Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Ultimate Solution to Electoral Reform in Canada

Yes indeed, I do have the ultimate solutions to all of our electoral system problems and I will share them with all of you. Now some of you might think this is too comprehensive and complicated to propose all at once, but for voters it will be just a simple two step process and will eliminate the most difficult part of the voting process.

We need to do this fully and comprehensively because people have a reluctance towards change when it comes to our electoral system. They are not going to want to make multiple incremental changes. We have to do it once and we have to do it right.

The Problem

My proposals are aimed at solving the most important flaws in the process, those that make it undemocratic:

  • - the pressure for people to vote strategically, rather than for their actual preference, to try to avoid the next two factors
  • - the possibility, and likelihood in many cases, for the last choice of most voters to get elected because of "vote splitting" among like-minded voters
  • - a House of Commons whose party seat distribution does not reflect the popular vote
  • - an unelected, unaccountable and unnecessary Senate
The Solution

My proposals are based on these principles:
  • - maintaining the constituency representative system as the main basis of House of Commons membership
  • - eliminating the need and pressure for strategic voting
  • - a House of Commons whose membership, by party representation, reflects the total popular vote
  • -solving the Senate problem
A Constituency Representative Based System

The vast majority of Members of the House of Commons would be elected, as they are now, as constituency representatives. But, to avoid the necessity for strategic voting and the possibility of the least popular rather than most popular candidate being elected, a transferable vote system will be used where voters rate the candidates in preferential order, rating as many or few candidates as they wish.

A House of Commons Reflecting The Popular Vote

In order to ensure the party representation in the House of Commons reflects the popular votes a number of seats will be added to the House of Commons, and the members selected from party lists in a manner that brings the overall party representation equal to the popular vote.

This will be done by having voters select a party preference separate from a candidate preference.

The Numbers and Solving The Senate Problem

Looking at the last federal election we see that with 308 constituency representatives we have to add 107 Members of Parliament from party lists to get a fully representative House of Commons. However we can actually do this without adding any additional federal representatives by eliminating the Senate and the 100 Senators and limiting the number of constituency representatives to 300 and the number of list representatives to 100. This might not always enable adjustments to get the party representation fully equivalent but certainly enough to prevent any one party from forming a majority government without a majority of the popular vote. Note that current plans call for increasing the size of the House of Commons to 338 while retaining the Senate.

And yes eliminating the Senate may seem like an impossible task but all that it really requires is political will and is making our government truly democratic not worth finding that political will.

The End of Strategic Voting

The two new parts of the system - transferable votes and separate votes for party representation remove the most difficult part of the voting process - the antagonizing decision by voters on whether to vote strategically, an act that is itself undemocratic. Voters should be able to vote for the candidate and party of their choice and not feel that they have to vote against someone or some party to avoid the worst of all possible outcomes.

The transferable vote allows voters to rank their preferences so that in the end everyone gets to choose between the two candidates left on the ballot and no one loses their vote.

The separate vote for party representation means that no matter how votes divide up by constituency the parties representation in the House of Commons reflects their support nationwide.

These provisions also allow voters to choose independent candidates as their constituency representative without losing their ability to affect the party representation in the House of Commons.

Municipal and Provincial Elections

The transferable vote provisions are ones that should also be adopted in municipal elections. Since most municipal elections do not involve political parties the likelihood of many candidates with similar views running is even greater than in federal and provincial elections and the pressure to vote against the least desirable (rather than for the most desirable) candidate is even greater. A transferable vote prevents the last choice of most voters from being elected due to vote splitting because in the end everyone gets to choose between the two candidates left on the ballot and no one loses their vote.

The full proposal (except for elimination of the Senate) could also be adopted and adapted for provincial elections.

Representation by Population and Community Representation

One of the effects of our attempt to maintain representation by population (rep by pop) as much as possible without even further enlarging the geographic size of rural and remote constituencies has been the continual increase in the number of Members of Parliament. Current plans call for the House of Commons to increase from 308 to 338 with no end in sight.

One of the things that the separate ballot for party representation will ensure is that the House of Commons party representation reflects the popular vote of voters. This makes pure representation by population, which we have never had, somewhat less important and enables us to put more focus on making constituency representatives community representatives.

To achieve this we should put a limit on the number of Members of Parliament at 300 constituency MPs and 100 list MPs. We should also redraw constituencies, taking rep by pop into account as much as possible, making constituency boundaries more consistent with actual community boundaries as well as keeping geographic size manageable for an MP to represent. We should retain these configurations for much longer periods so these new community reflecting constituencies do not change with every election.

We should also retain PEI at 4 constituency MPs and Quebec at 75 constituency MPs for historical reasons.

We have to recognize, of course, that the list MPs will come from across Canada and are not necessarily going to accurately reflect rep by pop, though I suspect they may be more urban than rural somewhat correcting the effect of limiting rural and remote constituency geographic sizes.

There is going to be, as there always has been, a trade-off between rep by pop and ensuring effective representation for less densely populated parts of the country. However with the separate vote for party preference based on popular vote that becomes less of a problem.

The Benefits of List Representatives

There has always been criticism of the concept of having Members of Parliament selected from party lists but there are also significant benefits of it beyond ensuring that the House of Commons party representation reflects the popular vote.

We have to remember, that just as voters take into account candidates party affiliation when choosing a constituency MP, voters will also take into account who the parties have placed on their lists when choosing a party preference. Thus the parties will need to be mindful of this when drawing up their lists.

One aspect that might be criticized is parties placing people who could not get elected as individual MPs on the list. I think that is a good thing. There are undoubtedly many competent qualified people capable of doing an excellent job as an MP who would be a complete failure as a political candidate. It would not hurt to have some MPs who are lousy as "political operatives" in the House of Commons.

It might also not hurt to have MPs who are less partisan in the House of Commons and I would encourage political parties to place capable candidates that might not be card carrying members but share the parties philosophies on their lists.

There is a question as to whether parties should be allowed to place individuals who are seeking election as constituency representatives on the list. While I understand that parties might want to "protect" key candidates it is somewhat offensive that candidates rejected by their constituency voters could end up in the House of Commons (somewhat like appointing failed candidates to the Senate).

Towards a New Co-operative and Democratic House of Commons

Most individual voters would probably say that they want a majority government led by (and composed only of) the party they support. But what do the voters collectively want. It is rare that a majority of voters votes for one political party and when they do the seat representation is far from proportional to the popular vote.

The last time Canadian voters gave one party over 50% of popular votes was in 1958 when Diefenbaker's Tories received 53.7 % of the votes and 78.5 % of the seats, although Mulroney's Tories received 50% of the votes and 74.8% of the seats in 1984. (Source: Canadian Election Results: 1867-2006)

We usually get majority governments, not because we vote for them but, because of how our political system is structured.

This proposed new electoral system will ensure that voters get the representation they want and will almost always reflect the fact that their is a wide variety of political preferences in our country.

We might all be very surprised by how much better a governing process and government we get if our elected representatives are forced by the voters to actually compromise and work together without one party, or even one man, controlling the agenda.

Although we have become used to it, an "elected dictatorship" is not necessarily the best way to run a country.

1 comment:

Wilf Day said...

Could Canada have 105 proportional MPs and scrap the Senate?
http://wilfday.blogspot.com/2012/01/could-canada-have-105-proportional-mps.html