Ontario Citizens Assembly consensus on MMP

Excerpted from Wilfred Day’s report in a previous thread:

An early consensus. The Citizens Assembly voted on Sunday on their first preferred alternative system. They plan to design two, and then choose one.

Mixed Member Proportional – 78
STV – 8
Parallel – 6
List PR – 3
Alternative Vote (IRV) – 2
Two Round System – 0

That’s a lot stronger consensus than most expected.

On Saturday they settled their three key objectives for system design, after breaking out into five group sessions. Chair George Thomson quipped “you’re making my life easy” when all five groups chose the same three:

“The number of seats a party wins should closely reflect its vote share;”

“Each MPP should represent a geographic area of the province;” and

“Voters should be able to indicate their preferred party and candidate” separately, that is, have two votes, one for the party, one for the local candidate.


Next step: preliminary design of the first alternative (MMP) on the weekend of March 3 and 4. Apparently that’s two-vote regional MMP.

[All of the above is Wilf’s post, not mine–MSS]

0 thoughts on “Ontario Citizens Assembly consensus on MMP

  1. Never assume what a Citizens Assembly will do. I wrongly predicted regional MMP. Of course they haven’t made final decisions yet, but as of today, they are looking at four MMP options which all involve closed province-wide lists.

    Why? Because they gave preference to local representation, and will have only 25% or, at most, 30% list MPPs, but with overhangs. Very like Northrhine-Westphalia.

    They were assured correctly that, on the last Ontario election votes, there wouldn’t be many overhangs: only one or two, on the models they are considering. But this makes it hard to use regional lists, since the overhangs would unbalance the regions. Besides, if you use Scottish-style unlinked regions, you lose even more proportionality when a party gets regional MPs in some regions not deserved overall (as Labour did in both Scottish Parliament elections to date, giving it a “winner’s bonus.”) So, province-wide lists.

    And with province-wide lists, which the parties would carefully balance by geography and gender in order to have wide appeal, open lists would give Toronto candidates and big names (translation: men) a serious bonus. So, closed lists.

    All this was possible only thanks to the unlikely father of electoral reform in Ontario, Mike Harris. By cutting 27 MPPs from the legislature in 1999 and hiking the size of local ridings, he enabled the Citizens’ Assembly to restore them as list MPPs without having to annoy communities by hiking the size of local ridings.

  2. “on the last Ontario election votes, there wouldn’t be many overhangs.”

    Of course, when (if) Ontario uses MMP, the votes will be different. Is the Assembly taking the endogeneity of votes distirbutions to electoral rules into account? If we assume different plausible vote-distribution scenarios, does the possibility of a lot of overhangs increase considerably

  3. “open lists would give Toronto candidates and big names (translation: men) a serious bonus. So, closed lists.”

    They appear to be right on the gender-representation issue with regard to the type of list. However, on local representation, they may be wrong. Open lists are like SNTV inside the party–thus “super-proportional.” I’d anticipate lots of votes wasted on a few big-name urban candidates and then lots of trailers getting in on small preference-vote shares from rural communities. These hypotheses remain to be tested, as far as I know.

  4. Wilf’s submission to the Assembly did bring up the likelihood of changes in vote distribution, and the consequences thereof: “We need 40% Regional MPPs…. When more voters vote their first choice and have more choices, we’ll need more proportional seats than in past elections.” So they’re at least minimally aware of the issue. Eventually I’ll get around to watching the TVO coverage, hopefully it will reveal some discussion of this.

  5. Informed Canadians, we can now say with some assurance, are even more accepting of political minorities than Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries, which all have a 4% threshold for parties to win list seats.

    One of the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly’s five groups proposed no threshold on Saturday. Three others said 3%, the fifth said 2.5% to 3.0%. One wanted also to admit a party getting less than the threshold if it won three local seats, and one would do so for one local seat. The consensus was 3%.

    Very much the same as the BC CA when they designed an MMP system: some wanted 5%, some 3%, some no threshold, and the consensus was 3%. The experiment has been replicated.

  6. 3% threshold would be very good because it is better than having none and while 5% might be too high for provincinal elections. If Canada were to adopt PR for the Federal Parliament, I would say 5% nationally. In German State Elections, it is very easy for small minor parties to barely miss the threshold.

  7. The OCA members gave some colourful reasons for having a threshold: we don’t want motorcycle gangs, or neo-Nazis like Ernst Zundel, forming disruptive fringe parties. A party should be an organized, legitimate, responsible political force. In a province with eight million voters, of whom four and a half million vote, a party with fewer than 135,000 voters would not be a very responsible group. However, others noted that the abolition of slavery and the extension of the franchise to women started as projects of fringe groups; in 100 years today’s fringe group may be tomorrow’s mainstream.

  8. At the last session of the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly, they voted to include “overhangs.” Overhangs?

    That’s a German word never properly translated into English. Amazingly, it found its way into use in New Zealand where it’s part of their MMP system; in four elections they have only ever had one overhang seat, but it’s there.

    The OCA were clear: of five discussion groups, three wanted “overhangs” and two were undecided, so the plenary had no trouble finding a consensus. It makes a lot of sense, since they are trying to keep as many local seats as possible, with only 25% or 30% “list seats.” (That’s a good English term, but again others may also be used. In Scotland they are officially Additional seats, commonly top-up seats; with eight regions, that’s regional top-up seats. But they have no “overhangs.”)

    The idea is clear: if a party wins more local seats than its vote share, it retains them, but the other parties don’t lose seats: extra list seats are added to allow this.

    The German word “overhang” means overflow seats or overrun seats — excess seats, surplus seats, extra seats. Surplus politicians? The local seats are retained; retained seats? Then the others are additional seats? But that term can apply to all the list MPs. Make-up seats? Completion seats? Or just extra list seats? Or “due” list seats?

    Lazy political scientists created this problem in the first place, by never translating “overhang” into good English. Can one of them solve it, please?

  9. Wilf, you expect political scientists to know good English?

    I was surprised when NZ adopted the term, “overhang.” But as your note suggests, it is about as good (or bad) as any other term.

  10. On the etymological end of things… I’d only really heard “overhang” used in the architectural/literal sense (in fact, the one usage that sticks out in my memory is in talking about the last few rows of seating in the lower bowl of a stadium that are under the upper deck, and therefore have no view of fly balls). However, dictionary.com does give for “overhang”:

    9. Informal. an excess or surplus: an overhang of office space in midtown.

    So I guess there is some precedent…

  11. “We have a consensus.” By a secret ballot vote of 86 to 16, the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly prefers MMP to FPTP.

    And on the overhang front, there will be no overhang hangovers in the referendum campiagn. They decided on staff advice that, even allowing for a five percent shift towards split ballots, only in the most exceptional cases would more than three overhangs arise in Ontario. Not worth arguing about. Gone.

    Why five percent? Well, Massicotte’s survey of Germany, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales found “conflicting allegiances, even if held by many voters, tend to cancel each other out. So the net spread between the two standings of one party is usually not very great. Seldom does it exceed 4 percentage points.”

  12. Just for fun (and I did this before the Globe closed the comments), a roughanalysis of the last election (using the vote totals) would have the legislature something like this:

    Liberals 81
    Conservatives 35
    NDP 12
    Other 1

    Reducing the total “seat share” from 70% to 63% for the Liberals and increasing it from 23% to 27% for the Conservatives and 7% to 9% for the NDP.

    However, It would be naive to think that the vote share would stay the same. I just did it for a laugh.

  13. By a final vote of 94 to 8, the Citizens’ Assembly recommends 70/30 MMP.

    “The MMP system designed by the Assembly is a made-in-Ontario solution. It preserves the best of the electoral system we have now—strong local representation—and adds new elements to produce more proportional election results. This means that the share of seats each party wins will be roughly equal to the share of votes it receives.

    • Citizens will be represented by 90 members elected in local ridings (70% of the legislature) and 39 members (called “list members”) elected provincially (30% of the legislature). The number of local ridings is reduced slightly but all citizens will gain representation overall through the combination of local and list members.”

  14. In my calculation, the 2003 results would be as follows:

    1) plurality seats (= plurality seats in 2003 *90/103, and rounded to the nearest whole number):

    Liberal 63 (was 72)

    Progr.Cons. 21 (was 24)

    NDP 6 (was 7)

    2) seat total (= party total divided by 34,775 and rounded down)

    Liberal 2,090,001 votes -> 60 seats

    Progr.Cons. 1,559,181 -> 44

    NDP 660,730 -> 19

    Green 126,651 -> 3

    3) additional list seats: (= plurality seats – seat total)

    Liberal: 60-63=-3 -> no list seats, 3 overhang seats

    Progr.Cons.: 44-21=23 list seats

    NDP: 19-6=13

    Green: 3-0=3

  15. I think the OCA research staff underestimated the problem of overhang seats. Of course you can’t project how the 2003 Ontario election would have played out under 70/30 MMP, but you can try plausible scenarios based on the 2003 vote. Here’s one:

    In some future election with seven parties – the Libs, Cons, and NDP go from 96% of the vote to 80% of the vote. Four qualifying smaller parties get 18% of the vote. (The remaining 2% is wasted on the micro parties.) Adjusting for the wasted votes, A straight-line projection gives the Libs about 40% of the vote (from 46.5% in 2003) and the Cons, about 30% of the vote (from 34.7% in 2003). The big question is: Out of 90 local seats, how many are won by the Libs? Assuming a relatively even distribution of the vote for the smaller parties, the four smaller parties win zero out of 90 local seats. So a straight-line projection of the 2003 results gives the Liberals 63 out of 90 seats (70%), the Conservatives 21 seats, and the NDP 6 seats. In other words, even when their percentage of the vote is reduced from 96% to 80%, the three major parties win all the seats and their relative share of the seats remains intact.

    However, the reduced percentage margin between the Libs and Cons suggests that the Cons might pick up a few of the enlarged local districts at the expense of the Libs. In 2003, there were only three districts where the Cons were within 2% of the Libs. If those seats flipped from the Libs to the Cons, the Libs get 60 seats and the Cons 24. Based on the other 2003 percentage margins for the winning parties, I don’t think the results would have changed in the other enlarged districts.

    Conclusion: Making some reasonable assumptions under an MMP voting scenario, the Libs might very well have obtained 60 local seats in conjunction with a party vote of 40%. This would have produced 8.4 overhang seats (60.0 – 51.6) for the Libs and reduced the number of list seats for other six parties to 89% of their deserved share. The 70/30 split makes overhang seats inevitable for a party that dominates the local elections. Hopefully, the dual vote will not exacerbate the problem too much, and Ontario will nearly always obtain 90% proportionality or better.

    I think this is an excellent MMP model for Ontario. The OCA rightly simplified wherever it could reasonably do so. A large regional model would also have worked well, but regions can always be flexibly constructed from the local districts after the party knows how many list representatives have been elected. One downside: because of the overhang problem, the winning party will frequently have no list MPP’s available to represent party voters in districts where the party lost the local election.

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