A few days ago I posted an article on Senate reform, an issue that gets more attention and draws out more opinions than I expected. At the same time, fellow accountant/blogger Neal Jennings was writing his own post on Senate reform. Although we worked independently and used different methods, we came up with exactly the same numbers. That doesn’t mean that either of us can say that our hypothetical Senate is better, but it reinforces the idea that the Senate we have now fails to reflect the regions of Canada it is supposed to represent, and reform is needed.
Another reality is that the House of Commons fails to accurately represent the people of Canada. Many ideas have been proposed to make the ancient Westminster system that we use more reflective of a true democracy, which I wrote about in my last post, and once again I’m going to suggest reading Dave Meslin’s article on modern voting systems. Here, I’m going to describe an idea of a mixed-member proportional House of Commons for Canada.
What’s wrong with how we vote now? In Canada, we elect our Parliament in an indirect fashion. The country is divided into ridings, and citizens who live in each riding elect a single Member of Parliament to represent them in the House of Commons. It’s important that each riding elects a local representative, since the issues that affect one area are often much different than in other areas in a country as physically large as Canada.
However, over the history of the Westminster system and our own Parliament, the influence of particular individuals has given way to national political parties, so that in our democracy, much more emphasis is put on a candidate’s party affiliation than their own views, and local issues take a back seat to the whim of the party leaders. There’s not really anything wrong with that, in my opinion, because that gives a consistency of policy to candidates in every region of the country, and we are talking about a national governing body. In modern times, voters pay attention to parties much more than individuals, and debate in Parliament very closely follows party lines. Again, that’s not necessarily bad, because people know what to expect. But since we still technically elect local representatives and not national parties, representation in the House of Commons is very unbalanced. In Monday’s election, 39.6% of voters elected one party to 54.2% of the seats in the House.
This all leads to a number of strategic voting methodologies, where a person might prefer a strong national party with a weak local representative, but will vote for a stronger candidate from a less-preferred party so as to not elect another strong candidate from another less-preferred party. For example, a Conservative voter might vote New Democrat to prevent a Liberal being elected (don’t laugh, I know a few people who did this) and the parties actively promote this behaviour. This is bad for democracy, and leads to dishonest smear campaigns like we’ve seen in many elections in Canada.
In a mixed-member proportional representative (MMP) system, voters still elect local representatives, but the national results are adjusted so that the number of seats each party fills is proportional to their percentage of the national vote. In Canada, this could be done by having a number of members-at-large who fill additional seats to balance the proportions in the House of Commons. Some countries with MMP elections have voters cast two-vote ballots (one for a local candidate and one for a “list” candidate), but this has led to voter confusion. Instead, Canada could fill member-at-large seats from lists of candidates nominated by the parties.
Here’s a hypothetical formula for a MMP House of Commons, based on the results of Monday’s election. The Conservative party were elected to the highest number of seats, 167, with 39.6% of the national vote. To make that result proportional, enough seats are added to the House total to make 167 seats equal to 39.6% of the total. That number is 110, so there are a total of 418 seats (167 divided by 418 = 40.0%, close enough). The 110 “at-large” seats are divided between the other parties which earned enough of the vote for one seat (1/110 = 0.9%) so that their proportion of the total seats equals their proportion of the total votes. Here’s how it works out:
|Party||Elected Seats||At-Large Seats||Total Seats|
Which makes each party’s proportion of seats reflect their portion of votes:
|Party||Total MMP Seats||% of Elected Seats||% of MMP Seats||% of National Vote|
The proportions don’t match exactly because of the roughly 0.7% of votes that went to an array of smaller parties that wouldn’t have been elected under any democratic system, but otherwise the parties’ seats in the House of Commons represent the voters who voted for them. Sure, it sounds complicated, but the short version is that the people of Canada get the government that they vote for, and when it comes to the party totals in Parliament, everyone’s vote is equal right across the country. And the actual process is no more complicated for voters than our current system.