is politically expedient, they can revert to the non-PR system at will in order to pass legislation that would not otherwise pass in a PR parliament.

    3. From the Brit extended rules: "The system largely maintains the imperative for small parties to get at least one MP elected as a constituency
      MP." So, If Elizabeth May gets elected, they get their pro-rated vote. If no Green was elected, no vote. Not sure what happens to the missing percentage at that point.

      The UKIP thing makes sense, as long as you remember who he's voting for, and when. When voting 'party' votes, the party (not just the riding) got 12.6% of the vote. So, Douglas Carswell would have to vote the UKIP party line or suffer his party's consequences. When voting in non-party votes, he votes in his riding's interest.

      The scenario for gaming it with the majority calling for 'non party votes' seems to be address in the Brit rules which decree "but if and only if all parties agree, a vote can be deemed a ‘non party’ vote. In effect every party has a veto on this and if there is no agreement amongst the parties the vote is carried out according to the party vote method." So that doesn't appear to be an issue.

      This is kind to getting to the point of Monopoly and 'House Rules' for Free Parking, etc. I'm not necessarily a proponent of DPR, but it seemed worthy of discussion to kick around and dissect.

      I'd be happy with adoption a system that's running somewhere else and trying it out (New Zealand, etc.) Anything is better than FPTP. (Ask the PCs and Wild Rose how fair the Alberta election was.)

    4. thomaus,

      "The scenario for gaming it with the majority calling for 'non party votes' seems to be address in the Brit rules which decree "but if and only if all parties agree, a vote can be deemed a ‘non party’ vote."

      If this is true, rather than solve the problem, it just moves the ability to manipulate from parties which benefit from (Plurality) 'free votes' to parties which benefit from PR party votes. I don't think UKIP, for instance, would ever agree to switch to a 'free vote' where they have 80 times less power than they would with a PR vote. Neither would the Liberal Democrats, who would also lose a huge amount of voting power by switching to a free vote.

      "The UKIP thing makes sense, as long as you remember who he's voting for, and when. When voting 'party' votes, the party (not just the riding) got 12.6% of the vote. So, Douglas Carswell would have to vote the UKIP party line or suffer his party's consequences. When voting in non-party votes, he votes in his riding's interest."

      The fallacy here, independent of my above point, is that you can classify all issues as 'party' or 'riding' issues, with no overlap. Consider a defence bill which happens to include a significant amount of money for Carswell's riding. Is that a 'party' issue because defence concerns the whole UK, or a 'riding' issue, because he has the opportunity to secure a large amount of government funds for his constituents? And, given the option of obtaining 12.6% of the parliamentary vote in exchange for a few government dollars, what government would not throw money Carswell's way in a bill they needed to pass? And, as a complement, why would any government waste their time with Scotland, when SNP MPs each hold the equivalent of half a vote. That's the big problem facing an electoral system which gives some regions vastly more power than others. We see a more mild version of this, for example, in Iowa in the US, where their importance to the primary process has lead to huge amounts of government farming subsidies directed towards the state.

      This is why, in MMP for instance, each riding still gets only one seat and one vote. Equal voting power for equal population districts is a necessary part of a representative democratic system.

    5. I'm a WR supporter, and I think the Alberta election went really well.

      Proportionality offers no material benefit I've seen anyone even attempt to describe.

      Regaerding that Brit system, the free vote rules would guarantee that UKIP would never consent to having a free vote. And while that would be funny (I like UKIP), it does probably doom the system.

  41. Eric, is this not in a way basically like the Irish STV? Just with the province being one large constituency instead of smaller ones?

    1. And I should add, with no preferences, so its essentially as if you're electing people based on their first-ballot results.

  42. Two thoughts:

    1. Many of our day to day lives are not administered by the federal government, so I would forgo local representation in the sense of a riding, if that meant a more representational lower house.
    2. We could keep FPTP if we also got to vote in senate elections at the same time as our MP's. You vote for an MP then you vote for a party. Each party puts a list of senators forward. Then we could keep how many senators are in each province, and each party sent senators based on the popular senate vote in each province.
    This would enable the voter to feel like their vote mattered and if you had a really good MP but you didn't like their party as much you could still vote for another party. Also, no party could (I mean highly unlikely) have a majority in both houses, the only way for that to happen is if they got 50% of the senate vote in EACH PROVINCE and won the most seats in the lower house.

    1. I've proposed the senate idea before. You can avoid any constitutional issues and put it in place quickly... how?
      1) in an election people pick local MP and party
      2) Party % in each province determines how many seats in the senate each gets (in PEI you need 25% to get a seat, Ontario around 4%)
      3) Request all sitting senators to resign post election, if some refuse they count against their parties allocation for their province, if a party is over represented after that public pressure would jump on that party.
      4) each party gives a list of who are their representatives for each province
      5) new PM appoints as appropriate with option to demand a new choice if someone is inappropriate (ie: criminal, Mike Duffy, whatever)

      Since the PM still appoints and old senators are not forced out it lands within the rules as is. Since Alberta has run a few elections and had them appointed we know you can 'get away' with elections.

      I don't see it happening though as whoever wins in a FPTP system would not want a senate that is sorta legit where their opponents could have more power.

  43. Thoughtful and interesting. I'm not sure Canadians would accept anything complex, and they have indicated in a number of referenda that they will not accept anything tied to PR. I prefer a referendum on a number of simple reforms where whatever Canadians say "yes" to will be implemented by the Government and Parliament of the day, including Recall; Restore Parliamentary oversight over governemnt borrowing; Citizen-triggered referenda; Mandatory voting; Internet voting; More MPs to dilute party control; "ranked" voting; and Elected Senate. Not earth-shattering stuff, but much of it is probably doable.

    1. No way on earth we'll ever see anything that creates more MP's getting passed by the general public. In the Ontario referendum that was the #1 reason I was told by many smart people who voted no - they didn't want any more politician jobs and that method would create more jobs for politicians. My normal ideas are ones that would only create new MP or MPP"s who are party leaders at most and most can agree with that I've seen or at least it isn't a hard sell or deal breaker. Adding another 20 or 30 seats is a big deal. In fact if any party had the guts to say they'd roll back 30 MP's that Harper has added (due to the way the system is designed...not really his fault) they'd probably get tons more votes. But also would piss off any of their own MP's who might lose their seats.

    2. 57% of British Columbians approved STV (which is a form of PR, the best one IMO) in the 2005 referendum. The only reason we don't have it now is that a 60% threshold was set.

      Much depends on how well the system is explained, how the question is asked, etc. Despite all the education efforts you still hear stories of people showing up at the polls to vote and saying "What referendum?" and likely voting no just due to uncertainty with what a yes vote would usher in.

    3. Mandatory voting will only ensure that people vote for the sake of voting which means we;ll most likely get more of what we don't want. Besides, the administrative costs of enforcement are not worth it.

    4. I believe the 2005 nor 2009 results in BC were so different because by 2009 there was an organized attempt to summarize (and falsify) the "No" claims.

      In 2005 people were voting on whether to trust a Citizens' Assembly they perceived as honest and unbiased.

      By 2009 people were convinced they were voting on something the parties were advancing for their own interests.

      Canadians hate political parties. Participation in them is extremely low compared to most other democracies.

      I do agree that the BC Liberals taking power in 2005 with far less support than STV had, should have been obligated to implement it, period. A court challenge to that effect might well have won. A re-vote under the same threshold rules (far too strict, 77/79 districts voting 50%+1 should have been enough to offset the 60% by some formula).

      Also by 2009 Fair Vote Canada was active and interfering, basically, as it had really a very different idea of how to proceed with reform, and is basically run by party insiders who want MMP with closed lists, absurd as that is. The hope of getting MMP referenda as in Ontario or PEI helped convince MMP supporters to vote no on STV in 2009 whereas in 2005 they were willing to accept it.

    5. If Canadians hate political parties, why would we want to legitimise them by supporting proportionality?

      For the record, I lived in BC for the STV referendum, and I voted No.

  44. Simpler suggestion: augment FPTP with a runoff system. Run the election as normal, any riding where no one receives 50% plus of the vote goes to a runoff between the top two. This weeds out single issue parties and gives voters one more chance to go for their second choice. Simple.

  45. I'm not liking this system at all.

    Any district where a member gets more than 50% should be elected period.

    Look at the Lethbridge district. Jim Hillyer gets 56% of the vote, more than double Mark Sandilands, yet Sandilands is the representative? No thanks.

    I much prefer an stv variation, if we are going to change. But then again, I'm not interested in catering to the fringes.

  46. After considering everyone's comments, I think there is a strong point to be made that the system's major flaw is that some ridings would have the second or third person win rather than the first. I'd argue that it doesn't matter, it isn't about winning a riding but rather populating a list, but people wouldn't think like that.

    On reflection, I like the 'nearest runner-up' approach or 'best winner' approach best. The number of ridings would be reduced and decided via FPTP, and then extra seats would be awarded to parties to get the total number proportional to their vote. Those extra seats would be populated by the 'nearest runner-up', or each party's best losers in the FPTP ridings.

    I'd keep the same 3% threshold and rules related to small parties and independents. By-elections would replace FPTP MPs only.

    But the problem with that system is that it requires a little bit of math after-the-fact (my system didn't) and requires that the boundaries be redrawn (otherwise, using 2011 as a guide, we'd need almost 500 MPs). So it isn't the same seamless transition as I proposed above, and that is a problem to me. It gets complicated when we think of the minimum number of ridings each province is supposed to have. But if we're talking idealistically, we can overlook these things.

    Thanks for the interesting discussion! Let's all go back to reality, where nothing like any of this will probably ever happen.

  47. Terminology problems dominate any discussion about electoral system, making most commentary on them moot.

    I suggest the following objective vocabulary for the topic:

    1. "Electoral reform" includes all measures including fixed election dates, changes to length of campaigns, voting system, means of recourse or recall due to fraud or floor crossing or whatever else after the election etc.

    2. "Voting reform" more narrowly meaning change to the voting system.

    3. "Proportional representation" NEVER used as a term, as it describes multiple systems with many differences in ballot, counting and especially implications for parties.

    Instead say "more party proportional" if what you mean is a system where the number of awarded seats more closely matches by party the proportion of popular vote.

    There are other forms of proportionality such as gender, region, age, ethnicity... you ignore all that when you abuse the word "proportional" to mean only party label.

    4. MPP and STV as two examples of "more party proportional voting systems", with neither one really having a claim to being "more" proportional than the other as it depends on the size of districts and how many candidates each elects.

    5. "Vote split" as describing a situation where a lack of second and third rankings elects a party that is strongly opposed by the majority, such as in the 2011 election and possibly the 2015 election federally.

    "Avoid vote split" defined as a separate objective from "more party proportionality", those are different goals.

    An IRV system does avoid vote splits as it allows second and third choice votes. It does not achieve significantly more party proportionality if IRV is the only way seats are allocated.

    6. "Winner takes all system" terminology never used. All systems have winners and losers. In practice the term "winner takes all" is used as a pejorative by those who try to promote more party-proportional systems. It could be said to have a technical meaning but not one that say supporters of MPP and STV would agree on.

    7. "Threshold problem" is that MPP systems rely upon a fixed arbitrary threshold of % for who gets seats in the House. Such a fixed arbitrary threshold was challenged successfully in the courts vis a vis per vote subsidy funds so will again be challenged, likely successfully, vis a vis seat allocations, if only because they affect funding too (official House party status etc.). Thus Canada has a big problem if it adopts any form of MPP: Every small party will demand any fixed threshold be dropped, and that it therefore elects an MP with (assuming the current 338 seat House) under 1/3 of 1% of the popular vote. A quick look at how many parties get 1/3 of 1% of the vote and a guess at how many MORE would form under a system that guaranteed a seat at that threshold, and it's obvious that Canada's electoral system would often put the balance of power into the hands of fringe parties, as in Israel.

    This is the death blow argument for MMP in Canada as the courts would probably not even rule on such issues until after an MMP system was adopted. Therefore, a vote for MMP with a fixed threshold is an uncertain future electoral system, which is enough to kill it dead in a referendum.

    So if you have a system with a threshold that is somehow NOT arbitrary, you had better explain why not, and why it will not fall to the same logic as funding.

  48. Eric correctly notes the upside of allowing the current ballot to continue to be used. A note that should be added re that advantage is that Australia's system also allows the legacy FPTP-type vote (for just one candidate and their party simultaneously) as legal.

    While the Australian system formally requires that every party be ranked, which is a necessary feature to avoid certain anomalies that are common in ranked systems, the voter can DEFER that obligation to the PARTY of the candidate that s/he votes for. That is, by voting for just one candidate as first/only choice, the voter selects the failover preferences of THAT PARTY as their own. Each party registers an official list of such a ranking before an election so that:

    1. deals between parties in this regard are facilitated and verifiable.

    2. the public can determine if the list matches their own constraints or preferences well enough that they trust the rankings of the party of the candidate they vote for

    3. confused or uninformed or elderly or protesting voters who refuse or forget to rank every candidate/party, don't get their vote thrown away entirely

    While Canadians seem to uniquely despite and hate all political parties, this may be a result of a FPTP system in which they literally have no incentive to ever agree to cooperate before elections, and then every incentive to cooperate afterward (breaking their promises not to)... the Australian system would be a more viable model for Canada given it is geographically similar in having very heavily built up urban areas and very vast wastelands.

    It seems a more likely model for reform than anything from Germany, where culture is more uniform and the political history argues that minority popular support for a power-seizing party can be a very bad thing indeed.

    Something Canadians only just recently figured out...

  49. An out of the box reply to your post:

    1. I've read about the Venus Project.

      Who grows the food?

  50. Eric - thanks for raising this important issue. As president of Fair Voting BC, I'd like to make two comments:

    1. While you (and others) describe proportional representation as somehow a matter of preference (i.e., is it better than FPTP), we at FVBC see it as a matter of a civil rights violation. Here in Canada, we have a Charter right to effective representation. A federal court has ruled (2004) that an MP cannot effectively represent all their constituents, frequently having to choose the majority [sic - should be 'plurality'] over the minority. While we don't yet have a court decision ruling that leaving half the voters unrepresented is unconstitutional, I think that the legal groundwork has been clearly laid. To my mind, it's a matter of when we will get a Charter-compliant voting system, not if our voting system has to be Charter-compliant.

    2. Your suggested PR system is very interesting - it's essentially the second tier of an open list MMP system with candidates explicitly assigned to ridings (or at least explicitly running in ridings). It has some minor issues, as pointed out by yourself and others (e.g., that in order for smaller parties to be represented, some ridings might have an MP who received only 5% of the vote), but these could be fixed relatively easily. I'd like to suggest that perhaps the easiest way to 'fix' the idea would be to convert all current ridings into paired ridings and elect two MPs from each riding - the first person elected would be the plurality winner in each riding, and the second would be elected using a system substantially similar to what you propose - i.e., the top vote-getters from the various parties as needed to make the overall results proportional by province. Chile uses a variant on this system - the top two vote-getters get elected (called the 'binomial system'), and it's intrinsically more proportional than our current system. Each paired riding would then typically have a pair of MPs representing different points of view (normally from different parties). The small party problem would be reduced since each riding would have elected the top vote-getter in that riding.

    Anyway, food for thought. I think this discussion shows that there are some very plausible models available to us that are not either MMP or STV and that might better fit Canada's unique circumstances. Thanks for advancing this discussion.

  51. Your "cursory search" evidently didn't include "The Report of The Hansard Society Commission on Electoral Reform" (1976), an extremely important document for UK politics as it was the basis for the additional member systems of Scotland, Wales, and Greater London (if you don't have it you might still be able to order it from the society as I did years ago, Fair Vote Canada's inventory that I had added is likely long gone). Here is what the report said about a proposal similar to yours, if I've read you correctly, made by a group called "Conservative Action for Electoral Reform":
    "Under this system elections would take place as now
    within existing constituencies. The seats would then be allocated to each party according to their percentage of the total vote. This allocation would then be broken down into counties. Seats would be allocated to parties within counties on the basis of the candidates with the largest number of votes obtaining the seats. Although this is an ingenious scheme, some MPs would represent constituencies in which they had obtained a very small percentage of the vote. The 'loser' would become the 'winner'. We are sure that this would not be acceptable"
    Nonetheless while the Commission objected to it as the principle for all MPs, they did accept it as the method for selecting candidates to hold the additional, or in the more popular expression, "top-up" seats, an idea that came to be called the "best losers" method. Significantly the only electoral system where it has been used was for the Italian Senate when it was based on a mixed partly compensatory system similar to that of the Chamber of Deputies, and on a voluntary basis by parties in the Japanese Diet with their mixed parallel system. One more thing, the late Canadian political scientist Paul Fox recommended a proposal like yours, albeit very briefly, in a 1976 postscript to a 1953 article on PR for The Financial Post (it's in the 4th edition of his textbook "Politics: Canada"). And one Canadian electoral reformer recommended this:
    Again, similar to yours.
    You might want to take another look at the many traditional models of PR and semi-PR and ask yourself why the system you recommend, which as I believe I have shown is hardly without precedent, hasn't been adopted anywhere while they have. Meanwhile I look forward to your further writings on this webpage and further appearances on Power and Politics.

    1. I am gratified they think my proposal is ingenious.

      Check the comments above, in the end I agreed that the 'best loser' solution was a good one.

    2. When I was citing electoral systems where the "best losers" principle is used I should have used the adjective "national" though Baden-Wurttemberg appears to be the only jurisdiction other than those I described where it is used. By the way, it might interest you to know that that state or rather when it was just Wurttemberg was the first locality in the world to use a mixed system, although then in the parallel form, back in 1906 with 25% of members elected by PR (I don't know how they were selected, there's little more info on it at least in English).
      I'd be interested to know your opinion of Stephane Dion's proposed "P3" system, which truly (and for electoral systems, particularly ones as relatively simple as his, amazingly) is so far as I've been able to determine original. Perhaps you already have given an opinion elsewhere in the blog?


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