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How people elect parliaments

Canadian government confirms breach of commitment on electoral reform

A debate in the Canadian Parliament today confirmed that the governing Liberal Party has reneged on an election commitment for electoral reform.

The Canadian Liberal Party and its leader, Justin Trudeau, campaigned during the 2015 election with reform of the electoral system as a key promise.

Now the nation’s Prime Minister, throughout 2015 Trudeau repeatedly hammered a commitment that the 2015 election would be the last Canadian to use the first-past-the-post system.

The Liberal policy, adopted officially by its members in late 2014, included a commitment to select from one of several possible replacements systems after holding a public enquiry.

The promised all-party parliamentary enquiry was duly held during 2016.

Public engagement with the enquiry was remarkably high for a technical subject such as electoral system design.

731 witnesses appeared before the Committee’s dozens of public meetings across Canada, and over 500 detailed written submission were received from electoral experts, non-governmenr organisatiosn and individual citizens. Many MPs held additional public consultation of their own in their local communities.

Over 85% of members of the public, and 90% of technical experts, advocated to the enquiry that some form of proportional representation be chosen as the new electoral system.


The 338 members of Canada’s House of Commons are still elected
by first-past-the-post voting

The enquiry Committee’s landmark Strengthening Democracy report was finally released last November.

The report did not, however, recommend one specific election method, due to the fact that Canada’s incumbent political parties each take a different direction on the question. No majority of the committee members could be found to back a single proposal.

Leaders and party officials of the governing Liberal Party, including Trudeau, are widely thought to prefer a move to preferential voting in the existing single-member ridings.

The New Democratic Party, Greens and Bloc Québécois broadly supported the proportional methods that the overwhelming majority of the public had called for.

The opposition Conservative Party’s preference is to block change altogether and retain the existing plurality voting system. The Conservatives’ main demand was therefore for a public referendum between the current system and a single alternative. Conservative enquiry MPs also tactically declined to support any specific replacement.

The report instead called on the Government to take on the lead in the debate by selecting a preferred alternative system and moving forward.

But in responding to the report, the Prime Minister astonished observers by replacing the minister responsible for electoral reform and informing the Parliament that no further action on reform would occur.

Trudeau sought to justify reneging on his party’s election commitment by claiming that “no consensus” had occurred on a single alternative to first-past-the-post voting.

But reaching consensus among the political parties, or even among the dozen individual MPs who had conducted the enquiry, had never been part of the election commitment itself.

It is widely believed that, having won a parliamentary majority with just 39% of the vote in 2015 in a single-member division system, the Liberal leadership has turned against any proportional option, and would only accept keeping single-member divisions while adopting preferential voting.

Analysts have calculated that the Liberals would win an even more disproportional share of House seats under the single-member preferential voting voting method, generally known as the alternative vote system in Canada.

Single-member preferential voting is used in Australian elections. But unlike Australia, Canada has not two but three major national political parties, as well as a fourth major party – the Bloc Québécois – in its second largest province Quebec.

The reform enquiry report was finally debated in the House of Commons on Wednesday. The Liberal Party, with a majority of the current MPs, voted to reject the report, with two embarrassed backbench members crossing the floor.

In the lead-up to the parliamentary debate a formal public petition to Parliament, backing the electoral reform report, had garnered over 132,000 online signatures – said to be the largest ever response to a petition call.

Reform lobby group FairVote Canada had also organised polling of over 15,000 residents of Liberal-held electoral divisions. The results showed that 74% of respondents wanted a system where every possible vote counted, and 68% agreed that proportional representation was the way to achieve that.

70% of those polled felt that the Liberal Government should honour its electoral commitment to bring about change in the voting system.

Both the enquiry proceedings and the petition of recent weeks having set record levels of public engagement.

Government MP Andy Fillmore, a parliamentary secretary to the minister responsible for electoral reform, tried to defend the Government’s backflip. But he found himself arguing both sides of the question of whether the public were adequately engaged with the reform issue.

“We undertook one of the most robust public engagement processes the country has seen,” Fillmore told the House, before contradicting himself by adding that “unfortunately, we had low participation from Canadians.”

Bloc Québécois MP Gabriel Ste-Marie summed by the situation neatly in his comments in the debate:

“I am not surprised at what the government did, but I am disappointed”, Ste-Marie said. “When the Liberal Party was the second opposition party, it promised electoral reform and seemed to be strongly in favour of a proportional voting system to close the gap between the percentage of votes cast and the percentage of members elected.

Once in power, the Liberal Party reneged on that promise because it came to power under the current system.

I can only conclude that the Liberal Party wants a system that favours the Liberal Party. When it is the second opposition party, it wants a proportional voting system, but when it is in power, that no longer seems like such a good idea.”

The House of Commons final vote was 159 to 146 against “concurring in the Report of the all-party Electoral Reform Committee”. No actual legislation was being considered.

The two Liberal Party backbenchers who crossed the floor were Nathaniel Erskine-Smith from Toronto – who has published a striking apology to his constituents – and Sean Casey from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

13 comments on “Canadian government confirms breach of commitment on electoral reform

  1. russellmcormond
    June 1, 2017

    Missing from this account is discussion of why consensus could not be reached.

    The major lobby groups like Fair Vote Canada want party top-up seats based on alleged support for parties. They believe a vote for a party nominated candidate is in fact a vote for the party, and that a different class of seats should be granted that is purely based on party affiliation. Even when they discuss ranked ballots in multi-member districts they want to add on a number of party top-up seats (STV+ and MMMP).

    Nearly all the people I spoke with that had actual parliamentary experience, whether as MPs or as active constituents participating in committees/etc, are opposed to this different class of seats. It is believed to disrupt many existing parliamentary procedures, including making the question of floor-crossing and coalition building far more messy. The special interests most in favor of party top-up seats are often also in favor of abolishing floor crossing and many other mechanisms to hold political parties accountable.

    In general, party top-up systems are seen as a transfer of political power from voters and their representatives to political parties.

    On what became the “no” side was people who believed that granting seats based only on party affiliation was harmful. In my mind this introduces a proxy between voters and parliament in a system that already has too much indirection between voter intent and the body that represents them. The “no” side was a mixture of people who supported plurality, ranked ballots in single member districts, and ranked ballots in multi-member districts (the latter being what I support) — all systems without that party top-up.

    The special interest groups like FVC would deliberately confuse the issue by including STV supporters with them, claiming that all proportional systems were equivalent. The problem with that claim is that they kept pushing for MMP, even though a well established compromise was ranked ballots in multi-member districts. I spoke to a number of Liberals and Conservatives who suggested they would have supported an STV proposal, but because party top-up systems were what was pushed they had to come down on the “no” side. FVC would have heard the same thing, and knew that if they abandoned party top-ups that reform would have proceeded.

    While the Liberals are being blamed for the failure to modernized Canada’s electoral system, the blame actually lies with groups like FVC.

    • Malcolm Baalman
      June 1, 2017

      Russell, there is much in what you say that I strongly agree with. I apologise if I did not include in this post an attempt at a detailed account at each party’s position (which would have been difficult to do, in any case).
      I am a strong believer in parliamentary elections being processes to select direct representatives of voters, not merely as computations to share power between political parties. For that reason I think party list forms of proportionality are just as undesirable as plurality voting, although for a radically different reason. Party seat allocation systems fundamentally change the nature of the whole electoral exercise. Plurality systems are direct elections, but they grossly distort results and make voters highly unequal.
      The whole reform debate is unfortunately framed around the term ‘proportional representation’ (meaning ‘of parties’). But since voters are rightly sceptical of political parties, this constant dialogue about ‘party interests’ and ‘fairness for parties’ probably leaves most listeners cold. I expect citizens want to hear how THEIR rights are promoted by a voting system, not how ‘party rights’ are.
      The combination of two bad systems – Party-PR and FPTP – into MMP (i.e.: any of the variants involving party top-up places) has always seemed to me a hopeless muddle of principle; a crude political compromise to get both camps to fall quiet. The creation of the MMP system in Germany in the early 50s was largely driven by the need to keep two sets of occupying powers appeased simultaneously.
      I appreciate, to be fair, that MMP is functioning adequately to provide good governance in Germany, Scotland, Wales and New Zealand. (In Scotland the SNP government appears to be contemplating changing their system to STV.)
      I think, also, that the concern you point to about ‘two classes’ of MMP MPs becoming a problem is actually not bourne out by the evidence from those places.
      But even so I would myself never select MMP by preference. It really only looks attractive in a closed binary comparison with plurality voting.
      So I place myself – as I think you do – in the STV camp, because it is a form of direct representation which is based on every voter having equal influence. The core principle is powerful and simple.
      The complaint that STV is ‘complicated’ – which I understand to be the main campaign bombardment launched against it in the 2nd BC referendum – is misdirected and just plain false. The technical tasks required of counting staff for STV ballots are significant, but that is irrelevant. The voters have only the simple honest task of ranking their choices.
      With plurality/FPTP, the voters face the far more complex task of contemplating tactical consequences of their vote in the context of everyone else’s votes – which is actually impossible – and many voters must in effect falsify their true preference to vote tactically. I think virtually all Canadian elections are bastardised by the pressure to vote tactically. The same across most of the UK.
      But back to the present Canadian reform situation. Yes, the opaque grouping of most reform supporters into a mixed category including party-PR-ists, MMP-ers and STV-ers confuses things, and makes it hard to see a way forward.
      But the real enemy of progress is not the task of making a choice between rival systems. Put any mixed group of thoughtful people in a room and they will most likely reach agreement (often on STV) – unless they are prevented from doing so by orders from above.
      The real, terrible enemy of reform is the curse of partisan self-interest – where each political party, and especially the one in government at any time – sees the whole debate through the lens of how many seats they expect to win at the next election. I think I am right in saying that every attempt at electoral reform in the UK and Canada has been blocked by the party in government at the time, whether they were of liberal or conservative political leaning.
      Sad to say it, but time and again too many legislators – or at least their party leaders – have shown that they cannot be trusted to be judges in matters affecting their own self-interest in holding on to power.

      • russellmcormond
        June 2, 2017

        I think Trudeau was being honest during the campaign, that he and his platform team “are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.” I also think he was naive in believing it would be a debate between the status-quo and any system that would be an improvement, so he was likely baffled by the massive opposition to AV from the most vocal activist groups and their followers. (I don’t buy into the claim the Liberals would benefit the most — that presumes parties don’t change to adapt to the environment they are in, such as already happened with the unit-the-right movement within a plurality voting systems)

        Trudeau had a hard job ahead of him as there was already a divide within his own party as to what features of the voting system they wanted. I oppose this belief, but it is perfectly legitimate to want a voting system deliberately force voters to choose between the top two competing visions for how to run the country (IE: plurality forces all attention towards the executive branch, and away from the legislative branch). There are many members and candidates/MPs in both of the parties whose leaders might become PM that consider plurality a necessary feature of a democratic system, and believe that third parties are a spoiler that allows a government to form which is less representative of voter intent.

        So when the opposition parties ganged up on Trudeau, he was given no choice as there was no consensus within or outside his party.

        I think it overly simplifies the problem, and lets all the opposition parties and third party special interest groups off the hook, to say that the outcome was largely about the self-interest of parties once they are in government.

        The Conservatives ran their leadership debate under a ranked ballot system, and tabled a bill when they were government to use multi-member district ranked ballots for the Senate. While there will always be some “not tabled by us” partisanship in not wanting the Liberals to be seen as the good guys, it would have been quite possible to negotiate this had the NDP/Greens not sided with FVC in making that type of negotiation impossible.

        Note: I’ve been a member of the Green Party provincially in Ontario and Federally, including being an organiser for many years. I’m currently a member of the Federal Conservative party. I’m not being partisan when I say the leadership of the Greens were part of the problem rather than part of the solution. I’m also not defending Trudeau because I voted for a Liberal nominated candidate last federal election because I did not. Sometimes we need to move past partisanship and give credit where it is due, and direct blame where it is needs to be.

  2. Malcolm Baalman
    June 2, 2017

    Did NDP/the Greens and NGOs (FairVote) really take a stance that it was PartyPr or nothing, or MMP or nothing?

    While I am observing from a distance I have no doubt that, as you say Russell, behind the somewhat evasive party positions there would have been many individual Canadian MPs across most parties who genuinely wanted reform, and were looking for compromise behind-the-scenes. But they must in the end be accountable for their public acts and votes.

    I do think Trudeau and his party have a responsibility to lead. They promised specifically to do so. No-one forced them to close down this debate. No-one is stopping them from re-opening it tomorrow. The stated excuses about ‘no consensus’ are pure wind.

    On the alternative election outcome from AV, the evidence is that the 2015 results filtered through AV would have given Liberals even more seats, but (a) had the public known they were voting AV, I suspect in an alt-scenario some of the Liberal vote would have started out as other votes (esp NDP or Green), and (b) buyer beware – a Liberal gain in one election does not guarantee one in a future election. In Australia there are two core parties and ‘AV’ (we never call it that) stabilises the overall winner-of-government outcome. In Canada, with 3/4 parties, the results will be more unpredictable and unsatisfactory. I suspect election results in 4-party Quebec would go haywire with AV.

    I have always opposed the view that the composition of parliaments should be distorted to support a ‘stable’ (read: ‘secure from challenge’) executive. The ‘westminster system’ as a fusion of legislature and executive was premised on the notion that the legislature – and a representative legislature at that – was the dominant partner. Then over time the executive upended that relation and took dominance.

    World research has demonstrated that dominating majority governments are not correlated with any greater economic success or political stability; in fact they often lead to more politically volatile public discourse, and are sluggish to react to emerging political demands. I have worked professionally in minority legislatures and executives. In my humble and anecdotal opinion, they function at least as well as dominant governments, are more responsive to public issues, and show more overall integrity and accountability.

    I really hope Canada can get back on this horse. Maybe British Columbia will help move things forward.

    • russellmcormond
      June 3, 2017

      Did NDP/the Greens and NGOs (FairVote) really take a stance that it was PartyPr or nothing, or MMP or nothing?

      They did not use that exact language as they are far more politically savvy than that, but they introduced the Gallagher index as the only legitimate criteria to measure the success of a voting system. That is a least squares formula that determines the deviation of a resulting parliament from a pure party PR system.

      Obviously an untainted STV system will score lower with this inappropriate criteria for success than MMP would, so MMP becomes the system they are effectively promoting even when they misdirect and claim they haven’t taken STV off the table.

      “Fair Vote Canada” and allies were successful in convincing the NDP and Greens to put Gallagher index into the ERRE report as a requirement, and that requirement alone meant that it was both appropriate and necessary to vote against concurrence in the house of that report (which is what the vote was recently). The Conservatives duped the NDP into agreeing to a referendum to veto the system, with the Conservatives knowing that it would be easy to bring together sufficient opposition to veto the Gallagher index during a referendum.

      The rest of the report was interesting and informative, but nothing in the actual report suggested the massive divergence away from what was studied to require a low value returned from the Gallagher index. The conclusions didn’t match the study, with the study discussing the successful historical use in Canada of ranked ballots in single and multi-member districts.

      This Gallagher index requirement is the point that stuck with many MPs as proof that the committee process failed and that electoral reform needed to be abandoned at this time. The Conservatives were happy to maneuver the process to make it look like it was the Liberals fault things failed, but they didn’t agree with the report any more than the Liberals did. They just knew that the referendum being tacked on would provide a 2’nd way to kill the party-PR proposals if the Liberals weren’t willing to take the political hit for killing it themselves.

      The NDP/Greens fell for the Conservative trap and made the opposition-majority report a referendum on the Gallagher index.

      57% supported STV in the least tainted of the 2 recent referendums in BC, and 36% supported MMP in Ontario. I suspect if this were a Canada-wide referendum the results would be similar, with MMP not getting a majority while STV would.

      I’ll link to http://mcormond.blogspot.ca/2016/07/claims-that-alternate-vote-exaggerates.html as my comments on why I wasn’t concerned about Alternate Vote. While I believe it is insufficient in trying to populate a legislative body with people who represent the wider population, I believe it would be an improvement over plurality. I focused my comments on the claims from FVC that AV would make the problems of plurality worse. FVC’s extreme opposition to AV confused most activists who also believed the failures they were claiming applied to all ranked ballot systems including STV (Some FVC devotees were actively promoting the idea that STV multiplied the alleged failure of AV).

      I believe that privileging geographic affiliation (single member districts) or party affiliation (party proportionality) both lead to less representative bodies than STV can offer. STV isn’t mathematically perfect, but having district magnitude be equal to the size of the body isn’t practical (hundreds or thousands of names on a ballot?) so having a reasonable district magnitude is a good compromise that will always be superior to either party top-ups or single-member districts.

      If forced to choose between single member districts and party top-ups, I choose single member districts as I consider party top-ups to be a worse failure. Ideally both these failing features would be off the table, but that isn’t the current climate in Canada.

      • Malcolm Baalman
        June 3, 2017

        Russell, thanks for those insights.

        I recall that the ‘Gallagher Index’ (see the Glossary on this site) was given a public mocking when the Enquiry report was released last November. It is a tool only really needed by the pure party PR school of thought. Those who favour party PR tend to criticize STV as not scoring as high on the index as their party seat allocation formula systems. STV supporters shrug and reply that the complaint is irrelevant, because those who use the index are worshipping the false god of party-based systems anyway.

        Michael Gallagher himself pointed out in 1991 that there is a matching index for every mathematical formula for allocating seats which seems to make each formula look best – see Gallagher: Proportionality, Disproportionality and Electoral Systems, Electoral Studies (1991), vol 10(1), pp. 33-51. The take-home message from his article is that there is no absolute standard in the search for maximum proportionality.

        Gallagher – after whom the ‘least squares index’ is named in electoral science – lives and works among Irish STV elections, and he would be well aware that to criticise them for low ‘proportionality’ is to miss the point that STV is a voter-based, not a party-based, electoral system.

        Anyway, it’s pretty universally understood that seat magnitude is really the main driver of results on the proportionality measures. For example, a seven-seat election STV election is bound to do better on these indices than a four-seat party seat allocation election almost every time (detailed results of both will obviously vary from case to case depending on the parties running and the votes won).

        My own contribution to the ERRE committee is at https://onelections.net/papers/issues-in-canadian-elections/ – (it wasn’t published by ERRE as it was too long!).

      • russellmcormond
        June 3, 2017

        I’m a fan of your submission, which I read when it was posted within https://disqus.com/home/channel/electoralreformincanada/

        I note when Michael Gallagher was himself a witness http://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/ERRE/meeting-7/evidence that he was not asked about the index. The addition of that index as a requirement for success of electoral reform came out of the blue and wasn’t backed up by evidence.

        Elizabeth May did ask him about STV, and his answer remained focused on party-proportionality. I didn’t consider his participation helpful to those of us who want parliaments to be representative of a wide variety of demographic traits, rather than less representative by focusing on party affiliation.

        I remain firmly convinced that the Gallagher index is a poison-pill for electoral reform in Canada, and those who got the index added to the committee report are the reason why reform died. It deserved to be ridiculed, and I believe the Minister at the time ridiculing its inclusion in the report was appropriate.

        To this day the party-PR camp claims that Trudeau promised party-PR, which is false. The party-PR camp have abused the “make every vote count” slogan to mean party-PR even though party-PR doesn’t make every vote count (and in fact reduces political influence for those of us who don’t vote along party lines). All evidence suggests that when Trudeau and his campaign team said “make every vote count” he was talking of ranked ballots, not party top-ups.

        Put another way: You can’t break a promise that you never made!

  3. Malcolm Baalman
    June 2, 2017

    PS: I notice that I commented above that “every attempt at electoral reform in the UK and Canada has been blocked by the party in government”. That’s a bit unfair to the UK government in the late 1990s, which established the devolved assemblies in London, Scotland and Wales, using a form of MMP for elections. STV remains the popular voting system in Northern Ireland (as it does in Eire) and STV is also used locally in Scotland.

  4. Anita Nickerson
    July 10, 2017

    Hi Malcolm and Russell! Someone just brought this discussion to my attention. Great to see! I work for FVC and before that was a volunteer for many years! I, along with much of our board, was involved in drafting our submission to the ERRE as well as mobilizing volunteers and the many other things we did over the period we were hoping the Liberal government was serious and would come to the table to negotiate with the other parties. I wanted to comment on a couple of things.

    You are correct that we oppose AV. Yes, simulations of the last election and many elections going backward, including a provincial study by researchers at 3 universities giving people and opportunity to vote with three systems, shows AV in Canada would give Liberals an additional advantage – bigger false majorities.

    However, we also recognize parties adapt and I personally doubt this result would last. The issue we have with AV is that it barely reduces disproportionality overall and can even make it worse. Byron Weber Becker’s modelling confirmed what the UK Independent Commission on the Voting system identified years ago.

    FVC’s mandate is PR, not majoritarian systems. So regardless of the merits some find with AV, we will not be for it.

    There is no AV campaign in Canada – there was enough opportunity to develop one but nothing has emerged beyond municipal. Only 5% of the experts recommended it and the parties – including the Liberals – chose the experts who testified. There are just very few experts or citizens who want AV. Not that people hate it, they just don’t want it. The only people who really seem to want it aside from Justin Trudeau are a minority of Liberal MPs.

    I am an STV fan :). (Yes, I definitely support MMP, too). You can see my website – which I created with the help of Tony Hodgson of Fair Voting BC. http://www.stvforcanada.com. It badly needs updating :).

    I created the site because I felt there was a need for it. People who have a real “thing” for STV are a bit of a minority in FVC.

    STV, MMP and top up seats: You are correct that in terms of supporters in FVC, there is a bias towards MMP.

    While there are some fans of MMP who have detailed reasoning and value preferences – they value party-based systems, they value single member ridings because they think one MP in a geographically smaller area can advocate for economic benefits for the area, or they think that MMP is an easier sell because it’s an adaptation of what we have now – I find most of the lean to MMP in Canada isn’t some kind of conspiracy created by MMP supporters in FVC, it’s a FAMILIARITY ISSUE.

    Almost all the provincial commissions/committees we’ve had over many years have recommended MMP and never considered anything else. Activists in many provinces have a long history with MMP from those commissions. So if you go to Quebec, New Brunswick, Ontario – MMP is the only thing PR supporters know anything about.

    And federally, many only know of the Law Commission of Canada that recommended MMP. AND – the main party promoting PR for years – the NDP – has MMP as its official policy.

    I watched or got reports from hundreds of public ERRE meetings as the travelled Canada. In some of the Atlantic provinces, the profs who presented – who have nothing to do with FVC – wouldn’t even TALK about STV or cover those slides, they were so married to MMP and convinced STV was unworkable.

    But head out to BC, and there was a really even split with PR activists just as informed about STV, because of their province’s history.

    The ERRE’s online survey of 22,000 showed PR supporters – given a description and ballot of both – liked BOTH!.

    SERIOUSLY – 98% of PR supporters I’ve met in Canada just want any PR as long as there’s some local representation and it’s not the model they have in Israel. We realize we won’t be deciding.

    In our submission to the ERRE FVC recommended 3 models: MMP, STV and “Rural-Urban Proportional”.

    The RU-PR option was a lovely compromise between MMP and STV advocates and we worked on it with Fair Voting BC. It involves a FEW top up seats. 10% would do it. Mostly multi-member ridings and singles just in a flexible number of rural or small urban ridings.

    Why hybrid?

    With BOTH MMP and STV, ridings that get a lot bigger is a BIG ISSUE. With MMP, they’d get 66% bigger. With STV, combined.

    As an STV fan I’ve realized you just CAN’T get MPs or most experts to agree to combining our large rural ridings into multi-member districts, even districts of 2. We need Canadian hybrids.

    Our former Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, recommended multi-member in cities and just leaving up to 25% of Canada single member.

    RU-PR was also Fair Vote Canada’s way of responding to this – by adding a small layer of top-up seats, it would give everyone, even those in single member ridings, a choice of MP, and correct the distortions that would persist where, for example, one party would win most of the rural seats in one province under Kingsley’s suggestion.

    Since Trudeau dumped the promise, Kingsley has gone on to work with a group of out of Guelph which has developed another Canadian adaptation of STV you might like. They call it “Local PR” – it’s just a twist in the STV counting so each riding that exists now is guaranteed to elect an MP from that riding to provide constituency work and local advocacy within the multi-member STV district. Check it out:


    The Gallagher Index.. I agree with you and it wasn’t FVC that was hammering on the Gallagher Index. It’s not something we talk much about.

    All the models for Canada are already moderate – 33-38% top up seats with MMP, average 4 seats/district with STV.

    There’s nothing MAGICAL about the number 5 on the Gallagher. The Gallagher score changes with lots of things besides the model design – the number of parties, size of Parliament. Looking at simulations provides a useful guide to proportionality but you can’t program the Gallagher like a thermostat.

    Scotland (MMP 43% top up, 16 member regions) and Ireland (3-5 seat STV) have an IDENTICAL Gallagher of 5.6 in their past elections. On first glance, you’d think Scotland would be more more proportional for parties, but it’s not. STV actually allows a small party like Greens in Ireland to get 2 seats with 2.7% of the national vote whereas a party-threshold based system would have shut them out.

    The problem really wasn’t that PR supporters weren’t going to support multiple options. It was the opposite – we banged our heads on a wall designing things the Liberals would be interested in compromising on: type of PR, design of PR and degree of proportionality. They weren’t interested in having a discussion and Trudeau now tells the media he was never interested in hearing about anything except AV.

    I hope you are watching the upcoming BC referendum. The NDP and Greens in BC helped kill BC-STV and have both said they don’t care for it still. But STV remains a popular option in BC and it’s the one province where PR supporters do know enough about MMP and STV that there are some in one camp or another (although I really do think the overwhelming majority want ANY PR and will fight for whatever’s on the ballot). If the government wants PR to succeed via referendum they need to be creative in appealing to PR supporters who value both the party-centered and candidate-centered approach, AND will appeal to the vast majority of low-information voters…

    • russellmcormond
      July 11, 2017

      Anita’s reply exhibited the frustrations that I have with discussing electoral reform with people associated with FVC.

      Canadian citizens are increasingly recognising the unfairness associated with Single Member Plurality, with the top two problems being in the name:

      * Single Member: We are filling a 338 member body, but by looking at the seats one at a time we are creating a massive rounding error that makes the body as a whole less representative of the population than it could if more seats were considered together.

      * Plurality: a system which privileges being different than similar minded candidates who will vote-split, rather than the focus being on finding the most representative candidates possible.

      The problem with discussions of party top-ups is that that they do not, for all the “educational material” that claims otherwise, solve either of these two problems. Instead it creates a third problem, which is the privileging of the interests of political parties, increase of divisive tribalism, and the disenfranchisement of those of us who do not vote along party lines.

      Any discussion which lumps together as similar ranked ballots in multi-member districts (which solves the above two problems, and doesn’t introduce more problems) with party top-ups only serves to derail electoral reform. It encourages many who recognise the problems with party top-ups to reject anything that is lumped together under the title “Proportional Representation”. People then reject STV because they incorrectly believe it privileges parties.

      The reality is that STV causes competition between candidates nominated by the same party, further transferring control to voters from the parties compared to any single-member district system can (with any system that doesn’t have party top-ups being better than any system which does).

      The MPs I spoke to reject systems that have party top-ups. Even though they all agree the current system is horrible they were glad reform was derailed as they felt the possibility of adopting party top-ups was far worse than the status-quo. This is MPs that have been both in government and in opposition, and that consider excessive control over MPs by the party and leaders office to be a critical problem to solve — not one to make worse through the voting system.

      This demonstrated to me that these MPs had a greater interest in making parliament work and “making every vote count” than FVC does.

      The activists associated with Fair Vote Canada need to realise their hand in derailing electoral reform this round. It would be great to move to a future where we can all be working together to improve Canada’s democratic institutions, rather than being in opposing camps and making it obvious to most people that there is no consensus even among those of us that believe the current system is fatally flawed.

      Note: LocalPR doesn’t make every vote count any more than IRV, SMP, MMP or any other single member district based systems can. Sure, IRV is an improvement over SMP and Local PR is an improvement over IRV (And any of these are better than systems with party top-ups), but the only way to solve the problems caused by the rounding error of single member districts is to stop being so focused on that single district magnitude.

      • Malcolm Baalman
        July 11, 2017

        These comments (Russell/Anita; thank you both) illustrate the conundrum that occurs when opinion on a topic is divided into three or more camps.

        I personally believe that STV provides the best outcomes in terms of electing representative assemblies. Obviously that is one common view.

        But I am reluctant to over-criticise those who are in the ‘MMP/AMS’ camp, who are clearly people striving to improve how politics and governance is done around the world.

        Meanwhile a third camp – those who would retain FPTP – has (at least in Britain, Canada and the US) the advantage of incumbency. This camp can exploit the divisions between reformers by criticising both party-based voting systems and ‘loss of localness’, provoking both reform camps to disagree among one another, and also by using tactics such as calls for blocking referendum.

        There are of course more camps, such as the pure party-proportionalists who are happy for voting to be for parties, rather than for representatives.

        I’d observe that making the ‘least squares index’ formula in its application to party seat shares some sort of test of good voting system design is entirely unhelpful. The goals of good electoral systems are full, free and equal representation of the people, not statistical outcomes for the parties.

        I also think it’s important to remember that there are two debates here. One is around the optimal method for electing assemblies, for which the above comments describe the broad camps of opinion.

        But the other debate is on what makes a legitimate government (presumed to be one answerable to an assembly). If no one party can scratch up more than 38-40% of the electorate’s support, should parliamentary numbers be falsified to create a secure parliamentary majority, or should the system allow/require a search for two or more parties who will cooperate to create a majority drawn from real voter support? Are post-election coalitions a good thing, or not? This is perhaps the question of more interest to most people in the community.

        My sense is that in the UK, the coalition/governance question is getting more attention from reformers, while in Canada reform debate is more focussed on the assembly-election topic. Both need to be covered.

      • russellmcormond
        July 11, 2017

        In my conversations, the majority of those who are against PR (and yes, a majority of people I speak to are against “PR”) are against party lists. When I talk to them about multi-member districts they are thankful, but still skeptical because the largest lobby group refuse to differentiate between these very different systems. They worry that any support of multi-member districts will be abused to suggest a support for party lists, which they disagree with.

        While incumbency is in favor of FPTP, there are far more people opposed to PR than are in favor of FPTP. Debates that suggest there are only two choices (FPTP vs PR) end up granting FPTP a majority.

        One of the big dividing ideas is whether we are focused on the legislative branch of government or the executive.

        The only actual pro-FPTP advocacy I’ve heard are those who have no interest in the legislative branch of government, and have a focus on the executive branch. They consider plurality to be a feature, and believe that everyone *should* be forced to choose between the two top visions for the executive. They consider votes for third parties that couldn’t form government to be wasted votes, and would prefer they weren’t counted at all.

        I see similarities between the calls to vote for party lists (and disenfranchise voters who don’t vote along party lines) and the calls to abolish votes for third party candidates. I see both as being methods to reduce the voices in the legislative branch for the sake of a focus on the executive (and shadow “government”), and to centralize the control into those who lead the parties. Whether there are 2 voices (abolishing third party votes) or 7 voices (party lists) seem very similar, compared to having 300+ voices in a legislative branch which we get when candidates are the focus rather than parties.

      • russellmcormond
        July 15, 2017

        Re: post-election coalitions.

        Related to this is the question of floor crossing. For me, an elected member of the HoC is accountable to constituents first, and other “third parties” such as a political party only after. Crossing the floor to join a different party (for any reason, including to form a new party) is legitimate and sometimes necessary, as is creating coalitions between members of multiple parties to form government under a PM.

        For others, the colour of the team jersey is what matters. Not only are some Canadians opposed to coalition governments, but there are people (primarily from the smaller left-leaning parties) who want to ban floor crossing entirely (IE: your only choice is to sit as an independent or run under new party affiliation in a by-election).

        I see all these issues as interrelated, but having the conversation with most people gets confused very quickly as they don’t want to talk about the network of relationships between these features of democratic institutions.

        (I know this is an old message now, but this thought came to mind when re-reading your reply).


        Are you aware of the Electoral Reform in Canada channel on Disqus?

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This entry was posted on June 1, 2017 by in Canada, Current issues, Electoral reform attempts.
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