22 November 2016

While we have the Constitution open...

So there's some possibility the Trudeau government will move to enact some form of proportional voting.  This means opening the Constitution because Quebec has a guarantee of a quarter of the Commons seats and PEI has a guarantee of four seats (Senate and Commons), which is about three seats more than their population would warrant.

I loathe the proposal that proportional voting will solve the problem.  (For any value of solve, and any value of problem.)  It moves the area of contention from voting to control of political parties, which is probably a net loss because getting control of political parties is relatively easy; it's a small number of people and the idea that the system works anyway because people are unwilling to be bribed (whether with money or power or meeting their goals) is risible.  You also lose the connection to your MP and the House of Commons loses any connection to geographic concerns. That's bad; Saskatchewan grows half the food and should not be ignored.  (Etc.  There is a lot of etc. there and it gets worse as you head north.)

On the other hand, proportional voting does allow representation of a wider range of viewpoints and can tend to force coalitions which ought to help moderate government policy toward population preferences.  Downsides of this include coalition capture by tiny extremist parties with reliable voters (look at Israel) and indecision in the face of crisis.  (The next two generations are going to be a succession of crises as the rain shifts around, coastal cities start to drown, food gets scarce, and big populations move about looking for some place they can survive.  They're not going to be especially respectful of immigration laws.)

So, the Commons theoretically allocates 1 seat per 100,000 people, more or less.  Call it 350 at present.  PEI gets four; Quebec gets 88, everything is pure portion-of-the-vote and party list for Commons seats.

The Senate as it now exists ceases.

Clump up current ridings in groups of 10 or so; not exactly, because while want about a million people per Senate seat, but we also want to weight area in there so various northern but not populous regions are seriously overrepresented in strict population terms.  This process should ignore provincial boundaries completely.  A senate riding gets either two or three senators; "regions" get two, "cities" get three.  The difference is net flow of taxes; if you have net outflow of taxes, you're a city.  (ALL taxes, to discourage side effects of differing provincial tax laws.)  Senate terms are long, with a third up for election each third-of-term.  If we go with the new 5 year federal election schedule, a senate term would be fifteen years.  (The first time, the newly elected Senators will have to draw straws for who has a full term and who a fractional.)  Senate seats use single transferable vote *per seat*; you're running for Eastern Coastal North A, the specific seat, rather than a set of people running for all the seats in the Eastern Coastal North senate riding.

There'd be about 80 senators, I'd expect; maybe 90.

This new senate has to pass a bill for it to become law; the Commons does not get an override.  Bills originate in the Commons but the Senate can draft something and vote to send it to the Commons for consideration.  The Prime Minister cannot sit in the Senate and must command a majority in both houses.

So, geographic representation, check.  More northern representation than we have now, check.  Long terms leading to some continuity of government in almost all cases.  Check.  Direct representation if you really need someone ('s constituent office) to sort out your trouble with the federal bureaucracy for you.  Commons directly party-list proportional representation (so we hopefully get better policy) but the PM is going to be obliged to consider regional interests to hold a majority in the senate.  Hard to get small-party capture in the face of the geographic senate.  The Senate needs the Commons to agree to spend money, and vice-versa.  Potential ghastly deadlock but also potential good policy.  Starts to devalue provinces as political divisions, that unfortunate relic of early 19th century communications speeds.

(PEI would have to give up four Senate seats, though; guaranteeing them 1 senate riding with 1 seat would be roughly equivalent.)


Deborah Fitchett said...

As you know, Bob, there are all sorts of proportional systems; it sounds like they're suggesting a specific one?

I quite like the one we have in New Zealand though it does confuse people (though not as much as when first implemented). Essentially every voter gets two votes: 1) for preferred candidate standing for the local electorate (electoral boundaries are drawn every 5 years by an independent group to meet exacting criteria) and 2) for preferred party.

1) The person who gets a majority vote for the local electorate becomes an MP; there's around about 60 of these. I'd quite like to make this a single transferable vote but that extra complication might make people's heads explode.

2) This number is then topped up to 120 such that every party that got at least 5% of the vote has a corresponding proportion of the total. So if 25 National MPs won electorates, and National won 50% of the vote overall, then National gets to choose an additional 35 MPs (called list MPs).

There are edge cases and ways to deal with those, but that's the basics. I think it gives a good mixture of proportionality and local representation. It does leave things vulnerable to a "kingmaker" - if your two big parties are both at 45%, and one needs a majority to govern, then a party with only 6% wields quite some power.

We don't have the Commons/Senate split. Just parliament and a governor-general who could theoretically stop a bill if they wanted to spark a consititutional crisis.

I was about to say I don't understand why you want to weight the Senate towards underpopulated areas. But then I remembered that one of the complications I left out was our Māori seats. I can't remember whether or not they each represent the same number of people as a regular electorate but either way they are highly contentious among people who think that it's all in the past and Māori should just get over it and be equal with us Pākehā already.

Graydon said...

+Deborah Fitchett
That system has been proposed, but it would leave us with seven-hundred-and-change MPs, which is an unwieldy great lot of MPs. The general pressure in the voting reform movement seems to be straight proportional vote and party list MPs.

I want to weight the Senate towards underpopulated areas because the people who live there have effectively no political voice right now; it's very likely (in the happy scenario where civilization remains functional) that they're going to have a massive internal migration problem in a generation or two; and even farms have no political power. (Since 1950 or so, agricultural productivity has tripled; real farm income is flat. Better proof of no political power is hard to get without direct oppression.) All of those things lead to unfortunate political inattention.