Comparison of Three Systems

Yes we can !

A suggestion to the federal parties on how to present electoral reform possibilities to the Canadian people

In his Record article on 11 Feb, 2017 Professor Barry Kay wrote that the Greens, Liberals and NDP were not willing to ‘water their wine’ to reach a compromise and as a result the process of electoral reform was deadlocked.

In response to the governments betrayal of its election promise, a petition to the House of Commons, sponsored by Mr. Jonathan Cassels of Kitchener has now attracted more than 130,000 supporters. The main message of Mr. Cassels petition was: “Stop being so inflexible and present to Canadians a few well explained alternatives so an informed debate can begin”.

The Electoral Reform motion passed by the Commons in May, 2016 stipulated five principles that should be met by any electoral system that the committee would recommend. This article will attempt to compare these principles for three different systems that could be used to replace the current FPTP system: (i) A Mixed Member Proportional system (MMP), (ii) a Preferential System (PS) and (iii) a compromise Mixed Member Preferential-Proportional system (MMPP) that was suggested by Professor Kay. An attempt will be made to quantify how each system satisfies the five Principles by using a 1 to 10 ranking system along with a subjective judgement.

Principle One specifies that any system must reduce distortions in the voting to be legitimate. The MMP system would partially do that with the Proportional component but the continued use of FPTP for constituency seats would fail to eliminate bizarre distortions that currently allow a winner with less than 30% of the vote. The PS system would guarantee that all winners would have more than 50% support but in close situations like 51:49 it would still mean a large number of voters would not be represented. Finally the MMPP system would offer the best of both a Preferential and a Proportionate system by eliminating the distortions of FPTP and allowing a rebalancing with the proportional component. On a 1 to 10 ranking system, the results would be: MMP= 4, Preferential = 5.5 and MMPP= 9.

Principle Two specifies the system must be simple enough for voters to understand. The MMP system would use the current FPTP for the actual voting and that is understood. The proportional component of the MMP would be hard for many voters to understand in the first few elections. The PS system would be very difficult if the voters had to rank every candidate on the ballot, which is the case in many countries where it is used. The MMPP system would be easy for the voters to understand if it was designed to operate as an instant run-off system that only asked the voter to indicate their first and second choices. Phase one of the counting would only use the first choice. Any candidate who obtained more than 50% would win. If no candidate obtained 50% in the first count , then the top two candidates would remain on the ballot for round #2 of the counting. The second choice for all voters, who did not support one of the top two candidates, would now be counted and assigned to either one of the top two or discarded. Once again the Proportional component would be hard for voters to comprehend at the beginning. Using the ranking system the results might be: MMP= 8, Preferential = 5 and MMPP = 6.5.

Principle Three states the integrity of the voting must be secure by using secret ballot. The MMP system will be easy to count by hand but the proportional component will require assembling all the results for a riding and then doing proportional calculations. If this is done using electronic transfer of data there will be a risk of hacking and should be avoided. The PS system will be very difficult to count manually. Ideally this system will require a ballot that can be read into a data file and then manipulated by a counting algorithm. This will require sending all data to a central computer and election results could be hacked if this is done using the internet. Finally The MMPP system will have the same advantages and disadvantages as the MMP system. Using the ranking system the results might be: MMP=7, Preferential=5, MMPP = 7.

Principle Four specifies that the historical riding system must be maintained. The MMP system will maintain the riding system but will require larger ridings if the preference is the same as the choice of the 2004 Law Commission Of Canada report which opted for a 60:40 split between Constituency ridings and List seats. (List seats are those seats awarded to MP’s who will be selected from a party List based on a comparison of seats won versus percentage of vote won). The 60:40 split would require a very large increase in the typical Constituency riding of 66%, which could be very difficult for rural ridings that already cover a huge geographic area. The PS system would maintain ridings at the same size as at present. The MMPP system proposed by Professor Kay was for a 75:25 or 80:20 split. The advantage of the 75:25 split is that it would work perfectly in PEI, which is guaranteed 4 Commons seats. It also has the advantage over the MMP proposal that the increase in riding size would only be 33%, but clearly not as ideal as the PS system. The results might score as follows: MMP=6, Preferential = 10 and MMPP = 8.

Principle Five states civility and collaboration in the Commons would encourage greater voter engagement. Clearly this principle is a call for rules changes in the Commons similar to those proposed by former Prime Minister Martin and more recently by MP Michael Chong. Changes of this nature might be possible if instead of majority governments that represented only 39% of the voters we had either minority or coalition governments that required MP’s to work in respectful collaboration with each other. The MMP system would still have many MP’s with a low level of voter support but the balance created by Proportionality would possibly mean more compromise because of Minority government. The PS system would most likely lead to majority governments by a centre party and compromise would be less likely. Finally the MMPP system would mean that the balance created between MP’s elected in constituency ridings and those elected using Proportionality would result in a split between majority and minority governments over time. Scoring results here is difficult because of the variables But it might be: MMP= 6, Preferential =4.5 and MMPP = 7.

Now this author has used a scoring system that gives a final result out of 50 points when the results for each Principle are added. The final scores would be: MMP= 31 , Preferential = 30 and MMPP = 37.5. If a similar scoring method is used for the current FPTP system the result would be FPTP=30. Although no system received a perfect score, the MMPP system has a score 21% above the MMP system and 25% better than the other two systems. This would suggest it would be worth while to introduce the MMPP system for a two election trial and then evaluate its impact and effectiveness in meeting the conditions set forth in the five Principles.

This article has tried to present the types of argument that Mr. Cassels called for in his motion to the Commons. You may not agree with the logic presented, so I hope you agree that the Five Principles must be addressed in any comparison and that you take the time to build your own case for each of the principles and then turn your argument into a score. This is what we must do as informed voters in order to decide what we think would be best for a reformed voting system.

Finally if you think PM Trudeau has made a great mistake by stopping the electoral reform process then write a letter to both the Prime Minister and your MP.

This article was written by Gordon Nicholls on 29 March 2017 and contributed to the Fair Vote Waterloo blog. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Fair Vote Waterloo.